By Margaret Pfoh CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association
In many ways, British Columbia is at the fore front of leadership in terms of Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Peoples. The Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA) is what brings BC to the front lines as it is the only non-profit Indigenous Housing authority in Canada. We pride ourselves in community led solutions, instead of government to government conversation. More importantly we prioritize communication with and for the Indigenous communities we represent.
There’s a huge cultural misunderstanding that happens when Indigenous leaders are not included in dealing with the challenges that Indigenous communities are facing. I’ve said this to ministers that I’ve talked to federally and provincially: I applaud the want to have these conversations, but we need to position Indigenous leaders to have these conversations together.
That’s what makes our organization so unique and why we’ve been around for over two decades. AHMA is for Indigenous by Indigenous. We have the capacity to have conversations with Indigenous communities and leaders that aren’t shadowed by misconceptions or misunderstandings.
I’ve been in the non-profit housing sector for 24 years – 22 years has been with AHMA. I’ve seen incredible amounts of progress and evolution. The President of our Board of Directors Rosanna McGregor has been invited to ‘Everybody’s Home’ an international housing conference in Sydney Australia as a special guest to discuss Indigenous housing. Australia’s Indigenous Peoples have similar struggles to our own Indigenous People, they are looking to us for guidance. It’s humbling but fuels us to keep pushing forward because we’re on a world stage for our leadership in Indigenous housing.
It is important to recognize that Indigenous housing vulnerabilities are different than non-Indigenous. Many of the problems we face today trace back to the tragedies and destruction of colonization for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. There is more to the healing process than only putting roofs over heads. Housing is the symbolic figurehead of basic human rights. We aren’t only advocating for the sustainability of secure, affordable housing for all of the people we represent; we are working to provide our communities with the resources and support needed to be successful.
Another key issue to address is the housing crisis we are in. The low-income population is being hit hardest as they are competing with a larger group of the population for affordable housing. The most vulnerable are the ones who suffer the most because they are being pushed out entirely.
Which inevitably leads us to the rapidly rising rate of homelessness. 1 in 15 Indigenous Peoples in Urban areas are homeless. Though homelessness continues to plague the entire province as a major crisis there is an over representation of Indigenous peoples without stable living situations.
We are looking to new ideas. As the numbers rise, so does our concern to find new solutions. AHMA is able to make impactful change because we focus on the unique vulnerabilities of our Indigenous communities and implement culturally appropriate solutions. A big initiative is to reformat our relationships, from project based to partnerships. It all comes back to positioning our people to be a part of the conversation, to be a part of the decisions we make.
Margaret is Tsimshian from the Eagle Clan of the Gitga’at First Nation. She joined the non-profit housing sector 24 years ago. Margaret is the CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA) and her career has been built on her dedication to serve and support the Indigenous Peoples of British Columbia. She currently serves on both the CHRA’s Indigenous Housing Advisory Caucus and the CHRA’s Board of Directors. Her history has been deeply rooted in AHMA, committing over two decades of her professional life to the organization. AHMA is the first housing authority of its kind in Canada and second in the world. Margaret amplifies the voices of AHMA which oversees over 4000 housing units with an additional +1000 upcoming projects.