A new way to build homes for First Na­tions

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - MIKE HOLMES

LAST month, I was in Win­nipeg for the An­nual Gen­eral Assem­bly of First Na­tions (AFN) to an­nounce that we’ll be work­ing with First Na­tions groups to build com­mu­ni­ties.

I’m ex­cited about this op­por­tu­nity; it gives us the chance to build homes for peo­ple who need them, in com­mu­ni­ties that work and make sense. And we can also build skills and de­velop ca­pac­ity, so those com­mu­ni­ties can grow in­de­pen­dently in the fu­ture.

But that’s not all. We’re go­ing to build the right way: We’re go­ing to build us­ing sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als and meth­ods and clean en­ergy. And we’re go­ing to build so these com­mu­ni­ties are in­te­grated into the nat­u­ral land­scape, and the im­pact of build­ing them is re­duced as much as pos­si­ble.

There are many chal­lenges with First Na­tions hous­ing. There is a hous­ing short­age; has been for a long time. And there are se­ri­ous prob­lems with First Na­tions hous­ing stock and in­fra­struc­ture, prob­lems that date back many gen­er­a­tions.

Many First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties are re­mote and iso­lated. They have no phone lines, no elec­tric­ity, no out­door plumb­ing. There are so­cial prob­lems and prob­lems with ed­u­ca­tion and health care.

We need to pro­mote some pub­lic aware­ness of the hous­ing con­di­tions in too many First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties. Cana­di­ans are liv­ing in Third World con­di­tions. It’s shock­ing that so many First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties live un­der boil-wa­ter or­ders — and this, in the coun­try with the world’s largest fresh­wa­ter sup­ply.

This is a pi­lot project. We’ll doc­u­ment the process and pro­vide it for any First Na­tions groups who want to fol­low in our foot­steps. We want to build homes and build ca­pac­ity: the abil­ity to cre­ate more homes and more com­mu­ni­ties on a model that’s ap­pro­pri­ate to First Na­tions cul­ture.

It’s one thing to swoop in and build a bunch of houses typ­i­cal of a North Amer­i­can sub­di­vi­sion, then leave. That’s been done be­fore as a so­lu­tion to First Na­tions hous­ing needs, and it hasn’t worked. But with­out leav­ing the ca­pac­ity be­hind within the com­mu­nity to main­tain those houses, they will de­grade. And if those houses aren’t the ‘right kind’ in the first place — that is, they aren’t ap­pro­pri­ate for the cli­mate and life­style of the peo­ple who will live in them, then odds are, they won’t last.

We need to meet the needs of First Na­tions hous­ing, not just im­pose our vi­sion. Theirs is a cul­ture with a sense of great en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity. We want to add the val­ues of en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity to build a com­mu­nity that is ap­pro­pri­ate for the fu­ture of our planet.

Pro­tec­tion of wildlife mi­gra­tion routes, plant habi­tat, wa­ter run-off and sur­face drainage — all this is in­ter­con­nected and needs to be val­ued and rec­og­nized and in­cor­po­rated in the de­sign of the com­mu­nity. We need to pro­tect our bo­real forests, wet­lands and tun­dra. They soak up and store hun­dreds of bil­lions of tonnes of car­bon — around 22 per cent of the car­bon on Earth, more than the trop­i­cal rain­forests. That will slow down cli­mate change.

The nat­u­ral forests act as wa­ter­sheds, car­bon sinks, air pu­ri­fiers, cli­mate mod­er­a­tors and wildlife habi­tat. We need to pro­tect them, in all of our build­ing ef­forts.

Maybe clear-cut­ting forests and damming and di­vert­ing rivers for big hy­dro­elec­tric power gen­er­a­tion isn’t such a great idea. Mi­cro­gen­er­a­tion — small power — is more ef­fi­cient, and we’ve come to a point where it’s pos­si­ble to im­ple­ment and in­te­grate it in all of our com­mu­nity plan­ning.

Most of our coun­try’s power is pro­vided by huge hy­dro gen­er­at­ing plants and coal-fired sta­tions. Since many First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties are so re­mote, it’s very ex­pen­sive to bring big power to them. These re­mote com­mu­ni­ties could take ad­van­tage of mi­cro­gen­er­a­tion. Off the grid, they could gen­er­ate their own en­ergy from clean re­new­able sources, be in­ter­con­nected, and pro­vide backup and re­dun­dancy for one an­other.

One of the most im­por­tant el­e­ments of the com­mu­ni­ties will be com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Telep­res­ence and satel­lite In­ter­net will al­low bands to com­mu­ni­cate with one an­other and with tribal lead­ers and to share in­for­ma­tion on com­mu­nity devel­op­ment. It will help cre­ate a foun­da­tion for busi­ness and eco­nomic devel­op­ment and the growth of cot­tage in­dus­tries. It will re­con­nect ur­ban and ru­ral cit­i­zens of First Na­tions, keep­ing the cul­ture vi­brant and alive. Also, it will link to the Cana­dian busi­ness com­mu­nity, al­low­ing First Na­tions to seize eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity.

We can build smart com­mu­ni­ties that are fully in­te­grated through the In­ter­net with a com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture that can sup­port the ed­u­ca­tion, govern­ment ser­vices and health-care needs. We can con­nect re­mote com­mu­ni­ties in a way that’s never been done be­fore.

My team is work­ing with the AFN to de­velop a model com­mu­nity — and to build the first pi­lot. It will in­cor­po­rate ap­pro­pri­ate green technology and sus­tain­able build­ing prac­tices, and use clean en­ergy and in­no­va­tive ma­te­ri­als. But, just as im­por­tant, it will in­te­grate the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and First Na­tions’ fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­pals of ex­tended fam­ily and tra­di­tional so­cial sys­tems. We will re­spect the land and the land­scape by build­ing within it — not bend­ing it to suit our needs. We want to cre­ate holis­tic and sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties that are tech­no­log­i­cally con­nected and smart.

We want to cre­ate real change. And to do that, we all need to act — col­lec­tively and in­di­vid­u­ally. I’m proud the First Na­tions asked me to walk with them. We’ll make it right to­gether.

For more in­for­ma­tion on home ren­o­va­tions, visit makeitright.ca.

— Postmedia News

POSTMEDIA NEWS ARCHIVES

Man­i­toba First Na­tions hous­ing: many of the houses on Gar­den Hill First Na­tions lack run­ning wa­ter and sewer.

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