First Nations leaders urge B.C. Housing to investigate Indigenous deaths at supportive housing

·3 min read
On Friday, the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres called upon B.C. Housing to investigate the deaths of six Indigenous residents at supportive housing complex Goodacre Place in Smithers, B.C.  (Nicole Oud/CBC - image credit)
On Friday, the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres called upon B.C. Housing to investigate the deaths of six Indigenous residents at supportive housing complex Goodacre Place in Smithers, B.C. (Nicole Oud/CBC - image credit)

First Nation leaders are urging the province to investigate the deaths of six Indigenous residents that happened over the past 12 months at a northwestern B.C. supportive housing complex.

In its press release Friday, the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC) said B.C. Housing should conduct an inquiry into the deaths at Goodacre Place in Smithers — about 350 kilometres east of Prince Rupert — because they mark what the organization believes is the highest number of residents to die at a single supportive housing facility in one year.

The BCAAFC and its Smithers-based member Dze L K'ant Friendship Centre attribute the deaths to the lack of culturally safe services for Indigenous residents. They also call upon B.C. Housing to launch a comprehensive review of the culturally appropriate services, such as providing support from Indigenous elders, in its facilities across the province.

The group has not released the causes of the deaths in Smithers.

Opened in February 2019, Goodacre Place is a supportive housing building with 24 single occupancy units jointly developed by B.C. Housing, Town of Smithers and non-profit Smithers Community Services Association.

Staff at the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre, pictured, says the Smithers Community Services Association rejected its offer last year to provide support services for Indigenous residents at Goodacre Place in Smithers.
Staff at the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre, pictured, says the Smithers Community Services Association rejected its offer last year to provide support services for Indigenous residents at Goodacre Place in Smithers.(Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Dze L K'ant Friendship Centre executive director Annette Morgan says the Smithers Community Services Association rejected her offer last year to provide support services to First Nations residents at Goodacre Place because this would duplicate the services already provided by the association.

"It is unacceptable that Smithers Community Services Association continues to be unwilling to recognize the value of a longstanding Indigenous organization providing support services that will contribute to community capacity to handle the housing crisis in a culturally appropriate manner," Morgan said in the press release.

BCAAFC executive director Leslie Varley says funding intended to support services for Indigenous supportive housing residents have often been awarded to non-Indigenous mainstream agencies.

"It's hard to apply an Indigenous lens when you have no Indigenous lived experience," Varley told CBC reporter Bill Fee. "Sometimes some of these [mainstream] agencies might bring in one Indigenous person, but because that voice is such a tokenized voice in a mainstream organization, they're not able to fulfill the needs of the [Indigenous] clients."

In a written statement to CBC News, B.C. Housing says it is hiring two third-party contractors — one of whom is Indigenous-led — to conduct a review on the deaths at Goodacre Place.

Leslie Varley, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, says mainstream agencies that run supportive housing often don't have lived experience to provide services that Indigenous residents need.
Leslie Varley, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, says mainstream agencies that run supportive housing often don't have lived experience to provide services that Indigenous residents need.(Submitted by Leslie Varley)

Varley is Nisga'a, originally from Hazelton about 75 kilometres north of Smithers. Now living in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, she says she left northern B.C. because of the rampant racism against Indigenous people in that region.

"It's extremely difficult to live there sometimes with the racism that we see and experience," she said. "Isn't it interesting that the people who are most impacted by homelessness are Indigenous people? That's a direct link to colonization, and it's time for that to be addressed."

CBC News has also contacted the Smithers Community Services Association for response but has not heard back.

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