The federal government has pledged to provide $600,000 over three years to help the Dene Nation create a housing and infrastructure secretariat.
According to a Monday news release, the project will support community-led housing solutions, help Dene communities secure federal housing funding, and advance the Dene Nation’s strategic housing plan.
“Our home, on the land, has always been the foundation that enriches the quality of our way of life. The Dene Nation acknowledges that there are many areas in housing that require our immediate attention,” Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine said in a statement.
“Through the support of the housing secretariat project, we look forward to seeking meaningful engagements with the many levels of government involved in the housing crisis in Denendeh. This must be done in alignment with the needs and values of our leadership and our Dene families.”
In its latest budget, the federal government made several commitments to fund housing in the North and Indigenous communities. That included $60 million specifically for the NWT between 2022 and 2024 and, more broadly, $4.3 billion over seven years to improve and expand Indigenous housing across Canada.
Dan Vandal, Canada’s minister of northern affairs, acknowledged in a statement on Monday that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to housing does not work in northern communities. He added that Indigenous partners have the local expertise to implement housing plans that work for them.
“Through continued collaboration, communities are creating and implementing new housing solutions that meet their needs,” Vandal said.
The Canadian government has additionally promised $135,000 to purchase a modular unit on the Kátł’odeeche First Nation.
The Dene Nation first announced its rapid housing initiative in August 2021, with plans to build modular homes across the territory that can withstand the northern climate. At the time, the Dene Nation had installed a one-bedroom show home on the Kátł’odeeche First Nation reserve.
‘We know exactly what needs to be done’
The NWT faces an escalating housing crisis.
Nearly half of the territory’s housing stock in 2019 was deemed unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable. This has had far-reaching consequences, including overcrowding, Elders having to move away from communities, and negative impacts on health and well-being.
Dene leaders in recent years have stressed the importance of communities taking control over housing from the territorial government.
The Dene Nation in 2019 said it planned to pursue direct federal housing funding to do so.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation similarly announced plans in late 2019 to create its own community-driven housing strategy. The federal government in May 2021 said $19 million of a $60-million NWT housing fund would be spent on 19 affordable housing units for the First Nation.
Earlier this month, attendees at an anti-poverty roundtable focused on housing and homelessness, stressed that communities are best-suited to identify housing issues and solutions.
“We know exactly what needs to be done and where the problems occur,” one attendee stated.
They pointed to Colville Lake, where residents began building their own log homes to address the severe shortage in the community rather than waiting for the territory’s housing corporation to take action.
Housing NWT is currently in the process of a. major revamp with a new name, logo and strategy. The territorial agency promises to be more client-centred and community-driven in future.
Paulie Chinna, the minister responsible for the corporation, said she is “very much interested in hearing the communities’ perspectives” and working with Indigenous governments to find housing solutions.