Indigenous communities in Vancouver are reinventing housing and urban development

In Vancouver, a new kind of Indigenous community is emerging – one that builds resilience, health, creativity and culture through shared housing and local Indigenous leadership.

“People have a hard time seeing themselves as creative people without ‘the basics,'” said Mike Alexander, an Indigenous artist from Vancouver. Having access to safe housing, personal safety and resources that other people take for granted, he said, “makes it easier to ‘step out of yourself and see the world through a creative lens.’

Alexander, an Anishinaabe artist from Swan Lake First Nation in Manitoba, is in residence at Skwachays Lodge, an innovative social enterprise where hotel rooms subsidize the rent of artists who sell their art in the hotel shop. He grew up in Winnipeg and now lives in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver thanks to this residency program.

Artists in residence at Skwachàys Lodge have access to subsidized housing and artist studios 24/7. They are also able to participate in programming opportunities for personal and professional development. Credit: Skwachays Lodge

Caroline Phelps, coordinator of the artists-in-residence program and cultural liaison officer at Skwachàys Lodge, said subsidized housing through the residency program is a form of cultural preservation. “We help them keep our culture alive,” she said, “by examining through their artistic lens what they see and what they create.”

Since its opening in 2014, 110 artists have completed a residency. Among them are Kwakwakaʼwakw and Coast Salish artists Maynard Johnny Jr.., whose designs will be on BC Ferries; Justin Rain, a Plains Cree actor who was in “Fear the Walking Dead”; Actress and director of Secwépemc grace dove; and First Nation painter Peter Chapman jerry whitehead.

Lu’ma Native Housing Society children’s village is another example of a housing program in the greater Vancouver area that incorporates an Indigenous cultural worldview. The project was designed to support Aboriginal children in foster care and provide them with stability. One of the features that makes this project so innovative is that if problems arise between the foster family and the foster child, the foster family moves instead of the child. This creates stability for the child because they don’t have to pack or move and they have a place to call home.

The Dave Pranteau Indigenous Children’s Village was born out of Lu’ma Native’s goal to eradicate homelessness and poverty in Indigenous youth communities. Source: British Columbia Housing Research Center

Lu’uma has 16 housing units that support young people at various points in their care. The center also facilitates a mentorship program to support their transition to adulthood through skill building, connection, experiences and practical help. The development includes offices for health care and social services, so housing and other needs are met for young people in the same space.

How many First Nations are homeless on stolen land?—Ginger Gosnell-Myers

Ginger Gosnell-Myers, a Nisga’a-Kwakwaka’wakw Indigenous scholar from Simon Fraser University, said Lu’uma and similar projects in the Vancouver area have worked to fund housing for more people. aboriginals in an increasingly unaffordable housing market.

“How many First Nations people are homeless on stolen land? ” she says. “The problem with the urban Aboriginal community in Vancouver is that we use all of our services all the time, it’s a permanent community and it’s growing. But we don’t see the growth rate of our services and housing catching up.

While space for housing is crucial, Gosnell-Myers also highlighted the need for a multi-purpose space for funerals, for dance groups to practice, make insignia, prepare food and other cultural practices. . Currently, these spaces are hard to find. It is the activities that bring communities together, but affordability separates them.

Indigenous communities
New Gathering Places: Mixed-use spaces are central to many Indigenous cultures. Here, Nisga’a artist Mike Dangeli plays drums during a ceremony held at Lu’ma Native’s Children Village. Credit: Yolande Cole

This reflects the importance of housing, she said, on Indigenous resilience.

If we want to be resilient, we need to strengthen our communities.

Gosnell-Myers explained, “Indigenous people are… in the most vulnerable situations because we are not developing housing fast enough. And the communities we grew up on are scattering, because we can no longer afford to live in our community. So we cannot be resilient.

Carole Ann Hilton, Business Leader of Nuu Chah Nulth Descent of the Hesquiaht Nation and Founding CEO of Indigenomics Institutespoke about the historical relationship between Indigenous communities and housing development, and what this could mean for the future.

Historically, she said, Indigenous peoples have not been “at the forefront of the development side of the equation.” As a result, there is a lack of “meaningful space for Indigenous worldviews and practices”.

Hilton said there was a need to “examine a fuller range of Indigenous participation,” including in decisions about location and architecture that include “ways of seeing and using the space of an indigenous point of view”.

Restorative Practices: In the United States, the Wiyot Tribe and the Humboldt Cooperative have worked together to form a type of community land trust intended to return land sovereignty to Indigenous communities. Wiyot Tribe Trustee Michelle Vassel with Cooperation Humboldt Co-Founder and Executive Director David Cobb. Credit: Mark McKenna

This includes, she said, multi-generational thinking about the current and future needs of the community, a level of planning that has never happened before due to the exclusion of Indigenous peoples from the process.

“It’s not always something that’s been taken into consideration,” she said, “in terms of how Indigenous people use space, how we come together and how we connect, more closely connected in terms of life and multigenerational needs.

Hilton Highlights Major Development Ahead of Squamish First Nation, Sen̓áḵwas to how things might change with Aboriginal involvement.

Sen̓áḵw as a verb signifies the beginning of something beautiful, but also respect for nature, indigenous people, healing, and a new path forward.

Indigenous communities
Once built, Sen̓áḵw will be the first large-scale zero-carbon housing development. Credit: Sen̓áḵw

“The size and scale of a housing development of this magnitude and significance…has the ability to change the skyline of the city of Vancouver,” she said, “and really place economic power aboriginal at the center of it.

Hilton says Indigenous-led design, partnership, funding and housing under Indigenous conditions is a “game changer” that highlights the growing economic strength of Indigenous communities. »

Sen̓áḵw is envisioned as an environmentally sustainable housing development that will be less car-centric, including reduced parking, and is expected to be the largest net-zero carbon residential project in Canada. With a heating and cooling system powered by waste heat from nearby sewer infrastructure, it is expected to add over 950 affordable housing units and 6,000 rental units to the local market.

Cities are both the greatest challenges, but also perhaps the greatest potential to address some of the great challenges we face globally, such as climate change, biodiversity loss. Chris Lin

For Dr Chris Ling, who heads the Science in Environmental Practice undergraduate program at Royal Roads University, Sen̓áḵw could mean a way forward for a range of ecological issues.

Beyond the environmental implications, Ling pointed to the potential for personal impact on residents.

“The more we can allow people to live car-free, the more likely they are to use active transportation options, which is physically healthier,” he said. “From a mental health perspective, the mere presence of green space in the development is a very good step forward.”

He said research indicates that access to green spaces and even views of them can do a lot for mental health and well-being.

Credit: Sen̓áḵw

“It’s in the middle of an urban area, so there’s only a certain level of naturalness that you can probably achieve, but the perception of naturalness is also a big part of that,” he said. declared. . This is definitely a positive step forward.

Innovative Indigenous-led housing can build resilience, well-being, and provide opportunities for cultural revitalization and effective land resource management. It can also be delivered in a way that creates an empowering experience, allowing a person to feel seen, reach their full potential, and contribute to society by meeting their basic needs.

As someone benefiting from the expression of this possibility, Mike Alexander reflected on the opportunity he has at Skwachàys Lodge.

Indigenous communities
Art, culture & community: Mike Alexander poses with two of his paintings. The themes and visuals of her work pay homage to her Anishinaabe heritage. Credit: Kamloops Arts Council

“I think I try to make art that reflects my generations of artists who have this unique experience of being descendants of people who went to residential schools,” he said. “It’s amazing what happens when a person’s needs are met, when human rights are taken into account and the real ideas of freedom, accessibility and inclusion, and what that looks like when that’s extended in a respectful way. It’s amazing to see what develops as a result of that.

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