2. How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices?

In the previous section we considered the ways Indigenous homelessness is defined. Alberton et al., (2020) have noted that Indigenous peoples are oppressed in multiple ways and that intersecting sites of oppression increase the risk of Indigenous peoples becoming homeless in Canada. In this section we take a closer look at some of the sources of that oppression. Most notably, we consider how on–going colonizing practices create homelessness and serve to reproduce it within Indigenous communities over generations. Before continuing to the material in this section, we encourage you to pause here and reflect on this question. How do you think the causes of Indigenous homelessness are rooted in on-going colonizing practices? You may use the space below to write as little or as much as you wish to record your thoughts. 

 

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In the previous section, we asked you to read the Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada, in which Jesse Thistle (2017) wrote that it is time for Canadians to face some hard truths. We begin this section with the indisputable hard truth that Indigenous homelessness exists because of colonization. Prior to this time, no Indigenous person was homeless, as Jessica Rumboldt explains in the next video. 

 

Jessica Rumboldt: The lack of homelessness in the pre-contact era 

In this video, Jessica Rumboldt quotes scholars who explain that in the pre-contact era, before the influence of Europeans, no Cree person was homeless. She notes that society was egalitarian, everything was shared, and people were cared for and included through large extended families. Rumboldt explains that through colonization, traditional homelands and legal access to traditional homelands have been taken away, leaving a race of people homeless on a macro level. She concludes that Indigenous ceremonial traditions and cultural institutions that contribute to what constitutes a home, such as ritual languages and matriarchy, have been targeted by colonial powers. This video is 1:34 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Jessica Rumboldt: The lack of homelessness in the pre-contact era 

  1. In the pre-contact era, before the influence of Europeans, homelessness did not exist because all members of the community had a home.
    • Society was egalitarian and based on large extended families in which everyone was cared for and included, and everything was shared.
  2. Through colonization traditional homelands, and legal access to traditional homelands, were taken away. A race of people on a macro level have been left homeless.
  3. Indigenous ceremonial traditions and cultural institutions that contribute to what constitutes a home, such as ritual languages and matriarchy, have been targeted by colonial powers.

 

Colonizing Indigenous peoples’ homeland has displaced these communities and led to mass-scale homelessness over generations. We see the effects of colonization on Reserve lands that exist today. We present below a video in which Robert Laboucane briefly discusses the history of how Reserves were created in Canada. 

 

 

You may recall that Statistics Canada (2020) identifies 339,595 Indigenous persons living on-Reserve. This figure is not necessarily accurate, as people frequently move back and forth between Reserves and urban centers (Bono, 2019) and census data reflects western data collection methods which are not reflective of Indigenous ways of knowing. What research with northern Indigenous communities shows is that the effects of colonization have resulted in extreme poverty and overcrowded living conditions, difficulty obtaining affordable and suitable housing, reliance on scarce social services for survival, and valiant attempts to cope with the cold (and threatened) climate (Shaikh & Rawal, 2019). Many Indigenous communities live in remote and isolated regions of Canada (Schiff, Buccieri, Waegemakers Schiff, Kauppi, & Riva, 2020), where housing stock is limited (Pijl & Belanger, 2020).

 

Living on-Reserve does not mean a person is safely and securely housed. As you watch this next video, “Housing crisis deconstructed” created by APTN News, we encourage you to think deeply about the statement that no Indigenous person was homeless prior to colonization. This video was posted in 2017 and in the time since, Canada has created a National Housing Strategy and National Housing Strategy Act that makes housing a human right (Government of Canada, 2018, 2019). You can learn more about these in the chapter on Politics, Policy, & Housing in Canada. However, for now we ask that while you watch this video you reflect on whether you believe the conditions have improved since 2017 and why adopting a human rights-based approach is critical.

 

 

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We have seen that within an Indigenous worldview, home is not about a physical place but rather a relation to the land. Through colonization, that land was taken away and turned into private property. In the next video, Dr. Naomi Nichols explains how racist state formation policies have benefited white settlers at the cost of exploiting Indigenous peoples and their land. 

 

Dr. Naomi Nichols: Long-standing colonial policies 

In this video, Dr. Naomi Nichols argues that we must acknowledge the fundamental intersection between colonization, private property ownership, land stealing, and the dislocation and entrapment of Indigenous people in Reserve territories. She explains that white settlers in particular will have to let go of exploitative practices that have benefitted them at the expense of others. Rather than attributing property ownership to hard work, Dr. Nichols clarifies that racist state formation policies that dictate who can own land, vote, and act as citizens are at the root of why some people have profited while others have not. This video is 1:23 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Naomi Nichols: Long-standing colonial policies 

  1. It is critical we acknowledge the fundamental intersection of colonization, private property ownership, land stealing, and the dislocation and entrapment of Indigenous people in Reserve territories.
  2. White settlers will have to acknowledge and let go of exploitative practices that have benefitted them, such as racist policies that have enabled them to purchase land at the expense of people who have been prevented from establishing their own economic stability.
  3. There is a bias in colonization that says people who have property have worked hard to earn it. When we look at state formation, we actually see that racist policies on who can own land, vote, and act as a citizen are the reasons some people have profited while others have not.

 

Colonizing practices have created homelessness amongst Indigenous communities by exploiting them and their lands, for the benefit of white settlers. This is one of the difficult truths that we must face in this chapter. In the following episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin from 2017 entitled, “Indigenous Communities: Surviving Canada” panelists have a riveting debate about the state’s current complicity in keeping Indigenous communities in crisis to exploit their natural resources. We invite you now to watch this video and consider what the panelists say about how the causes of Indigenous homelessness are rooted in on-going colonizing practices. 

 


What do you think?

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After watching this debate, where do you stand on the issue of whether Canada is intentionally keeping Indigenous communities in crisis to facilitate the exploitation of their resources? What point or argument stood out the most to you from this debate? 


The effects of colonization are clear in Canada today. Historical actions and decisions – like displacing people from their land and culture – still exist today in our modern laws and system of governance. In the next two videos, Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff and Dr. Rebecca Schiff speak about the immensely detrimental impact of these laws on Indigenous peoples today. 

 

Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? 

In this video, Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff reflects on the historical migration of predominantly British individuals to Canada and the subsequent legal actions that pushed Indigenous peoples onto Reserves without consideration for how they would live there. She notes that today we are seeing the outcomes of these horrible and dehumanizing decisions, and that these policies have led us exactly where we are now. Dr. Waegemakers Schiff concludes that undoing this history is going to be a huge challenge. This video is 1:39 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? 

  1. Historically we set up a system in which predominantly British individuals migrated to Canada and made decisions that put Indigenous peoples on Reserves without considerations for how they would live there.
  2. Today we are seeing the outcomes of these horrible dehumanizing decisions of uprooting people and denying them the importance and reality of their culture, traditions, and spiritual practices.
  3. Those policies have led us exactly where we are now. Undoing them is a huge challenge.

 

Dr. Rebecca Schiff: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? 

In this video, Dr. Rebecca Schiff explains that there are complex threads of colonization that intersect in many ways in the lives of Indigenous peoples. She notes examples such as residential schools, the 60s/70s scoop, current scoop, foster care, and the way that the Indian Act controls Indigeneity, location, identity, sovereignty, and self-governance for Indigenous peoples. Dr. Schiff argues that the current pathways into homelessness, such as through correctional systems, child welfare, and mental health and/or substance use challenges are secondary and rooted in colonial systems and structures. Dr. Schiff concludes that we need to dismantle these structures and move towards greater self-governance and sovereignty for Indigenous peoples, in order to eliminate all of the secondary causes that contribute to homelessness. This video is 2:30 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Rebecca Schiff: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? 

  1. There are complex threads of colonization that intersect in many ways in the lives of Indigenous peoples.
    • These include, for instance, residential schools, the 60s/70s scoop, current scoop, foster care, and the way that the Indian Act controls Indigeneity, location, identity, sovereignty, and self-governance for Indigenous peoples.
    • All of these colonial structures have led to other challenges related to homelessness, such as through the correctional system, child welfare, or challenges related to mental health and/or substances.
    • Within the context of Indigenous homelessness, these are secondary causes that have their roots in colonial systems and structures.
  2. We need to dismantle these structures and move towards greater self-governance and sovereignty for Indigenous peoples, in order to eliminate all of those secondary causes that contribute to homelessness.

 

On-going colonizing practices have removed Indigenous peoples from their land and separated them from their families and cultures. We see this clearly with the state’s removal of children from Indigenous families in the past, such as through the 60s scoop, and in the present through high rates of child welfare involvement. As a population, Indigenous people are at a much higher risk of being involved with child welfare systems, and this involvement has been found to be the strongest predictor of subsequent visible homelessness (Alberton et al., 2020). In a northern Ontario-based study, all of the participants reported having multiple and intergenerational experiences of family separation resulting from child welfare involvement, placement in residential schools, and the death of family members, resulting in lifelong mental health and addictions struggles (Shaikh & Rawal, 2019). In this section’s featured reading, we invite you to reflect upon, “My life story, my youth” written by Rose Henry who was removed from the care of her residential school survivor parents during the 60s scoop. She shares her personal narrative on the impact these colonial traumas have had throughout her life. 


Featured Reading:

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Henry, R. (2015). My life story, my youth. In Inclusion Working Group, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (Eds.). Toronto, ON: Homeless Hub. Chapter 6:  My Life Story My Youth.pdf 


Rose’s story demonstrates the range and depth of violence Indigenous women are exposed to. We see these women repeatedly being the victims of physical violence, as evidenced by the large number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (National Action Plan, 2021) as well as being victims of institutional and systemic violence. Indigenous women are more likely to be victims of physical and sexual assault, and relatedly meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple mental disorders, high rates of suicidality, and substance dependence (Bingham et al., 2019b). Children are often central in the lives of Indigenous mothers (Caplan et al., 2020), yet they continue to be removed from their care as an on-going form of colonization across Canada.

 

Research shows that Indigenous youth are more likely to be involved with child welfare services than non-Indigenous youth (Dunn, 2019). In a national survey of youth using homelessness agencies, Kidd, Thistle, Beaulieu, O’Grady, and Gaetz (2019) found that for Indigenous young people, being involved with child welfare was related to their current distress levels and that this involvement is strongly associated with risk for this population of youth. A subsequent replication of the survey several years later indicated the same findings, that homeless Indigenous youth face high risks related to child welfare involvement and the legacy of colonization (Kidd et al., 2021). In the next two videos, Jessica Rumboldt and Dr. Sean Kidd speak about this legacy and the survey results.

 

Jessica Rumboldt: Indigenous youth homelessness and colonizing institutional practice 

In this video, Jessica Rumboldt discusses research that shows Indigenous homelessness results from the breakdown of relationships rooted in historic processes of colonization. Indigenous youth have taken the brunt of these Canadian nation-state building projects, such as residential schools and the child welfare system, which have traumatized generations of First Nations, MĂ©tis, and Inuit communities. This video is 1:11 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Jessica Rumboldt: Indigenous youth homelessness and colonizing institutional practice 

  1. Research shows Indigenous homelessness results from the breakdown of relationships rooted in historic processes of colonization. Indigenous youth have taken the brunt of these Canadian nation-state building projects, such as residential school and the child welfare system, which have traumatized generations of First Nations, MĂ©tis, and Inuit communities. 

 

Dr. Sean Kidd: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? 

In this video, Dr. Sean Kidd discusses results of the second national survey of young people accessing homelessness support services. He notes that there are several findings unique to Inuit, MĂ©tis, or First Nation respondents. Dr. Kidd identifies child protection as having a longstanding history with multi-generational impacts for these youth in a way that is different than other populations of young people. He further discusses how the survey shows different risk profiles for Inuit, First Nations, and MĂ©tis identified young people born and raised on Reserve, but also notes the survey does not speak enough to the resilience these young people have. Dr. Kidd directs us to the work of Indigenous scholars to learn more. This video is 2:49 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Sean Kidd: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? 

  1. The second national survey of young people accessing homelessness support agencies indicated some unique experiences for Inuit, MĂ©tis, or First Nation respondents.
  2. For Inuit, First Nations, and MĂ©tis identified young people child protection involvement has had a longstanding overlay and history that is different than most other populations.
    • Child welfare practices have been applied in different ways to this population and are tied in with the multi-generational impacts of colonialism.
  3. Amongst Inuit, First Nations, and MĂ©tis identified young people the survey showed different profiles of risk depending on whether they were born and raised on reservation compared to other contexts.
    • Reserve environments have some unique challenges, such as aspects of poverty, deprivation, and multi-generational trauma.
    • This survey collected data on risk, but likely does not speak to the unique points of resilience that may come with being born and raised on Reserve.

 

Dr. Kidd raises an important point, that in the discussion about horrors and traumas of colonization, we must recognize the strength of these survivors. Researchers in Winnipeg have found that Indigenous youth experiencing homelessness, who had been involved in child welfare, needed to be seen as resourceful and contributing members of the community (Brown, Knol, Prevost-Derbecker, & Andrushko, 2007). These youth also spoke about their need for on-going support from friends and family, and wanting to have a safe, nurturing, and permanent place to call home (Brown et al., 2007). We encourage you to consider the strength of these Indigenous youth as you watch the video below entitled, “Here and Now Youth Homelessness in Winnipeg.” 

 

 

Agencies that support people experiencing homelessness are a critical part of the service infrastructure, particularly for Indigenous young people who are displaced from their families and communities. However, as we saw in the preceding video, services must incorporate Indigenous tailored supports. If they do not, they risk being ineffective and even harmful. For instance, we must consider how Indigenous spiritual practices are woven into these support agencies (Von Riesen, 2020) or risk increasing their sense of spiritual disconnection (Thistle, 2017). Bono (2019) notes that as Indigenous peoples move into urban centres, it is critical they be able to access Indigenous-specific organizations like shelters, day centres, and transitional housing.

 

The value of infusing Indigenous beliefs and practices into housing programs was evident in the Winnipeg site of the At Home / Chez Soi study (Distasio, Zell, & Snyder, 2018). This ground-breaking study, discussed in detail in the Politics, Policy, & Housing in Canada chapter, evaluated the effectiveness of Housing First as a program that supports people to find housing and then provides on-going supports based on their identified needs. In Winnipeg, the focus of the Indigenous Housing First program was to be holistic, relationship-based, strengths-based, and to ensure participants and staff had access to the supports and services they needed (Distasio et al., 2018). In another study evaluating the creation and management of housing for Indigenous people living with HIV, researchers found there was a need to create spaces for ceremonial practices and cultural traditions, and to provide support from an Indigenous perspective (Ion et al., 2018). In the next video Dr. Nick Falvo discusses findings from a housing program evaluation he led and what he learned about the need to integrate Indigenous practices.

 

Dr. Nick Falvo: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? 

In this video, Dr. Nick Falvo argues that the housing needs of Indigenous people are different than the housing needs of non-Indigenous people. He points to the outcomes within a local non-profit housing provider and explains that right from intake, processes may be set up in a way that does not meet the needs of Indigenous tenants. Dr. Falvo discusses his research with this organization’s tenants, Knowledge Keepers, and Elders. He points to ways that housing providers can improve orientation and programming to be more culturally appropriate for Indigenous tenants. Dr. Falvo notes these changes will require money, partnerships with Indigenous organizations, and the will to implement them. This video is 3:44 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Nick Falvo: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? 

  1. The housing needs of Indigenous people are different than the housing needs of non-Indigenous people.
    • Non-profit housing providers have noticed that the outcomes are often not as favourable for Indigenous tenants as for non-Indigenous tenants, such as in achieving long-term housing stability.
  2. Research conducted with Indigenous tenants, Knowledge Keepers, and Elders showed that a gap existed in how welcome Indigenous tenants felt right from the start of their tenancy.
    • Orientation may consist of a brief walk-through of the building and being given a set of keys. Indigenous tenants would prefer a more involved process.
      • Indigenous tenants would prefer meeting with an Elder, frontline worker, and housing provider.
      • Intake could involve the medicine wheel with the Elder, learning more about the history of the person and what would make them have a more worthwhile tenancy within the housing program.
  3. Indigenous tenants may desire regular onsite cultural programming, such as having Elders brought in and to meet with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.
    • Cultural programming may include talking about cultural issues, smudging, having a sharing circle, and creating Indigenous art together.
    • It is important to Indigenous residents that their histories and uniqueness be recognized.
  4. Culturally appropriate programming and service provision costs money and requires partnerships with Indigenous organizations, which many organizations do not have. Creating these supports requires the will for change.

You can learn more about this research here:

aqua icon for website link


 

In this section, we posed the question, “How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices?” We began with the difficult truth that prior to settler colonization, there was no homelessness amongst Indigenous peoples. We saw that the process of displacing people – through the Reserve system – marked the beginning of exploitative practices and traumatic outcomes that are still prevalent today. As part of this section, we presented a debate in which a panelist argued Canada intentionally keeps Indigenous communities in crisis because it benefits the state to be able to access the natural resources on their land. While it may be difficult to accept this, we cannot deny that colonizing practices are not only present but are given power through laws like the Indian Act.

 

Indigenous people have been removed from their land and taken away from their families since the arrival of settlers in Canada. We see this clearly with the state’s removal of children during residential schooling, the 60s scoop, and through child welfare practices today. We urge you to recall here Rose’s story about how her family was deeply fractured and the trauma that resulted. As Indigenous youth exit care they are likely to end up visibly homeless and living in urban centres. It is important that service agencies be established to support these youth, and Indigenous adults as well, using an Indigenous worldview and practices. Not doing so risks creating further harm and spiritual disconnection. This section has highlighted some of the key colonial practices that are at the root of Indigenous homelessness. We do not in any way suggest that this is a complete list or comprehensive discussion, but rather a starting point that we hope propels you to learn more.

 

Podcast: How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices? (16:06)

Click the link below to listen to all of the researchers answer the question “How are the causes of Indigenous homelessness rooted in on-going colonizing practices?” in audio format on our podcast!

 


 

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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.

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