Jesse Thistle, an Indigenous Scholar currently pursuing his PhD at York University, has given us a more comprehensive view of what homelessness means through the Indigenous lens. His work defines it as follows...
"Indigenous homelessness is a human condition that describes First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals, families or communities lacking stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means or ability to acquire such housing. Unlike the common colonialist defnition of homelessness, Indigenous homelessness is not defined as lacking a structure of habitation; rather, it is more fully described and
understood through a composite lens of Indigenous worldviews. These include: individuals, families and communities isolated from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, cultures, languages and identities. Importantly, Indigenous people experiencing these kinds of homelessness cannot culturally, spiritually, emotionally or physically reconnect with their Indigeneity or lost relationships."
While solutions to homelessness are often seen through the lens of colonialism and a one size fits all approach, we've learned that the Indigenous experience is unique. Homelessness is not only about housing for Indigenous people, but also loss of connection to family, community and identity. Indigenous spirituality and connection to the land is an important piece of the conversation which is often overlooked in general discussion surrounding homelessness. Indigenous homelessness is complex and deserves a more thoughtful approach than given in the past.
In 2015, our Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness in Regina identified 75% of those in homelessness as Indigenous. When only 15% of Saskatchewan's population identify as Indigenous, this tells us there is something deeper at work here. Residential schools, the 60's Scoop, continued systemic injustice and racism, etc...all contribute to this disproportionate number. Thistle's work is important because it re-orients our vision, helping us to approach the issue of homelessness through the Indigenous lens, offering a more holistic approach.
Here at Regina Homelessness and HPS Regina, we are constantly striving to do better in this regard. We've taken steps to actively hire and recruit Indigenous leadership as part of our efforts in combating homelessness. We built a job description, and have hired an Indigenous person to lead in this role, for a Director of Indigenous/Non-Indigenous Collaboration. This person works closely with Indigenous led organizations, ensuring they know about our application process and funding options, inviting them to the table to be part of the solution. This year (2018), we've funded three Indigenous organizations to offer their expertise in the field of service provision and affordable housing options. In our efforts to build a Plan To End Homelessness in Regina, we've hired an Indigenous leader as our Director of the Plan. We've also increased Indigenous representation on the Regina Homelessness Community Advisory Board. In previous years, there was disproportionate representation. Currently, we have 5 out of 11 board members that are Indigenous. This ensures funding decisions and direction is made with Indigenous leadership. The Chair of our Board is also an Indigenous leader, who also has a leadership role within a community based organization.
We have by no means arrived or done enough in this conversation as an organization. But we are growing and striving to continually do better. The Latin phrase "Nihil de nobis, sine nobis" comes to mind. It means "Nothing about us without us." Without Indigenous participation and leadership in this process, we will never affect real change.
Read Jesse Thistle's full study on the "Definition of Indigenous Homelessness" here.