It is widely recognized that First Nation housing is a major challenge for all communities, and for all intents and purposes, it’s Canada’s modern tragedy. Public hearing time and again are punctuated with heart-felt pleas for additional support or well through criticism against Canada’s policies.
Beyond public demonstrations, the question begs to be asked. How important is housing for First Nation’s elected officials? What is the weight of housing when we measure it against Economic Development, Education, Social Services, Impact Benefit Agreement, or Culture? If the true measure of importance is how a subject impacts the lives of families, there is no doubt that housing is one of the most important priorities.
If, however, we measure importance based on actions, plans, allocated human resources or the number of meetings, then housing falls short against other subject matters. Or to the very least, it does not correlate to how it impacts the lives of families. Factually speaking, housing does not appear to be a priority on the political agenda for many Elected Official. And who can blame them given the sheer volume of matters they must address and the fact that housing is a pitfall in which they only receive criticism. It is, after all, the prerogative of elected officials to choose what subject is prioritized in the political agenda.
So how do we make housing the local priority? How can we put housing on top of the political agenda?
By making the claim, amongst other things, that housing is the foundation of cultural preservation.
In the mind of First Nation members, Indian Reservation have been originally designed to assimilate our culture and heritage into Canadian civilization. Although that may have been true at one point in time in our history, we must now recognize and acknowledge that Indian Reservations are a First Nation cultural safe havens. Reserves are the only place in North America in which we are the dominant culture and as such, our buildings, our schools, our road names and our humour is imminently culturally specific. The vitality, vigour and strength of our culture are intimately correlated with how many families reside in the community. The more we live amongst each other, the more our culture will thrive.
But in order for that to work, communities must provide to its members good living conditions, namely housing, a safe environment to raise a family and employment. Without a housing sector that can provide an opportunity for each family to live in acceptable conditions, members will leave the territory in hopes of finding a better home and better employment. And the more our community loses its members, the less resistant our culture becomes to external influences.
If Policy Entrepreneurs, Housing Administrators, or members can sell the idea that the housing situation will ultimately be the determining factor of our cultural preservation, it stands to reason that a community who wishes to safeguard its cultural heritage will deal with the harsh realities of housing.
First Nation elected officials are overwhelmed by the volume of decision they must make. It is easy to understand that some concern simply never make it to the Political Agenda. Providing a strong narrative to elected officials and members as to why housing really matters may be the corner stone of change. This narrative may be the basis upon which harsh decision can be taken and justified.
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Enhancing Traditions through our Oral History
It is a rare occurrence when both Academics and modern cultural identity share the same understanding of culture. First Nation Culture is widely recognized as passing on teachings through story telling. Our legends have been built to teach youth life lessons. Oral history is the basis upon which our elders are still relevant in First Nation communities by opposing to the solitude our Canadian elders. It a paradox, even Ironic, that we fail to use this powerful policy tools when it is. Storytelling is above and beyond the most effective mechanism to build buy-in into complexes policy decision.
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