Chippewas partner with London agency to teach job skills, build homes


Affordable housing built by the community, as the community is the concept behind a new project underway in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, some 30km south-west of London.

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Affordable housing built by the community, as the community is the concept behind a new project underway in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, some 30km south-west of London.

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The First Nation and Pathways Employment Help Centre, a London employment agency, are addressing the First Nation’s housing needs and building capacity with a new program that teaches college-level construction skills while building ‘micro homes’ for individuals in the community.

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“We have many houses that were not built by citizens of our community. So the most important thing about this project is that (Chippewa members) will be able to complete the program to learn the skills they need to see themselves as the people in the community who are building our homes ‘ said Jacqueline French, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation Chief.

It also reinforces the sense of community pride. “That feeling of ‘I built this house,'” she said.

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The first of its kind in the London area, the program, titled Building New Futures Together, combines affordable housing and practical skills by training participants to build a home from the ground up.

Keithera Riley is one of 19 participants – almost all from Chippewas of the Thames First Nation – who are helping to build the first two 400 square foot (36 square meter) micro homes. She said she jumped at the opportunity to get involved because she wanted to be part of the solution to her community’s housing crisis.

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“It’s a great skill to learn and I just really want to help my community. I think that’s what’s needed,” she said.

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Construction on the site, which is located opposite the Nimkee NupiGawagan Healing Center on Muncey Road, began earlier this month and is expected to be completed by mid-November.

Some of the 19 people taking part in a training program in new building technologies pose for a photograph at the groundbreaking ceremony for two micro-homes they are helping to build in Chippewas for the Thames First Nation.  Photo taken Tuesday September 20, 2022. (Calvi Leon/The London Free Press)
Some of the 19 people taking part in a training program in new building technologies pose for a photograph at the groundbreaking ceremony for two micro-homes they are helping to build in Chippewas for the Thames First Nation. Photo taken Tuesday September 20, 2022. (Calvi Leon/The London Free Press)

The long-term goal is to build up to 25 apartments in the next few years.

“We’re starting with two, but the end goal here and the vision is to see an entire community of micro homes,” French said.

Pathways and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation received a $342,000 grant from the London Community Foundation to help fund the first two years of the project.

Program participants not only contribute to the First Nation, but also receive a college-level education.

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“They get college certifications, so they end up going anywhere and working for anyone,” whether it’s for a new home, renovation or framing team, said Corrina MacDonald, director of vocational training at Pathways.

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“By doing the training locally, they are able to build homes for their elders and youth and give back to the community they care about so much,” she said.

The houses will be for people who do not have the means to buy their own home.

“Maybe it’s a single person,” said French, for example. “Maybe it’s a person who has experienced homelessness.”

She added that many First Nation homes are overcrowded, with multiple families living in buildings not equipped to accommodate that many people.

Kim Smith, director of employment and training for Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, began researching the concept of micro homes five years ago. Speaking to the small crowd that gathered on the groundbreaking Tuesday, she described working on the project as a “dream.”

“Our houses are overcrowded down here,” she later said in an interview. “I’d like to see our singles have a home.”

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