Homelessness and Colonization

by Kiara Gabriel

Homelessness is a serious issue affecting many communities around the world, including Indigenous populations. In many cases, the loss of Indigenous land has been identified as a major contributing factor to homelessness among these populations. Let’s explore the relationship between the loss of Indigenous land and homelessness, and the various ways in which this problem can be addressed.

Indigenous populations have been displaced and dispossessed of their lands and resources for centuries. Tribes such as the Lenape (or Delaware), Kickapoo and Shawnee, were removed from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio during the 1820s. The Potawatomi were forced out of Wisconsin and Michigan in late 1838, and were resettled in Kansas Territory. This displacement was driven by colonization, forced relocation and government policies that have prioritized economic development over the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples. As a result, many Indigenous people have been forced to move away from their traditional lands and into urban areas, where they face a range of social, economic and cultural challenges.

One of the main consequences of the loss of Indigenous land is homelessness. Indigenous people who have been forced to leave their traditional lands often lack the resources and support networks needed to establish stable housing in urban areas. They may struggle to find affordable housing, or they may face discrimination and marginalization that makes it difficult for them to access housing and support services. As a result, many Indigenous people end up living on the streets or in unstable and overcrowded housing situations.

The impact of homelessness on Indigenous populations is significant. Homelessness can exacerbate a range of health and social problems, including mental illness, substance abuse, and family breakdown. It can also perpetuate cycles of poverty and marginalization, making it difficult for individuals and families to establish stable and meaningful lives. 

In addition, homelessness can undermine the cultural traditions and practices that are essential to the survival and well-being of Indigenous communities. It has profound consequences on Indigenous communities as it threatens the very essence of their cultural heritage and identity. The breakdown of social support structures and increased health vulnerabilities further exacerbate the challenges they face in preserving their rich cultural traditions. In essence, homelessness not only represents a housing crisis but also a cultural crisis for Indigenous peoples, necessitating holistic solutions that address both their housing needs and the safeguarding of their cultural heritage.

A range of strategies can address homelessness caused by the loss of Indigenous land. One is to prioritize the needs and interests of Indigenous communities in policies and programs related to housing and land use. This can involve working with Indigenous leaders and organizations to develop culturally appropriate housing options, as well as providing support for traditional land use practices and community development initiatives.

Another important strategy is to address the root causes of Indigenous land loss. This can mean working to address the legacy of colonization and historical injustices that have contributed to the displacement of Indigenous people. It can also involve supporting efforts to reclaim and protect traditional lands and resources, including through legal and political advocacy.

Finally, it is important to recognize the diverse and complex needs of Indigenous communities. Targeted strategies should take into account the unique cultural, social, and economic circumstances of different Indigenous populations. They may also involve building partnerships and collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations and communities to work towards common goals.