AHURI News

Indigenous perspectives on housing and homelessness in Canada

Margaret Pfoh, Aboriginal Housing Management Association, Canada

13 September 2019

Margaret Pfoh, CEO of Canada’s Aboriginal Housing Management Association, was an International guest and keynote speaker at the 2019 National Housing Conference in Darwin. The video recording and presentation slides from Margaret’s keynote address are now available on the AHURI website.

Margaret Pfoh, Tom Calma, Jody Broun
Prof Tom Calma AO, Reconciliation Australia; Margaret Pfoh, Aboriginal Housing Management Association [CAN]; Jody Broun, Aboriginal Housing Office.

Being the first NHC in the Northern Territory, this year’s Conference presented a real opportunity to focus on Indigenous housing in Australia and draw on related evidence from overseas.

In the lead up to the NHC, Margaret sat down with AHURI and helped outline some key differences between Indigenous populations in both countries.

“There are traditional First Nations people in Canada, Innuit and M├ętis - 80 per cent of all of those populations are not attached to their home communities and they couldn’t go back even if they wanted to,” she explained. “The disenfranchisement that happened among our communities means that we have a huge urban populace need.”

Margaret highlighted the rate of growth of these populations, which are outstripping any other in Canada, and their trajectory to become 25 per cent of the country’s future workforce. “We have a huge infrastructure of urban Indigenous leadership that is largely untapped,” she said.

In contrast, Tom Calma AO, Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia, commented during his NHC keynote presentation on how urban solutions rule the Australian housing dialogue, and do not work for many Indigenous Australians, who often reside in rural and remote areas.

It’s the fortitude and the resilience of Indigenous peoples that will demonstrate as our countries grow - we are the leaders, we are the landowners and we will still be here despite all that has happened.

Margaret Pfoh, CEO of Canada’s Aboriginal Housing Management Association

Unfortunately, there were many obvious similarities between the high rates of homelessness, poor health outcomes and inappropriately built and managed housing for Indigenous peoples in Australia and Canada. The long-held battle in both countries for true, meaningful reconciliation and inclusion in decision making was also a common linkage.

“Indigenous people all over the world have something in common - we all want to truly belong,” Margaret said to AHURI. “Belonging means that you and I have a conversation and you are not just including me but you actually listen to me and respond to me and create solutions on what we talked about. It is not about simply checking a box.”

This comes at a poignant time in Australian Indigenous history, following recent political decisions around the Uluru Statement of the Heart and the call for an Indigenous voice in Parliament. Margaret Pfoh demonstrated the power of “for Indigenous by Indigenous” housing outcomes, led by an Indigenous housing authority, as well as the attitudinal shift that needs to happen in politics and civil society to start truly listening to the needs of Indigenous communities. She left the Indigenous elders and youth in the audience with a resounding message:

“You will succeed. You will move forward. It’s the fortitude and the resilience of Indigenous peoples that will demonstrate as our countries grow - we are the leaders, we are the landowners and we will still be here despite all that has happened.”

You can view Margaret Pfoh’s presentation or watch the video of her keynote address. AHMA is the first of its kind, a non-profit Indigenous housing authority in Canada. You can learn more about the important work of their members at the AHMA website. Margaret is also a member of the Indigenous Housing Caucus for the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.