Inuit regions contain the worst, most overcrowded housing, Senator says

Senate committee surveying housing in Nunavut, Nunavik and Labrador

By STEVE DUCHARME

Senators Dennis Patterson, of Nunavut, and Lillian Eva Dyke, of Saskatchewan, speak to a building contractor April 18 who is refurbishing a subsidized unit in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)


Senators Dennis Patterson, of Nunavut, and Lillian Eva Dyke, of Saskatchewan, speak to a building contractor April 18 who is refurbishing a subsidized unit in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

Limited housing, overcrowding, and the poor quality of life experienced by many northerners makes the need for adequate places to live greater than in the rest of the country, says Saskatchewan Senator Lillian Eva Dyck, chair of the Senate Committee on Aboriginal People.

That committee is now working on a report on the North’s housing crisis.

“I think the degree of overcrowding here is worse than it is, from what I understand, in the rest of the country. Its nothing like we’re hearing about it,” Dyck told Nunatsiaq News during a tour of an Iqaluit housing complex April 18.

In 2014, George Kuksuk, then the minister of the Nunavut Housing Corp., said more than 3,000 new housing units would be needed to meet the territory’s social housing shortfall.

Dyck and five other senators sitting on the committee, including Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, plan to visit several communities in the coming days to better understand the unique nature of the North’s housing shortage.

In 2015, the committee completed a similar report about housing on First Nations reserves.

But Dyck says a separate northern report is necessary as the region differs from the South fundamentally in both resource availability and jurisdiction.

“The biggest difference with First Nations housing is it’s just a federal responsibility, whereas here you have territorial government and the [Nunavut] Land Claims Agreement, different organizations that have to solve the problem,” she said.

To that end, the committee confirmed it has already spoken to Inuit stakeholders at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, as well as the Nunavut Housing Corp.

ITK President Natan Obed said in a presentation to the committee that Nunavut’s housing shortage is one link in a long chain of connected social issues.

Before his election as ITK president, Obed worked for NTI and represented the land claim organization on Nunavut’s suicide awareness strategy plan, alongside representatives of the GN, the RCMP and the Embrace Life Council.

“He [Obed] gave a picture of how everything is related, how the housing shortage affects the whole family,” Dyck said.

“When you have kids growing up in an overcrowded place, they have no place to study and they’re less likely to do well in school. They can’t find a job, and they’re living at home and that leads to depression. In the worst case scenario, that leads to suicide.”

Dyck wouldn’t comment on any possible recommendations that might appear in the committee’s final report, but said drawing on Inuit-owned lands might be an important factor in the future, as developable land in Nunavut is in short supply.

“You could have pockets of developments where it was owned by Inuit in conjunction with the Government of Nunavut,” Dyck said.

The possible economic activity created with those developments could in turn create more jobs for Inuit, Dyck believes.

“We do that in Saskatchewan and it’s created a huge opportunity within the city of Saskatoon, for example,” she said.

The committee is scheduled to visit Igloolik, Kuujjuaq, Sanikiluaq and Nain during its tour.

Dyck remains optimistic that the report will put pressure on the federal government to address the issue.

“I think we stand a really good chance of it raising awareness because we are a Senate committee and the Senate committees are generally very high caliber. We do ask the minister for a response, so then we actually have a lever to use, so it doesn’t just sit,” she said.

Carolyn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, already spoke with the committee and awaits its findings, Patterson confirmed.

“We told her about the report, told her about our plans. She expressed great interest in learning more about it and meeting regularly about it,” he said.

The committee’s final report is expected to be tabled in the Senate this fall.

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