A sense of community and pride
Jessica Francis can’t believe how much her quality of life has improved since she moved into her house on the Abegweit First Nation reserve in Scotchfort.
She has lived there since November of 2021 with her partner Riley and their three-year-old daughter Claire.
“Now I live a life that I didn’t think was possible thanks to our new home,” she says. “It gives me a sense of community surrounded by family and friends that was lacking before.”
She was living in an apartment, paying high rent and trying to navigate the financial woes that came along with it.
“Rent was $1,400 for the month. That was without electricity, without Internet. I had to pay for all those separately. It was pretty harsh.”
Trying to stretch every dollar and sometimes having to choose between groceries and bills took its toll on her mental health.
“It was very stressful,” she recalled. “Stressed wondering if you’ll be able to pay your rent and being able to live and survive. Especially if you don’t have the money you need.”
The Abegweit First Nation reserve has seen a lot of growth in homes recently thanks to programs like province’s Community Housing Fund and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rapid Housing Initiative.
Chris Jadis, Abegweit First Nation band councillor and housing director, said it was also very important to keep members of the community involved in building the homes. He said the opportunity for the various crews in construction, electrical and landscaping, to learn new skills has been invaluable.
“It really gives them a sense of pride,” he said. “Some individuals never worked in construction before. It gives them a new skill set to build and maintain their homes. It also opens up a career in the construction field.”
It also allows members of the community to stay close to home.
Chief Roderick ‘Junior’ Gould agrees.
“The way our First Nation community is run is very family oriented,” he said. “We have leaders in every family. And once all those families unite in a general cause, the leaders and the families become the community. What we’ve done here is empowered the community to raise itself.”
He added, the skills the workers learned by building the homes have allowed them to reinvest into their community.
“Houses being built for us, by us may sound like a cliché but it’s something that fundamentally gives us pride.”
Reflecting on the building of the homes, Chief Gould said it is these types of positive stories that give him a sense of pride for himself and the members of the Abegweit First Nation.
“The residential schools and the history of First Nation people has always been about shame and victimization and taking our pride away.” he said. “We’re re-establishing not only our cultural identity but also social awareness. We’re a productive part of society and that’s the showcase of what Abegweit First Nation is all about.”
When the youth see members of their community come together for a common cause it teaches them a lesson that will be carried on for future generations.
“In every capacity we always involve the kids,” Chief Gould said. “That’s just the Mi’kmaq way. Whether it’s a funeral or wedding, the children are always with us. They are never shunned or chased away.”
“That way, we are always moving forward,” he added.
Housing is the foundation of building a strong community Chief Gould said.
“We are putting a roof over those families and giving them a sense of stability,” he said. “So, then they can go get educated, keep that education and academics in the community to benefit other areas. So, it’s a ripple effect of benefit. And the beneficiaries are the First Nation communities.”
The Community Housing Fund, in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), supports the creation of new housing initiatives focusing on affordability, vulnerable populations, assisted living or those who require increased support.
The fund is divided into three categories: capacity building and research; project management and professional services; and construction and development.