A tragedy led to the creation of NiGiNan Housing Ventures, a non-profit charity that supports Indigenous people in Edmonton through affordable and supportive housing initiatives.
NiGiNan was founded in 2014 by a group of seven Indigenous and Métis social workers who worked with Ambrose Daniels. Daniels was an ironworker, and when an accident at work required him to take a prolonged break from his job, he turned to alcohol and eventually lost his home.
Daniels died of pneumonia while living on the streets, without any supports or housing. This compelled the social workers to create Ambrose Place in order to rectify the absence of Indigenous-led housing and support in Edmonton.
“We can’t just help people from colonial [perspectives], it’s not working,” says Blake Jackman, the program manager of housing at NiGiNan. “NiGiNan is here to add that cultural component, [to] actually address people’s medicine wheels, and support them in that way from bridge housing all the way to permanent supportive housing.”
The non-profit charity owns Ambrose Place, Omamoo Wango Gamik, and the Sands Inn and Suites, where they all offer supportive housing for Indigenous individuals or families who are unable to receive support from other organizations.
“[These are places] where you can access your forever home,” says Jackman. “We eat meals together, we do family style dining in our dining room… we play games together. I might be too busy to play games with my family, but I’m out there playing a game of crib with Mooshum [grandfather in Cree] in the afternoon.”
“We treat everyone we serve as family,” continues Jackman. “It’s brother, sister, uncle, auntie, mooshum, kookum [grandmother in Cree]…. And it’s not just something we’re saying, they see it in our actions.” He continues: “Our community doesn’t just end at the front door at Ambrose Place. It’s out on the land, it’s going to ceremony, it’s praying with each other at sweat lodges.”
The Sands Inn and Suites is being renovated to provide 54 supportive housing suites. Currently, there are 32 bridge housing suites in the hotel, and the renovated supportive housing is set to open on Dec. 1, 2022.
At Ambrose Place, open since 2014, NiGiNan houses Indigenous people that are hardest to house within Edmonton. Residents have severe addictions as well as complex mental health diagnoses.
Ambrose Place has 42 units of supportive housing that range from bachelor suites to one- and two-bedroom apartments. NiGiNan offers wrap-around supports from Alberta Health Services (AHS) workers and non-stop cultural supports with elders.
“Every aspect of life is seen through the person’s medicine wheel,” says Jackman. “We address all aspects of their medicine wheel: their physical health, their mental health, their emotional health, and their spiritual health, knowing that they’re all interconnected. And if one is out of balance, it’s likely all four quadrants need a little bit of help.”
Housing and independent living support teams are also available to help residents.
Omamoo Wango Gamik houses Indigenous youth and young families that need a home.
“We can start working with those families [when they’re] young, engaging them in culture, engaging them in healthy routines in life so that their children are going to grow up without these same traumas that their parents experienced,” says Jackman. “And so in that way, they won’t grow up to be in the same cycles of addiction, and they can live happy lives full of dignity.”
NiGiNan takes a housing first approach, where housing is the first step in wellness. “We know that… the first thing that we can do is we can get someone in a home and we can start feeding them three meals a day,” says Jackman. “That’s going to already crush a lot of the behaviours or addiction cycles that they’re currently experiencing from living rough. And from there we can build on housing, and we can build on all kinds of supports — reengage them to the land, teach them about natural medicine, [and have them] sit with elders.”
They also take an Indigenous approach to harm reduction at NiGiNan, which means being attuned to the needs of individuals, treating them with love, and providing access to culture.
“We just really meet [residents] where they’re at, understanding the generational trauma that they’ve experienced, and then family trauma,” says Jackman. “Living on the streets creates a lot of trauma. We do provide them that love and support and [we’re] there 24 hours a day when they need somebody.”
NiGiNan is providing services and homes for Indigenous people in Edmonton which are vital today, but Jackman hopes they won’t always be necessary, that moving forward, all Indigenous people will have housing and support.
“We don’t want to work in this industry in 50 years or seven generations ahead,” says Jackman. “All these [NiGiNan] buildings will be able to go away one day.”