Indigenous-led programming that unites
BC Housing acknowledges that the 1919 17th Ave. development lies on the ancestral, unceded lands of the Lheidli T’enneh.
In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Month, we are celebrating Indigenous community partners, operators, Elders, Matriarchs and leaders who are tirelessly working to create housing and spaces that connect Indigenous People with their rich cultures and languages. In today’s post we spoke with Aboriginal Housing Society of Prince George’s Board President Ruby Baptiste about the importance of their cultural programming.
The opening of 50 homes in Prince George for Indigenous families and Elders is about more than just housing—it’s about community.
Located at 1919 17th Ave., the affordable homes opened in March. Indigenous residents are already forming a strong community with the help of cultural programming.
The Aboriginal Housing Society of Prince George (AHSPG) owns and operates the housing. The Society’s Indigenous programming is based on dialogue.
“We want them to feel heard and we want them to know they are heard,” AHSPG Board President Ruby Baptiste said. “If these programs are for them, we want them to participate so it has to be something that they want and are going to enjoy.”
Cultural programming ranges from healing workshops for those in recovery, to drumming workshops and arts and crafts sessions for Elders.
The programming helps residents connect with the larger community and with each other. It also supports creativity and brings down the walls of isolation erected during the pandemic.
“With COVID there’s a lot of loneliness that’s been happening, a lot of mental health issues, so I see healing circles helping with the mental health of residents,” Ruby said.
Residents also enjoy the community garden.
“This goes back to our traditional ways of how we used to eat and feed ourselves,” Ruby said, “It’s really important for us to go back to our traditional ways when we can, and gardening is one of those areas where we can do that.”
Ruby noted the health benefits of the garden, which provides traditional foods to a community where healthy food is scarce. This is a direct effort to address the high rate of diabetes in Indigenous communities.
Through its Indigenous Support Program (ISP), the AHSPG team also refers residents to services that best suit their needs. The program team meets with tenants to understand their needs before making referrals, acting as a vital link between tenants and service providers.
“If we have Elders who might need extra care or home care, they’ll set that up for them,” Ruby said, “Or if a young mother needs daycare, or someone needs job training, the ISP makes it happen.”
The AHSPG works closely with many Indigenous community organizations. Bringing together community partners creates a holistic experience for residents, from cultural programming to job training.
Through its Aboriginal Training and Career Development Program, AHSPG collaborates with IDL Projects, M’akola Development Services, and the Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment and Training Association. The program provides employment opportunities for Indigenous community members on the 1919 17th Ave. project.
The benefits of this partnership are many, including job coaching and personalized job matching. But for Ruby, this program is about empowerment.
“Any chance we can get to empower our community is great, and to hear how proud they are that they were part of building this site that’s creating safe and affordable housing for their family, friends and community—it just does your heart so much,” Ruby said.
The homes at 1919 17th Ave. are the first part of a four-phase development that includes affordable rental housing and on-site services. The first 50 homes are complete and occupied. Later phases will provide 35 supportive homes for Indigenous Elders and seniors experiencing homelessness and an additional 57 affordable rental homes.
Also underway is a renovation and an addition to the Society’s existing community building. This includes a new childcare centre, a digital learning centre with an Indigenous-authored library, and a gathering hall for workshops, classroom teachings, and community gatherings.
Ruby hopes the development becomes a place where all Indigenous community members—Elders, families and youth aging out of care—can find a safe place they can call home.
The 1919 17th Ave. development was funded by the Province, through BC Housing, with $11 million from the Building BC: Indigenous Housing Fund. The Indigenous Housing Fund is a 10-year, $550 million investment to build and operate 1,750 new homes on and off nation.