Dene Nation calls on feds to give housing dollars directly to communities

·3 min read
Chief Norman Yakeleya, centre left, welcomes the display of a new modular housing unit on the K'atl'odeeche First Nation reserve in August 2021. He told reporters on Sept. 29 that housing units like these could help get flooding victims in Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson in new homes faster. (Supplied by Dene Nation - image credit)
Chief Norman Yakeleya, centre left, welcomes the display of a new modular housing unit on the K'atl'odeeche First Nation reserve in August 2021. He told reporters on Sept. 29 that housing units like these could help get flooding victims in Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson in new homes faster. (Supplied by Dene Nation - image credit)

The Dene Nation is calling on the federal government to provide housing funds directly to communities in the Northwest Territories as part of a strategy to help address the territory's housing crisis.

During a Sept. 29 press conference, Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said the nation wants to see an approach to housing that more easily gives Indigenous people the ability to own their own homes.

"We're not too happy with the territorial government's approach – we want ownership for our people, and not government ownership. People want to own and live in their own homes," he said.

"We have a way out, and that's our strategy."

The strategy in question is something the Dene Nation has been crafting through a committee of chiefs. It looks to put Dene leaders at the forefront of housing discussions, train up young Dene people to build and maintain homes, and ensure proper levels of funding exist for Indigenous housing needs.

"We want to give voice to our leadership and how funding is allocated to the Northwest Territories, and we've been advocating strongly that it has to be directly funded to the First Nation governments and communities," he said.

He added the Dene Nation has been in discussions with the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NWTHC) about the strategy.

Ben Fraser, the policy and communications manager for the NWTHC, told CBC News in an email that the NWTHC expects the federal government will directly fund Indigenous governments, and some funding announcements have already been made.

"The NWTHC is fully supportive of solutions that will help house NWT residents and aims to collaborate with Indigenous Governments and other partners in maximizing our response to the housing crisis," he wrote.

Frustration over delays

The delay of replacement homes for flood victims in Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River until 2022 shows there's something "terribly, terribly wrong" with the current system, Yakeleya said.

He said he was struck by a recent CBC story about Jean Marie River elder Laura Sanguez, who has had to live at the long-term care facility in Fort Simpson for months since her home was destroyed in the flood in May. Her family issued a plea for help to get her back into her home community.

"That's what really breaks my heart, that our people in our communities just want their own home. They want to live in their home with their grandchildren and children," Yakeleya said.

Yakeleya said he was also frustrated the territorial government decide not to use modular replacement homes built by a company the Dene Nation has partnered with, opting instead for homes that wouldn't be ready as quickly.

In August, the Dene Nation announced a partnership with Eagle Building Solutions, a manufacturer out of Grande Prairie, Alta., to build modular homes that could withstand harsh northern winters. The partnership was part of the nation's housing strategy.

The company built a one-bedroom prototype at the K'atl'odeeche First Nation reserve in Hay River for a cost of about $150,000.

Yakeleya said on Sept. 29 that the Dene Nation had been in discussion with the NWTHC about that prototype, but the government decided "to go another route to get housing."

"We want to know, why is the government not listening to the people and giving them viable options to bring homes [in] that we stand by with Eagle Building Solutions?" he said.

Fraser told CBC News the units from Eagle Building Solutions were considered as replacements for Jean Marie River, but the NWTHC wasn't involved in those conversations.

He said the housing corporation has done a visual inspection of the prototype home, but further assessment would be needed to make sure it complies with northern building standards.

"The NWTHC has offered to continue to work with the Dene Nation to confirm the suitability of this design for use in the North," Fraser wrote.

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