1. Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness?

“Indigenous” is a broad term used to reflect the three distinct cultural groups of status and non-status First Nations, MĂ©tis, and Inuit peoples. We use this term throughout this section, and throughout this book, to refer to these diverse cultures and peoples, with the recognition that there are many similarities and also many differences in their experiences. Within the context of this chapter, we are focusing more on the similarities that arise around homelessness. We begin with the question of how Indigenous homelessness is defined. Do people who are Indigenous experience homelessness in the same way and for the same reasons as settler-colonials (i.e. non-Indigenous people) do? If you think they do not, what are the differences? Before you continue through the material of this chapter, we encourage you to take a moment and record your thoughts below.

 

How to complete this activity and save your work: Type your response to the question in the box below. When you are done answering the question navigate to the ‘Export’ page to download and save your response. If you prefer to work in a Word document offline you can skip right to the Export section and download a Word document with this question there.

The Federal Government of Canada collects data on the nation’s population through the Canadian census. In 2016, the census showed there were an estimated 1,673,780 Indigenous people living in private households in Canada and 339,595 Indigenous people living on-Reserve (Statistics Canada, 2020). These figures are likely underestimates (Rotondi et al., 2017) but do indicate a sizable Indigenous population exists in Canada.

 

The research shows a troubling picture about the relationship between being Indigenous and experiencing homelessness, both visible and hidden (Alberton, Angell, Gorey, & Grenier, 2020). For instance, Indigenous people in Canada have a life expectancy that is 12 years lower than the national average because of health inequities (Kolahdooz, Nader, Yi, & Sharma, 2015) and there are disproportionately high rates of institutionalization particularly amongst Indigenous men (Feir & Akee, 2018). In Canada, Indigenous people are also 8 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to experience homelessness and represent up to 80% of the total population experiencing homelessness in large urban centres (Thistle & Smylie, 2020). Indigenous youth are over-represented amongst people experiencing homelessness (Dunn, 2019) and being Indigenous is significantly associated with being homeless at an earlier age, having a lifetime duration of homelessness longer than 3 years, and having post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol dependence, substance use issues, and infectious disease (Bingham, 2019a).

 

Homelessness is clearly a pressing issue that impacts Indigenous peoples and communities in a disproportionate way. The next logical question would then be, “Why does homelessness disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples?” This question is a thread that runs throughout the chapter, but before we can even begin to answer it we must first start with cultural reflexivity. Measures that are designed to address homelessness amongst Indigenous people are bound to fail if they do not reflect Indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world (Cunningham, 2019). To be home-less is to be less (or without) a home. Therefore, before we can talk about homelessness, we must first consider the concept of what home means within an Indigenous worldview. In the first video, Jessica Rumboldt, Post-Doctoral Fellow in Indigenous Homelessness with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness speaks about the meaning of home and the significance of homemaking practices.


purple pause buttonWhen the videos in this ebook are almost done playing, the message “Stop the video now” will appear in the top left corner. This is a reminder for those who have turned on the Autoplay setting to manually pause the video when the speakers are done to avoid having it autoplay through to the next video. This message will appear in all researcher videos throughout the ebook.

Note: Viewers may still need to use their discretion in stopping other YouTube content such as ads.


Jessica Rumboldt: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness?

In this video, Jessica Rumboldt discusses why it is critical to think about how concepts of home and homelessness are portrayed, perceived, and experienced in distinct ways for Indigenous persons. She explains that home and homelessness are contemporary concepts, and that the loss of social housing in the 1980s and 1990s pushed a significant number of people onto the streets, with many identifying as Indigenous. Rumboldt cites the work of several Indigenous scholars to explain the different meanings and definitions of home in western and Indigenous communities, but she is also clear to note that there are differences between Indigenous groups as well. She concludes by discussing Indigenous homemaking practices as foundational and notes that pathways to homelessness are exasperated when housing policies do not align with or reflect Indigenous homemaking practices. This video is 5:39 in length and has closed captions available in English.

Key Takeaways – Jessica Rumboldt: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

  1. It is critical to think and raise questions about how the concepts of home and homelessness are portrayed, perceived, and experienced, particularly among Indigenous peoples.
  2. The notions of home and homelessness are fairly contemporary concepts. Homelessness became a major societal problem in the 1980s and 1990s in Canada as a result of changes to social housing.
    • With the loss of social housing many individuals were forced onto the streets, including a significant number who were Indigenous.
  3. There are substantial disparities between Indigenous and western concepts of home and homelessness, which impacts Indigenous peoples’ access to resources and services.
  4. The ways in which home is understood differs between western and Indigenous worldviews. Many notable Indigenous researchers have studied definitions and understandings of home and homelessness.
    • From a western or settler perspective, home often relates to an actual physical building.
    • Indigenous conceptions of home frequently emphasize networks of duties and connections, including interactions with plants, animals, elements, and spirits. Home also includes connections to human kinship networks, teachings, songs, tales, names, stories, ancestors, and linkages to the land, water, earth, and territory.
    • The definitions and understandings of home amongst First Nations, MĂ©tis, and Inuit groups have certain similarities but we need to also recognize there are differences between Indigenous groups as well.
  5. Connected to Indigenous concepts of home and homelessness, we also must look at Indigenous homemaking practices, which researchers identify as beliefs, rituals, and behaviours that are culturally based in the creation of a home, and might be considered relational, material, spiritual, or emotional.
    • Indigenous pathways to homelessness are exasperated when Indigenous homemaking methods are not reflected in housing policies.

Home and homemaking are central concepts within an Indigenous worldview, and we cannot even begin to understand the high rates of homelessness within Indigenous communities without them. According to Bowra and Mashford-Pringle (2021) Indigenous conceptualizations of home extend beyond physical and social environments to include relationships that connect a person to all that surrounds them such as people, plants, animals, insects, and land as well as ancestors, stories, language, songs, and traditions. They further note that home has physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual attachments, and that homemaking practices have direct and significant implications for the health and well–being of Indigenous peoples (Bowra & Mashford-Pringle, 2021). In the next video rural homelessness researcher, Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff, speaks more about the meanings of home within Indigenous cultures. 

 

Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff shares a memory of an Indigenous student who told her that within her culture home is more about a feeling of belonging and being connected than it is about being attached to a particular dwelling place. Dr. Waegemakers Schiff states that outside Indigenous communities there is less understanding and awareness of home as belonging to the land. For this reason, she argues, home and belonging need to be defined by Indigenous peoples by and for themselves. This video is 1:13 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

  1. For Indigenous persons, home may be more about a feeling of belonging and being connected, than being attached to a particular dwelling place. In this way, we cannot think of homelessness simply as whether a person has a roof over their head or not.
  2. Home and belonging need to be defined by Indigenous peoples, for Indigenous peoples.
  3. Outside of Indigenous communities there is not as much understanding or awareness that part of being home is belonging to the land.

Dr. Waegemakers Schiff raises the critical points that Indigenous conceptualizations of home – and by extension homelessness – must be defined by Indigenous persons and that people who are not Indigenous lack the cultural and spiritual awareness to truly understand. We, as authors, were humbly reminded of this in relation to how we posed the question. We asked, “Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness?” rather than simply, “How is Indigenous homelessness defined?” We acknowledge here our mistake of setting up Indigenous homelessness in relation to settler-colonial homelessness. You will notice that we have used this question in its original form, as it was the question we posed to the researchers we spoke to. It is our hope that as you read this section, and encounter the question, it will spark a reminder that Indigenous homelessness must not be framed in relation to settler homelessness but rather be considered as its own unique cultural experience. We discuss this further with Dr. Rebecca Schiff, who works closely with rural and Indigenous communities in northern Ontario.

 

Dr. Rebecca Schiff: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

In this video Dr. Rebecca Schiff questions why Indigenous homelessness would be defined in relation to settler homelessness, noting that this dichotomy creates discourses that are not productive in moving towards reconciliation. In considering how Indigenous peoples might experience homelessness in ways that are unique, she identifies a range of issues related to colonial structures, histories of colonialism, and intergenerational trauma. Dr. Schiff concludes by explaining that Indigenous homelessness is not about having a roof but rather about a relationship with the land. This video is 4:31 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Rebecca Schiff: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

  1. We first need to consider why Indigenous homelessness would be defined in relation to settler homelessness, as opposed to being a stand-alone question without the qualifier.
    • The settler/Indigenous dichotomy creates discourses that are not productive in moving towards reconciliation.
  2. Considering how Indigenous homelessness is unique, there are a range of issues related to colonial structures, histories of colonialism, and intergenerational trauma that are distinct and that other people do not experience.
  3. The ways Indigenous peoples experience homelessness is less about not having a roof, which is houselessness, than it is about not having a home.
    • For many Indigenous people, home might be characterized as a relationship with land and its various cultural meanings.

As we have seen, Indigenous homelessness is a unique experience that is situated within Indigenous conceptualizations of home and homemaking practices. In the next video, Jessica Rumboldt explains that while we can consider the typology of homelessness that was reviewed in the Introduction chapter, taking an Indigenous worldview helps to show how Indigenous homelessness is defined in much broader ways.

 

Jessica Rumboldt: Considering Indigenous and settler definitions of homelessness 

In this video, Jessica Rumboldt reviews the definition of homelessness produced by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, including the typology that ranges from being unsheltered, emergency sheltered, provisionally accommodated, and at-risk of homelessness. She notes that it is important to recognize there is no one set experience that people have, but rather a range of experiences. Taking an Indigenous worldview helps us to see how Indigenous homelessness may be understood differently. Rumboldt notes that individuals, families, and communities who are separated from land, water, location, family, kin, social networks, language, and culture can be recognized as experiencing homelessness. On a cultural, spiritual, emotional, and physical level, Indigenous people facing various forms of homelessness are unable to reconnect with their Indigeneity and lost relationships. This video is 3:18 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Jessica Rumboldt: Considering Indigenous and settler definitions of homelessness 

  1. For many people homelessness is a fluid experience in which their living conditions change.
    • The Canadian definition of homelessness, as produced by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, describes the spectrum that includes unsheltered, emergency sheltered, provisionally accommodated, and people at-risk of homelessness.
    • It is important to recognize that there is no one set experience of homelessness but rather a wide range of experiences.
  2. An Indigenous worldview lens helps us understand the differences between the western definition and Indigenous peoples’ homelessness.
    • Individuals, families, and communities who are separated from land, water, location, family, kin, social networks, language, and culture can be recognized as experiencing homelessness.
    • On a cultural, spiritual, emotional, and physical level, Indigenous people facing various forms of homelessness are unable to reconnect with their Indigeneity and lost relationships.

 

Indigenous health scholar Dr. Suzanne Stewart (2018) has written, “What does being homeless mean? An academic definition would describe homelessness as the condition of not being housed or having a fixed address. But in an Indigenous context, defining homelessness requires a more holistic view. Homelessness for many Indigenous people may not simply mean lacking physical housing; it may also include feeling spiritually and culturally bereft” (pg.98). Just as Jessica Rumboldt explained in the previous video, Patrick (2014) reminds us that “It is important to remember that within any overarching historical narrative are unique experiences, understandings and memories” (pg.10). The experience of homelessness has both differences and similarities within Indigenous cultures and communities, which is important to remember when seeking to define homelessness within an Indigenous context.

 

When we posed the question of how to define Indigenous homelessness, many of the researchers we spoke to, referenced the work of scholar Jesse Thistle (2019), who is the author of “From the ashes: My story of being MĂ©tis, homeless and finding my way.” In 2017 Thistle released the Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada, which outlined 12 unique dimensions. The introductory video presented below was made just prior to the release of the definition and shows Jesse Thistle speaking about its forthcoming publication.

 

The Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada, produced by Thistle in consultation with Indigenous communities, has become a widely influential and highly regarded document. Thistle (2017) begins by discussing home and homelessness in an Indigenous context, situated within historical practices. He then discusses the 12 dimensions of Indigenous homelessness in Canada, which include: [1] historic displacement, [2] contemporary geographic separation, [3] spiritual disconnection, [4] mental disruption and imbalances, [5] cultural disintegration and loss, [6] overcrowding, [7] relocation and mobility, [8] going home, [9] nowhere to go, [10] escaping or evading harm, [11] emergency crisis, and [12] climatic refugee homelessness. The graphic summary below provides an overview of these 12 dimensions. 

 

Click the image below to open a new window and view the full infographic, “The 12 Dimensions of Indigenous Homelessness” by the Homeless Hub. (NOTE: The infographic will appear too small to read when it first opens. Please click on it to zoom in and scroll up/down to view the full infographic). 

The 12 Dimensions of Indigenous HomelessnessThe Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada has helped to create a more culturally appropriate guide for defining and understanding homelessness through an Indigenous worldview. This definition was raised by many of the researchers we spoke to. In the next set of videos, Dr. Erin Dej, Dr. John Ecker, and Dr. Abe Oudshoorn each situate this document as being central for learning about Indigenous homelessness. 

 

Dr. Erin Dej: The Indigenous definition of homelessness 

In this video, Dr. Erin Dej notes that there is an Indigenous definition of homelessness in Canada that discusses 12 dimensions, as they relate to the loss of all my relations, such as through disconnection from land, language, culture, and kin. Dr. Dej explains that the Indigenous definition is not about whether a person has a roof over their head, but rather offers a more holistic understanding of what not having a home means. This video is 0:57 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Erin Dej: The Indigenous definition of homelessness 

  1. The Indigenous definition of homelessness considers 12 dimensions that relate to the loss of all my relations, such as disconnection from land, language, culture, and kin.
  2. The Indigenous definition is not about whether a person has a roof over their head, but rather it is a more holistic understanding of what not having a home means.

 

 

Dr. John Ecker: Is Indigenous Homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. John Ecker credits Jesse Thistle for producing an Indigenous definition of homelessness, through deep consultations with Indigenous peoples across Canada. He notes that the definition extends beyond the loss of housing to focus on spiritual, familial, cultural, and emotional elements. Dr. Ecker argues this definition helps to move our thinking beyond traditional westernized understandings of homelessness, towards a more holistic way of thinking. This video is 0:50 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. John Ecker: Is Indigenous Homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

  1. In 2017 Jesse Thistle published a definition of Indigenous homelessness that he developed through deep consultations with Indigenous peoples across Canada.
  2. The definition focuses on homelessness as it extends beyond the physical loss of housing towards the spiritual, familial, cultural, and emotional elements of homelessness as well.
  3. This definition moves away from the western approach of how we traditionally have viewed homelessness in the past and moves towards a more holistic way of thinking about homelessness in Canada.

 

Dr. Abe Oudshoorn: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. Abe Oudshoorn argues that Indigenous homelessness is defined differently, in a formal way, and that this is important because the causes and subsequent responses are particular in working with Indigenous peoples. He notes that having a distinct definition helps provide a theoretical foundation for understanding why Indigenous homelessness occurs and what can be done about it. This video is 1:03 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways –Dr. Abe Oudshoorn: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

  1. Indigenous homelessness is defined differently than settler homelessness in Canada. Each has its own separate written definition.
    • The formal definition of Indigenous homelessness is important because the causes and subsequent responses are particular in working with Indigenous peoples.
    • The definition helps us understand both pieces (causes and responses) by providing a theoretical foundation to understand why Indigenous homelessness occurs and what we can do about it.

At this point, we invite you to pause and review the Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada in full, as this section’s featured reading. 


Featured Reading:

open book graphic

Thistle, J. (2017.) Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press 

 


In this document, Thistle (2017) writes that Canadians must finally agree on some difficult truths. First, that Indigenous people do not choose to be homeless. Second, the experience is negative, stressful, and traumatic. Third, homelessness itself forces a disproportionate number of Indigenous people into activities that are deemed criminal by the state. Fourth, the higher mortality rates of Indigenous people have been ignored for too long. Finally, and Thistle (2017) notes most importantly, “because a lack of home, much as a sense of place or homeplace, is a culturally understood experience, we must develop and recognize an Indigenous definition of homelessness that must inform policy-making to solve the tragedy of Indigenous homelessness” (pg. 8).

 

The Indigenous definition was created by and for Indigenous peoples. We note here that while resisting the referent of settler homelessness, having an Indigenous definition has been influential in helping non-Indigenous people to better understand an Indigenous worldview. This arose in our discussions with Dr. Nick Falvo as he explains how the definition has been influential in helping him frame his understandings of Indigenous homelessness.

 

Dr. Nick Falvo: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness?

In this video, Dr. Nick Falvo discusses Jesse Thistle’s definition of Indigenous homelessness as a useful resource for helping us to frame our understandings. He notes that the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada has involved government efforts to force assimilation, creation of the Reserves system, reducing rights for Indigenous peoples, taking away ceremony, enforcing residential schooling, and ongoing intergenerational trauma. Dr. Falvo concludes this history has a profound impact on Indigenous peoples’ experiences of homelessness, and that it is important to understand and be sensitive to these historical differences. This video is 1:30 in length and has closed captions available in English.

Key Takeaways – Dr. Nick Falvo: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness?

  1. Jesse Thistle has written a definition of Indigenous homelessness, that is available in a long and short version.
  2. The definition is a useful resource for helping researchers (including those who do not identify as Indigenous) to frame their understandings of Indigenous homelessness.
  3. The history of Indigenous peoples in Canada has involved government efforts to force assimilation, creation of the Reserves system, reducing rights for Indigenous peoples, taking away ceremony, enforcing residential schooling, and ongoing intergenerational trauma. This history has a profound impact on Indigenous peoples’ experiences of homelessness.
    • It is important to understand and be sensitive to these differences and their historical roots.

 

We have seen that Indigenous experiences of homelessness are rooted in historical understandings of home, homemaking practices, and all my relations. Without comparing Indigenous to settler homelessness, we must remain aware that settler-colonial practices are the cause of Indigenous homelessness. Colonization and displacement from land, culture, language, and identity are at the root of why Indigenous homelessness occurs. According to Greenwood and Lindsay (2019), “Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous health are both deeply rooted in the land – nurturing and protecting both requires nurturing and protecting the land” (pg.84). As this suggests, Indigenous understandings of health and wellness are not located in biological factors but rather intimately tied to community, land, culture, and family – all of which have been disrupted by colonizing practices (de Leeuw, S., Greenwood, M., & Farrales, 2021). Rural homelessness researcher Dr. Bill O’Grady discusses the historical context as well as how we see its effects in modern day, such as through the disproportionate impact of climate change on Indigenous communities. 

 

Dr. Bill O’Grady: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. William [Bill] O’Grady draws on the work of Indigenous scholars from recent years and explains that Indigenous homelessness is different because it is not defined simply as lacking a structure for habitation, but rather is understood more broadly. He identifies the role of historic displacement as a starting point in understanding how Indigenous peoples have been removed from their lands. Dr. O’Grady notes that multiple interrelated factors are important to consider, including colonial control, spiritual disconnection, and cultural disintegration and loss. He explains that some Indigenous peoples migrate to urban areas but are not well-served by the non-Indigenous housing and programs available, and that if they return to their community after a period of time they may be thought of as an outsider. Dr. O’Grady draws our attention to the risk of intimate partner violence as a cause of homelessness in general that also impacts Indigenous communities. He concludes by discussing the ways climate change has had a particularly negative effect on many Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and cultural practices. This video is 4:36 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Bill O’Grady: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

  1. Indigenous homelessness is different because it is not defined simply as lacking a structure for habitation but rather described in much broader terms.
    • There was not much attention given to defining Indigenous homelessness until 2017 when conversations began to happen more with Indigenous communities.
  2. It is important to look at historic displacement as a starting point. Indigenous peoples have been displaced from their lands which has to be understood in the broader context of defining Indigenous homelessness.
  3. Colonial control, separation from land, and separation from community are interrelated and important factors. The relationship between Indigenous people and land and water is different than non-Indigenous conceptualizations and lived experiences.
  4. Spiritual disconnection is an important consideration for defining Indigenous homelessness that is often not considered with non-Indigenous peoples.
  5. Cultural disintegration and loss are important. Over time Indigenous peoples’ cultures have been eroded due to their forced positioning in society, relocation, and mobility.
  6. Going home means something different within Indigenous and non-Indigenous contexts. Oftentimes when Indigenous people leave their communities, particularly for an extended period of time, when they return they are seen as outsiders.
    • In a sense, these individuals may be considered outsiders within urban cities and when returning to their own communities, which can be devastating.
  7. In urban areas, many Indigenous people do not have anywhere to go because housing, shelters, and programs are not suited or directed towards Indigenous peoples. Without anywhere to go, they are left visibly homeless.
  8. Additional aspects that Indigenous people experience related to homelessness (although not exclusive to Indigenous persons) are intimate partner violence and the need to escape harm, often with limited financial resources.
  9. Many of the income-generating practices of Indigenous peoples, such as fishing and hunting, have been impacted by climate change which can lead to being climate refugees.

What do you think?

human head with light bulb as brain graphicClimate change is having a disproportionately negative impact on northern Indigenous communities. Have you previously considered the impact of climate change on Indigenous communities? What impact do you think climate change is having on northern Indigenous communities’ long-term prospects for livelihoods and housing security? 


We encourage you to consider these questions as you watch this documentary (24:11) on the effects of climate change, which was created by the Cree Nation of Mistissini. 

 

A team of researchers reviewed the literature on impacts of climate change and found that people experiencing homelessness are disproportionately exposed to climatic events, their physical and mental health is likely to be negatively impacted, and that implementing structural changes like green infrastructure might help offset some of these outcomes (Bezgrebelna et al., 2021). There are clear health and social implications related to climate change that negatively impact housing security for marginalized individuals (Kidd, Greco, & McKenzie, 2021). Dr. Sean Kidd has been part of this research, analyzing the impact of climate change. In the next video he speaks about the impact for northern Indigenous communities. 

 

Dr. Sean Kidd: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. Sean Kidd directs us towards the definition of Indigenous homelessness developed by Jesse Thistle in consultation with Indigenous communities. Dr. Kidd argues that the terms house and home are not synonymous but that we are not always great at unpacking the differences between these terms. For many Indigenous peoples, the concept of home is deeply connected to land. Dr. Kidd notes that by reviewing the work of Indigenous scholars we can see how for First Nations, MĂ©tis, and Inuit communities, the ideas of home and homelessness are deeply rooted in a diverse range of histories and cultures. There is a historical lens to Indigenous understandings of homelessness based in colonization, genocidal violence, and the atrocities that stretch back in time in terms of what has been taken away. Dr. Kidd concludes by drawing our attention to climate change as a current form of land displacement, disproportionately impacting Inuit and far north communities, where people are losing their homes and livelihoods because of pollution they did not create. This video is 5:50 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Sean Kidd: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? 

  1. To better understand how Indigenous homelessness is defined people should read Jesse Thistle’s work, where he engaged people from Indigenous communities to develop a definition that is distinct from the Canadian definition, and from those developed in other countries.
  2. When defining homelessness in general, there is sometimes confusion about the distinction between the meaning of home and degrees of lacking shelter.
    • Being unhoused can range from a total lack of shelter, such as sleeping rough, to staying in an emergency shelter, to living in arrangements that are not adequate, safe, or stable.
    • House and home are often used as synonyms, but they mean different things to many people. The term home often means comfort, safety, and belonging. We are not always great at unpacking the differences.
    • Beyond a house, Indigenous scholars have shown the importance of the connection to land.
  3. Scholars like Jesse Thistle show how for First Nations, MĂ©tis, and Inuit communities, the ideas of home and homelessness are deeply rooted in a diverse range of histories and cultures.
    • There is a historical lens to Indigenous understandings of homelessness based in histories of colonization, genocidal violence, and the atrocities that stretch back in time in terms of what has been taken away.
  4. We see displacement happening today in Inuit and far northern communities related to climate change.
    • People are losing their housing, moving into lower-quality housing, or leaving altogether.
    • These communities are also losing livelihoods related to fishing and hunting, and the connections to community, culture, and land.
    • Loss of land and culture is a form of homelessness related to climate change, and also a reflection of colonial practices because the most affected people are often the least polluting.

 

Indigenous homelessness is defined and experienced in many different ways. A theme that emerges throughout this book is that there is no one size fits all approach for understanding homelessness. This is true of Indigenous homelessness as well. We need guiding definitions and understandings, but it is also critical to remember that people and communities will be impacted by homelessness in their own unique ways. We conclude this section with a reminder of this message that emerged in our conversations with Indigenous homelessness scholar, Jessica Rumboldt. 

 

Jessica Rumboldt: Diverse understandings of Indigenous homelessness 

In this video, Jessica Rumboldt cites the work of Jesse Thistle and other Indigenous scholars to define Indigenous understandings of homelessness. She notes that answering this question and forming a definition requires engagement with different voices and experiences, and that there is no one size fits all approach. Rumboldt argues that to address the question of whether homelessness is defined differently, we must acknowledge the understandings of what home looks like, what it means, and how the perception of home impacts the state of homelessness. She concludes that we must engage with Indigenous communities to better understand the unique ways homelessness is defined and experienced. This video is 1:30 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Jessica Rumboldt: Diverse understandings of Indigenous homelessness 

  1. Jesse Thistle suggests Indigenous homelessness is best understood as the outcome of historically constructed and on-going settler colonization and racism that have displaced and dispossessed First Nations, MĂ©tis, and Inuit peoples from their traditional governance systems and laws, territories, histories, worldviews, ancestors, and stories.
  2. This question of how to define Indigenous homelessness requires engaging with different voices and experiences. There is no one size fits all approach for understanding Indigenous and settler homelessness.
  3. To address the question of whether homelessness is defined differently, we must acknowledge the understandings of what home looks like, what it means, and how the perception of home impacts the state of homelessness.
  4. We must engage with Indigenous communities to better understand the unique ways homelessness is defined and experienced.

 

In this section, we set out to learn how Indigenous homelessness is defined. We found that while Indigenous homelessness is rooted in colonial practices it is harmful to frame it in relation to settler homelessness. Instead, we have found that an Indigenous worldview begins with understanding home and homemaking practices as being situated within all my relations. This entails broader perspectives that connect people to all that surrounds them, as well as ancestors, stories, language, songs, and traditions (Bowra & Mashford-Pringle, 2021). We learned that there is an Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada that was produced by Jesse Thistle (2017) in consultation with Indigenous communities. This document outlines 12 dimensions and has been critical in shaping understandings of – and conversations about – Indigenous homelessness in Canada.

 

Thistle (2017) notes in the definition that Canadians must face some difficult truths. One such truth is that climate change is having a disproportionately negative impact on northern Indigenous communities, creating a loss of culture, livelihood, and homelessness through this disconnection. What we have learned in this section is that homelessness is unique within an Indigenous context, and that there is no one size fits all approach that defines the experiences of all Indigenous peoples.

 

Podcast: Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness? (32:37)

Click the link below to listen to all of the researchers answer the question “Is Indigenous homelessness defined differently than settler homelessness?” in audio format on our podcast!

 


 

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Understanding Homelessness in Canada Copyright © 2022 by Kristy Buccieri, James Davy, Cyndi Gilmer, and Nicole Whitmore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book