By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – The Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary’s (AFCC) Elders’ Lodge, which provides affordable, culturally appropriate housing for Indigenous seniors, opened on Oct. 2.
The $6-million 12-unit facility includes “cultural gathering spaces for residents to practice land-based teachings, hold ceremonies, and promote healing,” according to AFCC CEO Shane Gauthier.
“This will not just be a building, but a safe space for Indigenous seniors who are ‘vulnerable’ or ‘at-risk’ and have likely experienced discrimination, abuse, exclusion, and hardship,” Gauthier added.
It also has a “cutting edge solar energy system,” which is expected to generate 14,156 kilowatt hours annually, he said.
At the Oct. 2 grand opening, Elder Reg Crowshoe and Elder Rose Crowshoe, who both received the Order of Canada in 2022 for their commitments to preserving Blackfoot culture and reconciliation, spoke about the importance of building ethical spaces for elders.
“Without the wisdom and guidance of elders, we would not be here. We have to look after them,” Reg said, according to a Global News report. “Our elders have faced racism and trauma. They need help, love and support.
“It’s unbelievable and the proudest moment of my life that we can stand here and say that we have a safe facility for our elders.”
The project was funded by the Government of Alberta, Calgary Homeless Foundation, Calgary Foundation, and Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, as well as the City of Calgary. The city sold land to the AFCC below market value as part of its non-market housing land sale program and expedited the approvals process.
The building has been long in the works since summer 2021, with groundbreaking occurring in February 2022.
In a July 2021 news release from the City of Calgary, Sharon Goulet, the city’s Indigenous issues strategist, noted how it was the “first land sale to an Indigenous organization.”
“We have worked with the Indigenous community to co-create this space so we don’t premise the project based around Western thought, and the project considers specific resources to assist the urban Indigenous community to be able to build themselves into the place they want to be,” Goulet said.
“This a long-term commitment to equity, and with the success of the Elders’ Lodge we can show how we can change systems and behaviours and lay the runway for our recommendations in a future strategy.”
Elder Jackie Bromley highlighted the impact of having a place to belong on Indigenous seniors’ mental health.
“Without having access to these types of activities, many [Indigenous] seniors are becoming depressed as the offerings in other seniors’ centres are just not the same type of lifestyle that they had,” she said.
“For example, those Elders with dementia, when they are living amongst tradition, a lot of memories come back for them. Here they can get system support by communicating with other Elders. We are learning from one another every time we have the opportunity to get together.”
In the same news release, Gauthier noted that “many of our seniors are living at, barely at, or comparatively well below the poverty line and may not have housing that is affordable nor culturally comfortable.”
There are more than 41,000 Indigenous people residing in Calgary from nations across the country. According to the 2016 census, the Indigenous population aged 45 and over increased by 23.1 per cent since the previous census, underscoring the need to provide culturally appropriate care for Indigenous seniors.
A combination of federal and provincial funding provided AFCC with a $2.3-million capital grant.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said at the opening that the project is a product of the city’s commitment to diversity and multiculturalism.
“We know that as people age, social isolation tends to set in. You go back to your roots and you have a desire to connect with the mother languages that you are familiar with and the traditions that you were brought up in,” said the mayor.
“The Indigenous community is always very forward-thinking when it comes to inter-generational connection and having seniors and elders and knowledge keepers speaking with youth. This is one more place where they can gather and do that.”
Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jason Nixon said the lodge is an example of reconciliation in “action.”
“This is an Indigenous Elders’ Lodge built by Indigenous people for Indigenous people in the City of Calgary,” said Nixon.
Housing is available for Indigenous people aged 55 and up. Rent is $1,350 and includes a fully furnished one-bedroom suite, common room and on-site management.
Those interested in renting a unit can contact Terran Shepard at [email protected].