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Wasauksing First Nation’s Joe Beagan and Walter Tabobondung won two Builders Challenge competitions at the First Nations Housing Conference, held Oct. 25-27 at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY — Wasauksing First Nation’s Circuit Riders Joe Beagan and Walter Tabobondung recently won two of the four Builders Challenge competitions at the First Nations Housing Conference, held Oct. 25-27 at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay. They won the Washroom Sink Plumbing Service and Toilet Repair Demonstration and Challenge and the Door Repair, Balancing and Installation Demonstration and Challenge that were held on Oct. 26 by Jon Eakes, who has about 35 years of experience in teaching wood working and residential construction, including with the Mr. Chips TV program.

“We’re just happy to go home with two first-place wins,” Beagan says. “It was a fun learning experience, from not having a plumbing background. Jon made it really easy to go ahead and install it, so we learned something new today.”

Tabobondung says it was fun competing in the Builders Challenge competitions.

“I come from a contracting background so I do a lot of that stuff,” Tabobondung says. “It was fun.”

Beagan says the conference, which included people from across the country, both in-person and online, was “really great.”

“We’ve met a lot of great people and learned a lot,” Beagan says. “Just different building techniques and different ways to build in the future.”

Tabobondung says he also learned information from the vendors at the First Nations Housing Conference Tradeshow on Oct. 26.

“I’m having a great time here,” Tabobondung says. “There’s so many things I’ve learned actually just from Jon here; there’s so many small little tips that he’s provided that I’ll use.”

Eakes says this year’s Builders Challenge competitions were focused on teaching details that could be useful in home maintenance.

“We jumped all over the place with fans and plumbing and crooked doors,” Eakes says. “We’re dealing with real stuff and real tools and I tease them with some fancier tools, but then I show them how to do it with the simpler ones.”

Anishinabek Nation Lake Huron Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Travis Boissoneau says he observed how Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) is using a holistic approach to housing during the NAN Housing Strategy presentation at the conference.

“They’re not just looking at putting up walls and roofs, they’re looking at how a house is more than a structure,” Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Boissoneau says. “They’re really teaching how to build a home and they’re engaging the communities, they’re engaging kids, they’re engaging Elders, so it’s a very interesting way and very holistic way to look at building homes in community as well as the affiliated infrastructure requirements — they’re looking at it all in one but taking a multi-step process.”

Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Boissoneau says he thinks it is an approach that all communities should look at across Ontario.

“I’m looking forward to bringing some of this information back to the Anishinabek and seeing what our communities are doing and how this can benefit,” he says.

Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Boissoneau adds that the conference is now a national event with people attending from across the country.

“[It’s] truly a privilege to be here and a benefit to our communities,” he notes.

Clarence Meekis, infrastructure specialist at Ontario First Nations Technical Services and an organizer of the conference, says there were about 400 delegates.

“It’s good to get the representation from across the country and we hope that increases,” Meekis says. “We want to be able to share information together and learn from our stories and our projects and keep being able to help each other.”

The conference also featured the Community Housing Recognition Awards, which were presented to the Sioux Lookout Area Aboriginal Management Board, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Chapleau Cree First Nation and Saugeen First Nation on Oct. 26.