Ottawa announces $103M for Indigenous women's shelters

Sen. Michèle Audette is a former commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (John Woods/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Sen. Michèle Audette is a former commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (John Woods/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The more than $100 million in funding the federal government has earmarked for Indigenous women's shelters is only part of the solution to violence against Indigenous women and girls, says a former commissioner for a national inquiry that investigated the issue.

Federal ministers announced an investment of $103 million on Monday to build and support at least 178 shelter spaces and transitional houses for Indigenous women, children and 2SLGBTQI+ people fleeing gender-based violence.

Sen. Michèle Audette, a former commissioner for a national inquiry struck to investigate the high level of violence faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls, said the money is a step toward fulfilling the inquiry's recommendations — but only a step.

"It's not just a few places that we will say and mark, 'Check, we're OK now,'" Audette said.

"For me, it is an ongoing call for justice."

WATCH | Ottawa announces funding for new Indigenous shelters

While the money addresses one of the key recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls' (MMIWG) — the one on providing long-term, sustainable funding for shelters — Audette said the funding level will still need to be reassessed each year.

Audette also said she was troubled by the fact that organizations and communities have to compete for funding by submitting proposals — which could require them to hire consultants.

"Think about the people who don't have the capacity to pay for a consultant, to pay for an expert who knows how to write in your own words," she said.

"They don't have that expertise because they're far, far away from a city."

Jocelyn Formsma, CEO of the National Association of Friendship Centres, said it's good news that Ottawa is recognizing the need to fund shelters and transitional homes in urban areas, where most Indigenous people live.

She said she also has concerns about how the money will be rolled out.

Formsma said her organization has a proven track record of working with communities but must still reapply for funding constantly.

"We're constantly having to write proposals over and over again," Formsma said. "That becomes a challenge."

'There's way more that we need to do'

The funding will support 22 projects in 21 communities across the country, off and on reserves, in the north and in urban areas.

Indigenous women were almost six times more likely to be killed than non-Indigenous women in 2014, according to data provided by Justice Canada.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu used to run a homeless shelter in Thunder Bay, Ont. She said stable funding is critical to giving communities and organizations the confidence to succeed.

"I know that there's way more that we need to do with housing," Hajdu said. "But this is a very important piece."

Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press
Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is providing $81 million for construction, while Indigenous Services Canada is giving $15 million for operational support and $7.8 million for start-up costs.

"This is a big day," Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said during the announcement.

"This is going to be a game-changer. It is going to save lives."

'Things need to move faster'

One of the funding recipients is the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network, which is building a new six-unit transition house in Stephenville, NL.

It applied four times for funding.

"I'm just grateful that it's happening now," president Odelle Pike said. "Things need to move faster."

The building will include two family units and four single units, said Pike.

Women will be able to stay for six months to give themselves time to find a new place to live.

Pike said the building will offer different programs, a play area and a communal space for women to gather.

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

The home is expected to open in May 2024.

"It's a start," Pike said.

"We are very, very thankful because in our area right now, some women who are fleeing violence have to drive long distances."

Women in the Port au Port Peninsula in Newfoundland have to drive at least two hours to get to the nearest transition house, which leaves many stuck in dangerous environments, Pike said.

The funding comes out of a $724.1 million envelope from the violence prevention strategy announced in the 2020 fall economic statement.

So far, $4.38 million has been dispersed for four projects, according to CMHC.

Applications are open for other projects until March 2024. The CMHC is spending $420 million over five years on the work.

The new shelters and transition facilities will be built in the following locations:

  • Heiltsuk First Nation, British Columbia

  • Dena Tha' First Nation, Alberta

  • Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, Saskatchewan

  • Cross Lake First Nation, Manitoba

  • Fisher River Cree Nation, Manitoba

  • Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Manitoba

  • Beausoleil First Nation, Ontario

  • Pikangikum First Nation, Ontario

  • Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario

  • Northern Village of Puvirnituq, Quebec (Transitional Home)

  • Northern Village of Puvirnituq, Quebec (Shelter)

  • Fort Frances Tribal Area, Ontario

  • Garden River First Nation, Ontario

  • Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, Ontario

  • Municipality of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut

  • Montagnais de Pakua Shipi, Quebec

  • Tobique First Nation, New Brunswick

  • Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Manitoba

  • Winnipeg, Manitoba

  • Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

  • St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador