History of Indigenous housing in Canada framed by new PhD study

Humanities, Graduate Studies

A comprehensive study of on-reserve housing by University of Victoria PhD candidate Sylvia Olsen explains for the first time the history of the Indigenous housing crisis in Canada and the persistent failures of the federal system over a span of 65 years.

“This isn’t the story of the people who live in the houses,” she says. “It’s the story of how government housing programs created and perpetuated the housing conditions on reserves in Canada.” Olsen drew from federal records for her dissertation, Making Poverty: A History of On-Reserve Housing Programs, 1930-1996, and explains the impacts of Canada’s two “very separate” housing systems—mainstream and on-reserve. “People form their opinions based on what they see in the news but if people don’t understand the difference in how these systems operate, they are likely to come up with a totally uninformed story.”

Olsen recognizes her doctoral study is not designed to provide solutions to the housing crisis. It is however the first examination of the history and delivery of government housing programs—“essential knowledge if we are to make informed decisions going forward,” Olsen points out. She hopes one outcome of her research would be a think tank focused on on-reserve housing.

Olsen has spent more than 35 years living in Tsartlip First Nation near Victoria, where her children and grandchildren now live. She earned her BA in 1994 and MA in 1998 from UVic; an elaboration on her master’s thesis about the Coast Salish knitters, Working with Wool, was published in 2010 and subsequently won the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for historical writing. She is a public speaker; author of numerous books; teaches housing management at Vancouver Island University; and previously worked as a housing policy analyst.

Olsen defended her PhD this week under the supervision of history professor and department chair John Lutz. Her research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Read the campus story for more from Olsen.



Media contacts

Sylvia Olsen (PhD candidate, Dept. of History) at 250-656-5687 or yetsa@shaw.ca

Tara Sharpe (University Communications + Marketing) at tksharpe@uvic.ca

In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, history, convocation, graduate research

People: Sylvia Olsen

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