Answering the call from Elders in need: CUMFI building supports Métis people

April 23, 2021

Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) identified years ago that there was a need in Saskatoon for culturally appropriate housing, says President Shirley Isbister.

There were gaps in the availability of affordable, safe homes and in the cultural component of housing, where it’s administered by an Indigenous organization for Indigenous people, she said.

CUMFI has 10 housing programs. Some of those are for children receiving emergency care, some are geared toward family reunification, and some are affordable rentals with access to programs and services.

“CUMFI didn’t start out with the mandate of housing, it’s been a progression of the past 25 years and responding to the needs of our community,” Isbister said.

The newest development of Round Prairie Elders’ Lodge, a multi-unit residential building for Elders, was also born out of listening to the community.

“For a long time, CUMFI has been getting calls from elders in need, and we’re aware of them sometimes living in less than suitable conditions,” Isbister said. “The need has been identified over and over again but there’s never been a process to make it happen.”

Two years ago, they once again started the journey of making this building a reality again, and this time the stars aligned.

“In order to build a safe, suitable, building for our elders and to keep the rents at an affordable rate, we needed some assistance from government funding sources,” Isbister said. “CUMFI has still taken a mortgage on it but there’s enough grants and contributions to ensure the affordability of the building.”

Bringing back a sense of community

Round Prairie Elders’ Lodge offers independent living for Elders with support. Residents’ health, safety, and well-being will be first and foremost, Isbister said.

“Having somebody making sure that they can get their meds, that they can get to their medical appointments, making sure they're eating healthy and not making a decision between paying rent and paying for medicine. Working with each person to ensure they're getting what they need to be healthy and happy and safe.”

The details are still being worked out, but CUMFI is looking at providing transportation, exercise classes, and workshops on nutrition, health and finance.

“The goal is to improve and maintain quality of life,” Isbister said.

Some of the residents might not be from Saskatoon originally and may be out of touch with their Métis roots. Isbister envisions this building creating a sense of community that they might have been removed from.

“People are forced to disconnect from their communities and their culture and everything that goes with that, so we’re trying to bring back that sense of community and bring back that sense of culture. They can speak their language, eat their traditional foods.”

This is also an infill project in one of Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods, Pleasant Hill.

“There’s not a lot of capital investment for new builds there but you don’t change a neighbourhood by leaving it, you stay there and make it better.” 

Once the pandemic ends, they hope to see the Elders engaging with the community and in nearby schools.

Partnerships with purpose

Isbister said the key to the success of the Round Prairie Elders’ Lodge is partnerships.

“Finding the right local partners to get the project off the ground and the right partners to assist in the capital expenditures. Big Block has been really good to work with; I think they’re a step above their competition in many ways. … It’s been a learning experience for both of us. But an extremely positive one.”

Many organizations have come together to provide some level of financial support for this project, including Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) - Indigenous Housing Innovation Initiative (IHII), Métis Nation - Saskatchewan (MN-S), and the City of Saskatoon.

“The level of collaboration on this project, particularly on the funding sources, is unprecedented in my career as a developer,” said Alex Miller, Big Block Construction CEO. 

With changing demographics in the Métis community, there’s a lot of demand for this kind of housing. Isbister said they could probably build two projects and fill both of them. 

The organization also has a long term goal of offering a Métis long-term care home in the city.

With the success of this project, the team at CUFMI is hopeful they’ll be able to tackle more projects like it again in the future.

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