Tiny homes may help address housing issues in Opaskwayak Cree Nation

A new housing pilot project in development in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Man., aims to help address housing issues with tiny energy-efficient houses.

Pilot project would build a village of portable, energy-efficient mini homes

Idle No More organizer Alex Wilson says tiny houses are an affordable, sustainable way to help make a dent in the First Nation housing crisis. (CBC)

A new housing pilot project in development in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Man. would see tiny, energy-efficient, locally sourced homes built in the community — and it could help address housing issues there, says one of the people leading the project.

The initiative, called One House, Many Nations, is being collectively led by Mini Homes of Manitoba, a group of researchers from Minnesota and Alex Wilson, an organizer with the Idle No More movement.

Wilson, a University of Saskatchewan professor from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, said she sees the housing project addressing several concerns in her home community.

"One around housing, the second around environmental sustainability, third around resource extraction and protection of the land," she said.

'Re-thinking housing'

"The project is looking at re-thinking housing on First Nations land," said Jacob Mans, an architecture professor at the University of Minnesota.

"We're looking at building small houses, 10 feet by 16 feet, somewhere in that range," said Mans. 

"The idea is that you take three to four of these tiny houses and configure them into something a little larger so you get a community of spaces."

He has spent the last week with Wilson in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, surveying potential locations and consulting with the people and leadership of the community.

A 16-by-eight foot mini home built in Winnipeg and transported to Big River First Nation in Saskatchewan in January 2016 as part of the One House, Many Nations project. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)
The plan, Mans said, is to have a small village of homes "that could enhance cultural conditions, enhance language learning, those spaces that you produce become learning spaces. They become community kitchens. They become these spaces [where] communities can gather."

One of the unique aspects of the project is that it would look at alternative forms of energy for the homes.

"We're working on designs that would incorporate solar [power], so we can get off the grid if possible," said Mans.

The One House, Many Nations pilot project would feature energy-efficient features like wood stoves and solar power to heat homes. A similar home, pictured here, was built and sent to Big River, Sask. last year. (Mini Homes of Manitoba)
The mini homes would be made with recycled wooden pallets and incorporate locally-sourced building materials. The project would also allow the small homes to be mobile.

"[If there is] some unforeseen environmental event, if there's a change in the family structure or the community structure, you can pull your unit out and put it someplace else," Mans said.

The group of researchers are in the beginning stages of development. They would like to start off with one small home to see how it withstands the tough northern Manitoba climate, Mans said.

"Obviously it's incredibly cold in the winter, so that's a huge challenge. Another issue is getting materials up there. It costs a lot of money to ship things."

The group hopes the use of locally-sourced materials will help offset the costs of shipping, and also help create some jobs within the community.

"The idea is to create a system of housing that can generate economy in the area," said Mans.

An energy-sustainable community

Alex Wilson says the One Nation, Many Homes project involves 'people putting in sweat equity to help build their own homes.' (Credit: University of Saskatchean)
Wilson said there is currently no funding in place for the project.

"We'll eventually be looking for funding," said Wilson. "Mainly it's people putting in sweat equity to help build their own homes."

With the help of Mini Homes of Manitoba, she was involved in organizing a similar project last year that saw one tiny house built in Big River First Nation in Saskatchewan.​​

"I think it's just bringing together a bunch of people that are really interested in addressing some really critical issues in our community," said Wilson.

They hope to start construction of the first mini home in the new year.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He was an associate producer with CBC Indigenous.