Saskatoon

First Nations housing must be a priority for all governments in 2021, says FSIN chief

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for better housing in First Nations communities.

Bobby Cameron says COVID-19 has exposed deplorable state of housing on many reserves

Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said First Nations housing needs to be a top priority for all levels of government in 2021. (CBC)

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for better housing in First Nations communities.

Cameron said the treaty right to housing is not being fulfilled, with many large families crammed into drafty homes, several people often forced to sleep in each bedroom and everyone sharing one bathroom.

He said these things makes it extremely difficult to isolate if there's a suspected or confirmed COVID case.

The continuing boil water advisories make it even tougher to stay healthy.

"They're trying their best to stay safe, but this makes things really difficult," Cameron said.

Cameron said many First Nations are doing their best to keep COVID-19 at bay. They have checkpoints at the reserve entrance and are educating residents about safe practices.

But he said they'll remain at high risk because of the shameful housing situation. Cameron said this causes other physical and mental illness as well. He said it must be a top priority for all levels of government in 2021.

He said there are also deficiencies in education funding, mental health supports and a host of other areas.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron says he'll miss the annual holiday ritual of delivering wild game to elders, but remaining safe during COVID-19 is more important. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

Cameron also said there are many reasons to be grateful.

He and his household are looking forward to taking a break and celebrating Christmas together.

"When you see the excitement and smiles in children's eyes, that's what it's all about," he said.

For the past several years, Cameron and other hunters have delivered wild game to elders and needy families across the province. That tradition has been put on hold because of COVID-19.

"The thing I miss most is giving a hind quarter or ribs to a family and seeing the joy in their voices, knowing they're going to have a traditional meal from one of our hunters," Cameron said.

He said the deliveries of meat and fish will begin again as soon as it's safe to do so.

Since they can't deliver meat this year, Cameron and other FSIN executive members contributed nearly $25,000 to food banks and other groups around the province.

"It's our way of helping a little bit. We pray for all the families who are struggling. And there are many," he said.

Cameron is reminding everyone to wash hands, stay distanced and follow the advice of leaders and health experts.

"Let's keep it up," he said. "We'll get through it together."

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