Definition of Indigenous Homelessness
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. 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.
Read Jesse Thistle's full study on the "Definition of Indigenous Homelessness" here.
Indigenous Homelessness in Regina
In 2015, our Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness in Regina identified 75% of those in homelessness as Indigenous. In 2018, the count was even higher, at 79%. 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.
Here at Regina Homelessness, 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 community member to lead as 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, and helps to provide Cultural Competency with their expertise. This past year (2018), we've funded three Indigenous organizations 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 To End Homelessness. We've also increased Indigenous representation on the Regina Homelessness Community Advisory Board. In previous years, there was disproportionate representation. Currently, we have 4 out of 9 board members that are Indigenous. This ensures funding decisions and direction is made alongside Indigenous leadership. The Vice 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.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was officially launched in 2008 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). Intended to be a process that would guide Canadians through the difficult discovery of the facts behind the residential school system, the TRC was also meant to lay the foundation for lasting reconciliation across Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was created as a result of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). This multi-faceted agreement, widely understood to be one of the largest settlement packages in the history of the country, was intended to compensate survivors for the harms they suffered in residential schools, and to work towards a more just and equitable future for Indigenous peoples.
The final report, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, documents the tragic experiences of approximately 150,000 Canadian residential school students. Many of these children were sexually and physically abused. The commission also found that approximately 3,200 residential school students died of malnourishment, tuberculosis and other diseases caused by poor living conditions. Justice Sinclair argued that this number is likely higher, perhaps 5 to 10 times as much; however, due to poor burial records, the commission could not report a more accurate number.
As part of the final report, 94 calls to action were made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Canada to move forward in its efforts to reconcile. As we know 79% of our homeless population is Indigenous, part of our action towards reconciliation is ending Indigenous homelessness. Find more information about the Plan here.