SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—Recent population figures from Statistics Canada indicate that Sheguiandah is the fastest growing First Nations community on Manitoulin Island, at 17.9%. The population of this community has grown from 134 in 2016 to 158 in 2021. But with growth comes challenges, and like much of the province, housing presents one of those challenges. Sheguiandah First Nation is looking to remote northern communities for a solution.
“Things are going well, I guess,” Sheguiandah Chief Elvis J. Mishibinijima said of the population growth report. As the province’s housing crisis makes headlines from north to south, the issue has long been a significant one for First Nations communities – and demographic statistics may well be an indication of some of the success in this area. “Nothing too big,” he cautioned, “but we are making slow progress and moving forward.”
Chief Mishibinijima noted that the community is currently installing six new units in the form of three duplexes which will “hopefully” be in place by July.
“They are small houses,” he explained. “These are prefabricated units designed for one, two people maximum.”
While the community built multi-bedroom units designed for families, with three or four bedrooms, the community ran out of accommodations for single people. The accommodations are designed as temporary dwellings and measure approximately 13 feet by 27 feet. “They are fully furnished with custom appliances,” he said. “Due to their size, most standard-sized devices would not fit properly.”
The units were designed to be shipped whole to communities in the Far North where traditional construction can be problematic. “These are ’emergency residence’ units,” Chief Mishibinijima said. “But they will work for a single person or a couple just starting out. They have everything in them that a person could need, lock, stock and barrel.
The community initially started with a different scope for the building program, but that program scope changed after last year’s election which saw Chief Mishibinijima elected. “We had funds that needed to be spent, but time was limited to put a sustainable plan in place.”
Supply chain issues related to COVID-19 and the rapidly escalating construction costs seen during the pandemic have exerted enormous pressures, particularly on timelines.
Chief Mishibinijima said band government funders were open to Sheguiandah First Nation’s proposed plan to secure single-occupancy units, especially since it addressed a need that hadn’t been met. previously taken into account, that of the homeless.
Because they are completely prefabricated, the units will be operational soon after they arrive in the community, Chief Mishibinijima noted. “Just push them in, plug them in and they’re 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 thanked the Board and staff for thinking outside the box to find a solution to a problem that plagues many rural communities in the province, especially in the North.
The community is planning an unveiling of the units once they are ready for occupation.