3. How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness?

After learning about how the causes of Indigenous homelessness are deeply rooted in on-going colonizing practices, we believe it should be clear that there are no quick fixes that will instantly solve this issue. In asking the question, “How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness?” we are very aware that any solutions will take time. However, we are also aware that beginning is the first step. We will not get anywhere if we do not begin somewhere. This is a daunting question but, just like we have asked of ourselves and you as learners through this chapter, we must approach it with the recognition it is difficult and will involve some hard truths. Yet, this section also contains some very inspiring ways forward. Before you work through the material, we ask that you pause here and record some of your own thoughts on how we can begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness.  

 

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.

 

As we began our exploration of how to decolonize society, we found that the responses and research all connected to the problems previously identified as root causes. We were inspired by the range of projects and initiatives that are underway to begin to address these problems. Throughout this section we will use a spotlight approach to highlight these projects and make connections to the sources, so you can learn more. We recognize that the scope of work being done towards decolonizing is vast and we are representing only a sample of the remarkable work being done here. As always, we encourage you to explore further and expand your knowledge beyond this chapter.

 

Dr. Suzanne Stewart, who appeared in the debate from the previous section, has written, “Homelessness is not always easy to discuss. It often elicits strong emotional reactions— pity and sympathy, disdain, anger, blame, fear. In the consciousness of the average Canadian thinking about people who are homeless, particularly Indigenous people, a blame the victim mentality prevails. Non-Indigenous Canadians misunderstand the Indigenous experience of homelessness at best and are ignorant or blatantly racist at worst” (Stewart, 2018, pg.98). Arguably some of the most important things that non-Indigenous people can do are to listen and engage with Indigenous worldviews from a place of respect. We open this section with a video of Jessica Rumboldt, Post-Doctoral Fellow in Indigenous Homelessness at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, in which she discusses the importance of having on-going engagement and communication between Indigenous persons and Canadian settlers.

 

Jessica Rumboldt: The need for on-going open and vulnerable discussions 

In this video, Jessica Rumboldt argues that addressing Indigenous homelessness is a continuous process that requires ongoing commitment, with respectful and mindful consideration of the various communities and unique individuals involved. She notes that engagement is a key component, such as with Indigenous communities, people with lived experience of homelessness, persons living on and off Reserve, and those inside and outside the sector. Rumboldt argues that it is through open and vulnerable discussions that we can move forward, and that we must work collaboratively rather than in silos. She concludes by discussing a report she and her colleagues created on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations that explores many issues and recommendations related to Indigenous homelessness. This video is 3:48 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Jessica Rumboldt: The need for on-going open and vulnerable discussions 

  1. Addressing Indigenous homelessness is a continuous process that requires ongoing commitment.
  2. We must be respectful and mindful that there are various communities and unique lived experiences.
  3. Engagement is a key component.
    • We must have meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities, people with lived experience of homelessness, persons living on and off Reserve, and those inside and outside the sector.
    • It is through open and vulnerable discussions that we are able to expose truths, recognize where systems are failing, see where individuals need to take action, and know where others need an opportunity to use their voice.
    • We should avoid working in silos and instead collaborate and bring communities together for ongoing meaningful discussion.
  4. To learn more about Indigenous homelessness people can read the report that was written on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations that reviews the literature, looks at definitions, examines lived experiences, considers culturally specific approaches, and offers recommendations.

Spotlight #1:

green spotlight iconJessica Rumboldt is part of a team working on the Endaamnaan: Homes for all Nations project, with the Assembly of First Nations. We encourage you to learn more about the literature review and First Nations systems mapping initiative it supports using these links below.


The project spotlighted above entails a systems-mapping component to improve housing quality and availability on Reserves. Decolonizing practices must begin with a recognition of the land that has been stolen from Indigenous peoples and with actions that lead to tangible change. In the next two videos, Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff speak about these issues.

 

Dr. Abe Oudshoorn: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. Abe Oudshoorn argues that decolonization is not just about thinking and learning, but rather action that involves consideration of the land. He notes that while it is important we learn, such as through Truth and Reconciliation, we must also acknowledge that the essential element of the colonization process has been the taking away of traditional lands. Dr. Oudshoorn warns that if we do not consider land as the starting point, we are going to end up replicating processes used to address settler forms of homelessness, which are not sufficient. This video is 2:33 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Abe Oudshoorn: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? 

  1. Decolonization is not just about thinking and learning; decolonization is action that involves consideration of the land.
    • The essential element of the colonization process has been the taking of traditional land away from Indigenous peoples. We need to understand the historical context and that decolonization is not an intellectual practice but a real action.
    • It is important to learn, such as through Truth and Reconciliation processes, but to get at the root we have to understand ideas about land ownership and relationships with land.
  2. If we do not consider land the starting point, we are just going to replicate the homelessness processes that are used for settlers, which are insufficient. We cannot look at housing provision without consideration of historical issues around land ownership.

 

Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff argues that apologies are just words and that actions have more meaning. She challenges us to ask hard questions, such as when are we going to give every Reserve clean drinking water and proper housing? Are we willing to admit that housing on Reserves has been built with cheap materials and poor construction? Dr. Waegemakers Schiff concludes by noting that many people do not want to believe the conditions on Reserves are real because they are so horrible. This video is 1:39 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? 

  1. Apologies are just words; actions have more meaning.
  2. We need to ask, when are we going to give every Reserve clean drinking water and proper housing? Are we willing to admit that housing on Reserves has been built with cheap materials and poor construction?
  3. People may not want to believe that the painful conditions Indigenous communities live in are real because they are too horrible to look at.

 

We have seen throughout this chapter that Indigenous homelessness is about more than the loss of a house, it is about the loss of land and relations. Indigenous communities have been displaced from the free use of land and placed on Reserves, often in rural, remote, and/or northern regions. This is a modern–day practice, as much as an historical one. Ballard, Coughlin, and Martin (2020) have written about a 2011 human-made flood that displaced 17 First Nation communities in the Interlake region of Manitoba, creating forced displacement and resulting in premature death, worsening chronic illness, depression, and loneliness (Ballard, Coughlin, & Martin, 2020). Four years later First Nations Elders held a gathering in Winnipeg to discuss ways to heal, and they engaged in a participatory research project to record their perspectives and recommendations towards reconciliation and minoayawin (well-being). The Elders’ insights into their communities healing involved strategies to: forgive, stand united, promote self-determination, reclaim cultural identity, and connect with the land (Ballard et al., 2020). The video below is one such recording, of Elder Maryjane Sinclair from Little Saskatchewan First Nation sharing her perspective on returning home after her community’s displacement. 

 


Spotlight #2:

green spotlight iconWhen Elders speak, we all must listen and learn. The outcomes of the participatory project described above are well documented and can be accessed using the links below. We encourage you to watch the videos about the flood, read the healing guide, and watch the individual Elders’ recordings.


In the previous section, we shared a video of Dr. Nick Falvo discussing his research documenting what Indigenous youth identified as needing to feel connected and supported within their housing. In the video that follows he shares his thoughts on the importance of representation in decolonization. Just as in the project spotlighted above listening to, and learning from, Indigenous voices is essential if we are to move towards decolonization.

 

Dr. Nick Falvo: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. Nick Falvo notes that decolonization starts with representation and consideration of who is at the table. He argues that many organizations have a Board of Directors that does not reflect the people they are helping, and that they must work to enhance the presence of Indigenous people at all levels. Dr. Falvo states that looking to Indigenous people for guidance and listening to the knowledge they share is critical, and that it must be done in culturally respectful ways such as offering tobacco as a gift. This video is 2:56 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Nick Falvo: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? 

  1. Decolonization starts with representation and considerations about who is at the table.
    • Many non-profit organizations have a Board of Directors that does not necessarily reflect the people they are trying to serve.
    • Organizations of all kinds need to work to enhance the presence of Indigenous people at their leadership level, in management, and at the frontline.
  2. Looking to Indigenous people for guidance, and listening as they share their knowledge, is a step towards decolonization.
    • It is imperative that engagement be respectful of cultural practices, such as offering tobacco as a gift.

What do you think?

human head with light bulb as brain graphic

Dr. Falvo argues that decolonization begins with representation. Why do you think it is important for Indigenous people to see other Indigenous people represented in various roles in a social service agency and more broadly throughout society? 


Thistle and Smylie (2020) have written that responses to Indigenous homelessness must be led by Indigenous peoples and grounded in Indigenous worldviews, because the life experience of an Indigenous person with lived experience of homelessness is an invaluable gift that can enrich communities and teach providers. In much the same way that we, as authors, have grappled with writing about Indigenous homelessness as non-Indigenous people, so too have the non-Indigenous researchers we spoke to. For example, in the next two videos, Dr. Rebecca Schiff and Dr. Sean Kidd each draw on their research to speak about the need to end family displacement practices, but also note their limitations in answering this question as non-Indigenous people. 

 

Dr. Rebecca Schiff: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? 

In this video, Dr. Rebecca Schiff questions the role of white people in identifying solutions to decolonize society. She notes that getting rid of the Indian Act is an important step and that keeping Indigenous children with their families is best, regardless of whether they are removed by child welfare or are forced to migrate to larger cities to complete school. Dr. Schiff concludes by discussing the complexity of ending racism, as something that occurs across society and in our institutions, such as related to housing, corrections, and health care. This video is 4:13 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Rebecca Schiff: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? 

  1. We need to consider and question what role white people can / should play in coming up with answers to decolonize society.
  2. Getting rid of the Indian Act is an important step.
  3. Keeping Indigenous children with their families and dismantling the removal of children, either by child welfare or to receive education in a larger city, is in the best interest of children and families.
  4. Racism is a big complex issue that needs to be dismantled because it creates barriers across society and institutions such as housing, corrections, and health care.

 

Dr. Sean Kidd: Supporting Indigenous youth through engagement with their culture and Elders 

In this video, Dr. Sean Kidd explains that the experience of homelessness can impact a person’s sense of identity and self-worth. Building resiliency involves creating or reclaiming a self-concept that resists stigmatizing messages. Dr. Kidd notes that for Indigenous youth, identifying with their cultures of origin can be a power tool in that effort. He notes that there are some organizations that have been helping to connect these youth with Elders, and to find pathways for engaging with their cultures, histories, families, and communities. Dr. Kidd notes that while we may want to think of Canada as a safe place, there are many forms of discrimination, and that First Nations, MĂ©tis, and Inuit youth may experience multiple and interconnected types. He concludes that the best way to learn more about these issues is not to listen to a white man, but to seek out resources and to speak to young people directly. This video is 6:08 in length and has closed captions available in English. 

Key Takeaways – Dr. Sean Kidd: Supporting Indigenous youth through engagement with their culture and Elders 

  1. The experience of homelessness can impact a person’s self-concept and self-worth. There is a heavy imposition of stigmatization and discrimination that is difficult not to take on.
    • Building resiliency involves creating or reclaiming a self-concept that resists the stigmatizing messages.
    • For Indigenous youth, identifying with their cultures of origin can be a powerful tool in that effort.
  2. Many organizations have improved their ability to help young Indigenous people who feel disconnected from their histories, cultures, families, and communities.
    • For Indigenous youth, engaging with Elders, finding pathways to engage with their cultures of origin, exploring their identity through art, stories, and histories can lead to a reclaiming that is quite powerful.
  3. We may want to think of Canada as a safe place, but we have to remember not everyone experiences it the same way.
    • First Nations, Inuit, and MĂ©tis youth may face specific kinds of discriminations unique to their cultural identities, in combination with a range of other discriminations that young people face related to sex, gender, age, race, ability, etc.
  4. To learn more, seek out resources and talk to young people directly.

 

The research is clear that child welfare involvement is higher amongst Indigenous youth, which is an on-going form of colonization and contributes to the high rates of homelessness amongst this population (Dunn, 2019; Kidd et al., 2019, 2021; Shaikh & Rawal, 2019). In this section’s featured reading, Stewart (2019) explores how a social-constructivist approach to family counselling can be used as a means of working towards decolonization in clinical practice. 

 


Featured Reading:

open book graphic

Stewart, S. (2019). Family counselling as decolonization: Exploring an Indigenous social-constructivist approach in clinical practice. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 14(1), 43-56. 

 

Spotlight #3:

green spotlight iconFor Indigenous youth, reconnecting with family and transitioning out of homelessness may be important yet challenging goals. The Housing Outreach Project – Collaborative (HOP-C) is a multi-partner project that focuses on youth leadership and cultural relevance as two key aspects to supporting youth as they make these transitions and lead healthier lives. As one part of the project, Indigenous youth leaders in Thunder Bay, Ontario developed a guide to help other young people using Indigenous knowledge and supports. We encourage you to read the guide and learn more about the project using the links below.


We saw in the previous section that service provision must integrate Indigenous practices and perspectives to be welcoming (Distasio et al., 2018; Ion et al., 2018; Von Riesen, 2020). Particularly within major urban centres, where Indigenous peoples may seek support and opportunities but be isolated from their families, having Indigenous-tailored services may help to provide stability and a sense of connection (Bono, 2019). Indigenous programs and services may integrate arts-based methods as a form of decolonization (Ansloo & Wager, 2020), integrate harm reduction programs in culturally relevant ways (Firestone, Syrette, Jourdain, Recollet, & Smylie, 2019; Victor et al., 2019; Young & Manion, 2017), or use land-based healing to promote reconnection (Redvers, Nadeau, & Prince, 2020).

 

One innovative program in British Columbia supports Indigenous inmates to grow organic produce and donate it to rural and remote Indigenous communities as a means of reducing food insecurity (Timler, Varcoe, & Brown, 2019). However, the authors of this study are clear to note that while the program helps, it does not address the broader issues such as the effects of colonization on disproportionate incarceration, access to land, use of resources, and the rights inherent in food sovereignty (Timler et al., 2019). This body of literature suggests that while it is important for services to include Indigenous programs, what is really critical is that this be done with recognition of broader historical contexts and the on-going traumas they produce (Bingham et al., 2019b).


Spotlight #4:

green spotlight iconIn an article on advancing good relations with Indigenous people experiencing homelessness, Thistle and Smylie (2020) write that the considerable work of Pekiwewin, or coming home, needs to be led by Indigenous peoples but will be successful only if non-Indigenous service providers, decision-makers, and organizations are willing to engage on their own journeys of change. Read about their article on Pekiwewin and listen to an interview about this work on CBC Radio using the links below.

Throughout this section, we explored some of the inspiring initiatives being led by Indigenous people to address Indigenous homelessness. We recognize that these processes must be led by Indigenous peoples and ways of knowing, and that the work of decolonization requires non-Indigenous people listen and learn, with respect and willingness to change. We began this section with a reminder that we need to have open, honest, and on-going communication even if (or perhaps even more so because) we are talking about difficult issues. We saw that disconnection from the land is a primary cause of Indigenous homelessness and efforts at decolonization must begin there. However, they must not end there. We further saw that there is a need for representation of Indigenous people in various roles across society. One of the clearest forms of on-going colonization is family separation, such as through child welfare removals, and that family counselling and peer-support can be powerful decolonizing approaches. Integrating Indigenous supports into programs and services is important, particularly in urban settings, but these supports must be informed by Indigenous leadership.

 

Podcast: How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness? (22:27)

Click the link below to listen to all of the researchers answer the question “How can we begin to decolonize society and decrease Indigenous homelessness??” 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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