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Looking for a made-in-the-North housing solution

Nishnawbe Aski Nation brainstorms design ideas with Ryerson University
Together Design Lab (Ryerson University)
Nishnawbe Aski Nation is partnering with Ryerson University to consult with communities in the design of their homes (Together Design Lab/Ryerson University Photo).

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) is looking for some homegrown solutions to solve the housing crisis in its communities.

Ottawa’s “top-down approach” in choosing housing models for remote communities have “proven inappropriate” for the area’s climate, geography and cultural needs, said NAN in a March 26 news release.

Faculty from Ryerson University in Toronto was working with Indigenous leadership at a day-long interactive discussion to come up with a design model based on Indigenous knowledge at NAN’s Environment, Climate Change and Housing Symposium in Thunder Bay, March 26-27.

The Thunder Bay-based political organization represents 49 First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario and the Far North.

NAN contends inadequate building systems, using national standards, have contributed to the housing emergency they declared last June.

The solution to its woes, NAN said, lies in working with people in the communities to come up with building systems that fits the occupants’ needs.

NAN has been partnering with Ryerson University’s Together Design Lab since the release of its housing strategy last September.

It calls for a more self-reliant approach in developing the skills and capabilities necessary to guide them in their housing programs.

“Housing is a universal human right, but most of our communities suffer from severe overcrowding and substandard living conditions that have resulted in a collective state of emergency across NAN territory,” said NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler in a statement.

“We are pleased to partner with Ryerson University to meet community-defined needs and support self-determination in the development of housing systems for our First Nations.”

Ryerson’s Together Design Lab is part of the urban and regional planning school, which takes a collaborative approach in producing innovative solutions to housing issues in marginalized communities.

“Today’s exercise is an important step toward creating appropriate design in First Nations housing,” said Shelagh McCartney, an assistant professor at Ryerson, in the release.

“We work directly with community members to co-create new methods for community-based housing design that ultimately, will result in a positive impact on both individual and community well-being.”

Besides brainstorming for design ideas, the purpose of the session is also to identify those communities with the greatest housing needs. and eventually roll out similar workshops to communities across NAN territory.