Imagine living in a house without running water and having to share your room with five or more people. A fire ignites in the kitchen and takes over the home. There are no fire hydrants nearby. The fire consumes the house and takes those five lives with it.

Unfortunately, this is a reality and it is happening in our own province. The Pikangikum reserve in Northern Ontario suffered a huge loss in March 2016 when nine people were killed in a fire contributed by unliveable homes and a severe lack of resources. The First Nations in Northern Ontario are experiencing an affordable housing crisis and the conditions are appalling. According to Statistics Canada, 29 per cent of Aboriginal Canadians live in houses that need repair and 45 per cent of First Nations live in homes on reserves that need repairs.

To help the First Nations build affordable housing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised $2.6 billion during his electoral campaign in October 2015. After the federal budget was released in March, it appears that campaign promise will not be fulfilled unless the liberal government is re-elected in 2019. The budget for First Nations is spread out over four years, and over half of the $2.6 billion is back-ended, with $647 million in 2019 and $801 promised in 2020 after elections.

In short, the First Nations are being put on the back burner yet again. Living in isolated reserves in locations as far as 600 km north of Thunder Bay, it is easy to ignore these suffering populations. Affordable housing often lacks materials that last, and the conditions of the dilapidated homes have increased as years have passed without repairs. The allocation of funds into various First Nations reserves doesn’t tackle affordable housing strategy and it is expensive to build and transfer materials so far north, which leaves people without a way to fix their homes in remote places.

Fortunately, an environmentally-friendly company is taking the problem seriously. Earthship Biotecture has launched an initiative to build a sustainable home in the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve 100 km south-west of Toronto. The company is covering some of the costs, along with thousands of dollars raised through fundraising.

Earthship builds sustainable homes around the world for people in need, and upon hearing of the First Nations housing crisis, set off to build a home in Ontario. Owner Michael Reynolds has built self-sustaining homes out of recycled materials for 45 years. The home in Grand River will use recycled tires, have solar panels and a cistern to collect rainwater. It will hopefully be the first of many sustainable homes for the First Nations in Ontario. Tires are commonly used in Earthship homes and create sturdy and well-done walls.

Toronto Mayor John Tory took a personal trip to Big Trout Lake, a reserve 2500 km north to learn more about First Nations culture on the weekend of July 15th. Thirty per cent of Toronto’s shelter system is used by First Nation’s men and women. Tory reported returning with a better understanding of indigenous cultures, and advocated on behalf of reconciliation for First Nations in Canada.

This particular housing crisis is gaining public attention from non-profits and all levels of government, but more needs to be done. The federal government needs to keep its budget promises and even invest in building more sustainable homes in partnership with companies such as Earthship. The new house in Grand River is a first step, and hopefully many more of these projects will pop up after the construction of the Earthship’s first Canadian home is completed.


Kaeleigh Phillips is Women's Post sustainability coordinator. She specializes in writing about issues relating to the environment, including renewable energy, cycling, and vegan recipes!

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