The Dene Nation this week entered the Northwest Territories housing crisis, using a motion at an Assembly of First Nations gathering to signify its intent to take direct action.
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said in a statement his organization had “a new blueprint to obtain funding” from the federal government and would be drawing up a long-term strategy.
The Northwest Territories is facing staggering levels of inadequate, unsuitable, and unaffordable housing. In some smaller communities, the vast majority of homes are considered unfit for purpose.
The NWT Housing Corporation is tasked with overseeing maintenance and development of the territory’s public housing. However, the corporation is mostly reliant on federal funding even to maintain the status quo – and nor is all of the NWT’s failing housing owned by the corporation.
Data published last week suggests 43 percent of NWT homes have at least one significant problem, a far higher rate than in most parts of Canada.
Quoting the federal government’s own national housing strategy – which aims, by 2030, to ensure “everyone in Canada has a home that they can afford and meets their needs” – the Dene Nation on Wednesday said: “To date, the Crown has not met its obligations to provide quality housing to Dene citizens.”
A statement from the Dene Nation read: “The 27 Dene communities in the Northwest Territories face high heating and maintenance costs, inappropriate housing design, no local or regional housing management capacity, and a severe lack of affordable, adequate, appropriate, sustainable, and quality housing.
“This results in massive overcrowding, the displacement of Elders to larger centres away from the support of their family and friends, and a negative effect on the long-term health and well-being of communities.”
The Dene Nation said a resolution on the subject – entitled “Dene Nation control of housing in Northwest Territories” – had been unanimously supported by chiefs at an Assembly of First Nations gathering in Ottawa.
The motion was brought forward by Chief April Martel of Kátł’odeeche First Nation and seconded by Chief Wanda Pascal of Tetlit Gwich’in Band, the Dene Nation said.
‘Commitments and resources’
Yakeleya, the Dene National Chief, has pursued an increase in direct, nation-to-nation relations with the federal government since his election.
“Dene families and communities are denied the same benefits of investments in affordable housing made south of 60,” Yakeleya said in a statement on Wednesday.
He said the national assembly’s endorsement of the Dene housing resolution “will provide us with a new blueprint to obtain funding and implement a multi-year strategy to address this critical issue in our communities.”
It’s not clear if any direct discussions between the Dene Nation and Ottawa regarding housing have taken place, nor by what mechanism the Dene Nation would receive direct funding.
The federal government is gradually trying to back away from direct support of public housing, instead hoping to hand control to provinces and territories – and, potentially, Indigenous governments – by the late 2030s.
“We will move forward to obtain the commitments and resources our people need to secure adequate housing and ensure federal commitments,” said Yakeleya.