Ottawa is promoting a new program to help First Nations people buy their own homes, but some bands say they can't afford it.

Speaking in Saskatoon Thursday, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said the new federal program, the First Nations Market Housing Fund, will revolutionize on-reserve housing.

Housing shortages have been a perennial problem on reserves, where the bands have traditionally owned all or most houses.

The federal government has put aside $300 million for First Nations to use as collateral with financial institutions. Individual band members can work through participating First Nations to get a mortgage.

However, Irvin Starblanket, chief of the Star Blanket First Nation,doesn't think the program will help his reserve,which he says is small and already has a lot of debt.

As a result, Starblanket said, he didn't even bother applying for the program.

"Just off the top of my head, I wouldn't qualify because of my indebted situation," he said. "So to me, our people are going to be the ones that are going to be suffering."

Money for homes

While the program isn't for everyone, Prentice said, the government is allocating lots of money to build homes on reserves.

"Social housing alone can't define the future," Prentice said Thursday.

"First Nations citizens are going to have to have the same opportunities as everyone else to own their own property. I've acknowledged from the outset that [the program] won't solve the entire problem."

Starblanket said it's not fair that large wealthy reserves get access to program dollars that he can't.

Many First Nations are in the same situation, he said.