The matter of housing, especially for marginalized groups, is a complex and volatile issue. Although historically, the First Nations peoples of Canada’s housing issue was poorly handled and driven forwards with a very short-term systematic solution, much change is being brought to the current housing policies. There is a rift between policies concerning general poverty in Canada, especially those in metropolitan areas, and those that are offered in on-reserve locations.
The current housing crisis concerning the members of the First Nations community has made it clear that the present needs for adequate shelter, safety, and affordability are not being met. Though it is a generational struggle, it is expected that federal programs have the responsibility to address and solve the complication. Though reports continue to confirm the current lack of appropriate living conditions, there is little change in policy or meaningful implementation. The crisis is a look into deeply rooted and interconnected problems within societal perceptions and governmental actions in Canada. These include unresolved trauma, colonial land theft, broken treaties, and racist policies that have adverse effects on the people of the First Nations. Additionally, the continuous removal of children from Indigenous families has resulted in increased rates of homelessness and volatile housing situations.
It is important to note that all previous housing strategies were formed from imperialistic notions of the jurisdiction of on-reserve housing. The systematic displacement and subjugation of the Indigenous people is a prevalent theme in Canadian history (McCartney et al. 104). The majority of the implemented policies only isolated the Indigenous people while stripping them of resources and land in an attempt at assimilation, which was vastly beneficial to only one side. The process of reversing such negative actions is time-consuming and reliant on resources such as infrastructure, capital, and the work of federal servants. The approach of “decolonization” included total reconstruction and renegotiation of values, agency, and knowledge. Due to the assumed need for increased housing, the majority of the infrastructure built was of poor construction, without proper heating, and otherwise unfit for a permanent living (Greenwood 1647). Unfortunately, much of the enforced benefits and policy resulted in Indigenous people having to move, change their lifestyle, and do other traditional activities.
The political aspect of policies regarding First Nations housing projects is an ever-evolving and developing matter. The failures of the past housing policies presented substantially negative outliers, especially in remote regions of the country. As such, it was necessary to begin the process of evaluating policy in a way that respected the political identity and human rights of the First Nations population. Adapting current policy to counteract previous mistakes such as disregard for geographic context, cultural importance, and service delivery prospects was essential. This meant that while the normalization of First Nations communities was beginning to emerge, there was also an inherent need for culturally appropriate and respectful measures to be put into place. Unlike previous arrangements that had a very narrow and short-sighted focus, the current policy had to form medium-to-long-term solutions and plans.
Much of the new strategies reflected recent evidence and data from the First Nations communities with incremental strides towards better housing and regulation. A 2019 study focused on data collection by interacting with members of the First Nation community that was not positioned in leadership roles and instead gathered their experience with on-reserve housing from their day-to-day lives (Neathway 29). This more authentic assessment allowed for members of the community to speak openly from a practical and political point of view and prioritized issues and their solutions. For instance, the political bundle of the data collection revealed that many community members hoped for innovation with the implementation of energy-efficient infrastructure as well as the incorporation of traditional and modern construction.
The reliance on locally-sourced materials was important to decrease transportation costs and time and to support local raw material industries. Further, the locals prioritized education spending, especially in the sector of housing staff and other related training. There were also motions made to create a First Nations Housing Managers organization, which would be able to perform annual meetings and housing forums. The results of such programs could lead to a self-reliant model of housing and construction within the First Nations community. Education and the sharing of information is a sustainable and independent method to introduce the steady development of housing.
The process would also allow First Nations communities to pay more locally for such services and invest leftover capital in other sectors of their community. These industries could include health care, school and university programs, or other welfare programs. Much of the Canadian housing crisis reflects the global trends that capitalize on housing infrastructure. With the growth of housing as an economic tool, it became both a financial opportunity and risk, and much of the policies at the time treated it as a possible aspect of profit accumulation. The rise in pricing is a significant contribution to current homelessness, though many changes to market policy have begun to control the power of overpricing.
In contrast, and on a larger scale, the policies addressing homelessness and poverty in Canada have been more active since an earlier time. As of 2018, Toronto alone has an “estimated that there were 8,715 people experiencing homelessness” (City of Toronto 6). A further “533 lived outdoors, and 643 were in Violence Against Women emergency shelters and health and treatment facilities” (McIsaac). As such, past and current city-housing policies differ significantly from those offered in on-reserve locations to the First Nations communities, both in negative and positive ways.
Firstly, the homeless within the cities are offered appropriate places to stay within welfare organizations and government facilities that do not threaten their wellbeing. First Nations members are in possession of their own housing, but the quality of it is usually unsuitable, with common decay in infrastructure and common cases of dangerous mold. Additionally, First Nations members are usually unable to stay in the city and are moved to locations that may not be adequate for them in terms of culture, professional work, or wellbeing. Lastly, the integration into communities is limited to members living on reserve due to the distant and isolated locations of the provided housing.
The systematic assistance offered to members of the First Nations and those that live in poverty in more populated regions of Canada is not equal. Due to the historical factors and the division of on-reserve and city populace, providing better housing for both groups is challenging. However, measures are being taken to resolve both issues in a reliable and long-term manner. A multitude of emotions are currently implemented or in the process of planning and allocating funding in ways that are inclusive and significantly increase the chances of the struggling populace to obtain their rights to adequate and durable housing.
City of Toronto, Support and Housing Administration. The street needs assessment. Government of Canada, 2018.
Greenwood, Margo et. al. “Challenges in Health Equity for Indigenous Peoples in Canada”. The Lancet, vol. 391, no. 10131, 2018, 1645-1648, Web.
McCartney, Shelagh et. al. “Failure by Design: The On-Reserve First Nations’ Housing Crisis and its roots”. The Canadian journal of native studies, vol. 38, no. 2, 2018, 101-124
McIsaac, Elizabeth. “Why We Need Cities to Fully Realize the Right to Housing in Canada”. Maytree, Web.
Neathway, Casey et. al. “Experiences with BC First Nations Community-Based Radon Testing: Successes and lessons learned”. Environmental Health Review, vol. 61. no. 2, 2021, 28-34