More than 200 delegates took part in the 10th Annual First Nations Northern Housing Conference, which took place Feb. 14-16 in Thunder Bay.
Dale Suganaqueb of Webequie First Nation said he was impressed with this year’s conference.
“I’ve been coming here for past three years and it’s growing every year,” he said.
The event has grown substantially since a handful of participants from the Shibogama Tribal Council communities gathered in a boardroom in Sioux Lookout in March 1999 for the original sessions.
In February 2003, a group of First Nation tribal councils in northern Ontario came together to launch the inaugural conference.
“It’s grown to over 200 (participants),” said Michael McKay, a member of the conference’s organizing committee. “It’s a huge success and housing is very important to our First Nations.”
McKay said the conference grew out of a need to improve housing in First Nations communities.
“Our goal is to capacity build for the delegates,” McKay said. “Whatever they learn from here, they take it back to the community and they apply it.”
McKay said the conference focuses on two things: the construction of houses, and the administrative side.
“We have sessions that have housing policies, and another session was housing as a business,” he said. “(The delegates) can go to either one and focus on that.”
There were also workshops on topics such as basic home maintenance, developing effective community strategies for housing, reading blueprints and electrical code updates.
Some of the workshops were hands-on, a feature which Suganaqueb said was his favourite aspect.
“The highlight was the building competition,” he said.
McKay said the builder’s competition and tradeshow is one of the main attractions.
“We have five stations and delegates build whatever the session,” he said. Sessions included framing the wall, installing outlets and insulating a wall. The results were judged by celebrity guest Jon Eakes of HGTV fame.
McKay added that the conference also allows the delegates to network.
Joshua Baughman, communications director for Universal Manufactured Homes Constructs – which builds modular homes and industrial trailers – called the conference an “eye opening” experience.
“The conference has been absolutely fantastic,” he said. “It’s really well done and well organized.”
Baughman said his company is looking to expand into First Nations communities.
“One of the largest opportunities is building larger-scale structures that can be used for-profit for the communities,” he said “These would include apartment buildings, Elder housing complexes, things like that.”
He said the conference allowed him to gain insight into the changing needs of First Nations.
“It’s certainly eye-opening in terms of how we can approach First Nations on a more one-on-one level,” he said.
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