Charles McNeely, chairperson of the Sahtu Secretariat, and NWT MP Michael McLeod at a November 10 2022 news conference. Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio
At a Yellowknife news conference, NWT MP Michael McLeod announced the federal government is giving $25.5 million to the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated through the Indigenous Community Infrastructure Fund.
The money will be distributed among five Sahtu communities: Délı̨ne, Colville Lake, Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells, and Tulita. The 2021 federal budget allocated $4.3 billion toward immediate needs in Indigenous infrastructure, and $1.7 billion towards the operation and maintenance of First Nations community infrastructure. Now, communities are starting to see this money headed their way.
And it can’t come soon enough: according to the 2021 census, over 30 percent of homes in the Sahtu are in need of major repairs.
“For years, we’ve been struggling with housing in our region,” said Charles McNeely, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated chairperson, speaking at the event. “With this money, we can support the families who have been struggling with the cost of heat and living without running water. Leadership are very happy to receive this and start making our children happy.”
While housing was the focus of the news conference, McLeod said that the funding has a wide scope to give communities the opportunity to address whichever infrastructure gap is affecting them most.
“This funding can be used for many projects: for water and wastewater facilities, health centres, cultural centres, and schools as well as housing,” he said. “They will be able to design and develop the infrastructure that suits the individual needs of each community.”
“These funds will flow from 2022 to 2025,” McLeod said. “This ongoing support will give communities the autonomy to decide how and where this money will be spent. The people of the Sahtu know their region, they know what infrastructure they need, they know what issues and gaps exist and how best to address them. That’s why we’re putting this funding directly into the hands of Sahtu communities.”
In some cases, this means the housing funding will be used to help train community members in carpentry and plumbing. In Colville Lake, it may be spent on their new school.
While McNeely says Sahtu leaders are still developing their plans for the funding, he knows that the overarching goal will be to improve the lives of members, especially young people.
“We got to make life easier for people struggling,” said McNeely. “Some of them want to fix up their houses, but they can’t. Now they could. We’re going to stretch this money as far as we can to help empower youth, to make their lives better and more comfortable.”