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Federal minister at Seabird Island for official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

James Baxter photo

Stephen Owen, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada (above) cuts the ribbon to officially open the innovative Seabird First Nation Sustainable Community Development Project (left) last Friday. The housing project utilizes components and materials which encourage environmental sensitivity, affordability and sustainability.

By James Baxter

Federal minister at Seabird Island for official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Stephen Owen, Federal Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, was at Seabird Island last week to help officially open a new sustainable housing project aimed at providing Canada's First Nations communities with neighbourhoods that are affordable, healthy and environmentally sensitive.
Mr. Owen was part of a ceremonial procession of project partners - including represetatives from BC Hydro, Broadway Architects and DuPont Canada - was led into the Seabird Island gymnasium last Friday morning by Seabird Island drummers dressed in traditional garb. The District of Kent was represented by Mayor Sylvia Pranger and councillor Mel Jorgensen.
In his address, Mr. Owen called the innovative project "quite extraordinary," adding that it should serve as a model to be followed by other communities throughout Canada and the rest of the world.
He also referred to Prime Minister Paul Martin, saying quality of life for aboriginal people in Canada is of paramount importance to the federal government and that the PM has stated "very clearly that he would consider himself to have been totally unsuccessful if he cannot ensure that, over time ... aboriginal people have highly improved quality of life."
"This project is an important stepping stone toward that," he added.
Seven homes have been constructed on the Seabird Island reserve, each utlizing renewable energy resource such as wind, solar and earth energy; healthy building materials; flexible floor plans to accommodate changing needs of families and Elders; and recycled materials.
The idea is to design neighbourhoods in a way that reduces costs and minimizes environmental impacts while creating a liveable community.
It is the first on-reserve development of its kind in the world.
"We have - like many other First Nation communities - experienced numerous challenges to providing healthy, affordable and durable housing for our members," said Marcie Peters, Seabird Island First Nation Council, Housing Portfoilo. "This project has provided us with a unique opportunity to incorporate our traditions but in a modern way to meet our housing needs."
The homes were built by the Seabird First Nation in partnership with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
One home will remain open to the public for tours and educational purposes for two years.
Ms Peters added the flexibility of the design also reflects traditional life.
Seabird Island Chief Wayne Bobb said components of the homes are the sorts of alternatives others in the world must look toward "if we are to protect the environment."
The government of Canada, through CHMC and INAC, will be contributing more than $1.1 million toward the project. Of this amount, CHMC, through its On-Reserve Housing Program, will be contributing $667,175 in lifetime subsidies over the project's 25-year mortgage to keep the housing affordable
CHMC also provided a direct loan of $624,097 to the Seabird Island First Nation as well as an additional $200,000 in funding for the demonstration component of the project.
Other partners offered their congratulations during the ceremony, then spectators and officials were invited to the housing site for the official ribbon cutting, which was conducted by Mr. Owen.
Among the homes' features:
* Affordable to build, operate and maintain (base unit cost of these homes is approximately $75/sq ft.)
* Durable. The homes use high-quality materials with long lifespans and construction techniques that will reduce future maintenance and repair problems. The homes are forecast to last 100 years.
*Community-oriented. They reflect the preferences, culture and needs of the community. The seven homes in the project were built in a semi-circular pattern surrounding a healing herb garden which features locally carved totem poles and a wind turbine representing the colours of the medicine wheel and the Sto:lo Nation. All seven units were also built by the Seabird Island Band's own construction crew.
"The flexibility of the design reflects the traditional way we lived," explained Ms. Peters. "It allows for our families to be unified within one structure yet provides independence and private living space.
The earth tubes and radiant floor heating and cooling system is far from new technology; in fact our ancestors knew this and built their pit homes in-ground where it was cool in the summer and warm in the winter."
The dwellings measure 1100 sq ft. to 1300 sq ft. Seabird families will occupy all the dwellings except one single family hom which will be used simultaneouosly as a band office and showhome for other First Nations and industry representatives to examine.
Seabird Island was selected as the project site primarily because of its close proximity to two major airports in Vancouver and Abbotsford.
Housing industry experts from around the globe are expected to visit the site and "see innovative Canadian housing technology."
Representatives from BC's 197 Aboriginal bands and Yukon's 22 First Nations communities will also be invited to tour the project.

Copyright 2004 Agassiz Observer