A Place to call home
Drumming, beading, smudging, tradition. For Indigenous Elder Jackie Bromley, access to such an array of cultural activities, integrated within a senior’s lodge, sounds like a dream. And thankfully that dream isn’t so far off due to the efforts of the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary (AFCC).
The AFCC is one of the first Friendship Centres in Canada to open a dedicated Elders’ Lodge, one that offers not only affordable housing, but both indoor and outdoor spaces to practice land teachings, hold ceremonies and promote healing. The Lodge will be located in the northeast community of Highland Park and the official groundbreaking is planned for August. The AFCC’s mission is to provide Indigenous cultural connection through programs and services for the urban population.
“Not only is the AFCC Indigenous Seniors’ Lodge a model of affordability, but the AFCC understands the social, economic and cultural realities and challenges our Indigenous seniors are living within,” explains Shane Gauthier, AFCC’s Chief Executive Officer. “The Lodge will be home to 12 residents, but integrated with areas used for ceremony, cultural activities, supports, and a meeting space for the Elders Knowledge Council. This is truly a community and a gathering place and creates a sense of ownership and pride.”
Many Elders moving into urban centres have nowhere to meet as a community, tell stories, and practice and connect to cultural activities. For Elder Jackie, who is a cultural leader, teacher and residential school survivor hailing from the Kainaiwa Nation in southern Alberta, access to safe, affordable housing in Calgary for Elders has been a long time in coming.
“Without having access to these types of activities, many [Indigenous] seniors are becoming depressed as the offerings in other seniors’ centres are just not the same type of lifestyle that they had,” says Elder Jackie. “For example, those Elders with dementia, when they are living amongst tradition, a lot of memories come back for them. Here they can get system support by communicating with other Elders. We are learning from one another every time we have the opportunity to get together.”
“I’m very excited to have more Indigenous homes in the city for our Indigenous people because of the discrimination that they go through. I hear about it every time I help out a client. Every time,” Elder Jackie continues, referring to her work with the Awo Taan Healing Lodge. “When a client applies for a house over the phone, the landlord confirms the unit is vacant and says to come and take a look at it. So we go and once they see the person is Indigenous, they say, ‘oh, I’m sorry, the place has been rented out’.”
Shane adds, “The Lodge provides affordable housing and a safe space that will counter some of those challenges seniors face with social exclusion, social isolation, and systemic racism. Our Elders are more likely to experience social exclusion, social isolation, diminishing social networks and ties, decreased social participation, and decreased personal capacity. Living alone in the city amplifies these challenges. Our Elders are also more likely to experience disproportionate social, cultural, and systemic factors that impact housing stability.”
Image courtesy of infrastructure partners Landstar Development Corporation and NORR.
The Elders’ Lodge was realized as a result of a collaboration between the AFCC, The City of Calgary and other orders of government. In March of this year, the Government of Alberta and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) announced the AFCC will be receiving a capital funding contribution of up to $2.3 million from the Indigenous Housing Capital Program, a bi-lateral federal-provincial partnership.
This funding will support the AFCC Indigenous Elders’ Lodge, which was one of the developments awarded through The City of Calgary’s 2019-2020 Non-Market Housing Land Sale, where parcels of land were sold to non-profit affordable housing providers below market value. The goal of this program is to sell 10 parcels of land every two years for new affordable homes.
“This is The City’s first land sale to an Indigenous organization, so this is significant,” says Sharon Goulet, Indigenous Issue Strategist working with The City’s Affordable Housing group. “The way we’ve approached this – it is just not housing – it needed to be a corporate approach in the way The City builds relationships with Indigenous stakeholders to ensure it is meaningful work.
“We have worked with the Indigenous community to co-create this space so we don’t premise the project based around Western thought, and the project considers specific resources to assist the urban Indigenous community to be able to build themselves into the place they want to be. This a long-term commitment to equity, and with the success of the Elders’ Lodge we can show how we can change systems and behaviours and lay the runway for our recommendations in a future strategy.”
The City’s initial contribution in land value has enabled the AFCC to leverage an additional $2.7 million in funding, including from the Calgary Homeless Foundation. The City has also committed funding to support the project through the Housing Incentive Program, which reimburses non-profits for eligible predevelopment expenses and development fees, and for a rebate of actual costs for City development fees.
Sharon believes that support of cultural resurgence needs to be a core goal in providing this type of dedicated housing opportunity. She adds that The City is working with Indigenous stakeholders – including Elders, knowledge keepers, Indigenous housing and service providers, as well as others with lived experience – to identify how The City can better support affordable housing delivery for urban Indigenous Calgarians. As this work continues to be developed and informed by Indigenous voices, the timing of the recent land sale allowed The City to immediately assist the AFCC to pursue this unique opportunity.
There are over 41,000 urban Indigenous Peoples living in Calgary from Nations from across the country. According to the 2016 census, the Indigenous population aged 45 and over in Alberta has increased by 23.1 per cent, meaning the demand for specific housing for Indigenous seniors will only grow. The City of Calgary’s 2018 Housing Needs Assessment notes there is a need for culturally sensitive housing and supports specifically for the Calgary Indigenous population.
“Our Elders are at the centre of our communities and they deserve high quality, safe and affordable housing,” says Shane. “We know that many of our seniors are living at, barely at, or comparatively well below the poverty line and may not have housing that is affordable nor culturally comfortable.”
With this project, the AFCC is paving the way for other groups and Nations who are hopeful to create much-needed affordable housing. With the actualization of this first Elders’ Lodge that incorporates modern conveniences and Indigenous culture, the possibilities for affordable housing and cultural connection seem boundless.
Affordable housing is about positive outcomes
Affordable housing is about positive outcomes for people. It supports people of all ages, family compositions, and demographics—individuals and families who otherwise could not afford safe and stable homes.
People in affordable housing have greater chances to find and keep jobs, to learn and build skills, and to be active participants in their communities.
Shane Gauthier, CEO Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary
What I love about this project is right from the beginning, this Lodge has been built and conceived within an Indigenous framework. This has really been Indigenous led and Indigenous designed. I really hope this can be a springboard and a model as to what can happen in Calgary and in other jurisdictions.
Did you know?
To meet the national average in 2016, Calgary needs to add 15,000 new affordable homes
The need for affordable homes grows by 2,000-2,500 households each year
Affordable housing is integral to supporting a strong local economy and prosperous city
Aboriginal Awareness Week - June 21-26
Hear more from Elder Jackie and Shane of the AFCC
Categories: Affordable housing, Indigenous