Alberta man offers to share his 'stolen land' with a First Nations family

Joel Holmberg says he has long acknowledged that Canada is "really all stolen land" — even his own property that he has worked hard for, and still has about another 20 years until it's paid off.

Joel Holmberg's Facebook post extends offer to any Indigenous family who wants to live traditional lifestyle

Joel Holmberg hopes to find a First Nations family to live on his property located outside of Barrhead, Alta., to build a self-sustaining lifestyle together and live out the original intent of treaty agreements.

An Alberta man has posted an open invitation for a First Nations family to share his five-acre property.

"We want to share our tiny piece of stolen land with a First Nations family, and find freedom and self-sufficiency together," said Joel Holmberg.

His Facebook pitch ends with, "If you are Indigenous, have kids, are clean and sober, and want to be free on the land, we have a home for you here. No rent, no bills, just live free…"

Holmberg lives near Barrhead, Alta., about 100 km northwest of Edmonton. He said he was inspired to share his land and its resources after witnessing the backlash stemming from the acquittal earlier this month of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley accused in the killing of First Nations man Colten Boushie.

Seeing racist commentary toward First Nations break out online spurred him to take action.

"I've always been treated with kindness and shown how good First Nations people are," said Holmberg.

He said he attended a healing ceremony at Boushie's home community of Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan a few years ago while undergoing treatments for Hepatitis C.

"The other Canada is very cold and racist. It's uncomfortable.... I wanted to express that not all Canadians feel that way [toward Indigenous Peoples]."

Holmberg said he has long acknowledged that Canada is "really all stolen land" — even his own property that he has worked hard for, and still has about another 20 years until it's paid off.

Joel at age 14 (centre) seen with his First Nations 'uncles' and elders where he grew up near B.C.'s west Kootenay region. He says they spent time helping him to know the history of their tribes, and their culture. 'Their love and kindness, as well as that of the people of Red Pheasant, has been my inspiration in wanting to share our tiny piece of stolen land with a First Nations family, and find freedom and self sufficiency together.'

But he said injustice toward the First Peoples stems from land thefts by governments and settlers, even by his ancestors. Now, he said, he wants to do his part to try to make things right and hopes his idea could one day become a model for others to follow.

He links it to the signing of treaties when settlers and First Nations agreed to live side by side, and share the land and resources. But those agreements were not adhered to.

"I don't think anybody agreed to sell Canada or the resources to anybody. I believe in the original vision of sharing the land," he said.

Alberta 'a very redneck place'

Holmberg grew up in the west Kootenays of B.C. and said he developed close relationships with local First Nations elders as a young boy. He said he learned about First Nation culture and history that isn't taught in schools.

"There's a lot of falsehoods about Indigenous people," he said.

"[Other] people don't understand their good character and nature. There's a lot of ignorance and racism to overcome, especially in the Prairies."

He said he tries to engage in conversations with non-Indigenous community members to help relieve racial tensions. So far, he said he's found that most negative perceptions are held by people with a lack of understanding and connection to each other.

"Alberta, it's a very redneck place, but I educate people as best I can," he said.

"If people can really see what happened here, you just know in your heart it's unethical. But there's a lot of people, like me, who know whose land they're on and know the real history and really want to see some change."

The outline of an old building sits on Holmberg's five-acre property outside of Barrhead, Alta. in the summer. He said he also has a sweatlodge to conduct ceremonies on his land.

Holmberg first extended the invite for a First Nations family to live on his land via Facebook post on Sunday morning. So far, he said he's received responses from all over Canada and the United States.

He said he plans to interview anyone interested and may invite them out to his property for an in-person meeting. The only stipulations are they must have a connection to or interest in traditional culture and not consume alcohol or drugs.

Holmberg said he is excited to work together with the right family to become self-sufficient and learn to live off the land.

"We can hunt together, tan hides, have sweats," he said.

"I'll know when we have the right family. For me it's about intuition. We'll work together, one day at a time, and figure it out together."

About the Author

Brandi Morin

Brandi Morin, Métis, born and raised in Alberta, possesses a passion for telling Indigenous stories. Based outside Edmonton, Morin has lent her talents to several news organizations, including Indian Country Today Media Network and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network National News. She is now hard at work striving to tell the stories of Canada's Indigenous peoples to a broader audience.