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A team of architects and student recently visited 2 remote First Nations to help people design homes in their communities. It’s part of an innovative housing initiative called Boreal Homebuilders that will train 40 students to build homes from the ground up. (Submitted by Kaoru Ryan Suzuki) An innovative new training program aims to address the housing crisis in remote First Nations by using materials and residents who are already there.

20 students from Garden Hill First Nation and another 20 from Wasagamack First Nation will learn how to build homes in their communities as part of the program, called Boreal Homebuilders. It’s a partnership between U of M, the communities and the Anokiiwin Training Institute.

Shirley Thompson, a University of Manitoba professor who is part of the project, just returned from a trip to the two communities to oversee the launch of the program.

Over the course of 15 months, the students will receive vocational training on how to build houses from start — cutting the preparing the timber themselves — to to finish, with each community ultimately getting two new houses.

This last week, Thompson visited the communities with architects and architecture students to start developing the houses and designing them in culturally appropriate ways. Thompson said she was impressed by the designs students came up with. (Submitted by Kaoru Ryan Suzuki) Some of the students in communities came with their own design ideas, many of which incorporated the sun and environment to make them more sustainable, Thompson said.

"It’s so wonderful to see the creativity, the potential in these students to change the situation," she said.

The two Island Lakes-area first nations were chosen because they have some of the worst housing situations in the province, Thompson said. They’re accessible only by plane or winter road.

During their visit to the communities, facilitators saw one home with 14 people living in it, and another with 23 people under one roof. The team visiting homes in the First Nations to get a sense of the housing situation. (Submitted by Kaoru Ryan Suzuki) "It’s not uncommon for people to sleep in shifts, because there aren’t enough beds," Thompson said.

The hope is that if the program is successful in Garden Hill and Wasagmack, it can be duplicated in other First Nations, Thompson said.

"If we can do it in these fly-in remote communities that are very economically poor, we can take it anywhere," she said.

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