On-reserve housing across Canada is in crisis. Many communities face significant waiting lists, health and safety issues from overcrowding and housing stock in need of major repairs. Innovative energy efficiency and building techniques that are common in Canada have not been adequately transferred to First Nation communities. This is especially the case in rural and northern regions.
CleanTech Community Gateway and T’Sou-ke First Nation are partnering to develop innovative housing solutions for Indigenous communities in B.C. The project will emphasize both social and technical innovation. It will kickstart capacity building within Indigenous communities and test various technologies for energy efficient housing. Its goal is to develop building archetypes, skills training and resources so First Nations can plan and implement sustainable housing.
3 Key Goals
Consult with Indigenous communities to determine their housing needs and co-develop plans for culturally-appropriate, high-performance on-reserve housing.
Create resources to guide Indigenous communities through the planning and construction of their own housing solutions.
Develop certification and skills training for Indigenous workers in trades related to planning and building housing.
Project scope and expected outcomes
Creating community empowerment, resilience and self-determination
Many First Nations communities lack enough housing units to meet community demand. Existing housing may need significant repairs due to poor design, construction and maintenance or accelerated deterioration due to overcrowding. Southern urban housing designs may be inappropriate for Indigenous needs and may exacerbate energy poverty due to energy inefficiency. Communities also may struggle to find resources and internal capacity to support self-directed community planning, design, construction and maintenance activities.
This crisis in on-reserve housing has been largely overlooked by the academic community. This project, however, addresses that. It will generate academic, community-based research that focuses on innovative and appropriate housing designs, supports capacity development and develops skills training. It also seeks to create community empowerment, resilience and self-determination. Its focus on affordable, net-zero buildings has the potential to solve housing shortfalls, alleviate energy poverty and contribute to climate action strategies.
3 concurrent research streams
With support from the National Housing Strategy Research and Planning Fund, the project will pursue 3 concurrent research and work streams. Community engagement and capacity-building are embedded in each stream.
- Stream 1 will develop plans and models for high-performance, net-zero on-reserve housing through computer modelling. The resulting buildings will be affordable in the long-term because they generate their own energy. They must also meet the cultural, physical and social needs of the community, which requires extensive consultation about community needs. The resulting design templates will be adaptable to different communities and climates.
- Stream 2 will develop tools and processes to enable Indigenous communities to design and build their own high-performance homes. The team will work with the T’sou-ke Centre for Sustainability, which has created previous “how to” guides for Indigenous communities.
- Stream 3 will establish a training and certification program for Indigenous workers. This will support the skills needed for planning and constructing high-performance buildings. The program will be developed with the Canadian Union of Skilled Workers–Aboriginal Skilled Workers Association. It will be piloted in Indigenous communities identified in this project.
Exploring technical solutions and community needs
The research project will use a mixed methods research approach rooted in “Two-Eyed Seeing,” combining traditional knowledge with innovative technology. This will involve both quantitative and qualitative research.
- Quantitative research: Environmental scans and energy modelling will be undertaken to determine technical specifications, climatic conditions and project feasibility. They will identify energy conservation measures to reach the passive house standard and establish region- and climate-specific parameters. They will also explore net-zero and high-performance energy requirements and the on-reserve availability of needed resources. This will include identifying logistical challenges for materials and developing the capacity for training skilled labour.
- Qualitative research: Community wide engagement and relationship-building is vital to establishing strong relationships with Indigenous communities. It also enables the co-development of appropriate solutions to housing need that incorporate cultural values and knowledge. This will include in-person visits and a range of activities such as community meals, presentations and roundtable workshops. Other activities include meetings with leadership and staff, member surveys, housing and needs assessments and in-depth interviews.
Putting models into practice and empowering communities
The architectural models for on-reserve high-performance housing produced by this project are intended for use in real-world settings. The first pilot is planned for the ʔaq̓am community in southeastern B.C., in collaboration with the ʔaq̓am community and B.C. Housing. Potential partnerships for building projects in seven other communities are in discussion.
The project will generate a range of products for sharing results and lessons learned. This includes research summaries, outreach materials and “how to” guides for developing high-performance homes on reserve. These materials, and the pilot training certification program, will make the project’s lessons learned available to Indigenous communities across Canada. This will help communities increase their knowledge and skill, enabling them to make their own visions of home a reality.
Project Team: CleanTech Community Gateway & University of Victoria
Location: Victoria, BC
- T’Sou-ke Centre for Sustainability; Canadian Union of Skilled Workers / Aboriginal Skilled Workers Association; RDH Building Sciences
Activity Stream: Program of Research