Following a “disappointing” federal budget, the Dene Nation is calling on the Government of Canada to collaborate more closely with the NWT’s Indigenous communities and governments to address the territory’s housing crisis.

In an April 14 statement, the Dene Nation said the federal budget tabled in Ottawa on April 7 was “disappointing and continues to leave our families homeless.”

“Genocidal processes have uprooted our Dene family,” reads a statement attributed to Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine. “The federal government must do the right thing and fully support the Dene family in the decision-making process. Building our home is our only priority.”

Housing was touted as a major theme of this year’s budget, with the aim of doubling the national rate of home construction in 10 years. New investments include $60 million over two years to the GNWT to support affordable housing and related infrastructure. However, Antoine said, “Allocating funding directly to the Government of the Northwest Territories continues to perpetuate the reliance on government to address the Indigenous housing crisis.

“I believe the path forward needs government to work with the Dene, who will define the steps required to resolve this mess. This will better reflect the needs of the Dene family,” stated the national chief.

Housing is a chronic issue in the North. A June 2021 report by the NWT Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Development found that 43 per cent of homes in the territory had at least one significant problem. In communities outside of Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik and Fort Smith, that figure rises to between 50 and 77 per cent.

The Dene Nation’s letter includes a list of priorities for improving the territory’s dire housing situation, based on a Feb. 22 survey. The recommendations urge more options for residents, home designs tailored for Indigenous and Northern communities and more funding directly to Dene governments and communities.

At an April 14 press conference related to the new federal investments in housing, Michael McLeod, the NWT’s member of Parliament, was asked if more funding would be coming directly to communities, as well as the territory’s two reserves.

“We’ve been working on trying to ensure all levels of Indigenous governments in the North have funding,” he responded. “They do receive funding for housing from the federal government but it’s really not meeting their needs, they indicate. So we’re trying to see if we can work on an arrangement.”

At that same conference, Minister Responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation Paulie Chinna was asked how funding would be distributed to the communities. She said the housing corporation works “very closely” with both communities and local housing authorities when deciding how to allocate funding.

“So when the money is being being distributed, we’re really looking (at) and emphasizing partnership, and working with the non-profit organizations, Indigenous groups, Indigenous governments throughout the Northwest Territories,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Dene Nation did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

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