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From longhouse to townhouse : the evolution of on-reserve housing policy for Canadian Indians Perchal, Paul M.


This thesis examines the federal government's policy-process for on-reserve housing for Indian people in British Columbia. The federal government first intervened in Indian housing around 1945 and since then its role and responsibilities have grown both in terms of capital allocated for this purpose and the manpower required to administer the many housing programs that have evolved. I develop the position that housing per se is not as great a need on Indian reserves as perceived by Indian and government officials. Rather, poor housing is a symptom of the broader and generally depressed socio-economic situation in many Indian communities. Ingrained institutional behaviour in dealing with the perceived problem also contributes to its persistence. Despite the government's commitment to improving the living conditions of Indian people the perceived problem has not been solved, and in fact has grown worse over the years. Indeed it has contributed to the emergence of new and unexpected problems. In view of the seeming ineffectiveness of the government's policies and programs, a central focus in this study is past and present perceptions of the so called "housing" problem. I show that the evolution of the government's policy-making conforms to hypothetical approaches or models discussed in the literature on policy-analysis. Specific objectives of my study include: 1) to examine the historical evolution of the government's policy-making; 2) to analyze government conceptions of the problem; 3) to discuss the social and political implications of policy formulation and implementation; and 4) to discuss an alternative approach to current policy-making. To achieve these objectives I first derived a framework of three political-analytic approaches - for examining on-reserve housing: i) the classical; ii) the reformist; and iii) the critical. The characteristics of this framework were based on a review of literature pertaining to decision-making theory and the theory of community change. Information on historical events and major decisions was obtained through government and Indian documents, and interviews with government officials in DIAND and CMHC at the national, regional, and district level and Indian officials at the regional, tribal and band level. All of the interviewing except for national government officials was undertaken in British Columbia. I interviewed national government officials in Ottawa. The purpose of my interviews was to obtain additional information to qualify my findings about government conceptions of the problem derived in my historical analysis. My analysis indicates that the government's policy-making in the area of on-reserve housing has had characteristics of all three hypothetical approaches, but elements of a reformist approach predominate, including: i) a technical definition of the problem; ii) the perception that poor housing causes poor health; iii) emphasis on task goals in policy-making; and iv) a "top-down" planning strategy. The results of government policy-making in the area of on-reserve housing include: i) acculturation or assimilation of Indian values and beliefs and the emergence of a set of welfare values; ii) increasing individualism and competition among Indian people; iii) undemocratic planning processes resulting in pathologies of domination; and iv) contradictions on various levels between the planning actions of DIAND and the actions of Indian people. These results provide strong justification for major changes to government policy-making. The evolution of policy-making more characteristic of a critical approach is recommended and discussed.

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