“Enormous” housing pressures felt across the territory won’t be relieved unless communities are given more control of how federal dollars are spent, says Dene national chief Norman Yakeleya.
“The relationship with housing and the territorial government – it no longer fits. We know it. We see it in the communities,” Yakeleya told News/North in a recent interview.
“People are stuck.”
The current funding flow, which sees the GNWT transfer federal dollars into housing programs run by the NWT Housing Corporation, isn’t working, said Yakeleya.
He wants to see money from Ottawa directly channeled to communities, so Indigenous governments and their people can decide how to best spend funding to meet the unique challenges they face.
“The Dene want a much greater role in the critical area of housing in our communities,” said Yakeleya, adding Indigenous governments need to be involved at the “front end” of funding decisions.
“It is no longer acceptable to have the territorial government unilaterally decide how money is spent. It’s 2019. Those days are over.”
To relieve what Yakeleya calls a “dependency” on social housing experienced by some community members, he said the Dene Nation is developing a pilot project that, with direct federal funding, would help residents build their own homes – placing the tools to rebuild independence back in their own hands.
“Our people are very proud. They want their own houses,” said Yakeleya.
“They want to contribute to building our own houses by using our own timber and preparing the logs to build it,” he continued.
“The Dene Nation wants a new blueprint for housing.”
If changes aren’t made, said Yakeleya, housing issues – overcrowding, lack of affordability, chronic housing shortages and homelessness – will persist.
Yakeleya says those problems have a cultural impact, too.
“The worst thing is that we cannot accommodate our elders in our communities,” he said, meaning older community members are often forced to leave, taking with them wisdom their children and grandchildren won’t benefit from.
“Poor housing is really hurting our culture as well. We can do much better,” said Yakeleya.
A shift to direct federal funding will also give communities the autonomy to usher in the use of alternative energy sources.
A reliance on costly diesel fuel, especially in isolated communities, further exasperates housing woes in the North, said Yakeleya, who pointed to the success of solar energy use in some NWT communities.
Yakeleya said it’s time to tell the GNWT its no longer the “housing manager of the Dene communities.”
“We’re saying ‘enough.’”