An Anishnaabe woman from a small town in northern Ontario is taking a simple, bold move to combat homelessness in her First Nation.
Darlene Necan is building her own home on her family's trapline, outside the boundaries of the Ojbway Nation of Saugeen reserve, near Pickle Lake.
She said her needs — and those of many other off-reserve members — aren't being met by the First Nation leadership.
"Being homeless all the time, that kind of got to me," Necan said. "It seemed like society pushed me back on our land, and that's why I started building on our trapline."
It's the second time Necan has taken the shortage of housing into her own hands. Two years ago, using donated labour and materials, she built a cabin for an elder who was living in an old chicken barn.
But with little money of her own, Necan wasn't sure how she'd manage to construct another dwelling.
"I was at the end of my rope," she said. "But I just got up and thought about our people and said what do we have to do for them and how can we show our youth to better themselves and you know, to stand up?"
Strong conviction attracts donations, volunteers
That kind of determination caught the attention of the International League of Peoples' Struggles (ILPS), after Necan spoke at a conference last year titled, "Right to Exist, Right to Resist."
"The way that she always speaks and stands in line with putting her people first, and putting her land first, was something that was very beautiful and inspirational to me," said Laura Lepper, an organizer with the ILPS Indigenous Commission, based in Toronto.
The group launched a fundraising campaign for Necan that garnered more than $5,000 in donations. Then 16 volunteers travelled from Toronto to northern Ontario to help Necan build her one-room cabin.
Lepper said it was challenging for many urbanites to adapt to spending three weeks in the bush. But she added the group learned a lot from each other.
"Seeing that incredible exchange of people's stories, at the same time as being in this intense environment for a lot of us, was pretty amazing," she said.
There is no electricity or running water in the new cabin and, for now, there are no windows or doors. Nevertheless, Necan plans to move in during the first week of July.
Necan said she'll keep up the political fight for proper housing for all of the Saugeen band members. Meanwhile, she's already had requests from others who want help to build their own cabins.
"There's too many people helping themselves and not really looking at their neighbour," she said when asked to explain her initiative.