June is a month to celebrate, recognize and reflect on Indigenous history, culture, and identity. As an affordable housing provider, we believe it is incredibly important to take some time to reflect on the topic of Indigenous identity concerning housing-related adversity. As an organization focused on creating homes where everyone can thrive, we are passionate about supporting our tenants and building community. Forward Housing has recently begun its organizational journey of truth and reconciliation. While we have barely scratched the surface on this subject, we are thankful to the Elders, Indigenous professionals, our Indigenous tenants, and all the social service agencies that have shared their knowledge and wisdom with us to help inform our journey.
We recently had the opportunity to learn more about the Indigenous experience of homelessness and housing from Richard Horvath (Anishinaabe) of the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation. Richard is the Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness (ASCHH). The understanding of Indigenous homelessness is often discussed in a simplistic way that seeks to apply the colonialist definition of homelessness to a non-homogeneous group of people. Richard shared with us the definition of Indigenous Homelessness as defined by ASCHH which offers an important perspective to the subject:
“Indigenous homelessness is a human condition that describes First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals, families or communities lacking stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means or ability to acquire such housing. Unlike the common colonialist definition of homelessness, Indigenous homelessness is not defined as lacking a structure of habitation; rather, it is more fully described and understood through a composite lens of Indigenous worldviews. These include: individuals, families and communities isolated from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, cultures, languages and identities. Importantly, Indigenous people experiencing these kinds of homelessness cannot culturally, spiritually, emotionally or physically reconnect with their Indigeneity or lost relationships” (Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness, 2012)
One of the fundamental concepts critical to understanding Indigenous homelessness is that homelessness penetrates a deeper level of Indigenous people’s psyche compared to non-Indigenous homeless as “Indigenous individuals who are without home and shelter have been symbolically, as in their lived experiences of homelessness, displaced from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, their cultures, languages and identities” (Thistle, 2017). Approximately 21-38% of Calgary’s homeless are Indigenous (Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness, 2021). In other words, a large majority of Calgary’s homeless, on top of the incredible stresses accompanying homelessness, are experiencing a deeper severance of their identity, social groups, culture, and interaction with the world around them. Richard emphasizes that “the expression and practice of spirituality is an integral part in establishing a place to live from a mere space to a home.”
We acknowledge that Bishop’s Manor is built on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Tsuut’ina, the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations, the Métis Nation (Region 3), and all people who make their homes in the Treaty 7 region of Southern Alberta. Knowing what we do about Indigenous history and the experience of homelessness, it is of utmost importance for us to provide whatever assistance we can to help our Indigenous tenants to reconnect with their traditions, cultures, and identities. According to Richard, “Too often Indigenous persons are prevented from their cultural practices like smudging due to unfair rules and regulations by non-Indigenous housing providers. To this end, it is appreciated that the Forward Housing Association’s new facility, Bishop’s Manor, has included a wellness room to which Indigenous residents are welcomed to participate in this spiritual practice and expression of our identity. The inclusion of safe spaces for Indigenous persons to affirm their spirituality and identity is integral for the health and success of our communities, and barriers to do so are not only unfair, but harm the integrity of any desire towards inclusivity and mutual appreciation. The inclusion of this space is one step in contributing to the reconciliation of the exclusion of Indigenous persons in contemporary society. This is a positive step forwards for the Forward Housing Association.”
Bishop’s Manor’s Mural and Wellness Room were designed to foster these connections, allow for the spiritual and personal growth of Indigenous tenants, honour the Treaty 7 region, and of course, begin our journey of reconciliation. While welcoming to people of all nations, the Wellness Room was specifically designed with the Indigenous practice of Smudging in mind. Vents, a hand carved wooden stump, and hand-painted wall art complete this calming space. Directly adjacent and visible through the windows is a 40-foot-long mural titled ‘Honouring the Buffalo’ which pays homage to the beautiful land of Treaty 7. Stay tuned for our next blog post later this week where we will introduce and highlight the contributions of all the amazing Indigenous artists who generously donated their time, creativity, and effort into creating a beautiful and inclusive space.
We extend our sincerest gratitude to Richard Horvath and the Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness for sharing their knowledge and collaborating with Forward Housing on this post. Learn more about ASCHH and the great work they do: http://www.aschh.ca/
Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness. (2021). Homelessness and Housing. Retrieved from https://www.aschh.ca/about-aschh/homelessness-and-housing/
Thistle, J. (2017.) Indigenous Defnition of Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.