New training program aims to tackle housing crisis in northern First Nations

A partnership of the University of Manitoba, the Anokiiwin Training Institute and Garden Hill and Wasagamack First Nations will employ 20 students from each community to build four homes for residents.

Program will train 40 students to build homes from ground up

A team of architects and architecture students recently visited two remote First Nations to help people design homes in their communities. It's part of a housing initiative called Boreal Homebuilders that will train 40 students to build homes from the ground up. (Submitted by Kaoru Ryan Suzuki)

An innovative new training program aims to address the housing crisis in remote First Nations by using materials and residents who are already in the communities.

A group of 20 students from Garden Hill First Nation and another 20 from Wasagamack First Nation will learn how to build homes in their communities as part of Boreal Homebuilders, a partnership of the University of Manitoba, the two communities and the Anokiiwin Training Institute.

Over the course of 15 months, the students will receive vocational training on how to build houses from start — cutting the preparing the timber themselves — to finish, with each community ultimately getting two new houses. 

U of M Prof. Shirley Thompson visited the communities with architects and architecture students last week to start developing the houses and designing them in culturally appropriate ways.

Thompson is impressed by the designs students came up with. (Submitted by Kaoru Ryan Suzuki)

Some of the students in the communities had their own design ideas, many of which incorporated the sun and the environment to make the homes more sustainable, Thompson said.

"It's so wonderful to see the creativity, the potential in these students to change the situation," she said.

The two Island Lakes-area First Nations, which are accessible only by plane or winter road, were chosen for the project because they have some of the worst housing situations in the province, Thompson said.

During their visit to the communities, facilitators saw one home with 14 people living in it, and another with 23 people under one roof.

The team visits a home, one of several they visted in the First Nations to get a sense of the housing situation. (Submitted by Kaoru Ryan Suzuki)

"It's not uncommon for people to sleep in shifts, because there aren't enough beds," Thompson said.

The hope is that if the program is successful in Garden Hill and Wasagmack, it can be duplicated in other First Nations, Thompson said.

"If we can do it in these fly-in remote communities that are very economically poor, we can take it anywhere," she said.

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