COCHRANE— A Cochrane is building homes on the Wesley First Nation and has been quietly collecting furniture donations to fill the houses upon their completion
Peter Tilma first became involved with Stony Nakoda First Nation following the 2013 floods, when his employer, Trico Homes, was hired to restore several damaged properties belonging to Chiniki First Nation members.
While working on those homes, Tilma noted some of them were lacking furniture and other amenities— The observation sparked an idea to collect furniture and donate it to the residents.
Seven years later, Tilma is now working with the Wesley First Nation building new homes, and he is still collecting furniture donations for the homes he builds.
“Because of the previous experience, I knew that they would be needing this stuff,” he said. “I didn’t even ask the homeowners, I surprised them with ‘ta-dah, there’s furniture in your house.’”
He said many of the recipients of the donations were very excited upon realizing what he had done.
“They were so thankful. They were so happy,” he said. “They couldn’t thank me enough, they were taking pictures and sending them to their friends, ‘look what I got, I got a bedroom set,’ and ‘I got a dresser.’ That was pretty heartwarming, it was so nice to see."
When Tilma put out the call on social media to collect the furniture donations, he said that the responses were immediate.
He had upwards of 50 responses within days of making the post.
“I’m still going to go through that list of people. I know that there some of them that I haven’t even responded back to,” he said. “When do I haul that out, my truck is full again from yesterday.”
The sheer volume of people wanting to donate to Tilma's cause has led to him giving up many of his evenings and weekends. After work, Tilma will often go to collect the furniture so that he can bring it to the job site the following day.
“It’s been overwhelming,” he said. “Especially because I’m a dad of five kids and I’ve got my full-time job. It’s not like I can do this every day.”
Due to the large number of donations, Tilma said, there is more than enough for the residents of the recently built homes.
According to him, the residents of the Wesley First Nations have begun sharing the donations with others who are in need in the community.
“Now I’m at a point where everybody that I moved in already has a house full of furniture but I’m still getting more couches and beds and stuff. So, I’m asking them ‘do you know anybody else that needs stuff that I don’t know of?’” he said. “Now they’re networking on the reserve to keep handing out the stuff to help other people that are in dire need.”
Even though the houses are now furnished, Tilma said, he has no plans to stop shipping furniture out to Wesley, as long as the donations keep coming in.
“I’ve got too much, I don’t even know where to put it all, that’s the trouble. But I know there’s a need so I’m not going to say ‘well these people are good,’” he said.
Wesley First Nation Chief Clifford Poucette said his council selected the members to receive one of six newly built homes based on a criterion that is revised each year.
“Each year we kind of move around the priorities. This year it was overcrowding—People who are in overcrowded homes.”
Poucette said housing is an issue his council has identified and a priority that they are working to rectify.
“Across Canada, First Nations are all overcrowded. Speaking here in Stoney, Morely, Big Horn and Eden Valley most of the houses are between 15 to 20 people in each house. Firstly, those houses are recommended for four to five people,” he said. “All three Nations are trying to build these houses as quickly as we can.”
Poucette noted that, among the COVID-19 pandemic, the overcrowding became a cause of concern regarding the spread of the virus. He said he hopes giving families more space will reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the Wesley community.
The six houses are the most recent addition to the reserve, but Poucette’s council is already planning to build more in the spring of 2021, as well as change the way that communities are built on Wesley.
“We used to all scatter the houses out here, but now we’re looking at clusters and areas where we can put all these houses together on one water system and sewage,” Poucette said.
He added building homes closer together will save the Nation money in infrastructure-related costs.
He noted that the families he has heard from are all very grateful to be in their own spaces.
“They’ve been applauding chief and council plus Trico for moving them in before Christmas. They’re happy. I know that when each and every one gets their own house where they will be sleeping the rest of their lives under one roof— They’re really happy,” he said.
Poucette said that he’s proud of the work his council has done and grateful to Trico Homes for handling the construction of the homes.
“I think all of us did a good job,” he said. “I think we provided the necessities for the people who were in need. Wesley, we’ve still got about a couple of hundred to go, but it doesn’t happen overnight— It takes a lot of planning to conquer that amount.”