Flying Dust First Nation to construct 10-unit elders lodge

As a group of elders from Flying Dust First Nation look on, Flying Dust chief Robert Merasty and Vivian Pengelly, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Lloydminster, sign a memorandum of understanding Oct. 17 that marks the official agreement to develop an elders lodge on the reserve.

As a group of elders from Flying Dust First Nation look on, Flying Dust chief Robert Merasty and Vivian Pengelly, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Lloydminster, sign a memorandum of understanding Oct. 17 that marks the official agreement to develop an elders lodge on the reserve.

by Phil Ambroziak

Flying Dust First Nation made history last week when it became the first reserve in Canada to enter into a partnership agreement with Habitat for Humanity.

The deal – which was made official Oct. 17 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two parties – will see Habitat for Humanity Lloydminster work with members of the Flying Dust community to build a 10-unit elders lodge, as well as retrofit vacant houses in an effort to allow young families an opportunity to realize their dreams of home ownership. The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.45 million.

“Our elders want to know they’re being taken care of and an elders lodge is something they’ve been asking about for a long time,” explained Flying Dust chief Robert Merasty.

The major stumbling block for the reserve, however, has always been money. It wasn’t until the band’s oil and gas company, Flying Energy, established itself as a viable entity did the idea really begin to move forward. While the band will still pay a mortgage on the new lodge, Flying Energy’s contribution of $700,000 toward initial capital costs – along with the unique opportunity to work with Habitat – is what Merasty believes has helped the project become a reality.

“A few people suggested we look into working with Habitat for Humanity, a group whose mandate is to provide families with homes, but they’d never done anything on-reserve before,” Merasty noted.

A recent trip to Toronto, however, provided Merasty with an opportunity to meet with a Habitat for Humanity Canada representative where his “out-of-the-box” suggestion was well received.

“It was taken back to the Habitat board of directors for discussion and they made it work – we’re finally going to have the elders lodge everyone’s been asking for,” he said.

Habitat Lloydminster’s role will be to provide the leadership to engage and mobilize Flying Dust volunteers and community partners to donate money, and to gift-in-kind materials and services.

“We’re incredibly proud to partner with Flying Dust to address housing needs on First Nations land,” remarked Vivian Pengelly, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Lloydminster. “This is a community project and it’s one we can’t wait to get started on.”

Merasty said, effective immediately, Flying Dust will be working to pull together the necessary committees to get the project going.

“It’s a huge positive for our community,” he continued. “Not only will it provide homes for our elders, but also for our young families. It also provides opportunities for Flying Dust youth to obtain training and skills in building, and it supports community engagement. We start to care for each other, about our elders and we help each other out.”

Other benefits to the project, he said, include enhanced awareness about the maintenance and management of homes and assurance the homes are adequately built. He also said it’s a great achievement to be able to accomplish something like this without a handout from the provincial or federal governments.

“I’ve always said, one day we’re not going to rely on support from the government – that’s my dream, that’s my vision,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Flying Energy also announced an additional $30,000 over three years for Flying Dust Gospel Church and $20,000 for the development of a new playground in the community.

Work on the elders lodge is expected to begin next spring.

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