The gift of a home is just the beginning

Mar 29, 2017

Sylvia McAdam is the winner of the 2016 Margolese Prize

Sylvia McAdams hugs Sheelah McLean

The Margolese Prize is awarded to a person who is making an exceptional impact on the living environments of all Canadians. Through her work with One House Many Nations, Sylvia McAdam is addressing the housing crisis in First Nations and other Indigenous communities.

Despite the influence of the movements that she’s helped to begin, Sylvia doesn’t consider herself an activist or an environmentalist. She became an impassioned advocate for housing while she campaigned on her Big River First Nation reserve when running for chief.

While going door to door, she encountered a man living in conditions that she describes as inhumane. As she looked upon his living conditions, she promised to help him—even if she didn’t become the chief.

“It’s against my people’s laws to walk away from someone in need,” she said to the crowd during at Margolese Prize event. She told the man that she would do her best to get him a shelter. She didn’t become the chief, but she did return about three months later with a home for him.

“Injustice affects people’s health,” she said. “It affects people’s self-worth.” Providing housing is the first step in addressing the systemic issues of colonization, of patriarchy, and “the processes of dehumanization and domination of Indigenous people that still exists today,” she said.

Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAda, Anita Munn, Alex Wilson, Jacob Mans

From left to right: Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdam, Anita Munn, Alex Wilson, Jacob Mans

That home was constructed by Anita Munn and her husband Darrell Manuliak, co-owners of Mini Homes of Manitoba, along with a team of volunteers. At the event, Anita said that they’re able to build a home in as little as 30 days. In the process, they also give training to community members.

Their business is not just about building homes for today, but providing the tools necessary to complete repairs for tomorrow and maintain those homes well into the future.

Also at the event, Alex Wilson and Jacob Mans discussed the Sustainable Homes Design project on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. “You can’t solve the housing crisis with a house,” said Jacob. The project instead proposes a community based housing system designed by members of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation that uses traditional ideas to meet modern challenges.  

For more information about that project, visit their Kickstarter campaign and consider making a donation that will help support economically and environmentally sustainable housing solutions.

Sylvia closed her speech by saying that she wanted everyone to take away that “Indigenous people are absolutely worthy of having [Canada’s] colonial government honour the treaties, honour our self-determination.”

The 2016 Margolese National Design for Living Prize was awarded to Sylvia McAdam on Friday, March 24 at the Vancouver Playhouse. Sylvia was one of the founders of the Idle No More movement. In 2015, she was part of the group that launched the One House Many Nations campaign to raise funds and build homes for First Nations across Canada.