'It's about bridging gaps': First Nations seek solutions for Indigenous housing crisis

First Nations advocates and housing industry leaders from across Canada gathered for the inaugural Restoring Our Sacred Space conference this week on the Tsuut'ina Reserve, just west of Calgary.

A set of panelists discussed issues surrounding the First Nations housing crisis, basic human rights to housing, and treaty rights.

The national gathering at the Grey Eagle Events Centre focused on exploring solutions to a lack of funding, government support and resources along with issues like health and safety.

The event had a variety of Indigenous speakers from across the country, a trades fair and a panel discussion, along with a fundraising gala, which featured contractor and TV host Mike Holmes.

Karen English, founder of Kamotaan Consulting, co-ordinated the gathering.

"We are bringing Indigenous speakers from across Canada to talk about Indigenous economic development with an emphasis on housing and the housing crisis for Indigenous people that has occurred for many years," she said.

The housing crisis is only increasing, English said, so there is a pressing need to come up with new, innovative ways to create better outcomes for Indigenous communities.

She said the purpose of the gathering was to start having that dialogue, to start creating solutions together — before it's too late.

"Unity, it's about bridging gaps, bringing people together. It's about breaking down the current walls that are put up in place so that we can't work together," English said.

It seems like people from different sectors have come together to share and find solutions to some of our toughest problems, said the organizer.

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Cam Alexis, CEO of Tribal Chiefs Ventures, participated and partnered in the housing conference initiative.

"I know the current government invested $40 million for housing," said the former chief of the Alexis First Nation. "However, if you look at it very closely, that money doesn't go far enough with 634 nations. And it just creates maybe a catching-up mode, but it does not allow us to move ahead with adequate safe houses."

He said First Nations members are people of the land and that's why they have inherent rights.

Alexis sat on the panel to talk about First Nations funding issues and creating awareness for Indigenous housing.

"First Nations face a lack of safe homes and the lack of housing," he said.

He emphasized the need to start to look at federal and provincial opportunities to work together.

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Tsuut'ina council member Regena Crowchild participated in the panel and is a well-known advocate for treaty rights.

"I just want our people to understand or to continue to find solutions for the struggles we face in our communities," she said.

The conference's mission was to broaden perspectives, create relationships and provide solutions to common challenges that First Nations people face, including an emphasis on the housing crisis.

"There's different ideas. Conferences like this brings all that out and people share their knowledge in their experiences and challenges. So we can try and answer the questions to the lack of housing for our peoples," Crowchild said.

First Nations people deal with social issues like poverty, homelessness, a lack of housing and domestic violence, along with children in the foster care system, only to name a few, said English.

The rates for Aboriginal people are higher than the rest of Canada, English said.

Organizers and Indigenous leaders hope the gathering will be ongoing and a starting point for change.