'Homeless' First Nations walkers take fight to Ottawa
Activists say people living off reserve deserve equal rights
A group of activists from northwestern Ontario that built a house themselves for an elder in desperate need is taking its fight for First Nations housing to Ottawa.
Members of Saugeen First Nation, about 400 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, are walking to Ottawa in an effort to gain equal rights for First Nations people who live off reserve.
"We are walking as homeless people, impoverished people," Darlene Necan said. "We tent out [and] we camp out while we are doing this walk because we can't afford rooms."
Necan said building a house for a community elder this spring was only the first step in her battle — it'll take millions more to get to Ottawa and deliver her message.
She said at least 10 other families need homes too. All of them are First Nation members, living off-reserve in Savant Lake, next door to Saugeen First Nation — often in small, make-shift shacks.
Andrew Belmore is one of them. He joined Necan on the walk to Ottawa.
"I hope they can actually realize what we're doing this for, so everyone can get the same funding that we're suppose to get," he said.
‘We gotta do something’
Belmore and Necan were part of a small group of people who, last year, decided a 74-year-old elder needed a new home. The elder was living in what was once a chicken coop. In Savant Lake, about 400 km northwest of Thunder Bay, there are no homeless shelters or nursing homes.
With little money of their own, the group headed into the bush to cut logs. When the shell was nearly complete in the spring, they held up placards and collected money on the side of the highway to pay for nails and shingles.
Necan said the housing crisis in First Nations across Canada made her realize other solutions are needed.
"We gotta do something," she said. "We can’t just sit and wait for Indian Affairs to do this by their rules. We cannot do that anymore. We have to stand up on our own feet."
So now she’s trading her hammer for a pair of walking shoes.
Necan added that years of writing letters to politicians haven’t improved the housing situation. She hopes walking to parliament hill will prove First Nations people are dedicated to finding — and being part of — the solution.
Melanie Necan is one of the seven people who will make the trek to Ottawa to find a way out of the dilemma.
"I think all these issues have to be recognized with the government and the reserve and the chief," she said.
"I just think it's very important and everyone should be treated equally, [whether they are an] on- or off-band member."
The group hopes to make it to Ottawa by the end of September.