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Habitat for Humanity To Partner With First Nations on Housing, HGTV’s Mike Holmes Weighs In

Habitat for Humanity Canada and HGTV housing-show host Mike Holmes are chiming in with assistance and advice on First Nations housing.
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Habitat for Humanity Canada is reaching out to the country’s aboriginals in a partnership with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) aimed at helping alleviate the housing crisis that afflicts a hundred or more reserves. Meanwhile celebrity homebuilder Mike Holmes, host of the HGTV show Holmes on Homes, has also teamed up with AFN and been doling out advice on how to build smarter.

Habitat for Humanity Canada (HFHC) and the AFN announced the venture on December 6 in a statement promising to “collaborate to increase First Nations’ involvement in Habitat projects and enhance opportunities for First Nations people to further their knowledge and skills applicable to all dimensions of housing, while adding to the housing stock.”

HFHC President and CEO Stewart Hardacre called aboriginal housing a priority for the next five years. Already, Habitat’s affiliates in Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario have built more than 35 homes as part of its Aboriginal Housing Program over the past few years, HFHC said. But the new alliance will renew the focus.

The partnership announcement closely follows the November 22 formation of the HFHC National Leadership Council, which AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is a member of along with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network CEO Jean LaRose, who is also aboriginal.

"I thank Habitat for Humanity Canada for inviting AFN to this partnership,” Atleo said in a statement. “This will enhance First Nations’ ability to explore new options to satisfy its housing needs. It sends a clear message to the Canadian public and Government of Canada that we are open to engaging with other partners to satisfy our needs and priorities. Creating safer and healthier First Nations’ communities is one of our biggest challenges as First Nations leaders. We hope that this will be the catalyst to spur on other organizations, corporations and individuals to get involved with First Nations.”

The AFN passed a resolution on December 6 backing Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who asked the third-party auditor assigned to the community by the federal government to leave. The AFN Chiefs attending a special summit gave her a standing ovation for her stance.

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Meanwhile Holmes, interviewed by CBC News, said it is not that hard to build sustainable housing in these remote communities.

"We need to stop building crap. It's as simple as that,” he told CBC News on December 3.

In addition, "The smartest thing we can do is to teach the First Nations how to do it," he said. "When they do it themselves, they have pride, and they care, and that's what I think is the missing link, not to mention just using the wrong products and building foolishly."

In 2010 he created a pilot project in conjunction with Whitefish Lake First Nation, in partnership with the AFN, to build housing that would not rot, burn or be consumed by mold. He said using communities in low-lying areas would be better served by homes made of cinder block and mold-resistant dry wall rather than wood.

Other innovative housing solutions include a project on the Moose Cree First Nation, in partnership with Morris Modular Space Inc., which has converted steel shipping containers into dwellings for workers from Ontario Power Generation who are completing a hydro project. When the workers are gone, these lodgings will be retrofitted as permanent housing for Moose Cree First Nation members, CBC said.

Such builds do double duty in job training and creation, giving First Nations members more than just a roof over their heads, Holmes said.

“If we include them in the build—we teach them new theory, which is what I’m doing in Whitefish Lake—if we do this, they’ve done it themselves,” Holmes told CBC News. “And then we show them how to maintain it. They’re going to be more proud to keep care of it. Having someone who can run it and having someone who can teach them is the missing key to everything.”