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Senate committee probes First Nations housing troubles

The Senate Aboriginal Committee examining on-reserve housing is holding hearings and conducting a fact-finding mission in Ontario this week.

Remote Ontario First Nations host Senate committee examining on-reserve housing problems

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson is chairing the Senate Aboriginal Committee examining on-reserve housing. (Cathy Alex/CBC)
The Senate Aboriginal Committee is on a fact-facting visit in northwestern Ontario before visiting other part s of the province. We'll hear from the Chair of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in the Senate 7:22

The Senate Aboriginal Committee examining on-reserve housing is holding hearings and conducting a fact-finding mission in Ontario this week. 

Committee chair and Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson said the housing problems plaguing First Nations communities have not been studied in-depth, until now.

"The purpose of the fact-finding trip here in Ontario is to get on the ground and see, first-hand, the challenges communities face," he said.

"We're looking carefully to try and get examples of remote situations, fly-in communities  that don't have access to roads, as well  as communities with better access and closer to larger urban centres."

Patterson said the committee has already heard from officials with Canada Mortgage and Housing, and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Canada, as well as visited First Nations communities in Nova Scotia.

Recurring themes emerging

Many people have expressed concerns over a lack of building standards for on-reserve housing, Patterson said.

"I think one of the things the committee noticed really early on is the concern about standards, about the quality of construction. Building codes, building inspections, which when they're deficient lead to problems like mould, and serious issues like fires, and deaths related to fires."

Overcrowding is also a common problem, and one that worries Charlie Baxter Sr. a member of Constance Lake First Nation, in Ontario.

Baxter told the committee his community needs 500 more homes.
Charlie Baxter Sr., of Constance Lake First Nation, said his community needs 500 new homes. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

"Right now, they're just living with their relatives, boarding in other homes. It's causing overcrowding. 'Cause the atmosphere is not, it's causing a lot of friction."

Baxter said he wants the senators to recommend that bureaucrats with Aboriginal Affairs get to know First Nations on an individual basis.

"They should know the need," he continued.

"When the representative of the department of AANDC is approached by each First Nation, they should know that First Nation. They should know where they're coming from."

The committee is still gathering information, Patterson noted, but they're already noticing room for improvement, such as possibly restructuring some government departments.

"We continue to be surprised that there is two delivery agencies for First Nations housing: CMHC and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs," he said.

"We'll be asking ourselves, 'Is it appropriate that there be two ways of delivering houses?' Some First Nations find that confusing, if not duplicative." 

The committee will spend the week visiting First Nations in Ontario, including Sandy Lake and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.  Patterson said the senators will also tour First Nations in British Columbia.

The committee hopes to release its recommendations by the end of December, he added.

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