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Cheyenne Greyeyes, a Bachelor of Arts student and research assistant, is a member of the team of MacEwan scholars working alongside NiGiNan to collect narratives from youth and document the effectiveness of the approach at a new 42-unit housing project in the Edmonton neighbourhood of Belvedere.

New grant supports MacEwan scholars studying first-of-its-kind Indigenous-led housing program

February 22, 2021 | Society

UPDATE (April 19, 2021): Making the Shift, a youth homelessness social innovation lab, is providing close to $300,000 in funding to further this partnership between MacEwan University scholars and NiGiNan Housing Ventures in Edmonton.

The grant funding, says Dr. Cynthia Puddu, member of the community-engaged scholarship project and assistant professor in the Department of Allied Health and Human Performance, will allow the research team to connect with Indigneous organizations across the country, and to grow a network of research focused on preventing homelessness for Indigenous youth in urban areas.

“We have an opportunity to do meaningful research for the community that will help inform policy makers and developers on the creation of urban Indigenous housing initiatives across Canada,” says Puddu. “This project highlights the systems transformation necessary to ensure Indigenous Peoples are treated respectfully, fairly, equitably and with cultural sensitivity.

 

A team of MacEwan University scholars is partnering with NiGiNan Housing Ventures to help document a new approach to address homelessness among Indigenous youth.

Without support in place, says Carola Cunningham, CEO of NiGiNan Housing Ventures, Indigneous youth aging out of foster care can find themselves on the street, living homeless within three months. Stopping that cycle is the goal of a new 42-unit housing project in the Edmonton neighbourhood of Belvedere – the first of its kind in Alberta – built by the Right At Home Housing Society in partnership with NiGiNan.

Cunningham explains that decolonizing transitions out of care requires an Indigenous approach and acknowledging that addressing homelessness among Indigenous youth is as much about providing access to the land, language, culture, medicines and a sense of who they are and where they come from, as it is about putting a roof over a young person’s head.

That’s why, in addition to providing access to education and work training, programming for youth residents at Belvedere will help them learn to become oskâpêwis (Elder’s helpers), and teach them about their roles in ceremony, on-the-land skills and how to look after older people.

Four kôhkoms (grandmothers) and one mushum (grandfather) will live at Belvedere, and each youth will be matched with a grandparent, explains Cunningham. “In Indigenous communities, connections to grandparents are important, and we are going to bring that back into these young men and young women’s lives. They will each have someone who teaches them and who loves them.”

 

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L-R: Chris Beausoleil, housing support manager with NiGiNan; Jori Hunter, NiGiNan housing support worker; MacEwan University student researcher Cheyenne Greyeyes; and NiGiNan youth worker Leonard Whitford inside one of the 42 new units that make up the housing project in the Edmonton neighbourhood of Belvedere.

 

Studying a project that uses an Indigenous approach demands an academic approach to match, says Dr. Cynthia Puddu, an assistant professor in the Department of Allied Health and Human Performance. Puddu and her fellow MacEwan faculty members Dr. Erin Gray from social work and Dr. Katherine Sinclair from anthropology, along with Dr. Josh Evans from the University of Alberta, are working alongside NiGiNan and using Indigenous ways of knowing and methodologies to collect narratives from youth and document the effectiveness of the approach at Belvedere.

“The youth will tell us exactly what’s working and what’s not,” says Chris Beausoleil, housing support manager with NiGiNan, who has spent more than a decade working with inner-city youth. “I’ve seen the incredible shift and outcomes that can happen when Indigenous youth who are homeless get to experience ceremonies, spend time on the land and begin to feel a sense of pride. They are going to lead us and teach us how to do this right.”

The community-engaged scholarship project, funded through MacEwan's Social Sciences and Humanities Resource Council (SSHRC) Institutional Grant and supported by the university’s Scholarly Activity Support Fund, was initiated with a pipe ceremony in September 2020 and will continue with sharing circles where youth can share their experiences and feedback.

Cheyenne Greyeyes, a Bachelor of Arts student and research assistant, will transcribe what happens during those sharing circles, make connections with youth, assist with literature reviews and help write the ethics proposal.

“Everything I do centres on my culture – what I study, the jobs I do and the company I keep,” says Greyeyes, who is from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation near Saskatoon. “I think it’s really exciting that this scholarship focuses on circles, which is an important aspect of our culture. It’s about working within Indigenous systems that allow youth to talk freely about their experiences and emotions.”

While the community-engaged scholarship project currently focuses on youth, there is the potential to extend the study to look at other unique aspects of Belvedere – the connections with young families who also call the building home, the experiences of the Elders and how youth residents will be connected to and serve their surrounding community.
 

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