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‘No one is really taking care of us’: Little progress made on improving Inuit housing

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YELLOWKNIFE — Meeka Atagootak says the house in Pond Inlet on Nunavut’s Baffin Island that she shares with her children and grandchildren is “unlivable” 12 years after a water truck hit and damaged it.

The elder says she has had to deal with flooding, rusty pipes, mould and a deteriorating foundation, which have led to frequent health problems.

Getting help has been slow, she says.

“It’s been a struggle when no one is really taking care of us,” she recently said in Inuktitut before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

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Atagootak said she had trouble getting federal support because she owns her home, and her insurance doesn’t address northern needs. By the time repair supplies arrived by sealift, she said, they were no longer adequate because problems with her home had worsened.

Atagootak is one of the thousands of Inuit facing housing issues in Inuit Nunangat — the Inuit homeland in Canada comprising communities in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec and Labrador.

A recent report from Statistics Canada indicates the housing crisis there has improved little over the past five years and, in some cases, has worsened.

Data from the 2021 census show almost a third of the nearly 49,000 Inuit who calls Inuit Nunangat home were living in dwellings in need of major repairs, an increase of 1.2 percent since 2016. Overall, about 53 per cent of Inuit in Inuit Nunangat were living in crowded housing in 2021, a decrease of 1.2 per cent from five years prior.

Inuit have faced housing challenges since the federal government established the first permanent settlements in the North in the 1950s. Issues like overcrowding and black mould have been documented in many homes in recent years.

A 2017 report from the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples detailed the severity of the housing crisis in Inuit Nunangat and called on the federal government to provide stable, long-term funding, among other measures.

In March 2021, then Nunavut NDP member of Parliament Mumulaaq Qaqqaq released a report documenting “inhumane” housing conditions in several communities, including holes in walls, sewage problems and crumbling floors.

Qaqqaq said the fault “lies squarely with the federal government,” as the Nunavut Housing Corporation is underfunded.

“My people need help. They need that help now. Promises don’t get rid of mould. Words don’t fix windows and doors. Empathy doesn’t fix leaking pipes,” she wrote.

Living in poor housing conditions has been linked to the spread of disease, chronic illness, poor mental health and family violence, and can contribute to poor socio-economic outcomes. A 2019 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found it to be a factor in the disproportionately high rates of tuberculosis among Inuit.

Housing issues in Northern Canada are made worse by the cold and changing climate, a lack of transportation infrastructure, a short construction season and high costs.

In a 2022 pre-budget submission, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an organization representing Inuit in Canada, said it would take more than $3 billion over the next decade to construct needed new housing and maintain and repair existing homes in Inuit Nunangat.

The 2022 federal budget promised $150 million between 2022 and 2024 to support affordable housing and related infrastructure in the North, including $60 million each to N.W.T. and Nunavut. It also included $845 million over seven years for housing in Inuit communities and plans to co-develop and launch a northern, urban and rural Indigenous housing strategy.

The federal government said that since 2018, Inuit regions have built 120 units with funding through the Inuit Nunangat Housing Strategy. Since the end of 2021, it said, a total of $173.8 million had been invested in creating or repairing 873 housing units in Inuit Nunangat through the National Housing Strategy.

“We recognize there is still work ahead, which is why we are committed to working hand-in-hand with Indigenous partners to ensure everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home,” a spokesperson for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation wrote in an email.

Housing NWT said since it partnered with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in 2018, 34 new public housing units have been constructed in the Inuvialuit region. And over the past three years, it completed major repairs and renovations to 56 units. The housing authority and Inuvialuit Regional Corporation are currently working on a housing strategy.

In its mandate released in March, the Nunavut government committed to develop at least 1,000 housing units. A 2020 territorial report estimated 3,545 households were in need of housing.

The 2020-2021 annual report from the Nunavut Housing Corporation says construction on 20 public housing units and 12 staff housing units were completed that fiscal year. Several construction projects, including housing, have since been cancelled due to rising costs.

In an email, it added that it has spent more than $26 million to deal with mould in public housing since 2016, and it added $7 million to manage mould in its 2022-23 budget.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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As nature talks unfold, here’s what ’30 by 30′ conservation could mean in Canada

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal Wednesday when asked if Canada was going to meet its goal to protect one-quarter of all Canadian land and oceans by 2025.

“I am happy to say that we are going to meet our ’25 by 25′ target,” Trudeau said during a small roundtable interview with journalists on the sidelines of the nature talks taking place in Montreal.

That goal, which would already mean protecting 1.2 million more square kilometres of land, is just the interim stop on the way to conserving 30 per cent by 2030 — the marquee target Canada is pushing for during the COP15 biodiversity conference.

But what does the conservation of land or waterways actually mean?

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“When we talk about protecting land and water, we’re talking about looking at a whole package of actions across broader landscapes,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, head of forest and lands at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The group’s definition of “protected area,” which is used by the UN convention on biodiversity, refers to a “clearly defined geographical space” that is managed by laws or regulations with the goal of the long-term protection of nature.

“It can range from areas with very strict protections to areas that are being protected or conserved,” said Saint-Laurent.

“We have to look at that entire suite of protective and restorative action in order to not only save nature, but to do so in a way that is going to help our societies. There is not one magical formula, and context is everything.”

The organization, which keeps its own global “green list” of conserved areas, lists 17 criteria for how areas can fit the definition.

Most of the criteria are centred on how the sites are managed and protected. One allows for resource extraction, hunting, recreation and tourism as long as these are both compatible with and supportive of the conservation goals outlined for the area.

In many cases, industrial activities and resource extraction are not allowed in protected areas. But that’s not always true in Canada, particularly when it involves the rights of Indigenous Peoples on their traditional territory.

In some provincial parks, mining and logging are allowed. In Ontario’s Algonquin Park, for example, logging is permitted in about two-thirds of the park area.

Canada has nearly 10 million square kilometres of terrestrial land, including inland freshwater lakes and rivers, and about 5.8 million square kilometres of marine territory.

As of December 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 per cent of land and almost 14 per cent of marine territory. The government did it through a combination of national and provincial parks and reserves, wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine conservation areas, marine protected areas and what are referred to as “other effective areas-based conservation measures.”

These can include private lands that have a management plan to protect and conserve habitats, or public or private lands where conservation isn’t the primary focus but still ends up happening.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo, in Manitoba, includes about 211 square kilometres of natural habitats maintained under an environmental protection plan run by the Department of National Defence.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization that raises funds to buy plots of land from private owners with a view to long-term conservation.

Mike Hendren, its Ontario regional vice-president, said that on such lands, management plans can include everything from nature trails to hunting — but always with conservation as the priority.

To hit “25 by 25,” Canada must further protect more than 1.2 million square kilometres of land, or approximately the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan added together. To get to 30 per cent is to add, on top of that, land almost equivalent in size to Alberta.

The federal government would need to protect another 638,000 square kilometres of marine territory and coastlines by 2025, or an area almost three times the size of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By 2030, another area the size of the gulf would need to be added.

Trudeau said that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, hard and fast rules about what can and can’t happen in protected areas don’t make sense.

He said there should be distinctions between areas that can’t have any activity and places where you can mine, log or hunt, as long as it is done with conservation in mind.

“There’s ability to have sort of management plans that are informed by everyone, informed by science, informed by various communities, that say, ‘yes, we’re going to protect this area and that means, no, there’s not going to be unlimited irresponsible mining going to happen,'” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain projects in certain places that could be the right kind of thing, or the right thing to move forward on.”

The draft text of the biodiversity framework being negotiated at COP15 is not yet clear on what kind of land and marine areas would qualify or what conservation of them would specifically mean.

It currently proposes that a substantial portion of the conserved land would need to be “strictly protected” but some areas could respect the right to economic development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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UN Mideast refugee chief says Western funding shortfall may abandon hosting countries

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The United Nations refugee chief for the Middle East says countries hosting asylum seekers need more funding, or they’ll feel abandoned by the global community.

Ayman Gharaibeh (ay-MAHN guh-RYE-bah) says countries are pulling back their funding to help places like Lebanon and Jordan host refugees from Syria, and the lack of funds could prevent kids from being educated.

Gharaibeh says Canada is one of the few countries that isn’t pulling back funding, and he hopes Ottawa will encourage its allies to stop lowering their support.

He says the U-N is already struggling to support refugees due to inflation, a drop in donors and new conflicts that have displaced people from Ukraine and Ethiopia.

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Meanwhile, his region has only received eight per cent of the funding it has requested for winter gear, such as fuel and children’s clothing — compared to fifty-eight per cent by this time last year.

Gharaibeh says countries that are left to fend with these costs might stop co-operating in international agreements, which could cause more chaos in refugee flows.

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Advocate asks AFN chiefs to ensure $40B settlement deal leaves no child behind

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A First Nations child welfare advocate on Wednesday implored chiefs to ensure “no child is left behind” in a landmark $40-billion settlement agreement with the federal government.

Cindy Blackstock delivered the message to an Assembly of First Nations gathering in Ottawa, after being invited to take the stage by Cindy Woodhouse, regional chief in Manitoba who helped negotiate the agreement, which had been thrown into question since being rejected by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

The AFN, representing more than 600 First Nations across the country, had asked the tribunal to approve the settlement deal, which would see the government spend $20 billion to compensate families and children for systemic discrimination in the Indigenous child welfare system. It would also spend another $20 billion on making long-term reforms.

Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Caring Society who first lodged the complaint at the heart of the issue, raised concerns that the agreement wouldn’t provide $40,000 in compensation to all eligible claimants, which is the amount the tribunal ruled they should get.

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“We can make sure that in our First Nations canoe of justice, no child has to see their money go away and no child is left behind in justice,” she said Wednesday.

“We are capable of that.”

Following the tribunal’s decision in October, the federal government filed for a judicial review of some parts of its decision.

Endorsing the settlement agreement loomed as one of the biggest items on the assembly’s agenda, with chiefs being asked to vote on what the organization should do next.

The chiefs had been preparing to vote on conflicting resolutions, with one asking them to support the final settlement agreement, while another sought to see the organization not appeal the tribunal decision and renegotiate the deal.

But on Wednesday, further talks between both sides took place, assisted by former senator and judge Murray Sinclair, who helped the AFN, federal government and lawyers for two related class-action lawsuits reach the $40-billion agreement in the first place, which was formally announced in January.

Chiefs ultimately voted late Wednesday against re-entering negotiations but to instead support compensation for victims outlined in the agreement and “those already legally entitled to the $40,000 plus interest under the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal compensation orders.”

It also included a provision that AFN leaders must regularly return to chiefs to provide it with progress updates and “seek direction” from chiefs on implementing the final agreement.

Many chiefs thanked Blackstock, who was greeted with applause after further agreement was met and said she was honoured to see people come together for children harmed by Ottawa’s discrimination.

“We have had too many apologies, we’ve had too many compensation deals, we’ve had too many kids hurt. And this has got to be it,” she said.

She added more discussion on the long-term reform part of the deal would be presented to chiefs on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the assembly heard from sisters Melissa Walterson and Karen Osachoff, plaintiffs on the case, about the impact the foster care system had on their lives.

Osachoff said she had been in the child welfare system since she was born and didn’t have a chance to grow up with her sister.

“Had it not been for the ’60s Scoop and the child welfare (system), her and I would have grown up together.”

She said she understands why the tribunal characterizes those like her as “victims,” but told chiefs to instead think of them as survivors.

“I am not a victim and our claimants are not victims.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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