Sylvia Olsen married into Tsartlip First Nation in the 1970’s. She moved onto the reserve where she and her husband raised four kids. I am one of those kids.
For the past two decades Sylvia has worked in on-reserve housing. In 2016, she received her Phd. in history from the University of Victoria where she completed one of the first academic studies on the history of the on-reserve housing programs in Canada.
Dr. Olsen’s ground-breaking work is based on her unique perspective of the past, the present and the opportunities for the future of housing in First Nations communities in Canada.
In addition to her research, she also works in First Nations communities across the country. She teaches housing management to First Nations housing managers. And, she works with the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs Committee on Housing and Infrastructure. Dr. Olsen is also currently working with the B.C. First Nations Housing and Infrastructure Council.
This interview is likely just the first in a series of discussions we will have on this topic on The Public Circle Podcast.
It’s a tough story!
In this first cut at this important topic we discuss why Dr. Olsen became so involved with the on-reserve housing challenges as a middle-class “white girl” in the 1970’s. She is clear. The motivation for her involvement comes not from a desire to “help” or be an “ally”. But, rather as she states, “the question I could not get passed has always been “What the hell Canada? How could you?”
And, that became the foundational intellectual question for her doctorate studies. How did the situation on Indian reserves across Canada come to be? How has it been allowed to continue decade after decade?
First Nations housing stories have littered the Canadian media landscape. It is an unfortunate part of the Canadian narrative and is part of our culture.
It is an honour to begin to explore the historical aspects of this story and I am sure we will continue tell it on future episodes.