The first urban Indigenous seniors living facility in Calgary is one step closer to reality, with the recent ground breaking of the Indigenous Elders Lodge in the city's Highland Park community. The 12-unit, $5.7 million facility--set to open in February 2023--will offer affordable seniors housing plus cultural space for residents to practice teachings, hold ceremonies and promote healing. At the January groundbreaking ceremony, politicians, community elders and representatives from the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary (AFCC) --which own and will operate the facility--gathered to celebrate and note the great need for this type of seniors housing. About a quarter of the private, one-bedroom units will feature barrier-free access, but all answer the need for safe, affordable housing for the Indigenous senior population in the city.
“Together, we have created a legacy project that could serve as a blueprint for other jurisdictions committed to honouring and caring for Elders as they age," said Shane Gauthier, Friendship Centre CEO. "For our community, the Elders Lodge is a sacred, safe space for connection and healing. It honours the physical, spiritual and emotional--a place to thrive."
Elder Reg Crowshoe said, “Elders have daily spiritual and healing practices that most seniors' centres do not accommodate. This lodge will give them space for those rituals and teachings, like making smudge.”
Noting the private outdoor gathering space that will feature a firepit and Indigenous plantings like sweetgrass and sage, Elder Rose Crowshoe added, "I was excited to see open areas for land-based teachings and space for ceremony and cultural activities like beadwork. Through this kind of knowledge sharing, our young people will learn our traditions and carry them on. Elders are the keepers of our law, our culture--and the Elders and the children, they are the most important part of our community."
Patricia Jones, CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, said the project is a unique and powerful example of what is possible--a fitting part of the country's efforts in Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
The Indigenous Elders Lodge is a step toward the federal government's 10-year plan and investment in low-income housing. Alberta Minister of Seniors and Housing Josephine Pon echoed the need for government support for the project as a key action under Alberta's Stronger Foundations affordable housing strategy. The governments of Alberta and Canada jointly provided a $2.3-million capital grant for creation of the Indigenous Elders Lodge.
The City of Calgary is on board too, selling surplus city land at below market value to the AFCC to make the project possible. Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek said, "We need 15,000 housing units in the city, and we are pleased this project is proceeding with city support that addresses both culturally appropriate affordable housing and our journey towards reconciliation.”
In Alberta, government funding is provided through the Indigenous Housing Capital Program (IHCP), which supports Indigenous governments and communities to build affordable off-reserve, off-settlement and on-settlement housing. The program ensures a flexible, autonomous approach and encourages public and private developers to partner with Indigenous governments and organizations. IHCP applications are accepted on a continuous basis and are available at alberta.ca/ihcp.
Alberta’s Capital Plan 2021 will invest $30 million in IHCP over three years. Since 2019, Alberta’s government has committed about $26.6 million to seven projects, including homes in Lethbridge, Edmonton, Lac Ste. Anne and near Cold Lake.