The sun shone bright overhead as Akisqnuk Chief Alfred Joseph and Donald Sam, chair of the housing committee, sang a song of thanks on the grounds of a new housing project last week. The mud underfoot evidenced spring, while the trim new building surrounding the invited guests and dignitaries evidenced the promise and progress within the Akisqnuk First Nation.
The Akisqnuk First Nation celebrated a foundation for success with the grand opening of the first new housing project in approximately 25 years last Friday, March 15th. This is the first of several new housing units; two more six-plexes are in the planning stages as well as a communal home rental facility.
The two and three-bedroom units nearing completion, located on Kootenay Road #3, feature bright open rooms, communal outdoor spaces and a forested backdrop. Several are wheelchair-accessible units.
“Housing has always been a shortfall, right from when I can remember,” Akisqnuk Chief Alfred Joseph said to invited guests and dignitaries.
Donald Sam, chair of the housing committee, spoke at length about the importance of this project. When he moved back to the community about five years ago with his two children, Mr. Sam found there was nowhere to live on reserve. He was added to the waiting list, which had about 18 people on it at the time and no new housing on the horizon. When Mr. Sam was later elected to Council, he knew that in looking at community development, basic needs need to be met first.
“We can’t be looking at learning language and culture when we can’t even put a roof over our heads,” Mr. Sam said. “As we meet our basic needs, our language and culture will survive.”
The housing committee took a step back a few years ago to look at housing strategies and concerns on the reserve, then created a new housing plan moving forward, Mr. Sam explains.
“We have changed that into more of a community-driven, culturally-centred approach to engaging with community,” he said.
It is a transformational shift for the Akisqnuk, Mr. Sam continued, going from policies imposed on the band from Indian Affairs, to policies developed internally by the band including what they want to see when it comes to new housing projects.
Partners in the housing project attended the grand opening, including Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHMC), Columbia Basin Trust, and BC Housing.
“This is kind of big for individuals and communities, being able to reach out and saying ‘I need help’, trusting that somebody actually wants to help. So I really appreciate our partners,” Mr. Sam said to the representatives on hand.
Neil Barrett of CMHC was one of several guest speakers. He said culturally, the organization has shifted focus over time.
“We want to enable First Nations to reach their own goals and objectives,” Mr. Barrett said. “We want to know what your goals and objectives are and we’ll do the best we can to make sure you’re successful.