Housing by Indigenous, for Indigenous turns page on colonial approach

Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For the first time ever, said Indigenous Services Canada Minister Patty Hajdu, the federal government has relinquished control of building housing and placed it in Indigenous peoples’ hands.

“It’s a momentous time,” said Hajdu.

On June 8, Hajdu was joined by ministers Ahmed Hussen (Housing) and Dan Vandal (Northern Affairs) in announcing that the delivery of Indigenous housing in urban, rural and northern Canada will be led by National Indigenous Collaborative Housing Inc. (NICHI).

NICHI, formalized in January, is a coalition of more than 50 Indigenous-led housing, homelessness, and housing-related organizations from across Canada. The aim of the organization is to deliver on housing for those Indigenous people no longer living in Indigenous communities.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) is taking credit for moving the Liberal government along on the matter.

East Vancouver NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who was also at the announcement, said the NDP had prioritized significant investments to address the housing needs of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples as part of its confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberal government. The NDP also “demanded that it be for Indigenous and by Indigenous,” she said.

The confidence-and-supply agreement was signed between the Liberals and NDP in March 2022. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was operating with a minority Liberal government after the 2021 election. The agreement with the NDP brought about stability. The NDP agreed to support the Liberals if the Liberals advanced certain NDP priorities. The agreement is set to last until 2025.

“(Indigenous-led housing) would not have happened had it not been for NICHI and the NDP in collaboration, yes, with the government. This is what cooperation looks like. This is what the confidence-and-supply agreement is meant to do. To make things happen for the people,” said Kwan.

NICHI will receive an immediate $287.1 million from the 2022 budget over two years. NICHI is working to ensure that it is part of the $4 billion, allocated in the 2023 budget over seven years starting in 2024-25, which will implement a co-developed Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy.

“This will continue the momentum that we’re starting today,” said Hajdu. “It will support the creation of a for Indigenous and by Indigenous housing centre. This plan relies on Canada relinquishing colonial control of the process. It is an important step in reconciliation that will return control to Indigenous knowledge and leadership.”

The approach to offer short-term funding, which is what the immediate dollars will do, is different than co-development of the Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy.

“There is more work and effort that we need to do over the coming months to be able to ensure that NICHI is part of that longer-term plan,” said Jeff Loucks, CEO for NICHI.

Working towards co-development of the longer-term Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation carried out consultations, receiving more than 950 submissions. NICHI also hosted an engagement session in Winnipeg with Indigenous housing providers, service agencies and representative organizations from urban, rural and northern regions.

The strategy is intended to complement the three existing distinctions-based housing strategies for First Nations, Inuit and Métis, as well as other investments in Indigenous housing.

Eighty per cent of people live away from Indigenous communities and therefore cannot access programs and services in their communities.

“There is a strong need and a gap that exists to be able to provide those services and provide those funding and housing supports,” said Loucks.

It is not NICHI’s job to deliver on the housing needs, he added, but to ensure that the money gets out to those who do the service delivery.

In recognition of the need for immediate action, NICHI will deliver this funding through a proposal process for infrastructure projects that address immediate and unmet housing needs. Projects with funding shortfalls which are already underway and those which are ready to begin will be prioritized.