Indigenous People in Montreal
The state of Indigenous homelessness in Montreal is alarming. The Homeless Hub Canada reported that in 2018, there were more than 3,000 homeless individuals, a figure that has risen drastically since the pandemic. Of these individuals, an indigenous person is 27 times more likely to be homeless than a non-indigenous person, and an Inuk person is 80 times more likely. Despite Indigenous individuals expressing a desire to receive services, they usually do not get the care they deserve under the shelter system. There have also been reports of two deaths in the Milton Park area of Montreal during the harsh Canadian winter where temperatures hit -20 degrees Fahrenheit annually. Raphael Indre was a regular client of the Open Door Shelter and passed away in a public bathroom while the shelter had to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak in January 2021. Furthermore, during the pandemic, despite the lack of adequate shelter, the curfew did not exempt homeless indigenous people in Montreal and they received a $1,550 ticket for being outside.

A Background on Homeless Indigenous People in Montreal

When looking at the reasons for the high level of indigenous homeless people in Montreal, it is important to consider Canada’s colonialist history. In a 2020 policy report, The Homeless Hub Canada discussed the need to recall that colonial projects have prevented Indigenous people from accessing traditional land and resources. The Indian Act of 1876 allowed the Canadian government to control resources on reserves and subsequently displaced thousands of Indigenous people putting them in difficult financial situations. The act also stopped Indigenous people from being able to self-govern, hence, giving the Canadian Government power to veto any decisions.

Additionally, Indigenous children had to go to “residential schools” which the Canadian government established to indoctrinate Indigenous children into the Euro-Canadian ways of thinking. In addition to a large amount of abuse taking place in these schools, the students also did not receive the same education as the general public which discouraged them from pursuing higher education. This system largely contributed to the high levels of Indigenous homelessness seen today

Indigenous people in Canada, particularly in Montreal, struggle to access housing due to extreme housing discrimination. A 2020 study found that despite some Indigenous families having the right to certain supports, they still experience “discrimination in the provision of services, resulting in barriers to access.”

Steps in the Right Direction

The situation has incited organizations around Québec as well as the Canadian government to take steps to improve Indigenous housing and reduce homelessness. In 2019, the government passed Canada’s National Housing Strategy Act recognizing that “the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law.” Additionally, Montreal created a “Strategy for Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples,” which commits the city to support Indigenous social housing initiatives led by Indigenous organizations. Moreover, the city also approved a funding agreement of $1.7 million to help build 23 temporary housing units for homeless Indigenous women.

NGO organizations such as Native Montreal and Projets Autochones du Québec are also making significant progress in reducing Indigenous homelessness. Native Montreal originated in 2014 to “contribute to the holistic health, cultural strength and success of Indigenous families,” and their focus is not just homeless populations; they provide wellness programs for both families and youth and have raised more than $6 million over the years.

Projets Autochones du Québec (PAQ) started in 2004 as a social reinsertion program for First Nation, Inuit and Metis people experiencing homelessness in Montreal. During the pandemic, due to reduced capacities in shelters, PAQ opened a second temporary emergency shelter with limited admission restrictions for Indigenous people. Additionally, it provides psychological support, alcohol addiction treatment programs and transitional housing programs to help with financial literacy.

The state of indigenous homelessness in Montreal is grave, but with the help of indigenous-led charities and government support, one can hope for progress.

– Priya Maiti
Photo: Flickr

First Nations’ Culinary Connection
First Nations communities across Canada continue to confront the effects of centuries of colonization, with impacts on not only their communities but also on their nutrition, health and well-being. Recently, through cultural awareness and new government initiatives, First Nations communities have begun a rebirth of their Indigenous agriculture and cuisines. A revival of the First Nations’ culinary connection brings benefits that extend far beyond cultural awareness.

Cultural Genocide and Food Insecurity

The severing of the First Nations’ culinary connection began centuries ago. Ancestral food was all but annihilated during colonization beginning in the 16th century as European protocols replaced Indigenous agricultural practices and traditions.

Beginning in the late 19th century, authorities denied Indigenous children in residential schools what remained of traditional Aboriginal food. Instead, authorities would regularly push these children to the brink of starvation. The little food these children received included high glycemic, non-nutritive, spoiled and canned food.

Recent analytics show that poverty and food insecurity continue to be prevalent among First Nations communities. National statistics often exclude on-reserve studies, leaving First Nations and other Indigenous communities unaccounted for in government poverty estimates.

However, a 2015 study estimates that 53% of on-reserve First Nations children live in poverty and that nearly 80% of reserves have a median income that “falls below the Low-Income Measure.” Most recently, a 2019 study estimates that 18% of off-reserve Indigenous groups lived below the poverty line, with First Nations people accounting for 22.1% of the impoverished in this group.

Alongside high rates of poverty, the severed First Nations’ culinary connection has led to a vast overrepresentation of food insecurity among Indigenous communities. A 2015 study estimates that Indigenous communities suffer an average 28% rate of food insecurity and, while insecurity varies by province, a 2017-2018 study estimates that close to 60% of the communities in the Canadian province of Nunavut, where the Indigenous population accounted for more than 85% of the territory’s population in 2016, suffer from food insecurity. In Ontario, Canada, where 23% of Canada’s First Nations population resides, food insecurity is nearly 15%.

Food Deserts and Chronic Health Issues

A food choice study done in 2020 found that many First Nations reservations lack access to traditional foods, but regularly source processed foods from grocery and convenience stores.

The close proximity of convenience stores to both on and off-reserve communities has led to a high intake of highly processed and unhealthy food, with nearly 60% of First Nations members shopping for food at convenience stores once a month at minimum.

Food prices at convenience stores are more expensive than at grocery stores, leading to both an economic and health deficit in the community. There is a high rate of diabetes and obesity among First Nations communities, as nearly 13% of children, ages 12 to 17, are obese, according to estimates from a 2008-2010 survey. A 25-five-year medical study from 1980 to 2005 found that more than 20% of First Nations women and 16% of First Nations men have Type 2 diabetes.

The Resurrection of Culture

Within First Nations communities, members have not been idle. Culinary enthusiasts, like chef and finalist of the Food Network’s “Top Chef Canada” Rich Francis and First Nations ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph are just two of the many First Nations Peoples to be championing a revival of a First Nations’ culinary connection and renewed agricultural practices. By bringing dishes to the table that pre-date colonialism, the narrative of Indigenous cuisine is seeing a shift among communities.

Foods indigenous to the land, such as salmon, beluga, moose, whale fat, bison, beans, mushroom, corn, mountain blueberries, citrus, fresh herbs, beetroot and cedar are rich in nutrients and sustainable and help to reconnect a community to their roots.

While specific foods, such as whale and wild game meat, are not legally marketed off-reserve, these foods are seeing renewed interest on reserve, alongside traditional hunting and agricultural practices.

Canadian restaurants like Salmon n’ Bannock in Vancouver, Kekuli Cafe in Merritt and Westbank and Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg are only some of the on and off-reserve restaurants featuring traditional and modernized Indigenous cuisine that are reviving the First Nations’ culinary connection.

Governmental Programs Seek to Support

In 2016, only 2.7% of the agricultural population identified as Indigenous and less than 2% had representation among agricultural operatives.

Due to the severe lack of agricultural representation from these communities, the Canadian government established that “The Indigenous Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative” in 2018, which aims to give opportunities and necessary funding support to Indigenous people to revive agricultural production within their communities over a five-year period.

The $8.5 million initiative seeks to assist in the planning and production of fresh food within Indigenous communities. Overall, it aims to establish food systems within Indigenous communities to increase access to healthy and nutritious foods “while also providing an opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to share their agricultural knowledge and experiences, and market and sell their agriculture products.” The initiative also provides the necessary training for increasing agricultural operations.

Heritage in Harmony

As many First Nations culinary, educational, agricultural, spiritual and cultural traditions see practice in new generations, hopes for lowering chronic health issues and increasing food stability are as plentiful as the land they hail from.

– Michelle Collingridge
Photo: Flickr

Effect of Residential Schools

For over 150 years, Indigenous children across Canada were forced out of their homes and into Indian Residential Schools. These schools stripped them of their culture, language, and community to assimilate them to Canadian culture. These schools aimed to “kill the Indian, save the man,” as Richard H. Pratt put it.

Despite the terrible conditions and the rampant abuse in these schools, the government and churches could not erase the culture. They were unable to break the spirit of the Indigenous people they sought to “civilize.” While Indigenous People can still feel the effect of residential schools, their strength leaves room for hope.


The first Indian Residential School in Canada opened in 1831. Christian Missionaries ran early schools to convert Indigenous people to Catholicism. However, in the 1870s, the government stepped in and began to include treaties regarding these schools. In 1894, attendance became compulsory. Children as young as three years old forcibly removed from their homes and sent to the schools.

Over the next 100 years, more than 130 Indian Residential Schools existed in Canada under state sponsorship. Churches ran the vast majority of these schools; Catholic churches operated three-fifths, the Anglican Church operated one-quarter, and the United and Presbyterian Churches operated the rest.

Over 150,000 children attended these schools. At one point, 75% of children between 7 and 15 years old were attending or had attended Indian Residential Schools. These children faced terrible conditions due to underfunding and physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

Lasting Effect of Residential Schools

The effects of the abuse and mistreatment in the schools have a lasting impact on the Indigenous population. Studies have shown that survivors of the schools have poorer mental and physical health. There are higher rates of suicide attempts as well as chronic illnesses such as diabetes among these individuals.

There is also evidence to suggest that historical trauma has led to negative health impacts for subsequent generations. Historical trauma is when historical events are endured by whole communities and negatively affect the individuals who experience them and the whole group in ways that result in problems for future generations. There are three main characteristics of a historical trauma event including that it was widespread among a specific group, an outgroup perpetrated it with an intentionally destructive purpose and it generates a high level of collective distress.

This historical trauma has led to “enduring links between familial Indian Residential School attendance and a range of health and social outcomes among the descendants of those who attended.” These negative outcomes include higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol abuse and food insecurity as well as                                  lower educational outcomes and income levels. All of these outcomes show that the effect of residential schools is still with us today.

Moving Forward

As more people become aware of the lasting effect of residential schools, now is the time to face these issues and take action to deal with them. One of the first and most basic steps toward healing is for full acknowledgment of the trauma and effect these schools had from the government and the churches. While the Canadian government has issued apologies, the Catholic Church, which operated most of the schools, has not yet come out with a formal apology. They have also refused to release records from the residential schools, which could provide more accurate information on the effect of residential schools.

Steps have been taken to right this wrong. In 2007, a settlement from The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action suit in Canadian history, implemented the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Between 2007 and its conclusion in 2015, over 6,500 witnesses gave their stories to engage and educate the public. The commission also put out a full report on the Indian Residential Schools, which included 94 calls to action.

Beyond acknowledgment, apology and education, other movements are growing in response to the effect of residential schools. One significant movement, the Land Back Movement, pushes the government to return the land that initially belonged to Indigenous people. This transfer of land back to Indigenous people is already happening in some places. The land returned to the Squamish Nation is now being developed into housing in Vancouver on the Senakw project.

Despite the historical trauma and the lasting effect of residential schools, Indigenous people have used their strength to prevent the complete erasure of their culture. While we are still dealing with the negative effects, there is hope for a better future.

– Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous communities in Canada

The Canadian Constitution recognizes three Indigenous communities — First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Here are five of the many Indigenous-led organizations in Canada, collectively working to create success and prosperity for Indigenous communities.

5 Canadian Organizations for Indigenous Prosperity

  1. First Nations Information Governance CentreThe First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) is working to achieve data sovereignty. With support from regional partners and a special mandate from the Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in Assembly (Resolution #48, December 2009), the FNIGC collects and uses data to “build culturally relevant portraits of the lives of First Nations people and the communities they live in.” Their motto, “our data, our stories, our future” reflects their vision of Indigenous stories being told by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people.
  2. IndspireIndspire is using the gift of learning to help provide academic success and long-term prosperity with support through financial aid, scholarships/bursaries, awards, mentoring and physical resources.
  3. Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada – Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada (AFOA) is creating a community of Indigenous professionals by supporting successful self-determination through “improving the management skills of those responsible for the stewardship of Indigenous resources.” This includes aid in management, finance and governance.
  4. Reconciliation CanadaReconciliation Canada facilitates the engagement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with meaningful conversations on reconciliation and the lived experiences of Indigenous people. They aim to inspire positive change and understanding. At present, the programs and initiatives offered by the charity are Reconciliation in Action: A National Engagement Strategy, Reconciliation Dialogue Workshops, interactive community outreach activities and Reconciliation Canada.
  5. First Nations Child and Family Caring SocietyThe Caring Society supports First Nations children, youth and families. The organization has been able to provide 250,000 services and products to Indigenous children by putting Indigenous children and families first.

These five organizations are just some of many who are working to support success and prosperity for Indigenous communities in Canada. Their work helps blaze a path for a brighter future for Indigenous people and the country alike.

– Jasmeen Bassi
Photo: Flickr