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Poor Inuit housing 'direct result of colonialism': federal housing advocate

A scathing report from federal housing advocate Marie-Josée Houle accuses all levels of government in Canada of neglecting the housing rights of Inuit communities, attributing the dire conditions to historical colonialism and systemic failures over decades. Houle's report, released on Monday, contends that the housing crisis in Inuit regions is a direct consequence of a staggering failure by successive federal, provincial, and territorial governments.

The human right to housing, recognized by Parliament in 2019 through the National Housing Strategy Act, is at the core of the accusations. For Inuit, this right encompasses security of tenure, basic services, affordability, and culturally appropriate dwellings. Houle's report highlights the severe distress caused by inadequate housing, impacting the physical, mental, and emotional health of Inuit individuals.

Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., stressed that the findings aren't new for Inuit communities, but she hopes this report prompts Canadians to confront the stark realities. Inuit face challenges like inadequate housing affecting education, health, and even contributing to alarming rates of suicide among the youth. Kotierk emphasized the potential for Inuit to thrive if adequately supported, underscoring the societal contributions that could result.

Houle's research involved visiting northern communities in Nunavut and Nunatsiavut, where discussions with community members revealed a distressing picture. Instances of burning parts of houses for warmth, people resorting to sleeping in cars or tents, and homelessness rates in places like Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., four times higher than major urban centers like Toronto and Vancouver, underscore the severity of the housing crisis.

The census revealed that over half of Inuit in their traditional territories live in overcrowded housing, with nearly one-third in homes needing major repairs. Houle also highlighted issues with accessible and affordable mortgages, lack of home insurance, and challenges related to water, sanitation, and reliable access to heat or energy.

The report emphasizes that inadequate housing is particularly challenging for mental health and addictions support, with overcrowding leading to the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis. NDP MP Lori Idlout, representing Nunavut, expressed the hope that the report would reignite conversations about the dire situation. Idlout recounted a tragic story of a pregnant woman in Nunavut who chose suicide due to the bleak prospect of finding housing.

Houle's recommendations include transferring jurisdiction over Inuit housing programs to Inuit governments, recognizing housing as a human right, collaborating with Inuit regional organizations for addiction treatment plans, and allocating adequate funding for safe, adequate, and affordable housing. The report serves as a stark call to action, urging the federal government to address the systemic issues contributing to the housing crisis in Inuit communities and, ultimately, improve the well-being of Indigenous Peoples.



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