A Canadian definition of homelessness neither mirrored nor explained the aboriginal experiences of Jesse Thistle. He decided that a definition that reflected the indigenous experience was an essential foundation upon which to build a truly effective program to end aboriginal homelessness. Years in the making, with consultations across Canada and around the world, that single definition which Thistle sought to replace ultimately became twelve, which describe the indigenous homelessness experience. Thistle presented his definitions last week at the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Winnipeg, November 2017.
Read an extensive article describing Jessie Thistle’s work defining aboriginal homelessness in The Tyee: For Indigenous People, Homelessness Is More Than Lacking a Home
Update August 2020: Jesse Thistle describes the evolution of the Indigenous definition of homelessness and shares some of his own experience in this video conversation with Jayne Malenfant and Stephen Gaetz.1
The conversation is interesting because it demonstrates how Indigenous ways of learning strengthened academic research on ending homelessness. Indigenous people are over-represented among the people experiencing homelessness in Canada and are a source of knowledge that had largely been overlooked. The definition of Indigenous homelessness has proved relevant far beyond the indigenous community.
The conversation also addresses some of the difficulties of working in today’s academic environment, particularly in the social sciences. There has been a strong emphasis on scientific objectivity, which on its surface denies the relevance of lived experience. Perversely, this has put research on a course that privileges individual career advancement over initiatives that move us along in understanding and overcoming social and societal issues.
For more, watch at the Homeless Hub: Making the Shift Virtual Event Series: In Conversation with Jesse Thistle