Beyond the Indian Act: Cree Nation looks for housing solutions

The Cree Nation looks remove systemic barriers to creating value in real estate and unlock the value in private homes to address housing crisis in Cree territory.

The Cree Nation looks remove systemic barriers to creating value in real estate

The Cree Nation says it wants to remove systemic barriers to creating a local private housing market where Cree people could build up value in their homes. (CBC North)

The Cree Nation says it wants to take a "hard right" away from depending on social housing toward a new model of private home ownership to prevent a Cree "exodus" into neighbouring non-Indigenous towns.

Addressing the housing crisis in Indigenous communities across Quebec and removing systemic barriers to access private home ownership are among the key and final recommendations the Cree Nation has submitted to the provincial inquiry looking into how Indigenous people are treated in Quebec.

Cree Nation Government executive director Bill Namagoose appeared at the final day of public testimony of Viens Commission on Friday. (Commission d’enquête CERP)

"The viability of our communities will start to erode if we don't provide housing," said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Cree Nation government, addressing the commission on its final day of public testimony Friday. A Cree delegation tabled 40 recommendations, including several dealing with housing.

Namagoose says up to 90 percent of Cree people still live in Cree communities because they are still "viable," but that will change if housing needs are not addressed.

Exodus feared

"There will be an exodus in Cree communities," he said, adding that will create tension in nearby non-Indigenous communities like Val d'Or, Chibougamau and Montreal.

The Viens Commission was set up in December 2016 to look into how Indigenous people are treated by six public services in Quebec. 

Twelve women, who allege they were abused by provincial police offers, signed a statement which said they felt 'betrayed, humiliated' after learning in 2016 that the Crown is not expected to move forward with any charges against the officers under investigation. (Radio-Canada )

It was launched after the Radio Canada program Enquête aired a report alleging SQ officers in Val d'Or systematically mistreated Indigenous women.

Indigenous people often flee overcrowded homes in their communities and find themselves vulnerable on the streets of towns like Val d'Or or Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver said Namagoose.

They become migrants looking for economic opportunities, then they face discrimination.- Bill Namagoose, executive director of Cree Nation

"They become migrants looking for economic opportunities then they face discrimination so you have a double problem," he said.

Statistics from the capital works department of the Cree Nation Government show a backlog of 3,000 houses in the Cree communities existed in 2011. That backlog is projected to grow to more than 4,500 by 2021 if current population and construction trends continue.

Statistics also show overcrowding affects almost 20 percent of households in the Cree Nation, about 15 times the rate of 1.3 percent for Quebec as a whole.

'Unlocking the value'

As part of its housing strategy, Namagoose says the Cree are asking Canada and Quebec to remove systemic barriers that keep people from "unlocking the value" in their homes.

"If you live in the Cree communities you cannot own your house because you cannot own the land," said Namagoose, adding right now under the Indian Act there is 75-year limit to land leases.

The Cree Nation Housing Strategy includes a plan to increase the value of privately-owned Cree homes by removing 75-year land lease ceiling. (Cree Nation Housing)

After that, homeowners must get a renewal of the lease through local band councils.

"If the chief or one councillor does not like you or your family you could be disposed of your house," said Namagoose.

The Cree want Ottawa to make land leases "perpetual" and therefore transferable and marketable.

We are not asking for free housing.- Bill Namagoose, executive director of Cree Nation

"It becomes a free market," said Namagoose, adding they will need small subsidies because of the high cost of construction in the North.

"We have 20,000 people in the Cree world and we think we can create a market," said Namagoose.

"We are not asking for free housing."