Indigenous organization ‘disappointed’ with feds’ announcement on affordable housing

The head of an Indigenous housing organization says he feels let down by the federal government’s fall economic update.

In that update, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland offered $1 billion over seven years starting in 2025 towards affordable housing – not enough says Marc Maracle.

“Certainly the urban Indigenous housing providers and the rental market collectively on the social housing side is disappointed because it simply doesn’t address the urgency certainly from an urban Indigenous perspective,” Maracle, the executive director of Gignul Non-Profit Housing Corp., said on the latest edition of Nation to Nation.

Gignul is based in Ottawa and strives to provide affordable housing for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in the National Capital Region.

There is, however, some money coming for Indigenous housing.

In January 2023, the federal government announced $287 million for the National Indigenous Collaborative Housing Inc. (NICHI), a coalition of Indigenous housing organizations based in urban, rural and northern areas. Applications for that money open on Nov. 24.

But given the need across the country by Indigenous organizations, Maracle said that money “certainly isn’t going to go far.”

Gignul manages 210 units on 76 different properties in Ottawa – another 12 units are under construction in an area of the city called Vanier. The waitlist at Gignul for a one-bedroom is two or three years.

affordable housing
Gignul operates more than 200 affordable housing units in the Ottawa area. Photo: Joseph Saunders/APTN.

In the last federal budget, $4.1 billion for off-reserve Indigenous housing was announced but this money is being spread over seven years and there are questions whether the Liberal government will be able to fully deliver given the lengthy timeline.

The need is urgent. One third of people who are without a safe place to stay in urban Canada are Indigenous peoples.

“There is definitely an underinvestment in purpose-built rental housing in this country,” Maracle said, “and certainly for urban Indigenous people they’re among the most vulnerable in terms of housing.

“If you live in a large urban area or you’re out west in any of the smaller cities, Indigenous homelessness is the face of the homeless population. In Ottawa we’re not different than any large metropolitan area in this country.”

Maracle said one trend organizations are noticing is that the age of people on the streets is getting younger.

“Violence, drugs, the opioid crisis, the mental health crisis, it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic – all presents challenges as a housing provider and to the community itself in accessing services and for sure, accessing safe affordable housing.”

AFN on gender-based violence

A July report looking into gender-based violence at the Assembly of First Nations is now part of a civil case against a former grand chief in Manitoba.

The allegations of workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault against Arlen Dumas have not been tested in court – and the former head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) is counter suing the plaintiff.

The report, written by a three-member panel after chiefs in assembly ordered an “independent review” of the situation inside the organization, said staff members came forward with a long list of complaints including “lateral violence; abuse of power, position, and authority; abuse of technology, including cyber-bullying and sexting,” There were also complaints of “verbal harassment, sexualized harassment and bullying, including unwelcome comments and invitations. and discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.”

According to APTN journalist Kathleen Martens, who has reported extensively on Dumas and his last days at the AMC, it was a “surprise” to see the report included in the civil case by a former female employee.

“It was an interesting strategy,” Martens told N2N host Fraser Needham. “There have been a few of these reports. One with the eastern region of the AFN, of course this national one with the AFN in Ottawa, and then there’s been a report at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. All looking at workplace culture.

“The complainant says the items that are mentioned; the bullying, the lateral violence; the unwanted comments; the inappropriate sexual behavior that is alleged in that report at AFN – the complainant here in the Winnipeg lawsuit – said that’s what she also experienced at AMC.”

The AFN meets for its regular December special chiefs assembly in Ottawa starting Dec. 5. That’s when chiefs and proxies will elect a new national chief after RoseAnne Archibald was replaced last summer.

Flying the skies of Nunavut

Nunavut MP Lori Idlout said APTN’s story about a young Inuk mother struggling to get home to Grise Fiord after several of her flights were cancelled is an “extreme case” but added that there are still issues.

“Medical travel, patients that have no choice but to leave their communities because the health services are not available – for them to have to come to the southern cities is very common. We have a huge medical travel budget and because of that expecting delays is very much a regular part of our expectation when constituents travel,” the NDP MP said.

“Especially mothers, mothers who can’t leave their children.”

In October, APTN reported how Leah Audlaluk was stranded in Resolute Bay after taking her daughter to a medical appointment in Ottawa. Audlaluk lives in Grise Fiord. After a number of travel issues including bad weather and a booking mixup – she made it home after nearly a month.

After the federal government allowed a merger of two airlines servicing Nunavut in 2019, the number of complaints against Canadian North have been going up. According to data from the Canadian Transportation Agency, there have been 118 complaints lodged against Canadian North since the merger.

Complaints filed against air carriers in Nunavut since 2019 with the Canadian Transportation Agency.

APTN reached out to Transport Canada about Audlaluk’s situation – and about the merger.

“What happened here was completely unacceptable. Airlines have to do better,” a statement from the office of Transport Canada Minister Pablo Rodriguez said. “That’s why we introduced Bill C-52, which aims to resolve the absence of data that impacts our government’s ability to advance new policies and regulation to further enhance the sector’s connectivity, safety and security.” According to the government’s website, C-52, which is in second reading in the House of Commons, will allow the government to monitor the “development and implementation of service standards related to flights and flight-related services.”

According to Rodriguez’s office, Canada is also investing in airport infrastructure across the North.

But Idlout said the current system is a problem and people are cancelling – or turning down medical appointments – because air travel is inconsistent.

“Especially mothers, mothers who can’t leave their children to go and take their own appointments – so I’ve definitely heard of people choosing not to go to their appointment,” she told Nation to Nation.

Nation to Nation reached out to Canadian North for a comment but a statement wasn’t received by the time this story was published.

Idlout said she met with representatives of Canadian North at the Nunavut Tourism conference who told her the issue was a lack of pilots.

On Nov. 23, a spokesperson declined an invitation to talk about the challenges of providing air services in Nunavut and instead sent a statement.

It said, in part, “Canada’s Arctic experiences significantly more weather-related cancellations than any other region in the country. Our foremost concern in these challenging conditions is always ensuring safety. We actively engage within these communities to promptly rebook affected passengers, create additional flights to meet demand, and manage backlogs.

“Since our merger, Canadian North has significantly reduced base fares by 27% to 48% over the last five years. This reduction comes despite an 11% overall increase in the cost of living in Canada’s Arctic during the same period, as reported by Statistics Canada.”

Editor’s Note: A statement was received from Canadian North on Nov. 23. 

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