CBC

Sylvia McAdam, One House, Many Nations campaign founder, says federal commitment not enough

Sylvia McAdam, who is the 2016 recipient of the Margolese National Design for Living prize at UBC's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, says the government has not committed enough funding to address the First Nations housing crisis.

Sylvia McAdam, who is the 2016 recipient of the Margolese National Design for Living prize at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, says the government has not committed enough funding to address the First Nations housing crisis.

A First Nations housing advocate says the federal government’s new budget doesn’t do enough to address the issue of inadequate housing.

This year’s budget sets aside $1.1 billion over five years for improving on-reserve infrastructure like adequate housing, better health facilities, new schools and safe drinking water.

The Assembly of First Nations estimated, however, that $2.1 billion over three years is what’s needed to renovate housing units and build new ones.

Sylvia McAdam, one of the organizers behind the housing campaign One House, Many Nations and the Idle No More movement, said the response was disappointing.

“It’s always disappointing,” she said. “After all the attention brought on homelessness and First Nations community, [we thought] there would be more done.”

idle no more housing campaign

Sylvia McAdam was moved to take action based on what she saw visiting her home reserve. (Submitted by Sylvia McAdam)

McAdam, who is from the Big River First Nation in the Treaty 6 region of Saskatchewan, said her desire to improve housing was inspired by her own experiences.

When McAdam ran for chief of Big River First Nation, she was shocked by the conditions of some of her community members.

“I went door-to-door and I came across a gentleman that to me looked like a shanty what he was living in,” she said.

“It’s against my people’s laws to leave someone in that kind of condition so I promised him that I would do something even if I didn’t get in for chief.”

Meanwhile in the city, she faced her own challenges finding a rental property.

“It was really difficult living in rental properties, especially because there are issues of racism in Saskatoon when I was going to law school there,” she said.

Idle No More Mini Homes of Manitoba

Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam (center) with a tiny house under construction, flanked by Mini Homes of Manitoba co-owners Darrell Manuliak and Anita Munn. (Anita Munn)

The One House, Many Nations campaign aims to raise awareness about the First Nations housing crisis.

The campaign is also building tiny houses in response to the crisis in some reserves.

A lot of the difficulties Indigenous people face with regards to housing, McAdam said, are rooted in colonization and systems of patriarchy, misogyny, and racism.

“I think the first thing the government should look at is look at the treaty terms and promises with Indigenous people,” she said.

“The treaty term promised to shelter and honour those things.”