Tiny homes project brings shelter and skills to Indigenous communities

Tamara SentesNewsletter

Thirty-two brand-new homes stand in Indigenous communities today thanks to more than 130 apprentices and students who took part in the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission’s (SATCC) tiny homes project.

The project, launched by the SATCC in 2021 with funding from the Government of Saskatchewan, aimed to give Indigenous apprentices experience in the skilled trades through hands-on learning, while bringing new housing opportunities to Indigenous communities. Apprentices and students worked alongside experienced journeypersons to build tiny homes in their communities.

“They helped out with everything right from the foundation and framing to the exterior and interior finishing. They even helped the plumbers,” says Matthew Lerat, Owner and Operator of EW Construction, a partner and contractor for the tiny homes build on Ochapowace Nation where four homes were built with a group of nine students and apprentices. Lerat is a member and newly elected Headman of Peepeekisis Cree Nation.

The SATCC invited Indigenous stakeholders such as economic development authorities, housing agencies, Indigenous communities and employers to apply for funding for the building of tiny houses, or similar single unit dwellings, in Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan. Applications were accepted in 2021 with the hope of building at least 10 tiny homes by mid-2022.

By the end of the project, 32 tiny homes had been built in 22 Indigenous communities.

“Everyone really enjoyed the program,” says Lerat. “They liked building the homes right in their community and being able to work on the Nation.”

The project was embraced by communities, partners and participants, with all involved seeing the positive benefits. Communities welcomed the new housing and skills training opportunities. Students and apprentices learned valuable skills in carpentry, electrical and plumbing and experienced work in the skilled trades.

“We had support from the leadership and support from the community,” says Lerat. “I think it brought the community together for sure.”

Thirty-five apprentices contributed to the work on the tiny homes across the province along with 98 secondary students. Some participants continued their journey in the skilled trades following the project and indentured as apprentices, with apprentices continuing to be signed up as residual project work finished.

One of those apprentices now works with Lerat at EW Construction, joining the First Nations home builders after Lerat saw her work on the Ochapowace Nation tiny homes build. “She showed up and worked hard every day,” says Lerat. “She was excited to learn and excited to be part of the team.”

As of June 2022, Indigenous apprentices made up 18 per cent of Saskatchewan’s apprenticeship population. According to Statistics Canada data from the 2021 Census, 17 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population self-identifies as Indigenous.

Chris Stubbs, Director of Innovation and Inclusion at the SATCC, says the Commission continues to pursue opportunities working with Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan.

“We want to ensure we’re facilitating a diverse, inclusive apprenticeship system,” says Stubbs “Projects like the tiny homes continue this work – strengthening relationships, providing training opportunities and helping meet the needs of the communities.”

Each year, the SATCC oversees and administers the Indigenous Apprenticeship Initiative (IAI) program, which funds initiatives that aim to increase Indigenous people’s awareness of, and participation in, apprenticeship training and the designated trades. Past projects have included apprenticeship and upgrading training, job coaching and mentoring, and courses aimed at high school students.

Looking forward, the SATCC will fund an innovative Indigenous Welder training program on Ochapowace Nation. The program will offer pre-employment training with the goal of training and indenturing Welder apprentices.

“The tiny homes showed the impact that a project like this can have on young people, providing them with experience in the trades and the tools to succeed in their future careers. We’re excited to continue work like this,” Stubbs says.