In response to the Canadian government’s 2022 budget plan, some Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan are calling for more funding for housing.
On Thursday, the federal government released this year’s federal budget plan, allocating spending amongst a number of different sectors.
The budget includes preparation to spend $4.3 billion to help improve Indigenous housing and other reconciliation efforts. However, Heather Bear, the fourth vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), says that’s not enough.
Prior to the budget’s release last week, FSIN released a statement calling for $15 billion from the federal government for First Nations housing, both in urban cities and in First Nation communities. Bear says this amount is just enough to simply cover the essentials.
“I can see the the devastation when it comes to housing, the shortage, the lack of renovations…the crisis is real,” Bear said. “This is something that really needs to be addressed and prioritized.”
Bear says this housing crisis is occurring in many Indigenous communities, which includes harsh living conditions such as poor water and sewage quality and overcrowding, where households of up to 15 to 20 people are forced to fit in a house meant for five.
Detailing an unforgettable moment, Bear describes a time she toured one northern Indigenous community. Packed in one very tiny home, she recalls 17 children lining up for one bathroom before school.
“You can’t even imagine those kinds of conditions in this day and age…if people could take a moment to really imagine if that was them and their family, I think maybe people would think different.”
Although she considers the funding a good start, Bear says even more is needed to fix what they already have, without even taking into consideration the need for additional housing. She says the treaty right to shelter has never fully been implemented.
“When you’re looking at housing and infrastructure, that goes hand in hand. But we can only imagine that, because we do need to fix what we have…We probably need to double on reserve what we have.”
Some concerns Bear hopes to see improve include better water systems, roads, power lines and long waitlists for houses.
On Monday, the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen addressed the issue during an announcement in Regina.
Hussen says he knows that more work needs to be done, but the government is making the necessary investments to close the gap in Indigenous housing.
“There’s the Rapid Housing Initiative, which 41 per cent of all those investments have gone into indigenous communities,” Hussen said.
“There’s distinctions based money that was allocated before budget 2022. But with this $4.3 billion investment…there’s a number of investments that are going to First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities, as well as urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy off reserve.”
Despite the difficulties that come with a limit in funding, Bear says communities are still staying strong, resilient and prideful for what they have.
For now, Bear says they will work with the funding given, but she hopes to reach their $15 billion goal as soon as possible.
“It’s got to change, it has to change,” Bear said. “This country has the money. Why is it so hard to fully implement the treaty right to shelter and health and education? Why is it so hard to help our own here in this country?”