By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY — Norma Petahtegoose and Cheryl Nebenionquit from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation took the Builder’s Challenge at the 12th Annual First Nations Northern Housing Conference.
“The challenge was fun,” says Nebenionquit, administrative assistant to her community’s director of community assistance. “We basically just eyeballed it — I didn’t use a measuring tape and just kind of hoped for the best.”
Although the two women had never done any plumbing before, they competed in the Installing Supply Piping competition along with four teams of men. The competitors had to cut and install plastic water lines in mocked-up bathroom walls after watching a demonstration by housing expert Jon Eakes.
“I’ve never done plumbing before but it was fairly easy,” says Petahtegoose, her First Nation’s housing coordinator. “You need some brute strength though.”
Although Nebenionquit felt her arms will be sore in a day or two after crimping the seals on the waterline connectors, she was pleased with the information she gathered at the conference, which was held from Feb. 11-13 at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay.
“I picked up quite a bit of information with regards to the environment,” Nebenionquit says. “We are going through a process to establish an environmental policy within our land code.”
Nebenionquit also gathered information on solar projects, which ties in with her community’s renewable initiatives.
Petahtegoose says the conference is good for networking with housing staff from other communities, noting she previously attended in 2012.
“It gave me ideas on how to establish a better housing program in our community,” Petahtegoose says about the previous conference. “The information you get here is just awesome.”
In addition to gathering information, Petahtegoose also delivered a presentation on how her community benefitted from the First Nation Market Housing Fund.
Delegates from about 80 communities attended the conference, which featured four Builder’s Challenge Competitions and a variety of workshops, including Woodstoves: Fire Safety and Prevention, Residential Indoor Air Quality, Technical Youth Outreach Program and Third Party Contractors — Are You Liable?
“For housing staff in many remote communities, the annual housing conference is the only chance they have to speak to their counterparts, to learn from industry experts and to discover new materials and techniques,” says Charles Hebert, a member of the First Nations Northern Housing Working Group. “We are very proud of this event but we are even more proud of the First Nations housing professionals that take the information offered and go and affect great, positive change in their communities.”
Two communities were presented with awards during the conference: Constance Lake for constructing more than 100 homes over the past 15 years and Batchewana for implementing a New Tenant Orientation Process that requires new tenants and homeowners to attend a home maintenance course.