Focus Forward For Indigenous Youth’s ongoing project in Montreal Lake Cree Nation, will hopefully be partnered with Saskatchewan based contractor, Your Choice Homes Inc (YCH). YCH has ample experience working with First Nation communities on similar construction projects. This week I was able to talk with Jay Noel –Community Partner of YCH –about the mandate behind these construction projects, and what they mean for First Nation youth.
Prior to Focus Forward’s greenhouse project, YCH has worked with First Nation communities to train high school students to build tiny homes. The focus, Jay explained is “Housing through Education”1. YCH deploys its Construction Worker 101 program; a program which introduces students to the ticketed and non-ticketed trades, as well as an opportunity to learn job site safety, and earn high school credits and future apprenticeships hours. However, equally as important is how the program allows students to gain real-world job site experiences, and further develop their team-building skills. Jay explains that the program seeks to address two disconnects affecting First Nation communities: the first being the First Nation housing crises, and secondly, the inadequate funding made available for First Nation students.
Through Jay’s research and discussions with leaders and elders of First Nation communities, it was brought to his attention that many communities are facing a unique housing crisis. Due to limited resources, some First Nation communities are forced to maximize the size and build of houses, and focus on larger homes for families. This emphasis results in a housing crisis of single housing living. Specifically, there is a shortage of homes for single adults and elders. YCH’s Construction Worker 101 program, empowers First Nation students by providing them with the skillset and opportunity to address this problem affecting their community through an eight-week build of a small house. Through teamwork and dedication, the high school students work together through every phase of the build, constructing a home for someone in their community. Jay emphasizes that the program is not just about getting First Nation youth into trades “it’s about team and community pride”1, as the community is involved from start to finish. At the beginning of the project, the community announces who the house will be built for –an important aspect as students get to know whose homes they are building and therefore see the positive impact their work has on someone’s life. As well, upon completion of the house, the community celebrates together.
These projects with First Nation communities have been very successful. During the construction of the house, YCH updates its Facebook profile with pictures from the build, allowing community and family members to express their feedback. Feedback from the participating communities and students has been very positive, “with zero dropouts and injuries ever.”1
However, the success of the program points to a serious issue affecting First Nation youth, and is the second disconnect YCH seeks to address. Compared to the funding made available to the public school’s system, First Nation schools are under-funded and under-equipped. This inadequacy of funding results in cuts for the practical arts: “either the community doesn’t have the school with a facility or they don’t have the funds for a journeyman teacher.”1 Despite the numerous benefits, under the current funding circumstances, the education system does not have the ability to provide students an opportunity like this. YCH seeks to address the shortcoming by incorporating housebuilding into the high school curriculum, and provide students with a hands-on experience they would otherwise be deprived of.
The benefits of Housing through Education are numerous. In participating, students receive high school and apprenticeship credits, as well as a wage package. Furthermore, the program exposes students to different opportunities, expands their career prospects, and encourages them to continue their education. After strong results and constant positive feedback from participating communities, YCH has expanded its outreach in Frist Nation communities. For instance, YCH also offers a Construction 202 Program; a program dedicated to bringing apprenticeships to First Nation communities in order to make them more accessible for youth. Frequently, in order to participate in an apprenticeship, First Nation youth have to leave their community –a move which can lead to a difficult adjustment period. By bringing apprenticeships to the community, the Construction 202 program seeks to minimize the obstacles First Nation youth face and maximize the opportunity in First Nation communities’ own projects. In addition, Jay also explained that YCH has its first federally funded program planned to take place in Piikina First Nation, in Alberta. A federally funded program will amplify the positive change and success community members of Piikina Nation have already initiated.
Focus Forward’s Hope Garden’s greenhouse project, aspires to provide students from Senator Allen Bird Memorial School with an opportunity which will further develop skills sets, expose students to a variety of career paths, and implement a sustainable project that will provide agricultural education in years to come. Stage 1 of the project has already commenced, where students spent two days learning and participating in the construction of the foundation of the greenhouse. Stage 2, the primary build of the greenhouse, is set to begin spring 2018. After all, as Jay says, “any blueprint is an opportunity for curriculum, and any job site is easily turned into a classroom.”1
1 Noel, Jay. Personal Interview. 26 February 2018.