Local Journalism Initiative and Reporter
In just over a year’s time, the first Indigenous Elders lodge in Calgary will open its doors.
“What we’re trying to create here (is) a safe place with community and (where) Elders can have strong ties with their families as they age,” said Melissa Roy, director of operations with the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary.
A ceremony and ground-breaking were held on Jan. 25 at the Highland Park site for the first urban Indigenous seniors living facility in that southern Alberta city.
The project, at $5.7 million, is fully funded and includes a joint contribution of $2.3 million from the province and the federal government. Other funding sources include the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation, and Calgary Homeless Foundation.
The 12-unit facility is the first lodge to be owned, operated and staffed by the friendship centre. It comes in the wake of the centre successfully working with partners to run an Indigenous-led COVID-19 immunization clinic that started last year. It was one of the first such clinics in Canada for Indigenous people and also services other nationalities and cultures.
“At the end of the day if you do things in a good way, for the betterment of the community, the challenges are really just part of the process and learning something new is always a good thing,” said Roy.
Twelve units of affordable housing for Indigenous Elders is only the beginning, she said.
“Do you think with unearthing and all these things that are happening, Canada is really ready to make space for Indigenous people as we age?” asked Roy.
At the same time as the sod turning in Calgary, the Williams Lake First Nation was announcing that 93 potential burial sites had been uncovered in the preliminary work done at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission residential school. Roy has a personal connection with that school as her mother and her mother’s siblings attended there.
“When you look at all of these things that are coming up, do you think Canada was really ready to make space for Indigenous seniors in that respect? You start with 12 units and hopefully you can grow into other areas of health care because when you look at the procedures that go along with accessing certain services, it can be overwhelming and often times it isn’t very supportive because you have people who don’t understand Indigenous culture,” said Roy.
While this lodge will provide supportive care living, Roy notes that the “typical, regular, run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter senior living facility” has no knowledge of the protocols around end-of-life care.
And whether in a supportive living facility or long-term care, she also points out that there are many Indigenous Elders who do not speak English, which leads to a communication barrier and Elders being treated without respect or dignity.
The new lodge will include common space that will allow for families to gather and traditional practices to take place. It will include Indigenous programming and allow for community connections.
Community Elders have been instrumental in developing the concept for the lodge, including choosing colours and textures and changing the architecture to meet their unique needs.
During this coming year, says Roy, the community Elders will have a song and name for the lodge.
“This isn’t your standard ‘let’s-put-a-building-up-and-put-people-in-it’. This was born out of community need and it’s been supported by the Elders in ceremony… The biggest difference would be the deep roots in family in all those steps that were taken to ensure that this process was successful,” she said.
She said that although formal talks and the application process only began in 2020 for the lodge, this has been an ongoing discussion since she joined the friendship centre in 2017.
“The topic of conversation amongst the older generation was how nice it would be. I think out of that, and as (the friendship centre) has grown over the years with our programming inclusive of the urban Indigenous community, the immunization clinic really being able to test our scale and ability and foresight, really just propelled us into this direction,” said Roy.
“This is an important step in working together to achieve reconciliation,” said Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson in a news release.
The new lodge creates about 34 jobs and is set to welcome residents in February 2023.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.