2018 Feature, Small Newsroom finalist

First Nations Housing


About the Project

We launched our series examining housing on First Nations reserves in Canada against the backdrop of a decades-long housing crisis, where many Indigenous people wait years for homes, only to struggle with mould and overcrowding when they do get shelter. According to Statistics Canada, of the 334,390 First Nations people who reported living on reserve in the 2016 census, more than a third lived in overcrowded homes and 44 per cent lived in homes needing major repairs. Even the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples said that housing in First Nations communities in Canada had “reached a crisis level.”

Despite the urgent need for attention, this topic still goes largely under-examined by mainstream media, except for the occasional swarm around a tragic headline. But they have yet to examine the issue with any sustained depth, leaving questions unasked, policies unchallenged and people in Canada without decent accommodation.

So The Discourse’s reporting team on Indigenous reconciliation set itself a goal: to carefully examine the complex issues underlying the crisis and distill them, so that people both on and off reserve can deepen their understanding of what’s at play and what’s at stake, participate in informed discussions, and ultimately find ways to move forward together. If the level of engagement we’ve seen on our platforms is any indication, our coverage is resonating with Indigenous people whose realities we’ve accurately reflected, and non-Indigenous people willing to learn about the hardships facing communities many know little about.

In the past six months, we’ve produced a unique comic explainer on how housing works on reserve — a piece that has since been used in at least one classroom as a teaching tool, and whose last panel we deliberately left blank with an invitation to readers to help us finish the story and share their resources to further generate discussion. We then produced a video that, backed up by independent data, engaged with and responded to some of the comments and questions we received on the comic, to dispel the myth that housing on reserve is free.

We also broke the story of a B.C. Indigenous group that is negotiating with the government to take back jurisdiction over their own housing, after nearly 100 years under federal control. And we published a timeline chronicling a federal initiative called the First Nations Market Housing Fund that was intended to help finance desperately needed homes on reserve — but missed its targets year after year and met less than one per cent of its goal after a decade. Finally, we put human faces to the housing situation; ordinary First Nations people on the ground, impacted by bureaucratic housing decisions made in boardrooms far away.