New housing opens doors for Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it
“It’s where I was born and raised. My heart’s always been here.” That’s how Nasuʔkin (Chief) Heidi Gravelle feels about Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it, home to the Tobacco Plains Indian Band. But after 20 years of spending time away for school and work, “When I first moved back home, there was nowhere for me to live. I couch-surfed for a year.”
Many other members have had the same issue. Whether they want to return to the First Nation or already live there, housing options have been tight and less than ideal—until recently. Located in its traditional territory of the southeast Kootenays, Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it is now making huge strides in increasing the number, quality and affordability of homes.
In March 2020, the Band officially opened 11 new homes, ranging from one- to three-bedroom units, intended for members with low to moderate incomes. It has also assessed 21 existing units and started renovating them for safety and energy efficiency.
“Many members wanted to move home, reconnect to their traditional territory, where they grew up and where their lineage is, but we had nowhere for them to live,” says Gravelle. “Also, older housing is an issue for many First Nations across Canada, so this is huge. These new housing units are really opening doors.”
The projects have received the support of Columbia Basin Trust’s First Nations Housing Sustainability Initiative, which helps First Nations communities in the Basin enhance and increase their local affordable housing. Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it is also improving its ability to manage its housing by partnering with ʔakisq̓nuk, ʔaq̓am and Kenpesq’t (Shuswap Band) through the Trust-supported First Nations Asset Management Initiative.
Located in the main Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it village, the new homes are positioned close to health care and social services—especially important for the tenants of the two accessible units or those with other challenges. They also meet BC Energy Step Code 4 requirements, meaning they’re very energy efficient. For example, high-efficiency appliances and additional insulation significantly reduce the energy requirements and help to keep the cost of living affordable.
In addition, the Band is helping the people who live in the homes—both new and renovated—learn how to maintain them. “It’s about teaching people to be accountable, but also to have that sense of ownership,” Gravelle says, even if the units are rented. “The idea is to ensure tiptop maintenance to ensure longevity.”
The projects have also provided training opportunities for members, including youth, who have gained employment and skills. During the two-year construction phase, local workers—with industry professionals at their sides—knocked down dilapidated homes, repurposed the lots into sites for new homes and built the homes, while reusing supplies as much as possible. They have also aided with the upgrades.
“For anybody to live a better quality of life, they need a home, not just a dwelling—somewhere they can feel safe and secure and be proud of,” says Gravelle. “These new units and the renovations are helping our First Nation meet these requirements.”
Gravelle is happy the Trust is supporting these efforts. “I’m very appreciative of the Trust. I think building a relationship with our First Nations speaks volumes,” she says. “The Trust is a great example of an organization that strives to partner with First Nations’ communities directly versus at arm’s length.”
“People were quick to get into them,” she says. “It’s a beautiful location. It’s remote but it’s also getting out of that hustle and bustle and that city life.”
It’s also about enabling a sense of belonging. “Taking care of each other is an important value,” Gravelle says. For Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it, this includes supporting members to have access to safe and affordable homes.