People in Gwich'in communities will get a say in how the Gwich'in Tribal Council spends millions of dollars in federal infrastructure money, says the council's grand chief.
On Tuesday, the federal government announced $78.6 million in funding for the Tłı̨chǫ Government, Gwich'in Tribal Council and Délı̨nę Got'ı̨nę Government — dollars meant for housing and infrastructure projects in the N.W.T.
About $25 million of that is going to the Gwich'in communities of Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic, Aklavik and Inuvik. $11.4 million is going to Délı̨nę, and the remaining $42 million is destined for the Tłı̨chǫ communities of Behchokǫ̀, Whatı̀, Wekweètı̀ and Gamètı̀.
Ken Kyikavichik, the grand chief of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, said he expects most of their allotment to go toward housing, but some of the funds could be spent on community improvements, and about $1 million will be earmarked for consultation.
"We know that the needs are so great," he said, adding the council plans to send consultants into each Gwich'in community to hear from residents about their priorities.
"Rather than taking the top-down approach ... we'd really like to spend the first year truly understanding and prioritizing the community needs before we start making any investments."
Kyikavichik said the infrastructure needs in the four Gwich'in communities outstrip $100 million.
"This funding, although momentous and a step in the right direction, is just a start for the very dire infrastructure gaps that our communities face," he said.
In a media statement, Marc Miller, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, called the funding a "first-of-its-kind investment." It comes from the Indigenous Community Infrastructure Fund that was created in 2021, and can be used for housing, facilities or municipal infrastructure such as water systems.
Kyikavichik said while communities will help dictate how the money is spent, he thinks it would be "unfortunate" for it to go toward municipal infrastructure because of the "critical" level of housing needs that exist.
"It allows us to design homes and take accountability for the construction and maintenance of these homes," he said.
"Our intent is that we have our own people maintaining these homes and learning skills along the way so that we can alleviate some of the burden of having to rely upon contractors from some of the regional centres or even the South."
In a statement, Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty said the portion of funds going to his communities would help the Tłı̨chǫ address the housing crisis "head-on."
He said over 35 per cent of Tłı̨chǫ homes need major repairs.