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Northern Wildflower: Cultural home-based businesses should be none of the GNWT’s business

Recently, a news article about housing policies that do not allow residents to operate their own home-based businesses made headlines.

Recently, a news article about housing policies that do not allow residents to operate their own home-based businesses made headlines.

Many people in the North are artists and inventors and it’s only right that they are able to create and sell their work without a corporation telling them they can’t — without a reasonable explanation.

To be able to sell arts and crafts or baking or homemade wood stoves out of one’s home to make a bit of extra money is none of the government’s business.

I can understand the government cracking down on bootlegging and drug dealing operations within housing, but the way the government policy says no one in public housing is allowed to operate a home-based business makes it sound like a person could be arrested for selling moccasins. Imagine an Elder getting removed from their public residence in handcuffs for selling bannock! It’s absolutely outrageous!

Some people are scared to go against housing policy for fear of eviction but some continue to sell their work in secret because its helps to put food on the table. It’s not as if they are selling their goods on the black market. It shouldn’t have to be this way. It’s just another way the government works to keep people from getting ahead. Had my grandma not sewn all hours day and night and baked pies to sell to the local restaurants under the table, I would have not had food on the table every day when I was a child.

With Christmas around the corner, being able to sell homemade goods can help people save for presents for children, but its hard to save in public housing, nearly impossible because it’s all clawed back in arrears or inflation, through the government intruding into one’s bank account to see how much they’ve made per month. Creating and selling beautiful artwork shouldn’t have to be formalized with licences and permits. For some people, making and selling their work is not just a hobby, it’s a livelihood, and it shouldn’t be taken away based on where a person lives. What housing is doing is suppressing cultural practices, which is in direct violation of the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I bought a wood stove off of David Giroux a few years ago to put in my canvas tent out on the land. He makes the best wood stoves around. He is an expert in wood stoves. Housing is literally trying to put out the fire that keeps our people warm in winter and instead wants us to pay unaffordable heating costs when a nice wood stove can keep a family cozy and warm during the long winter for free. With the power going out every week or so in the North, it only makes sense to have a wood stove but that was taken away the moment housing stepped in and dispossessed our people back in the ’70s.

A question of control

A rent subsidy is meant to assist people to pay their rent so why not provide incentive to be able to collect the rent subsidy and collect a small income from a home-based business to have a bit of extra money for a rainy day? Instead, the government would prefer to be in control and not allow residents to be in charge of their own income. It’s no different than buying and selling on Facebook marketplace. Maybe if someone were making well over $10,000 a month in the sale of their goods then the government might have a reason to step in and ask them to declare income, but that’s not often the case.

Most of the time, the sale of crafted or baked goods is just enough to get through the week and it’s more about fulfilling a purpose and a passion. How can the government try to take away a person’s calling? Like the Cranberries song lyrics go: they can take our homes, our belongings, the clothes off our backs but they can’t take our spirit.

The more money one makes, the more they have to pay the high cost of rent for a home that often isn’t worth the amount of money it takes to live in it — and it’s a home that they don’t even own at the end of the day on their own land.

To have to declare fluctuating income from an informal small operation like the sale of beaded earrings is not worth the hassle. What are they going to take next, honorariums for Elders? It is expensive to file for a business and often puts a crimp in an artist’s motivation to do what they do best: create without the hassle of unnecessary paperwork.

The government is penalizing the most marginalized members or our community just because of where they live while homeowners can continue to do as they please. In the aforementioned article, NWT Housing is quoted as saying if they allow subsidized renters to operate home-based business it’s creating an “unfair playing field.” Housing is looking at the situation all wrong. There is no such thing as fairness and no one is out there on the field except those trying to get by. This is not a game.

If someone is trying to get ahead and provide for their family, no one is going to fault them for trying, especially their neighbours. At the end of the day, housing shouldn’t have these rules in place, especially in communities where the land underneath housing units is and always has been governed by the nation, not the government.