A housing crisis is in full swing everywhere, especially in our communities where there’s always been housing issues. The birth rate up North is much higher than Quebec’s and housing departments don’t have the resources or the latitude necessary to keep up with our fast-growing communities. On top of that, many of our existing units need renovations or to be rebuilt entirely.
Dealing with the housing crisis out of community is a challenge, dealing with it when you live in the community is an entirely different problem, thanks to the band system which was imposed on us through the Indian Act.
In urban centres, you have rights and resources as a tenant; there are housing courts, laws and policies, and building regulations to help you access your right to housing and to hold your landlord accountable if necessary. Obviously, they are not perfect, and they are changing over time, but at least it gives you a certain framework to deal with housing matters.
For instance, if you have black mould in your unit and it stems from building conditions, your landlord cannot make you pay for renovations, and they cannot ignore it for health and safety reasons. If they don’t deal with it, you can take them to court. Also, Hydro-Québec cannot disconnect your electricity service during winter out of human rights concerns.
But those resources don’t apply under band management, so we don’t have many options when we face housing issues in units that belong to the band. All we can do is to advocate for ourselves through letters addressed to the housing committee that will then be reviewed without our presence.
Before the holidays, I was sent an e-mail stating I had 30 days to move out because the department wants to give my unit to someone else. I pay rent, I take good care of my unit, so why should I move out? The reason I was given is that the relative I used to live with moved out and the department doesn’t want to transfer the unit to my name for obscure reasons.
I live with other relatives in a two-bedroom unit, because the housing crisis is tough on everyone. It is not a CSB or CBHSSJB unit, so it doesn’t have anything to do with my job. I already started the procedures through the Home Ownership Program last year and building a house in this awful economy is the only viable option I have if I want to stay in my community for the near future.
My question is: what tools can the Cree Nation give itself to prevent human rights violations in housing matters? Of course, Canada placed Indigenous people in a system where it’s remotely impossible to have such mechanisms.
But since we are a self-governed nation under a modern treaty, I wonder what can be done. Could it be a permanent human rights commission? Better guidelines adopted at the local level? It is time to reflect on it, because dealing with the housing crisis under a colonial framework doesn’t work and it continues to cause harm.