(Chief Lance Roulette in his home on the Sandy Bay First Nation versus the home a family of 11 lives is forced to live while roadblocks and infighting prevent a construction company from donating a home.)
APTN National News
Melinda McIvor’s family didn’t get the dream house they were promised for Christmas and it’s not looking good that they’ll get it at all.
Many were horrified in November when a YouTube video surfaced showing an over-crowded ramshackle home full of bugs and mould with holes in floors and walls. A broken sewage pipe flooding the crawl space under the house every time the family flushes the toilet. A stench that attracts rats that have bitten several family members as they sleep.
“I was just shocked. I was horrified to think that somebody would be forced to live in that sort of a condition and the sense of hopelessness to find a way out,” said Darryl Williams, an Indigenous construction company owner who happened to be in Winnipeg for an Assembly of First Nations Housing Conference when the video went viral.
He made the 90 minute drive from Winnipeg to the Sandy Bay First Nation and told the McIvor family he’d build them a new home, free of charge. All the band had to do was pour a concrete slab to and run electrical and sewer and water to the site, which sits adjacent the family’s current home.
Williams and Chief Roulette shook hands and told APTN last fall that it could be done in time for the family of 11 to celebrate Christmas. But that didn’t happen due to a series of events that have left both the chief and the home donor outraged at one another and left the family frustrated.
Williams said he’s not even welcome on the First Nation. Roulette hasn’t bothered with any of the band council resolutions to do the prep work — paperwork required when a community is co-managed or third-party managed. And emails back and forth between band council, Williams, and advocates of the McIvor family show growing tension and confusion in what should have been a simple process.
Roulette told APTN last week he’s been ill and it’s all just a misunderstanding and that the concrete will be poured in the spring.
But the next day the band hit Williams with a letter from their lawyer warning him to “refrain from representing to others that you’re…. affiliated with the First Nation.”
Williams said Roulette and two councillors had mentioned in passing last fall that since his company would be in the community building McIvor’s house, perhaps they could talk about another 15 homes and a four-plex.
“I said of course, we’d be delighted to do other work but that was it. There was no commitment or discussion,” Williams said.
So that same legal letter saying these projects are “denied” has him scratching his head. And regretting the charitable offer.
“It is clear that the ulterior motives of chiefs and councils, as shown by this First Nation property, is beyond our ability or interest to participate in these shenanigans,” he said. “I’m told the McIvors and the Roulettes have a long-standing Hatfield and McCoy thing going and that’s what’s at play.”
Roulette says the bad blood won’t stop the house from being built.
“The family will be getting a new house and any further dialogue can be successful once we get a healthy one,” Roulette said in a message to APTN. “All specs have been received and clearing [happened last Thursday] to where the slab will go.”
As for the BCRs required to do the work, he said those can be done quickly and “aren’t the delay.” He admits poor communication is to blame.
Williams said this experience will affect future philanthropic ventures on reserves.
“We had wondered about creating some sort of habitat program for Indigenous communities where once a year people can apply, tell us their story about why they need a home. But now our thought is we never want to do this again,” Williams said.
In the meantime, the McIvors – who have a one-month-old baby now living in the decaying home – are quietly playing wait and see – hoping their chief and council will make peace with their house donor so their dream home can be a reality in the near future.