With rumblings of an election coming up, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller was in Iqaluit last week week, visiting shelters and the Qajuqturvik Food Centre and recommitting to a number of past announcements.
That included a $724 million federal investment in Indigenous-led and operated shelters across Canada for those facing gender-based violence, previously mentioned last fall.
Funding for shelters and housing are a “crying need in Inuit Nunangat,” Miller said on July 23.
“It is a reality in many remote Indigenous communities,” he said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the housing crisis in Canadian Indigenous communities, including those in Nunavut.
“Sometimes it isn’t COVID, it’s housing, If COVID’s the first issue then the second issue is housing, because it is a factor of spread… it is a reality we knew before entering into COVID and the recent outbreak (in Iqaluit) is a particular example of (these) issues when people are asked to stay home.”
Also present on July 23 was Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) President Aluki Kotierk. Joining virtually was Pauktuutit president Rebecca Kudloo and Ahmed Hussen, minister of Families, Children and Social Development as well as minister for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
In the 2021 federal budget, only $25 million was earmarked for housing in Nunavut despite NTI asking for $500 million to tackle the current housing crisis.
“It’s not close at all,” Kotierk said of the federal contribution. “We know in Nunavut we have a housing crisis. We know just to meet the needs currently we need upwards of 3,000 housing units. There’s a whole continuum of housing.”
The majority of housing needs in Nunavut is social (public) housing, “but we also need to focus on transitional housing, shelters,” says Kotierk.
While Kotierk is “disappointed” by the federal allocation, she remains hopeful that a combined approach involving the Government of Canada, the Government of Nunavut and NTI — a structure recently agreed upon by Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal’s office and the Nunavut housing minister — will be able to “start addressing some of the (housing) needs.”
While Miller said the government is working to alleviate housing needs for Indigenous communities in Canada, he admitted that it’s going to be a long process.
“Closing that gap in the next 10 years, which is part of our mandate, is not going to be easy. It’s going to take relentless investments over and above what we announced in the budget,” said Miller.
A call for proposals for the construction and ongoing operation of Indigenous-led shelters and transition homes is expected to be launched this September. That will determined the location of the shelters and the amount of funding specific to the Inuit regions.
It can’t come soon enough, said Kotierk.
“We also know that women and children continue to remain at home because there’s no alternatives to where they can go,” she said. “Certainly, when you’re in that situation it doesn’t come soon enough. The call for proposals in the fall is too late for that but looking forward. We’re going to be prepared to take advantage.”
The new shelters are a step in the right direction in terms of meeting the goals of the National Inuit Action plan, said Kudloo.
“Pauktuutit is thrilled by today’s announcement. After 36 years of advocacy for Inuit women’s shelters, we see this as a concrete action towards meaningful reconciliation with Inuit women,” she said. “Today we are showing Canada that Inuit women are valued, respected, and deserve safety. We are celebrating the lives that will be saved, and also honouring the lives we have lost while waiting for shelters across Inuit Nunangat.”
Miller insisted that these federal re-commitments were not election-related, saying an election could happen “two days or two years from now.”