Housing is a Treaty right, Watchmaker reminds Canada, Alberta at funding announcement

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The Alberta and federal governments came together Tuesday to announce a commitment of $13.1 million to provide 70 affordable housing units that will be designed, delivered and owned by Indigenous peoples.

Treaty 6 Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker, who serves as chair of the Tribal Chiefs Ventures Inc. (TCVI), acknowledged the two levels of government for their commitment. However, he also held them accountable.

“We need to…recognize it as a Treaty right, an obligation, that the government of Canada in the right of the Crown, as well as the government of Alberta, have an obligation to fulfill those (in) addressing longstanding housing needs,” he said.

Watchmaker and Cameron Alexis, CEO for TCVI, virtually joined Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson and Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon for the announcement. They were also virtually joined from Toronto by Ahmed Hussen, federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development, and minister responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“Our government recognizes the very real issue of systemic racism in Canada and around the world and we’ve committed to addressing the barriers faced by Indigenous communities every single day, and it starts with ensuring that solutions for the community are provided by the community,” said Hussen.

“This pandemic has only underscored and worsened existing housing challenges. The reality is that the populations who are most at risk are more likely to find themselves in difficult housing situations”, including Indigenous peoples, he added.

Hussen noted that the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic was underway and more than ever affordable housing was needed.

Watchmaker pointed out that it was during these “trying times” that the pestilence and famine clause in Treaty 6 was important “so we are not overlooked.” Treaty 6 includes a promise to protect Indigenous people from famine and pestilence. It was included because at the time leading up to the treaty being signed in 1876, Indigenous people were dying from starvation and disease.

Four affordable housing projects will be created in both urban and rural locations. A 34-unit building will be purchased in northwest Edmonton. Calgary, Lac Ste. Anne and Victor Lake (near Grande Cache) will each see 12 seniors housing units created.

In Alberta, funding is provided through the Indigenous Housing Capital Program (IHCP). This is a 10-year bilateral agreement between the province and Canada under the National Housing Strategy.

The IHCP supports Indigenous governments and communities to build affordable off-reserve, as well as on- and off-settlement housing. The program ensures a flexible, autonomous approach, and encourages public and private developers to partner with Indigenous governments and organizations.

Partnerships for these projects include the TCVI, Victor Lake Cooperative, Evergreens Foundation, Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary, and Lac Ste. Anne Métis Community Association.

“They are great examples of a government, First Nations and Métis organizations working together. We will continue to pursue similar partnerships to support First Nations and Métis governments to build more affordable housing,” said Pon.

This work is anticipated to create 100 new jobs.

In addition to these newly announced projects, two other projects have been approved for funding, with construction underway. In September 2020, the Métis Capital Housing Corporation received up to $7 million in capital funding to repurpose 10 single-family homes in Edmonton into 23 family housing units.

in August 2020, the Elizabeth Métis Settlement received up to $3 million in capital funding to build 10 new four-bedroom homes. The housing will serve Métis families living on-settlement.

Windspeaker.com

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com