Indigenous groups renewed their call for government to do more to address housing issues in B.C. on Friday during an event in Langford.
Organized by the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, the event served both as a reminder more work needs to be done to improve housing for the province’s Indigenous populations, but also that a solution is available, in the form of their Provincial Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy first unveiled in January.
“What we are seeing loud and clear in our report – which was driven by our communities and collated by a panel of experts who did the research and the data analysis – is the need for nearly 20,000 bricks and mortar new housing units here in B.C.,” said association CEO Margaret Pfoh.
“We know that we cannot continue to rely on the colonial constructs of the Canadian government or the provincial government to create a strategy for the Indigenous people, because they are not Indigenous people … our communities asked us to create a strategy that would be driven by them, and for them.”
Since announcing the strategy the group’s main target audience has been the federal government, Pfoh said. Their goal has been to highlight the importance of investment in Indigenous housing – the province has proven to be a strong partner, she added. While the feds have invested in housing on First Nations, funding has been lacking for housing in urban, rural, and northern communities where many Indigenous people are living.
Reannouncing the housing strategy demonstrates to governments at all levels that Indigenous people and organizations stand together on the issue and helps eliminate potential for First Nations and urban Indigenous groups to be “pitted against each other” when it comes to funding, Pfoh said.
“We need to break down all those silos, that jurisdictional nit picking and finger pointing and tell the federal government, provincial government, municipal government and our First Nations leaders, we are here to work with them, we have a strategy, we want them to invest in it.”
The housing strategy is particularly important as it was developed by Indigenous people, she said, noting that previous housing proposed or built without Indigenous input are not culturally safe and relevant for the people who will live in them.
As an example, she said most housing is built for the average family with two children and four people total living in one unit, whereas many Indigenous families include extended family members in their housing needs. Such cultural practices as hunting, fishing and smudging are also important to accommodate within Indigenous housing solutions, but have not been in the past.
A physical illustration of the types of solutions made possible under the strategy was the building hosting Friday’s event, M’akola Housing Society’s recently completed apartment complex on Station Avenue. The building houses 100 Indigenous families above street level community services offices providing supports tailored to their needs.