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Navigating Adversity: Challenges Confronted by Indigenous Youth-Facing Homelessness

Updated: Jan 24

Written by Sara McQuaid. Edited by Sumaiya Iqbal Welcome back to the CCP blog! If you are new here, thanks for joining us and feel free to learn more about the Canadian Courage Project here

Take a look at this drawing below. What does this symbol bring to mind?

Although at first glance, it looks like just a child’s drawing, it truly represents something much deeper than three intersecting lines. In some Indigenous cultures in the Canadian Prairies, this symbol represents: “The Temporary Home.” It is called the Mīkowāhp, Wākiāgun, or Wipesto meaning, a short-term space to occupy while on a journey. The journey can represent a variety of different d, whether that is, hunting or for personal growth. For many Indigenous youth facing homelessness, they have lost access to a temporary home and the physical and emotional security that comes with it. 

Indigenous persons refer to the unique cultural groups of First Nations, Metis and Inuit persons who originally inhabited Turtle Island before it was colonized into Canada. As Sabina Mirza notes in her research: “It is their homelands that comprise the territories that became Canada, resulting in a collective moral responsibility to acknowledge and respect the land and spaces where we currently reside and engage in research.”

In this article today, we will highlight some of the challenges that Indigenous youth facing homelessness must endure in their new journey to secure safe housing for themselves and their animal companion(s). 

1. The Idea of “Home” Having Many Meanings,  

There is a disconnect when discussing homelessness and the situation of Indigenous persons because the idea of “home” in Indigenous culture has a deeper meaning than a colonizer’s physical space of brick and mortar building. Scholar Julia Christen has analyzed the situation and has offered several insights into the current disconnect. The Indigenous meaning of “home” is a spiritual site that roots” a person to their common space where they can foster relationships to ideas such as place, geography, animals, community, sense of belonging, identity, family, ancestors, stories and independence. Therefore, when an Indigenous person faces homelessness, the impact goes beyond the reach of physical shelter; the effects cover a deeper broader spectrum of significance and impact. 

2. Movement from the Countryside to the Urban Space can Hinder Cultures 

Persisting under the framework of Article 18 of the Indian Act, numerous Indigenous individuals and their families continue to live on reservations throughout Canada. While these reservations provide space for Indigenous families, according to Article 2, “No Indian is lawfully in possession of land in a reserve unless, with the approval of the Minister, possession of the land has been allotted to him by the council of the band.” Meaning, while they may live on the reserves, an Indigenous person does not actually own this land and is a tenant in this space. The reservations often lack adequate water treatment centers or waste facilities, leaving families with no other recourse than to seek alternative accommodations where they can also own their own personal  property.

According to the United Nations, Indigenous populations across the globe in countries such as Mexico, India, the Philippines and Canada have moved from the rural countryside to urban spaces. In Canada alone, it is estimated that 50 percent of Indigenous populations have left their ancestral countryside homes for urban centers, citing better access to employment, education and social resources as a cause. However, once leaving their ancestral homes, many youth lose access to their Indigenous languages. 

3. Indigenous Youth have Lower Secondary and Post-secondary Completion Rates 

Education is one of the most powerful tools a youth has in preventing homelessness. 

“According to an Indigenous Services Canada report, literacy rates for Indigenous learners in Atlantic Canada were 63 percent for female learners and 55 percent for male learners in 2016-17.” There is little research to support why these rates are falling but there is monumental evidence to support that strong literacy in early schooling supports the forms for learning later in life. Indeed, in 2016, reports show that 91% of non-Indigenous youth completed high school, compared with 63% of Indigenous youth, with those living off the reserve showing to be more likely to obtain their degree. 

4. Discrimination in the Workplace 

Even if an Indigenous person can find work instead of attending school, once they have secured employment, they may have trouble keeping the work through no fault of their own. As described by a study carried out by the 2018 Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press:  “Youth identified the multiple ways racism impacts Indigenous youth, including landlord discrimination, staff or worker racism in the child welfare system, and police practices that target and criminalize Indigenous Peoples.” In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that the unemployment rate for non-Indigenous youth was 15.1% whereas Indigenous youth reported 23% of unemployment. The Diversity Institute conducted a study where 58% of Indigenous employees reported discrimination in the workplace. Further research must be conducted in demonstrating how to eradicate these barriers and create a better work environment for all. 

5. Age Barriers to Access Social Services 

There are barriers within the current Canadian system that prevent Indigenous youth from accessing social services that could assist them during a time of homelessness. Although there are youth housing programs across the country, not all can access them or will qualify for the program; these are issues that don’t just cover Indigenous youth as this is something that all youth facing homelessness can access. Certain programs can only assist youth within a certain age group. For example,Youthhab’s Co-Op Housing  only serves ages 16-24 or The Youth Supported Independent Living (YSIL) program only assists individuals aged 16-24. In the province of British Columbia, some programs only assist those between 17-21. In the province of Quebec, one must be an emancipated minor which is a legal process that a youth facing homelessness may not have the adequate funds for in terms of paperwork. Those younger who fall outside of the age range have fewer options and can be subject to great harm.

Proactive Solutions to Prominent Problems 

Although these challenges present terrifying mountains to climb for Indigenous youth and their pets facing homelessness, there is hope for a better future. Organizations across Canada are working tirelessly to alleviate the physical and mental suffering that Indigenous youth face with programming, specifically targeted to meet their needs. Ka Ni Kanichikh, pronounced Ga No Ganochick) is one example based out of Winnipeg that works to provide spiritual healing and leadership within Indigenous individuals to better their communities for the future. Another organization is the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto where they work to bring welcoming space for all and deliver innovative programs and services, reflecting traditional indigenous cultural perspectives. There are also programs such as NiGiNan Housing out of Edmonton and Brantford Native Housing (BNH) that work to directly support Indigenous individuals facing homelessness to find solutions for housing in their communities. 

In Conclusion

The history of Indigenous persons in Canada is one that is rife with challenges and it is vital to fully understand the profound depth of these struggles. Symbolized by “The Temporary Home”, the loss expands further than physical shelter, encompassing shattered spiritual connections and cut cultural ties. The displacement from reservations to urban spaces represents a migration that is rooted in loss. The fundamental right to a home trumps that of a culturally safe space and cultural heritage is often lost in these shifts. 

Educational disparities, workplace discrimination and age-related barriers all compound to further complicate an already strenuous situation. However, there are organizations that face these challenges head-on to bring hope to Indigenous youth and their animal companions. These organizations, including the Canadian Courage Project, are dedicated to bringing Indigenous youth the resources they need to succeed and empower themselves to change the future for themselves and secure a safe home for all.


  1. “The Temporary Home: From Warpaths to Peacepipes

  2. Indian Act (R.S.C., 1985, C 1-5) 

  3. Indigenous Foundations: 

  4. Urban Indigenous Peoples and Migration: Challenges and Opportunities:

  5. Ibid

  6. Ibid 

  7.  A Snapshot of First Nation Student Outcomes:

  8. Ibid 

  9. First Nations youth: Experiences and outcomes in secondary and postsecondary learning:

  10. When Indigenous youth succeed, whole communities benefit:,much%20more%20favourable%20in%202021.

  11. Experiences of Discrimination at Work:

  12. YSIL:

  13. Youthhab:

  14. Ka Ni Kanichihk

  15. Native Canadian Center of Toronto

  16. NiGiNan:

  17. Brantford Native Housing:

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