First Nations homes, ownership law need major repairs


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According to the spring budget, the federal Liberals have gone all in on housing.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/04/2022 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

According to the spring budget, the federal Liberals have gone all in on housing.

One-third of all new spending, or just over $10 billion, is directed at helping Canadians own a home.

“Owning a home is out of reach for many Canadians,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced during the budget unveiling Thursday, promising “to make the market fairer.”

To rectify this, the government is imposing a two-year moratorium on foreign-owned recreational properties, creating a new fund to support first-time homebuyers, and supporting municipalities to create over 100,000 new housing units over the next five years.

The federal focus on housing makes sense.

The average price of a home in Canada is now $816,720, double the amount since 2015 when the Liberals took office and quadrupled in some areas like Vancouver. Anyone who tried to purchase a home during the pandemic knows what I mean.

On top of this, interest rates are skyrocketing and the cost of living is increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

More bad news is yet to come. This week experts predicted the Bank of Canada’s interest rate will be raised two more times after it was raised last month in an effort to slow down inflation.

This has all created a situation the Liberals are trying to address because it is increasingly becoming impossible for Canadians to buy — or even renovate or build — a home.

Oh, by the way Canada, welcome to First Nations life.

An overlooked fact of the spring budget is a commitment of $4.3 billion for Indigenous housing, with just over half ($2.4 billion) going to building homes on First Nations.

This seems like a lot, until you look at the numbers.

Owning a home is a privilege many Indigenous peoples have no access to.

The obvious reasons are means and opportunity. Poverty is rampant in virtually every Indigenous community and there are few jobs or economical paths to owning a home.

Some may not know, though, that land on First Nations can’t be purchased or owned. According to Canadian law and the Indian Act, First Nations lands are held “in trust” by the federal government so a principle most Canadians take for granted — owning land — is impossible for anyone living on reserve.

Land ownership is also something antithetical to Indigenous traditions. How can you own the bears, the lake and a mountain if these are your relations?

Still, Canada is a mono-cultural place where if you don’t fit in the box you are punished.

Not owning land means being cut off from one of the most important paths to home ownership: credit. An inability to own property also inhibits business creation, investment and jobs — creating a situation of imposed unemployment where welfare is the only option.

Owning a home isn’t just out of reach for many First Nations peoples, it’s not even in the cards. The market is intentionally built against Indigenous ownership of land and, thus, homes.

Remarkably, some Indigenous peoples are able to find enough money to own a home anyway. To accommodate this, many First Nations “lease” land to citizens (sometimes even to non-Indigenous peoples) so a trailer, modular home, or cottage can be placed upon it.

The legislative control of the land is still held by the federal government, though. For the rest of a First Nations community who can’t afford a structure, they are left to the work of a chief and council, who build, run and administer homes owned by the First Nation.

Chronically underfunded for decades and in communities with high population growth, First Nations governments can never keep up to the demand for homes for their citizens. Understandably, this means First Nations leaders, like any government would do, try to find ways to build as many homes for as little money as possible.

This is where overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and decrepit housing conditions enter.

According to census data, the average number of people who live in a house on a First Nation is 3.7, over a person more than the overall Canadian average of 2.5.

In fact, over one-quarter of all people on reserve live in crowded homes — seven times more than the Canadian average.

In First Nations throughout the country, unsanitary housing conditions lead to thousands of chronic health, sickness like asthma and outbreaks of tuberculosis.

Nearly half of all homes on First Nations are in need of “major repairs” — compared to only seven per cent of all Canadian homes.

According to the Assembly of First Nations, an estimated $44 billion is needed to bring housing on First Nations to a standard all Canadians enjoy.

While $4.3 billion is a good start, it’s just 10 per cent of what is needed.

Banning foreign ownership, supporting home ownership, and building 100,000 housing units on First Nations is probably a better idea, but I’m not sure Canada would be up for that.

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.


Updated on Saturday, April 9, 2022 9:23 AM CDT: Minor copy edit

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