An Alberta man who wants to share his "stolen land" with a First Nations family says he's had an overwhelming response to his offer.
Joel Holmberg lives on a 5-acre tract of land near the town of Barrhead, about an hour's drive northwest of Edmonton. He helped his father build the house when he was younger, and he moved his family back to the property five years ago.
Last week, he posted on Facebook that any First Nations family looking to share the land with him should get in touch.
He said even though the property was his "life's work" and would take him many years to fully pay off, "in reality it is stolen land and I know that."
"I would be happy to share this quiet wild place in the woods with a native family that wants to be free and have their kids grow up free," Holmberg wrote.
Holmberg told BuzzFeed Canada his decision was influenced by the death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man who was killed in 2016, as well as his own experiences with various First Nations people throughout Western Canada.
"I've been shown love by First Nations people a lot of times in my life," he said.
Holmberg, who is not Indigenous, described how "prayers and ceremonies" saved him when he was "a suicidal kid," when he was dealing with substance abuse as an adult, and again more recently when undergoing chemotherapy.
He said he has a particularly close relationship with the Red Pheasant Cree Nation, which Boushie was from.
"They've always been there to save my life, all through my life. I always wanted to be able to give back or help in some way," Holmberg said.
He said the property itself is surrounded by a mix of farmland and forest, and home to a variety of wildlife including foxes and owls. Many people have already contacted him, and he says he'll invite interested families to visit and decide if they want to build a house there. He hopes it can be the start of a community, with the two families growing food together, and possibly hosting cultural camps for First Nations youth.
His only stipulation in his Facebook post was that interested families should want to live traditional lifestyles, free of drugs and alcohol. (Holmberg clarified that he only made that demand because of his own history with addiction.)
His Facebook post has been shared hundreds of times since he first made the invitation, and he says he's been flooded with supportive messages from around the world.
"Everyone's busy saying how generous I am," he said.
"But they don't realize that the elders who have been coming here to visit us, blessing us — my kids are going to have aunties and uncles and I'm going to have grandparents to talk to. We're going to have extended family. It's us that will be blessed by this, not that other family."
Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B
Contact Ishmael N. Daro at email@example.com.
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