North

MPs recommend federal housing funds go directly to N.W.T. Indigenous governments, communities

A parliamentary committee is recommending the federal government directly fund Indigenous governments in the N.W.T. for housing programs.

A report by a federal standing committee looked at the effect of the housing shortage on Indigenous people

A boarded-up public housing unit in Behchoko, N.W.T. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

A parliamentary committee is recommending the federal government directly fund Indigenous governments and communities in the N.W.T. for housing programs.

The current system involves federal funds going to the territorial-run Housing N.W.T., formerly known as the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, which has programs Indigenous governments, organizations or communities can then apply through. 

But the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs wrote in a report that this hinders a lot of groups, including the N.W.T. Métis Nation. 

"The committee heard that the Northwest Territory Métis Nation does not receive core funding for the delivery of housing programs and services to its members," the report said. 

The report recommends that the federal government work directly with Métis governments "that aren't recognized under the distinction-based model and provide long-term, stable, flexible and predictable funding for Métis housing." 

Garry Bailey, president of the N.W.T. Métis Nation, said he is happy with the recommendations and feels as though changes to the N.W.T. housing funds would benefit all parties.

Garry Bailey, president of the N.W.T. Métis Nation, said the current system limits the amount of funds his people can receive. 

"I am very pleased that they are recognizing, to let the Aboriginal people take care of themselves especially when it comes to housing, housing needs ... because we know what those needs are and policies aren't going to get in the way," he said.   

Bailey said the effects of inadequate housing have lasting effects on the communities and changes to the current system could benefit all parties. 

"Because they've been paying and it's not a money making machine when you're dealing with housing," he said. 

"So, I think it'll definitely take some of the stress off the territorial government as well." 

Another recommendation was that federal government "recognize the Métis Settlements as distinct entities with unique needs with regards to infrastructure and housing, and that the government's engagement with the Métis Settlements reflects this recognition."

Access to on-reserve funding 

The report also found issues in how the N.W.T.'s two First Nation reserves — K'atl'odeeche First Nation and Salt River First Nation — receive funding for housing initiatives. 

As a result of the current system, neither reserve has access to federal funding for housing on-reserve and instead, rely on the territorial government to apply for the funding, before the First Nations can then apply for it again.

K'atl'odeeche First Nation April Martel said she feels as though Indigenous communities should have always been able to access housing funds from the federal government directly. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

April Martel is the chief of K'atl'odeeche First Nation. 

She said she has advocated for her community to be able to access funding directly from the federal government for years now. 

"As a reserve, the money should directly come to the reserve," she said. 

Martel said she understands why the territorial government should be in charge of funding for smaller communities that don't have the resources to navigate housing.

But for others, like K'atl'odeeche, they do have the resources in place and understanding of what the community needs.

Martel said the housing shortage was already devastating in the South Slave community, but it has been made even worse after the spring flooding.

Martel said she has been in discussions with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada about establishing direct funding with the federal government. 

As a result of its findings, the committee recommends the federal government undertake a review of all programs to identify areas where funding could be delivered directly to Indigenous governments, organizations and communities.

"The committee recognizes that direct funding for housing to Indigenous communities or organizations provides critical support for Indigenous-led housing initiatives and is a fundamental principle of self-determination," the report says. 

After the review, the committee expects the federal government to report back by February 2023.

The federal government is not legally required to follow the recommendations. 

N.W.T. Housing did not make the housing minister available for an interview by publication time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luke Carroll is a journalist with CBC North who has worked in both print and radio in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Luke is originally from Brockville, Ont., and moved to Yellowknife in May 2020. He can be reached at luke.carroll@cbc.ca.

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