Mino Bimaadiziwin Through Post-Secondary Housing Education

Imagine if First Nation post-secondary students were paid to design and build healthy culturally appropriate houses in their community, rather than being unemployed and under housed as occurs in many First Nation’s communities today. Community-led adult education can help solve the housing crisis and high youth unemployment rate. Applied projects-based trades adult education can address the lack of infrastructure to address one of the key root causes of poverty, violence, addiction and poor health outcomes in First Nations – inadequate and unhealthy housing.

This educational approach to build housing is inspired by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) statement that the “injection of capital and the integration of housing objectives with other social and economic activities in Aboriginal communities will create a synergistic effect, making housing a source of community healing and economic renewal” (1996, Vol. 3, p. 341). Applied housing education projects respond to the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Calls for Action to: “Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects” (Section 92, ii).

Community-Led, Project-Based Indigenous Housing Education

Community-led, project-based education program promises to build not only healthy housing but carpenters and sustainable livelihoods. There is no perfectly applicable existing model but the nine-month carpentry and woodworking certificate program available at Assiniboine Community College in 2017-2018 in Dauphin, Manitoba has elements, having students building a net-zero ready-to-move house to earn 990 hours towards a level-1 apprenticeship. This education program provides practical skills to build single-family houses, teaching reading and working from blueprints, construction safety, framing walls and using modern tools. This model shows it is possible to undertake a project-based approach to housing education but needs many adaptions to lead to First Nation self-determination and compensate for the lack of well-resourced educational facilities and very limited housing funds in First Nations.

Money is an important barrier to build energy efficient, durable houses that are culturally appropriate, considering the very limited budgets for housing on First Nation reserves, particularly remote First Nations, which results in a housing crisis in First Nations, such as the Wasagamack housing crisis. As this programming brings together different First Nation funding sources, including employment training, education and housing budgets, it grows the funding substantially. Considerable savings on labour costs will be made by providing jobs through employment training dollars and by having education in the community saving travelling and relocation costs.  This community-led applied housing education works brings together other stakeholders with resources and expertise including: 1) Apprenticeship Manitoba; 2) College educational funding resources; 3) university and college level research funding; and 4) social enterprise in kind funding and expertise, such as Sundial Performance Inc., Indigenous Development and Support Services, Aki Energy, Dark Horse Architecture.

For Island Lake and some other First Nation communities, students would really benefit from having teachers that speak their Indigenous language and understand and appreciate their Indigenous culture. Since there are a few Red Seal journey people in these communities but typically no college trade educators, local teachers who know the Indigenous culture, environment and language would be developed through a train-the-trainer model. In addition, local apprenticeship designated trainers can provide further on-the-job training in Oji-Cree in Island Lake as that is their mother tongue and first language. To compensate for lack of qualified personnel Apprenticeship Manitoba allows three apprentices per trainer in northern Manitoba.

This certificate will not only build Indigenous capacity but Indigenous housing. Indigenous housing education will require rethinking housing design within a cultural context. Design charades and other research with community members will be undertaken to discuss culturally appropriate designs as well as use of local resources, traditional activities and pre-contact housing. The house resident and communities needs, dreams, and visions must be included into the design phase. Important design characteristics will be studied and applied including energy efficiency, low maintenance materials, sustainability and local materials. To have low operational costs and be sustainable the houses will consider being superinsulated house with a building shell of thick wall panels, as much as half a foot or more, suspended insulated floor, and superinsulated ceiling/roof using wherever possible local materials. Incorporating local materials can be done immediately for many non-structural areas. For example, the finishing of the exterior cladding material would apply local material to customize each house and allow its expansion, or modification by the residents to add or change aspects of the house to accommodate their needs. Locally provisioning of housing materials would reduce reliance on transporting heavy building materials, to reduce transporting lumber and insulation long distances.

Designs for housing developed with local students and architects will consider that housing needs to grow with the family and provide universal access. A flexible design must have options for future retrofitting and expandable/extensions for a family to shrink or grow to multiple families at times, as well as provide access to people of all ages and (dis)abilities. Monitoring for mould, energy efficiency and resident satisfaction over time would be done to improve the housing performance by Universities and colleges. As well, local materials, such as alder for insulation need to be modeled and tested to consider the performance of different options. The results of this research program in Garden Hill and Wasagamack First Nations with local and graduate students will provide open source housing designs, applied carpentry education guides and community-led housing plans for sharing with other communities.


This community-led applied housing education tries to resolve housing issues through working with key stakeholders by providing:

  1. First Nation youth with educational opportunities in their communities, as most young adults in remote communities want to stay in their community for post-secondary education and as much as 84% of 18 to 35 years old are unemployed in remote First Nation communities;
  2. households with healthy, culturally-appropriate, accessible housing for more families;
  3. First Nation reserves by providing tools for self-determination through Indigenizing housing and post-secondary education;
  4. college and universities for facilitating education and research on housing and education in First Nations;
  5. social enterprise level to facilitate partnerships for sustainable housing; and,
  6. policy level to reduce regulatory barriers to housing and fund post-secondary education in communities that is not only fee for service but which offers a public subsidy as occurs off-reserve.

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