Sheguiandah First Nation takes innovative tack on housing crisis

Small community posts big population growth in recent census report

SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—Recent population numbers from Statistics Canada indicate that Sheguiandah is the fastest growing First Nation community on Manitoulin Island at 17.9 percent. That community’s population rose from 134 in 2016 to 158 in 2021. But with growth come challenges and like most of the province, housing presents one of those challenges. Sheguiandah First Nation is taking a cue from remote Northern communities for one solution.

“Things are looking alright, I suppose,” said Sheguiandah Chief Elvis J. Mishibinijima of the population growth report. While the provincial housing crisis has been making headlines from North to south, the issue has long been a significant for First Nation communities—and population statistics may well be an indication of some of the success being seen in that area. “Nothing too big,” he cautioned, “but we are slowly making progress and moving forward.”

Chief Mishibinijima noted that the community is currently installing six new units in the form of three duplexes that will “hopefully” be in place by July.

“These are tiny homes,” he explained. “They are prefabricated units designed for one, two people max.”

While the community has been building multi-bedroom units designed for families, with three or four bedrooms, the community has been lacking in accommodations for single individuals. The units are designed as temporary homes and are approximately 13 by 27 feet in size. “They come completely furnished with custom appliances,” he said. “Because of their size, most standard-sized appliances wouldn’t fit in them properly.”

The units were designed to be shipped whole into communities in the far North where traditional building can be problematic. “They are ‘emergency living’ units,” said Chief Mishibinijima. “But they will work for a single person or a couple starting out. They have everything in them a person might need, lock, stock and barrel.”

The community had initially started out with a different scope for the building program, but that program scope changed following last year’s election that saw Chief Mishibinijima elected. “We had funding that had to be spent, but there was limited time to put a sustainable plan in place.”

COVID-19 supply chain issues and the rapid escalation in building costs seen during the pandemic put huge pressures in place, particularly when it came to timeframes.

Chief Mishibinijima said that the band’s government funders were open to the plan put forward by Sheguiandah First Nation to secure the single occupancy units, particularly since it addressed a need that has not been considered before—that of the homeless individual.

Because they are completely prefabricated, the units will be up and running soon after they arrive in the community, noted Chief Mishibinijima. “You just plunk them down, hook them up and they are ready to go.”

“This should help relieve ‘couch surfing’ (the practice of temporarily staying with a friend or relative and sleeping on their couch) and living with extended family,” said Chief Mishibinijima, who credited council and staff for thinking outside the box to secure a solution to an issue that has plagued many rural communities across the province, especially in the North.

The community plans an unveiling of the units once they are ready for occupancy.