It was a grand celebration at the Nazko First Nation west of Quesnel where dinner and gifts were shared on Wednesday, Nov. 9, with those who helped make a new nine-unit housing complex come to fruition.
Nazko elder Monica Paul cut a ribbon held by band manager Tanya Hjorth and Chief Leah Stump in front of Sbalyan ‘Ut’o “Eagles Nest” after which staff, contractors and dignitaries gathered for a photo.
The name for the on-reserve housing complex for elders, women and children and people with disabilities was chosen by a group of elders and put forward by Doreen Patrick. It was constructed by Blue Collar Camps in Quesnel and NRB Modular Solutions from Kamloops.
After a brief tour of the new homes, everyone went to the community’s log hall built in the 1970s and has been used for various events from funerals, weddings, meetings and special events for lunch.
“Our people out there have no houses. They’re suffering with no houses and some are camping down by the river bank in the cold,” Paul said in her opening prayer. “I’m so happy for what our chief is doing for us here — she’s making a house for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so they don’t have to suffer.”
Stump thanked everyone for taking the time to come to their community and said that as much as they love their hall, they hope to have someday a multiplex, including a gym for their youth and a band office.
Councillors Delores Alec and Anthony Perry also welcomed and thanked everyone, including their housing coordinator Sandra Roach.
“As Monica (Paul) said we need to build homes for our people,” Alec said. “We really need homes so our people are not living on the streets in Quesnel or anywhere else. We need to bring them home, and we need to have proper homes.”
After lunch, Stump shared that she was born and raised in Nazko, and sometimes they feel forgotten as they are an hour’s drive from Quesnel.
The Indigenous community has approximately 150 members living-on reserve in 45 homes. Some of the nation’s oldest elders live in nearby Fish Lake without running water or electricity, and earlier this year, received renovations to their homes full of mold.
“We got it done, and it just shows our sense of community and how much our little community means to us, so we’re so thankful that you’re here today, and you can see it,” Stump said.
Alongside community members, including residential school survivors and second-generation survivors who call themselves the Eldzi Singers, meaning moon in Carrier, Stump drummed and sang. It was just a few years ago Stump’s community found the drum and would practice on full moons.
“I’m thankful we found the drum because it helps us all in our own way with healing,” she said. “It’s a good way for us to heal and to show and bring back our culture because we’ve been missing it for some years, and we’re just so happy to be able to share a couple of songs with you today.”
Gifts were given to representatives in attendance, including Indigenous Services Canada, Canada Mortage and Housing Corporation, Blue Collar Camps and NRB Modular Solutions.
The Government of Canada contributed approximately $3.5 million through the Rapid Housing Initiative and roughly $900,000 from Indigenous Services Canada.
“On behalf of Indigenous Services Canada, we are so honoured and happy to be invited to Nazko to share in this major celebration of the grand opening of a nine-unit complex,” said Pardeep Sidhu. “Kudos to the Nazko First Nation to progress and making this project a reality.”
Ferris Zahlan, an Indigenous housing specialist with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, played a role in the intake for approval of the funding application. He was raised in a large northern community with a sizeable Ojibwe population.
“I’m aware of the despair and hopelessness that you have when there’s a lack of housing in the community, but when I look around me here in Nazko what I see is resiliency, and that inspires me,” Zahlan said. “It makes me want to work hard for your community and other First Nations in the area so they can have the same housing enjoyed in the rest of Canada.”
Zahlan called it phenomenal to see the project fully constructed after being an idea on paper in 2021.
Blue Collar Camps owner Mark Courtney said the nine-unit housing complex is their biggest project to date with the Nazko First Nation. They have worked in the past with Nazko on forestry and training.
“People are going to be living in the complex by the beginning of December,” Courtney added, noting a hole was dug for the foundation in July 2022. “It’s pretty awesome how quickly everything has come together.”
Quesnel Mayor Ron Paull and Indigenous relations liaison for the City of Quesel, councillor Laurey Anne-Roodenburg said they strongly believe they could learn from their Indigenous neighbours.
“I’m in awe of your housing, and you have an amazing team here who put this project together, and I see opportunities for other communities to take lessons from you guys in how you maintain this,” Roodenburg said, noting housing is a crisis across B.C. “They’ll be lots of opportunities for discussion around how we can make projects like this work within our community.”
The day ended with a cake made by Nazko First Nation youth Dice Clement, being cut by Paul and Roach.
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