The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
News

First Nations Aren’t Waiting for Ottawa to Start Conversation on Fixing Substandard Housing

Assembly of First Nations launches talks on a new housing strategy.

By Katie Hyslop 14 Mar 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop reports on affordable housing for the Housing Fix. Follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

The 2016-17 funders of the Housing Fix are Vancity Credit Union, Catherine Donnelly Foundation, and the Real Estate Foundation of B.C. in collaboration with Columbia Institute. Funders of special solutions reporting projects neither influence nor endorse the particular content of our reporting. Other publications wishing to publish this article or other Housing Fix articles, please contact editor Chris Wood.

Promised a new nation-to-nation relationship with the federal Liberal government almost two years ago, the Assembly of First Nations isn’t waiting for Ottawa to start the conversation about a new way of delivering housing both on and off-reserve.

The Assembly started talking to its members from across the country about the issue last November, at its first National Housing and Infrastructure Forum in Winnipeg. A special Chief’s Assembly followed soon after in Quebec, supporting the development of a First Nations National Housing and Infrastructure Strategy.

Now the AFN has moved on to a series of provincial meetings to seek First Nations’ input on how a new housing strategy should work. The first for B.C. drew representatives from 75 B.C. First Nations to a two-day forum in Victoria on Monday and Tuesday.

“I’ve given up on there being an epiphany in Ottawa,” Harold Calla, a member of the Squamish nation and CEO of the First Nations Financial Authority, told the first day of the forum.

“I’m glad to see the conversation starting to talk about not waiting for people to give us rights, but [how to] start taking them, start acting on them.”

First Nations need housing authority

The forum asked participants to consider an idea developed by the AFN Chiefs’ Committee on Housing: the creation of national, provincial, and even regional First Nations authorities that would directly control housing assets both on and off-reserve.

Putting housing under First Nation control could impact more than just homes. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde spoke about the link between housing and jobs on reserves, using as an example his own experience as chief of the Little Black Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan, when Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation built four and five bedroom homes in the community.

“They supplied a fridge and stove, and washer and dryer,” Bellegarde recalled. “And then all my cousins that worked at the band office quit their jobs and went on welfare because they could get everything else paid for on welfare,” he said.

“It’s almost like they’re motivating our people to stop working and go on welfare. There’s something wrong with that system.”

Of course, just getting a house on reserve isn’t exactly easy. As of 2011, a quarter of on reserve First Nations individuals lived in overcrowded conditions. More than 40 per cent lived in housing that was in need of major repairs.

960px version of Attawapiskat-Still.jpg
More than 40 per cent of on-reserve housing is in need of major repair: image from a visit by politicians to Attawapiskat, ON, in 2011. Image courtesy Charlie Angus via YouTube.

Manitoba regional chief Kevin Hart, who is responsible for the national Assembly’s housing, water, and infrastructure portfolio, joked darkly that on-reserve housing is so scarce that a child should be put on a wait-list as soon as its born, “because in 20-25 years, maybe there’s going to be a house available to them for their own family.”

Twenty-five years might not be long enough for many First Nations communities. “Our community hasn’t had a new home since 1985,” said BCAFN acting regional chief Maureen Chapman. Some of those homes, she added, have since been condemned as unfit for occupation.

Collective advocacy for local needs

Feedback from provincial meetings like this week’s in Victoria will determine a draft action plan for moving forward with a Canada-wide First Nations housing strategy, including potential roles and responsibilities for any First Nation housing authorities.

“Local communities don’t like giving up their authority, for good reason,” said Garry Merkel, who led the now-defunct B.C. Aboriginal Housing Committee and chaired the Victoria forum.

“You’ve got to build a model that respects what happens at the local level, but still lets us capitalize on each other, get some economies of scale, use our collective advocacy power, use large scale capacity development programs, and implement them at a larger scale.”

Merkel and other speakers including Calla, national chief Bellegarde, former Aboriginal Housing Management Association CEO Ray Gerow, and Hart, agreed on the importance of First Nations taking their time in establishing any new agencies to oversee housing — a process they said could take a decade or more to complete.

“All that kind of work takes infrastructure,” said Merkel. “You can’t just have local people running that off the side of your desk. You need some kind of superstructure to make whatever those common functions are, happen.”

Getting past ‘shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic’

While this week’s conversation was among First Nations alone, Ottawa hasn’t been entirely silent.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), have both been consulting with First Nations, academics, and other housing organizations as part of the federal mandate for indigenous housing reform. Pending policy changes include a CMHC-led National Housing Strategy for off-reserve accommodation, and reform of INAC’s own protocols for supporting on-reserve housing.

Independent new First Nations Housing Authorities wouldn’t fix every persistent housing problem on their own, Merkel admits. So in the meantime, First Nations will continue to work with federal and provincial governments on reforms that fall short of that degree of First Nation control.

“Building an organization without figuring out how you fix all the pieces, and get a strategic and coordinated approach, is really shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Merkel.

“You have to have a reason for moving to a First Nations authority, and it needs to do something useful that the current system is not able to do for whatever reasons.”

Merkel admits it’s all a bit vague right now. But that’s intentional, he says. The Assembly is only trying to start a conversation. “By the end of this [forum], we’re going to be talking about ‘How do we carry this conversation on?’ Cause this is not going to give us all the answers.”

But it may well begin to sketch in the outlines of an answer.  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll