National Indigenous Peoples Day is an opportunity for everyone living in Canada to learn about Indigenous histories, cultures, traditions — and perhaps most importantly, to celebrate.
We invite you to read about Skookum Housing, a ground-up research initiative that wants to end Indigenous child poverty in Surrey, BC.
A local Indigenous-led approach
Skookum Surrey is an initiative spearheaded by Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee. The committee is made up of all Indigenous organizations operating in Surrey. It also includes non-Indigenous organizations that have a significant connection to the Indigenous population.
“Skookum” means strong, powerful, brave in the Chinook language.
Skokum Surrey placed Indigenous knowledge and lived experience at the centre of its research project to reflect the reality of the people they were helping.
Their model of participant-led enquiry first led to a detailed analysis of child poverty in the city. The research team zeroed in on the importance and the shortage of housing in the city. They then moved on to Skookum’s current focus, Indigenous homelessness.
A housing centred solution
Initially, the Skookum team suggested setting up a housing co-op as a way of testing out their findings about housing. They quickly realized that the lack of housing and its impact was too complicated to be addressed in that way. Instead, they created a spinoff project — The Skookum Lab: Urban Indigenous Housing Solutions.
This project looked housing needs and desires of Surrey’s Indigenous population. The final deliverable is a “road map” that aims to use housing solutions to break the cycle of Indigenous poverty. Their research highlighted that growing up in poverty reduces the chance of moving beyond it. It is challenging for residents to move from survival mode to a place where they can thrive.
A need for almost 2,000 units of affordable housing
The road map identified a need for 1,880 units of deeply affordable housing for Surrey’s Indigenous residents. It concludes with a focused strategy to work with all 3 levels of government to build at least 772 units of deeply affordable housing for single-parent Indigenous families.
Storytelling helps capture scope of economic hardship
Krystal Dumais moved to B.C. as a child with her mother from Saskatchewan, fleeing “a tough time,” back home. But Krystal and her mother found new, economic struggles in the West. It wasn’t easy, she said, but it gave her the sort of education you don’t get in school.
Connecting with Skookum gave Krystal an opportunity to share her experiences. By doing so, she helped the project team to understand the scope of child poverty in the city.
“Skookum gave me the opportunity to present and speak in a safe space, in a safe way, where I was comfortable. I was able to speak to community stakeholders that might be able to help make changes in Surrey,” said Krystal.
The research lab’s broad enquiries kept leading them back to one fundamental issue: housing.
“We came to understand that the limited supply of affordable housing in Surrey was contributing directly to Indigenous child poverty,” explained project lead, Sheldon Tetreault.
Community engagement drives Skookum model
The research team chose to allow time for community-based problem definition and solutions to emerge. Local Indigenous People were hired to work on the project. People like Krystal, who went from being a volunteer to being an engagement facilitator with Skookum Surrey.
“I don’t have post-secondary. I have Indigenous knowledge,” she said.
It’s an approach that is built into Skookum’s business model.
- Skookum Housing Solutions: Innovative Indigenous Research in Surrey, BC received a 2021 CMHC Gold Roof Award for Housing Research Excellence.
- The Skookum Lab: Urban Indigenous Housing Solutions received funding from the National Housing Strategy Solutions Labs program.
- Surrey is home to the largest and fastest-growing Indigenous population in BC. Yet, Indigenous people make up 22% of its homeless population.
- Surrey surpassed Vancouver in 2018 as the largest urban Indigenous population in BC. Current projections expect the urban Indigenous population to double by 2036.
Visit our Housing stories from Canadians to see more on how National Housing Strategy programs are making a difference to people and communities across the country.