'It's an honour': Maskwacis students build homes for elders
Construction program teaches skills while addressing housing crunch on reserves
High school students from Maskwacis will build homes for elders in their community, in exchange for school credit that can be used toward an apprenticeship in the construction industry.
"I feel like I'll do something really good for an elder, this will really help them," said Evan Buffalo, an Ermineskin Junior Senior High School student who signed up for the program.
"It's an honour, pretty much, because elders are very important to our communities."
Fellow Grade 10 student Rayden Roasting said she wanted to do her part to help care for the community's senior members.
"They've done so much for us," she said.
Six to eight new homes will be built on former powwow grounds, near the Maskwacis townsite.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held last week on the Ermineskin Cree Nation, one of the four First Nations that form Maskwacis.
YC Homes, a mobile company that specializes in building housing through educational opportunities, is running the Journey To Apprenticeship program.
Students earn credits toward graduation and build up hours that can be applied to an apprenticeship if they choose to pursue a career in the trades, said YC Homes spokesperson Jay Noel.
"It's life skills. It's to inspire," said Noel.
Construction on the first house will start in May. Work will continue throughout the summer.
Indigenous Services Canada provided close to $1 million to fund the project.
Lack of housing is a serious problem on Ermineskin, said band councillor Jason Makinaw.
"We're about 500 houses short, so any type of way that we can alleviate that is good," he said.
Many elders live with their children and grandchildren, and the homes can get crowded, Makinaw said.
"I'd really like them to live stress-free and in a peaceful way," he told CBC. "With this project, they'll be living independently but with someone to assist them in their daily needs."
Makinaw said the housing will be good for the community and the project will strengthen ties between elders and youths.
"We always want our elders to be able to help guide the youth," he said. "This is a turnaround. Our youth are leading the project to build homes for them."
'A good opportunity'
A total of 36 students have signed up for the program, 12 from each of the three high schools that are part of the Maskwacis Education Schools Commission.
For every six hours of in-class learning, they'll receive six hours of hands-on experience.
Neither Roasting or Buffalo have worked in construction before, but the students are keen to learn.
They'll be taught every stage of construction, from framing to finishing.
Buffalo isn't sure if he'd like to pursue a career in the construction industry but hopes the experience will lead to better job prospects.
"I thought this was a good opportunity to get ahead in life, you know, get these things on my resume," said Buffalo.
"It's a head start."