VIEWPOINT ARTICLE

Nuutsumuut Lelum: Passive House Performance as a Means to an End

By Chris Beaton, Executive Director, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre

Nanaimo is a city of approximately 100,000 residents, of whom about 6,500 are Indigenous. Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, the area has long been a hub for trade, and the local Snuneymuxw First nation has always welcomed others to its territory. Today’s Indigenous population is therefore quite diverse, and includes Snuneymuxw, Snaw Naw As, Stzuminus, and 2,000 members of the Mid Island Metis Nation. The non-profit Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre (NAC) runs programs that are open to all.

The vision of the NAC is to support the realization of a 100% high school graduation rate for Aboriginal students in the Nanaimo Ladysmith district. Of course, we recognize that we cannot achieve this goal alone, and actively seek partnerships with other like-minded organizations.

In 2014 this approach led to the creation of the Nisaika Kum’tuks Learning Centre, a community-based education program for students from kindergarten to grade 3, with a particular focus on collaborative and experiential learning. As students have progressed through the program, it has expanded to include grades 4-7. In 2016, another partnership saw the opening of the Tsawalk Learning Centre, a flexible program for students aged 12-19, that supports them in achieving whatever courses and credits they require to complete their high school diploma.

Despite these successes, the NAC recognizes that the solution to improved graduation rates does not lie solely within the schools themselves. In a typical school year, students spend about 20% of their time in the classroom, whereas 80% is spent at home, in the community, with family and with friends. When those children arrive in the classroom in the morning knowing that their family is about to be evicted again this month or that they are living in unsafe housing; or that they will be couch-surfing this evening, we cannot realistically expect them to focus on the learning opportunities presented to them.

To help address this situation, again in partnership with government agencies and other community organizations, the NAC undertook the creation of Nuutsumuut Lelum, a 25-unit rental housing complex for Indigenous families, youth and Elders, anchored by a communal space for gatherings, celebrations and other activities.

A project like this provides our youth with that safe and affordable home and that sense of community, so when they arrive at their classroom in the morning they can focus on the tasks at hand.  Some people may now view our organization as a housing provider, but that is absolutely not our intention.

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