A modular show home home was presented at the K’atlodeeche First Nation which may begin to provide some long-term solutions to the pressure on housing within the Dene Nation.
Kirk Fowler, salesperson and business development with Grande Prairie-based Eagle Building Solutions said that he has been working closely with the Dene Nation since about November 2020 to come up with a prototype for a modular home that best meets the needs of Northerners.
Fowler said that the company has worked with First Nations groups over its 35-year existence, including in southern Alberta and British Columbia, however it is the first time he has been working with Indigenous peoples in the Northwest Territories.
The one-bedroom show home worth $150,000 is expected to be displayed at KFN over the coming weeks and features several high quality amenities that reflect the consultations his business has had with Northern communities.
Among them include triple-paned argon windows to combat frost, solid maple flooring and stainless steel appliances.
“We went to communities and spoke to people in housing management areas and on the reserve and tried to find out what are the challenges they have had in the past,” he said. “We collected many ideas, but some of the more common things were water pipes freezing and poor insulation.”
Other concerns related to housing that he heard commonly included the high cost of food. As a result the company is donating $10,000 in groceries to the 2021 flood victims in the Dehcho.
Fowler said as high-engineered structures, the homes can last for 50 years if properly maintained.
Fowler adds that these homes are unique in that they are designed to be affordable, easy to produce and not something seen before in the North.
“One thing I remember having worked with National Chief Norman Yakeleya is that northern communities are not looking for cheap housing but rather a place to call home that is sustainable, built for the North, that can last and that people can take care of,” he said.
“You won’t find a home of this kind of quality that we are building. We are we are not building trailers and we are not wanting to compete in that market.”
A second and similar model is expected to be sent to the Hay River Ford dealership, tentatively on Aug. 27. It will be on display for two to three weeks before being shipped to Fort Simpson in time for the Sept. 14 to 16 to where a draw will be held for an occupant.
“We have asked the Dene National Chief to reach out to First Nations and communities like Jean Marie River or others flooded out communities and we have asked them to find out who is a deserved elder that has been displaced and needs housing,” Fowler said. “Their names will go forward and a draw will be held at he Dene Nation annual general meeting in September.”
Fowler said it is important for him and his company to work closely with First Nations groups to come up with the best responses to housing challenges that First Nations have. He said often the federal government has just not been delivering where some Indigenous people have suffered.
“I toured one band south of Grande Prairie and some of these communities are completely without water,” he said. “I met a 25-year-old woman who has been without running water her whole life. The community was set up by the Government of Canada with reject trailers from Hurricane Katrina with two-and-a-half inch walls and that was the supposed solution for housing with First Nations.”
Fowler said that he would like to see more houses used and sold in the NWT but admittedly there will be challenges that are different from other regions he serves.
“I think part of the challenge with building in the North is the cost of materials” he said. “If we are able to procure our building supplies and control our supply chain here, we can get those goods cheaper than anyone in the North. We can put together a way better, cost-effective solution than stick homes in the North.”
It is important for the company to develop relationships with First Nations people in need and to do that, it means means making sure that promises are met and expectations kept, he said.
“That comes down to being a good listener.”
Yakeleya said that as a political leader who has visited communities over his career, he has been highly impressed with what Eagle Solutions has delivered.
He said that Eagle’s home came to answer a long-standing problem with housing in the North, however it became more important and pronounced since the floods in Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson where people lost their homes.
“What I liked was the structure of the frame of the building in that it came up all the way to Hay River from Grande Prairie and there was not one crack in the wall,” he said. “The frame structure was steel and the furniture and cupboards and flooring were all of a good quality.”
He said he also likes that the units can be adjusted in their design for people who have disabilities or Elders or families and that there is room for a water tank and propane or wood stoves to be accommodated.
His next steps is to present these solutions that the Dene have identified and press the federal government and the NWT Housing Corporation to take notice.
“My short term goal is to ensure that the federal government is aware of this and the possibilities of these units,” he said. “We want to show that the Dene Deliver and that is really the tagline.”