November 29, 2023

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Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Ryerson University’s Together Design Lab launch collaborative housing partnership

Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Ryerson University’s Together Design Lab launch collaborative housing partnership

“It doesn’t make sense for any of us to be living in that type of environment,” says Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishawbe Aski Nation, right, who will work with Shelagh McCartney of Ryerson’s Together Design Lab, left, and a team of researchers to develop a housing strategy.  (GILBERT NGABO / TORONTO STAR)

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Housing Strategy will support First Nations’ Right to self-determination in housing systems by working at the community and regional level developing solutions and action plans that recognize First Nations’ unique needs, geography and culture.

Toronto, ON. — Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and Ryerson University’s Together Design Lab are proud to announce an innovative new collaborative housing partnership – the NAN Housing Strategy.

The NAN Housing Strategy is a three year project creating occupant-focused housing assessments, determining localized housing need, and developing housing action plans and solutions at the community and regional level. Centered around First Nations knowledge and lived experience, the Strategy will support and advocate for First Nation self-determination in the planning, governance and design of housing systems.“Housing is a universal human right, but most of our communities suffer from severe overcrowding and substandard living conditions that have resulted in a collective state of emergency across NAN territory. We are pleased to partner with Ryerson University to meet community-defined needs and support self-determination in the development of housing systems for our First Nations,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

The NAN Housing Strategy goals include:

  1. Develop a tripartite housing accord between Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Ontario and Canada, recognizing the rights and obligations of all parties in securing safe and healthy housing.

  2. Create inclusive occupant-focused housing needs assessment tools and establish community-based, long-term housing plans.

  3. Vision appropriate design to match diverse demographic needs and investigate innovative materials.

  4. Establish peer-support networks and support local housing experts to build capacity between and among First Nation people in the north.

  5. Identify desired changes in government program design, alternative funding mechanisms, and advocate for systems change.

“It is well known that a housing crisis on-reserve exists. However, the way it is defined and understood in communities on the one hand and by the government on the other is varied and ultimately describes a different crisis. There is no one solution to the housing crisis. We look forward to working in partnership with NAN and the First Nations in their territory to champion community-developed processes and priorities unique to each First Nation which will create pathways forward,” said Dr. Shelagh McCartney, Ryerson University.

This new partnership is informed by earlier research from the Together Design Lab which sought to better understand the ongoing housing crisis. Dr. Shelagh McCartney and her research team undertook a study from December 2016 to September 2017 through a Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Knowledge Synthesis grant. The study’s final report developed criteria for the creation of a unique housing evaluation framework for Mid-Canada Corridor First Nations.

This partnership recently received a $200,000 SSHRC grant to begin piloting the evaluation process. Subsequently, the NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a resolution in June 2018 to expand the pilot to a full strategy. In response to the development of the First Nations National Housing and Infrastructure Strategy, the partnership has produced a position paper outlining the specific and unique needs of NAN First Nations to be used to generate a path forward to creating better, more appropriate and adequate housing on- and off-reserve.

Together Design Lab at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning takes a collaborative approach to investigating and creating innovative solutions to housing issues within marginalized communities in Canada. Led by Dr. Shelagh McCartney, Together Design Lab relies on an immersive model of partnership between students, collaborators and communities to understand the role of housing in shaping personal and community well-being.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) represents 49 First Nation communities in James Bay Treaty No. 9 and Ontario portions of Treaty No. 5 – an area covering two thirds of the province of Ontario in Canada.

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