An Interview with Cheyenne Greyeyes and Celina Vipond 

What is home? Wisdom from nêhiyawêwin

Indigenous-led housing is a critical solution to homelessness in Canada. Here in Edmonton, MacEwan University professor Dr. Cynthia Puddu has been leading a study exploring how one housing organization, Niginan Housing Ventures, is fostering spiritual reconnection within their housing programs (for more information on this study click here).

This project involved two research assistants from MacEwan – Cheyenne Greyeyes and Celina Vipond. Cheyenne and Celina have played a pivotal role in the learnings emerging from this project. Their thinking and reflection recently culminated in a publication in the journal Radical Housing.

You can find the publication here.

Cheyenne and Celina kindly agreed to share some of the thinking behind their article and some of their other interventions; namely, a call to action for giving land back to urban Indigenous peoples in Canada (link at the end of this post).

Why did you write this paper?


While working on a research project on Indigenous youth coming out of care, we were reading papers on Indigenous housing and social policy for a literature review and working with an Indigenous community organization. Our proximity to these topics and experiences began to develop our thinking about the impacts of colonization and how interruptions in cultural transmission and continued displacement have impacted Indigenous homelessness. We noticed that despite reforms in social policy, Indigenous peoples are still disproportionately experiencing poverty, health disparities, and housing insecurity. From this came the idea that policy based in Eurocentric paradigms is not desirable nor suitable for Indigenous peoples, which has been exemplified by Canada’s history of residential schools, 60s scoop, and now the child welfare system. It is our belief that policy for Indigenous peoples should be based in Indigenous paradigms, and this sparked our motivation to write a paper about Indigenous worldviews so that it may be disseminated to those interested in changing social policy.

We also acknowledged how traditional systems still live on in one form or another despite the heavy influence of colonization and assimilation. When discussing this, we made the connection that breaking apart and translating nêhiyawêwin (Cree) transmits knowledge, beliefs, and values regarding these traditional systems of being. This provided a guide for our discussion on Indigenous worldview, and we were fortunate to speak with Elders on their understandings of our chosen words and gain other valuable teachings.


In conversations around housing in Canada, the topic of Indigenous homelessness is frequently brought up. People often only mention the breakdown of Indigenous family, the strain on housing services, or what I call a deficit discourse. Much of academic papers and government research is focused on this deficit discourse so in response, I wanted this paper to become a space where we can talk about Indigenous strength and uniqueness as a solution of healing from colonial trauma. Within the paper “What is Home? Wisdom from nêhiyawêwin”, we aimed to express how unique and beautiful Indigenous family and home are, highlighting the importance of our languages, the connection to our lands, and the knowledge of our Elders.

We drew from nêhiyawêwin and Elder’s teachings as our primary sources, to establish and validate that our knowledge lives within the language and oral histories. We wanted to highlight the beauty of Indigenous wâhkôhtowin (kinship) and the difficulties of colonial interruptions on Indigenous family structures in Canada.

What do you hope readers learn from your paper?


We hope that our readers would come to a more robust understanding of Indigenous paradigms specifically in relation to conceptions of home, family, kinship, matriarchy, and relationship to the land. All of these concepts have implications for social policy including housing.


We wanted to dispel the myth that Indigenous issues can be fixed with Western solutions and instead need the incorporation of Indigenous paradigms of matriarchy, Indigenous kinship, relationship to the land, and language revitalization. Overall, we wanted to challenge the reader to expand their concept of family and demonstrate why good-hearted efforts can fail when they do not consider Indigenous worldview. By acknowledging the inherent differences between Indigenous and Canadian concepts of home and housing, the reasons why social policy have failed become more obvious. For Canadian readers, I thought a perspective paper would be of interest to social workers, housing workers, or anyone wanting to make a positive impact supporting Indigenous initiatives. This paper was published through an international journal so we knew some of our audience could have had little contact learning about Indigenous cultures on Turtle Island nor our specific struggles. We wanted them to have a representation worthy of our resilient and beautiful peoples.

What are you working on presently?


Our latest interest has been in how we can put these paradigms into practice, or what idyllic Indigenous housing solutions could look like. We built off of the case studies of Camp Pekiwewin in Edmonton and naawi oodena in Winnipeg to demonstrate how renewed treaty and pathways to Indigenous land claims could result in these solutions.


Throughout the writing of our Radical Housing publication, Celina and I worked on our new project for the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference. We presented in November 2022 on issues regarding Indigenous housing initiatives, LandBack, and a framework for a housing structure here in Edmonton. I will be convocating from my undergraduate program in psychology with minors in anthropology and sociology this spring and hope to continue writing on Indigenous issues and conducting Indigenous researach.

You can watch Celina and Cheyenne’s CAEH presentation here.