Across Canada, Indigenous people face long-standing challenges to accessing safe and affordable housing. Indigenous people are experiencing a housing crisis, which is in effect a human rights crisis. It is important to recognize the colonial policies and systems that perpetuate dispossession and violence, leading to homelessness and inadequate housing.
Since the Federal Housing Advocate’s appointment in February 2022, she has made it her priority to engage with Indigenous peoples directly in order to respect self-determination and deepen collaboration and partnership. One of the key components of a human rights-based approach and of the mandate of the Federal Housing Advocate is meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples in all aspects of policy and advocacy.
A year of meaningful engagement
Over the course of the past year, the Advocate’s engagement with Indigenous people and groups has allowed her the honour to bear witness and hear first-hand about the housing experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, including those in remote, urban and rural areas.
The Advocate made it her priority to meet with leaders from National Indigenous Organizations, Indigenous-led organizations and Indigenous communities to identify long-term and sustainable housing solutions. Throughout the year, the Federal Housing Advocate met with more than 25 First Nations, Metis and Inuit organizations to build relationships and discuss ways that we can work together.
Throughout this year of close talks and meaningful dialogues, the Advocate endeavoured to create an impartial and balanced approach to engagement, which is focused on promoting and ensuring participation of Indigenous peoples and their expertise and recognizing people with lived experience of housing need and homelessness as experts. Engaging with Indigenous peoples and communities must follow the standards enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including free, prior and informed consent. Any recommendations that may affect Indigenous peoples must be developed in collaboration with those communities and reflect their express consent and leadership.
The right to housing for Indigenous peoples includes rights related to lands, resources and territories, social and economic rights, rights related to non-discrimination and the importance of Indigenous peoples’ right to determine their own housing institutions, programs and policies. Throughout the Federal Housing Advocate’s yearlong engagement, she learned, she listened and she identified key items that will be integral to the way forward on this issue. Here are just a few:
- Dedicated funding to meet the housing needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, regardless of their residency.
- A revised National Housing Strategy that is more reflective of human rights and Indigenous rights.
- Full representation of Indigenous peoples at decision-making tables.
- Direct and sustained federal investments, including respecting the government-to-government fiscal relationship as opposed to the creation of a myriad of federal housing and homelessness programming.
- Effective inter-governmental collaboration, research and innovation, and statistics gathering.
- Meaningful input on how Advocate-led reviews and referrals to the National Housing Council for hearing panel can respect Indigenous self-government rights.
The Advocate recognizes that Indigenous governments and communities are showing great leadership in the area of housing and homelessness, however, the legacies of colonialism and systemic disadvantage mean that Indigenous peoples are disproportionately represented in people who experience homelessness and housing precarity.
The Federal Housing Advocate would like to see greater cooperation between governments and a stronger leadership role for the federal government. All levels of government have a role to play to address the housing crisis.