The housing crisis on northern reserves is spilling over into education, as some First Nations in the northwest are struggling to provide suitable homes to keep teachers who come from outside the community.


Mishkeegogamang Chief Connie Gray-McKay (Jody Porter/CBC)

For example, in Mishkeegogamang First Nation, a pipe burst in the teachers housing complex on Jan. 6. There is no budget to repair the flooded apartments. For now, the First Nation is paying for the teachers to stay at a bed and breakfast, 30 kilometres away in Pickle Lake.

Chief Connie Gray-McKay said she'll have to find the money to fix the teachers' homes or risk seeing "good teachers" leave for other jobs.

"That means that my plans to renovate something else are going to have to wait while we fix this problem because we need our kids to get an education," Gray-Mckay said.

It's estimated it will cost $300,000 to fix the damage to the teachers units. That's half of the First Nation's annual housing budget.

Gray-McKay said the community had asked Aboriginal Affairs last year for $50,000 to fix the boiler problem that led to the burst pipe.

Providing adequate accommodations for teachers is only a fraction of the enormous housing problem facing Mishkeegogamang First Nation — right now it needs more than 300 houses to meet the needs of its roughly 1,000 residents.

Many homes there don't have running water or electricity. People use outhouses and slop pails.


North Spirit Lake Chief Rita Thompson (Jody Porter/CBC)

In North Spirit Lake, chief Rita Thompson said the First Nation sacrificed five years of housing money for residents, to build teachers homes. Thompson said it's a difficult choice leaving community members in unsafe houses so the school can keep its teachers.

"It's just like gambling all the time and you're gambling with your peoples' lives," she said.

In North Spirit Lake, it's estimated that 100 new houses are needed to accommodate the 450 people who live there.

Chief Thompson said four families are crowded into one four-bedroom house.

Meanwhile, Pikangikum First Nation hopes to have alternate accommodations in place for its teachers next week.

Classes were cancelled at the beginning of January, after most teachers left when mould was discovered in their homes.