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Holmes and AFN choose small community of Whitefish Lake

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By Susan Solway Birchbark Writer ATIKAMEKSHENG ANISHNAWBEK, Ont.







The community formerly known as Whitefish Lake First Nation is the first to be chosen to participate in a home-building initiative undertaken by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), “Canada’s Most Trusted Contractor” Mike Holmes of the television program “Holmes on Homes,” and the Holmes Group foundation.

The community, now called Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, is located just west of Sudbury, Ont. The project it has been chosen to participate in is the Building Homes and Building Skills joint pilot project, which will focus on the development of green and sustainable housing within the First Nation.

A total of nine First Nation communities offered up proposals at the end of November to be considered by the AFN, The Holmes Group, and the First Nation Technical Services Corporation who will cooperate on the initiative.

The news came to the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek on Dec. 17.

“The proposal of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek was fittingly named G’Wiigwaamnaaniin, which means ‘Our Homes,’” said AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “Their submission met, and in fact exceeded, all the necessary requirements that were set out for this project. I know that Mike and I, with our respective teams, are ready to get this project rolling. The work we are doing in Atikameksheng Anishnawbek will create benefits and opportunities for First Nations communities across the country. And I want to thank Mike Holmes and The Holmes Group for partnering with us on this project.”

Chief Steve Miller of the Atikameksheng believes his First Nation was an ideal community for the project based on a number of qualifications, including its location, the readiness of the community, the access to financial, natural and human resources, the control over the lands, and the dedication and commitment of the staff, management, and leadership that all had a hand in the submission of the proposal.

Atikameksheng has 400 members living in the community, with a total of 125 houses. The majority of the houses were built in the 1950s. The last five homes were built in 2006.

“We cannot accommodate requests because of the lack of resources,” Chief Miller says of the housing requests. “Currently we have 23 lodges ready to be built in the Spring of 2011 with Indian Affairs…and now with this (pilot) project the type of homes are going to be, instead of regular conventional homes that people are accustomed to, a move forward on the green initiatives… This (pilot) project will bring that to our community.”

The project will benefit and enhance not only the Atikameksheng nation but other First Nations communities across the country, plus municipalities that will all be welcome to use the project template for green and sustainability housing within each of their own communities.

“Our First Nation (has) very little green initiatives because of our lack of opportunities,” said Chief Miller. “Sustainable resources, such as solar power, wind power, hydro electric power, are concepts that will be introduced… Having a housing sector on our First Nation that is totally self-sufficient is one of the goals, and is something we are certainly looking forward to.”

The building skills portion of the project has the Atikameksheng youth buzzing with enthusiasm. Nearly half of the population is below the age of 25. The Holmes Group has offered training to certify those youth who are dreaming of a better life with employment opportunities, said Miller.

According to television star and general contrator Mike Holmes, Chief Miller says, the green initiative has not been incorporated into the construction education system. The technology changes, but the education stays the same, so this is a chance for that barrier to be combined with the training initiative.

Upon hearing the big news, chief and council, along with staff, organized a last-minute community supper to announce to the 200 nation members that were in attendance that theirs was the successful proposal.

“I did emphasize that it is not political, it’s not an administrative process here, that this is a community-driven process and an initiative that incorporates the community on which direction they want their community to head into in the future here… These new concepts will open up a lot of eyes.”

Small businesses in the community, such as Darlene Napose’s film production company, can expect spin-off benefits. So everyone is anticipating the assessment process that will begin in January, and the clarification of all the steps of the project. The groups will get together in Atakameksheng to plan for the arrival of Spring, when the community can physically begin to move forward.
Chief Miller applauds the AFN and Mike Holmes for the outstanding vision to develop a project such as this, saying it is extraordinary knowing that it could benefit everyone across Canada in the long run.