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First Nations’ housing projects near completion

Federal funds get behind homes for Liard, Ross River and White River. Liard touts log home success.

Efforts are nearing completion to increase available housing in some Yukon First Nations communities. There is federal funding behind the work and one First Nation is realizing the benefits of its own log home production plant.

A discussion of the houses that were either built or refurbished was held on Feb. 23 in Whitehorse. In attendance were Liard First Nation Chief Stephen Charlie, Yukon MP Brendan Hanley and federal government Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu.

The officials who were present said other chiefs were invited but couldn’t make it.

About $17 million in housing funding has been provided over the last three federal budgets for housing work by the Liard First Nation, the Ross River Dena Council and the White River First Nation. The funds are supporting the construction of a total of 33 new homes with another four being refurbished.

The money for the Liard First Nation went to the preparation and servicing of sites, the construction of a nine-unit elders complex, three tiny homes and renovations on four other homes.

The Ross River Dena Council funding built a duplex and two houses and also acquired five trailers.

White River First Nation constructed four free-standing houses and a duplex.

All three First Nations’ projects are said to be nearing completion.

At the Feb. 23 event, Charlie spoke at length about the ties between housing and security for people and families in Liard. He also expressed the importance of employment for peoples’ well-being.

Assisting both housing and employment in the community is the purchase and relocation of Heartland Timber Homes by First Kaska Construction Limited Partnership, a construction firm owned by Liard. The purchase of the log home manufacturing business and its relocation, which also came with assistance from the federal government, is being touted as a major step that will bolster the housing stocks of Liard and other Yukon First Nations.

“Right now we’re, with the assistance of the federal government CMHC [the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation], we are building 15 homes, and they’re just about complete now,” Charlie said.

“These are log home structures but the greatest part about it is we built them in our manufacturing plant and have the capability and capacity to continue doing that.”

Charlie explained that Liard has a housing committee that decides who moves into homes, looking at need. The chief said there is a focus on keeping kids out of foster care and housing elders.

Turning to the future of Liard’s log home business, Charlie said once a planned expansion is completed the plant could turn out 100 to 120 log home kits per year that can then be assembled and shipped to the sites they will be built on. He estimated the employment benefits at four or five working in the plant, 30 on construction and as many as 25 hired seasonally as well.

The benefits of steady employment are vast and Charlie said he has seen some people in Watson Lake and Liard who have gone from living “unhealthy lifestyles” to becoming exemplary employees.

He said the bottom line of this and other planned economic development projects is training and building up the local workforce.

Hajdu said the standards of quality also increase when First Nations are building housing and other facilities for themselves rather than relying on outside contractors.

“It’s a different feeling, when First Nations have that control over the entire project from planning all the way through to the final occupation of the unit by, oftentimes, a family member, or community member or friend or a loved one,” the minister said.

Hanley called the relocation of the log home plant a tremendous achievement that came together quickly.

“This really is the realization of a prosperity within that community. Hope employment, prevention, health, housing, and opportunity,” he said.

Charlie added that he is seeing LFN citizens moving home to the traditional territory as it becomes harder and harder to make ends meet in southern Canada.

“People are also seeing positive changes within the community in regards to housing, education, to our job opportunities. There’s been a lot of dysfunction in our first nation for a number of years, but that’s starting to resolve itself now,” the chief said.

He outlined future economic development plans including a solar panel project for Watson Lake and a future focus on greater cooperation with other Kaska chiefs.

Asked about future projects where federal assistance would be welcome, Charlie described a healing camp that could be a gathering place for traditional activities and also a place for people to stay with their families before or after leaving the area for some sort of treatment, allowing them to make preparations or slowly reintegrate.

Contact Jim Elliot at

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