Calgary

Siksika Nation gets 1st new build under home-ownership program

Nelson Breaker will become the first person in Alberta to own a home on a First Nation through a federal program created seven years ago.

Use of federal fund as a backstop to bank loans enables people living on reserve to buy, build or renovate

Nelson Breaker hopes his new home will be ready by Christmas. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Nelson Breaker left the Siksika First Nation in 1975 in search of a better life, but found a home right back where he started four decades later.

"It has been a 40-year journey for me and my family," said Breaker, who will become the first person in Alberta to own a home on a First Nation through a federal program created seven years ago.

The First Nations Market Housing Fund was established in 2008 with a one-time, $300-million commitment from Ottawa.

The pot of money is used to backstop loans, encouraging banks to lend to First Nations members who want to renovate, build, or purchase their own homes.

In Breaker's case, he's building brand new.

"I'm hoping by Christmastime they'll have the power and everything ready so we can spend our first Christmas here," he said. "That would be awesome."

Housing crisis

Siksika Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman said the program comes at critical time for the community of about 7,500 people, where many homes were damaged or destroyed by the 2013 flood.

"We have over 500 on a waiting list for housing and we need to be creative," he said.

Siksika First Nation was hit hard by flooding in June 2013, which caused major damage throughout southern Alberta. (John Reiti/CBC)

"We have staff, we have people that are employed, and we want to make this an opportunity for them to own their own home."

First Nations people cannot technically own land on reserves, but some nations are adopting more private property-friendly policies through a variety of means — including leasehold tenure arrangements.

"I don't see why the other First Nations are not doing this," Yellow Old Woman said. "They have to do this to meet the needs of their members. And Siksika has taken the lead in Alberta, once again."

Origin of the fund

John Beaucage, chair of the trustees of the First Nations Market Housing Fund, said the idea originally came out of negotiations with the previous Liberal government of Paul Martin as part of the Kelowna Accord — a framework for First Nations that was largely dismantled by the subsequent Conservative government, save for this.

"We worked for 18 months putting together the announcements on housing for the Kelowna Accord," Beaucage said. "This is the only program that survived."

"These plans were not developed by just a few people sitting at a table in a back room somewhere," he added. "These plans were developed by us, by our people, right across the country, who knew what they were talking about."

Dozens of First Nations across Canada have since partnered with the program to provide housing and home ownership.

"This is the very first house in Alberta," Beaucage said. "Many more are going to come."

John Beaucage, chair of the trustees of the First Nations Market Housing Fund, congratulates Nelson Breaker (right), who will become the first homeowner on the reserve through the federal program.

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