Original Published on Jun 18, 2022 at 09:50

By Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Housing funds should go straight to Indigenous governments instead of requiring a system of applications and grants, a parliamentary committee has concluded.

After months of presentations by witnesses from across Canada, the committee this week released its findings on the chronic housing shortage experienced by Indigenous people in Canada. 

The report faulted colonial policies for a lack of accessible, affordable and safe housing, and made a series of recommendations for improvement. Most notably, MPs on the committee recommended giving funding directly to Indigenous governments instead of requiring applications to qualify for financial support.

The committee heard from a number of Northwest Territories experts and leaders over the course of its meetings, among them territorial housing minister Paulie Chinna, Chief April Martel of the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, and President Garry Bailey of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation.

The federal government is urged in the report to review all programs for ways of more directly delivering funding to Indigenous governments, organizations and communities. 

MPs recommend ensuring “a greater proportion” of federal housing money go directly to First Nations in the Northwest Territories, asking for the Government of Canada to address “barriers, requirements and application processes for housing programs.” 

They call on the government to “identify and remove restrictive land ownership policies” in Indigenous communities, provided they have the consent of the First Nation.

The report noted that people on reserves (there are two in the NWT, K’atl’odeeche First Nation and Salt River First Nation) find securing mortgages or financing for homes challenging. 

A representative from BMO Financial Group told the committee that the Indian Act’s provisions mean “banks cannot take security over tangible assets on reserve. Anyone who is not a member of the community is not allowed to seize ownership of assets on reserve.”

The result, according to a quote from Manitoba regional chief Cindy Woodhouse in the report, is that First Nations people on reserves are “not eligible for mortgages.”

“It can be very frustrating when we’re left out of the economics of our country because of the Indian Act. We have to ask for ministerial loan guarantees and all of these things.”

The committee found the impact of low-quality housing on Indigenous peoples extends from immediate danger – a recent Statistics Canada study found those living in First Nations communities were 10 times more likely to die in house fires than Canadians overall – to ongoing issues around physical and mental health, education and economic development. 

Poor access to housing has also been linked to increased violence against women. Housing was mentioned 200 times in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Committee members heard that policy designed to “purposefully divide, exclude, assimilate” Indigenous people is contributing to Canada’s ongoing legacy of colonial damage. In response, MPs wrote that harm from “chronic underfunding of housing and [their] failure to recognize self-determination is unequivocal.”

The committee added it is “concerned by the fact that the lack of housing is contributing to a loss of culture by forcing people to leave their communities in search of a home.”

The federal government will be expected to provide a comprehensive response to the report. 

This item reprinted with permission from Cabin Radio, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories