Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit September 11, 2018 - 2:29 pm

In Nunavut, housing promises never kept: MMIWG hearings

“Why is the progress so slow, with respect to the undisputed need of many, many more housing units?”

BETH BROWN
From the 1950s until the ‘70s, Inuit families would crowd into tiny wood-frame houses during the winter months, QIA’s Hagar Idlout-Sudlovenick said during a panel discussion held in Iqaluit on Sept. 11 by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Many families never got the homes promised by the federal government, she said. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
From the 1950s until the ‘70s, Inuit families would crowd into tiny wood-frame houses during the winter months, QIA’s Hagar Idlout-Sudlovenick said during a panel discussion held in Iqaluit on Sept. 11 by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Many families never got the homes promised by the federal government, she said. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Beth Symes, a lawyer representing Pauktuutit, said the Canadian government never made good on its promise to provide northern housing. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Beth Symes, a lawyer representing Pauktuutit, said the Canadian government never made good on its promise to provide northern housing. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

In the early 1950s, Qikiqtani Inuit largely lived in seasonal camps or in clusters of families. Over the following 25 years, though, many of those Inuit would come to live in 13 communities set up by the federal government.

Some went willingly, while others were forced, coerced or led on by promises of education, better health care and low-cost housing.

And this history helped create the Baffin region’s ongoing housing crisis, said Beth Symes, a lawyer representing Pauktuutit, who cross-examined witnesses in a public hearing by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Iqaluit on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

“The promise of housing was told by many different people. No one has ever denied that the promise was made by Canada,” said Symes, in reference to testimonies and reports given to the commission as evidence by witnesses, including the findings of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission.

On Monday, the first morning of Iqaluit’s hearings, lawyers began cross-examining expert witnesses who gave testimonies during a panel session titled “Inuit Perspectives.”

There will be three such panels during this week’s hearings, which focus on the impacts of colonial violence.

“Inuit left behind important things in their life, either because they thought they would be going back or that they wouldn’t need it because everything would be supplied in the new settlement,” said Symes.

“Is it fair to say that for some of those families there was absolutely no housing available for them in the new community?”

The answer from all witnesses: yes.

“When they first started moving people there was very little or almost none for some families,” said witness Hagar Idlout-Sudlovenick, who is a director of social development for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

Many families would share homes in the winter and live in tents in the summer.

Those homes “were as small as matchboxes. They had no plumbing or electricity, it was very basic shelter,” she said.

Some Inuit were relocated by the Canadian government far away from their traditional homes. The government’s motivations for these relocations included “asserting sovereignty in the High Arctic, establishing presence on the land,” said Symes.

At the same time as relocations were happening in Nunavut, the American military was also working in the Canadian Arctic to operate DEW Line sites.

“The construction of these matchbox houses was not suitable for the Arctic. They deteriorated rapidly,” Symes said. “Americans publicly said that Canada had created slums for Inuit.”

Bringing her narrative back to modern day, Symes asked witnesses for the inquiry’s record what impacts inadequate housing have had on Inuit. She asked whether overcrowding hampers the education of children, whether poor housing is a risk factor for family violence, and whether homelessness damages a person’s mental health.

“Where is Canada’s obligation with respect to housing today?” she asked. “Why is the progress so slow, with respect to the undisputed need of many, many more housing units?”

Idlout-Sudlovenick, who has worked in housing support for 10 years, said the struggle is largely financial.

“I would say it was mainly to do with money … building houses is very costly in the isolated communities. There is some progress, but it is going to take time,” she said.

Idlout-Sudlovenick told the commission it’s important to remember that many people in Nunavut rely on public housing.

“The employment rate is very low,” she said, adding that home ownership is a different discussion.

“Many communities in Nunavut do not have banks in their communities,” she said. “You can’t just go down the street and apply for a mortgage.”

This is the second meeting held by the inquiry in Nunavut, after a community hearing was held in Rankin Inlet in February. That hearing heard heart-wrenching stories of sexual violence and abuse.

This week’s hearings are different. Instead of families and survivors, the commission will hear from experts, elders and community leaders. The commission plans to release a report in April of next year.

Email this story to a friend... Print this page... Bookmark and Share Comment on this story...

(18) Comments:

#1. Posted by Counter Clockwise on September 11, 2018

“Where is Canada’s obligation with respect to housing today?”

What obligation does Canada have to house anyone in Nunavut?

Population growth in Nunavut is the highest in the country, the expectation that all should be granted housing seems naïve, no where else in Canada is this expected of government. Why here?

Can anyone agree the notion represents something that is completely unsustainable.

#2. Posted by reader on September 11, 2018

Priorities are given to immigrants. Housing(s), jobs, beneficiaries, schooling and i wonder how many other things i missed. Natives, the 1st canadians, lastly thought of or never given into thought. How sad or how promising country.

#3. Posted by Soothsayer on September 11, 2018

#2 Your comment is just a string of cheap and thoughtless stereotypes with little basis in reality.

Let’s see the evidence for what you say.

1..2..3.. go!

#4. Posted by government two edge sword on September 11, 2018

#1 Presently, the government of Canada is obliged to give housing, food, clothing, and any needs to the thousands of new comers to Canada soil, and new comers expect the handouts to live a better life.  The difference is, the government has taken from Inuit in Arctic Canada, from the people who have been on this soil for thousands of years, and the government has expected Inuit to accept the conditions.

#5. Posted by General Mills on September 11, 2018

Beth Symes and Pauktuutit are cynically recycling myths.

#6. Posted by johnny mannining on September 12, 2018

There was a promise rent would never hike beyond $2.00 - two dollars from the government when they introduced one door death trap houses (Far cry from flameproof igloo)

#7. Posted by Pullman, Iqaluit on September 12, 2018

I really thought this inquiry was about missing or murdered women?
  The problem is with community housing associations not doing their
job properly.
They should be allocating houses fairly, and collecting rents on time.
Every one has known this for years.
#6,
I had matchbox for almost 4 years. It cost me $50 each month, and
I loved that little house, and I built lots of strong shelves in it.
The next people who got that house used the shelves as beds. Good
for them.

#8. Posted by The truth, the whole truth, Fredricton. on September 12, 2018

There has to be truth to every inquiry, or it is pointless.
You report native complaints, but not those of people who once lived
in the North.
When I contacted MMIWG about a year ago, and told them about the
incest my Inuit sister in law had suffered when she was 9 years old,
they got back to me and said it was irrelevant.
What the heck is going on ?

#9. Posted by True North on September 12, 2018

To #7, this is an inquiry into MMIWG in name only. It is in fact an opportunity to complain about every wrong, real or imagined, that is within living memory. Of course, the demands for compensation will follow.
And are we really expected to hear about the imagined slaughter of sled dogs all over again?

#10. Posted by Hammer & Sickle on September 13, 2018

#4 I know a family who migrated to Canada from Bosnia in the 90s. They were given temporary shelter and a loan to start a new life, the loan had to be paid back (in fact the government threatened them for not meeting their repayment obligations fast enough).

I’m not sure what the arrangements are today, but no refugee or immigrant is given permanent housing on arrival to Canada. What they do get should be considered an investment however, these are very often become the most productive members of our society.

#11. Posted by HOUSEWANT Cambridge Bay on September 13, 2018

We should not be funding BS inquiries like MMIWG.
The money should be used for housing for needy people.
I have known for many years we need housing for the people in
Nunavut.
Surely the GN knows this without getting an inquiry that only benefits
the same old sponging freeloaders.
Hesus Hesus.

#12. Posted by First Contact on September 13, 2018

Those that are commenting on the irrelevancy. Take time to watch First Contact on APTN, the first episode aired on Tuesday, again last night and again tonight. Perhaps this will clear up some of your opinions and views.

To #10: First Nations and Inuit were the first to occupy what is now known as Canada. Those who are not First Nations, Metis or Inuit are all migrants to this country. It doesn’t matter if your family has been here for generations upon generations, the fact of the matter is, the land was stolen and the government made promises they never kept. Inuit in Nunavut particularly, were just settled into communities as late as the 1970s.
Educate yourselves before you embarrass yourself with your lack of cultural and historical understanding. I pity those irgnorance for never being taught or have the sensitivity to learn true Canada.

Taaima.

#13. Posted by sade on September 13, 2018

People living in social housing do not take care of them.
I am sick of seeing busted windows, boarded up windows etc.
Why not take care of what you have, until you can move up to a better one?
This Housing Association system sucks too.
People cannot fix their own places, yet have the talent to do so.
People can’t paint their houses either.  Why can’t they?
If you want to encourage responsibility, then give some to the people who rent social housing units.

#14. Posted by We all are migrants on September 13, 2018

All people in the world today originated in the Rift Valley of Africa about
40,000 years ago,( The garden of Eden ).
GOD commanded people to be fruitful and multiply all over the Earth!!!
  We are all immigrants doing Gods work.
BLESS US ALL.

#15. Posted by AWOL on September 13, 2018

# 12 No need to pity me. I understand that my ancestors were migrants to this land. If you are honest with yourself you will acknowledge that yours were also. Though, I don’t think that’s the point anyway.

I’m curious though, what is it in that line of argumentation that you find compelling with regards to being housed by the Canadian government?

You say the land was stolen. I say it was colonized. Sadly, your ancestors were overpowered and defeated as countless peoples, including my own were at some point in their history.

This is a sad feature of human settlement across the globe. Our ‘liberal’ sensibilities were not developed at that point, and neither were yours.

So, what do you expect should result from this today? Do you believe that housing should be provided to all Inuit ad infinitum for this?

#16. Posted by Corbie, Iqaluit. on September 13, 2018

#15,
A very good comment, especially about all our ancestors getting their
asses kicked, and brutally taken over by a stronger aggressive power.
‘‘Tis the way of the world.
If we are going to compensate people, then everyone who has been
colonized should be given fair compensation. Why not?

#17. Posted by Cock Robin, Iqaluit on September 13, 2018

# 16,
What a great idea, everyone who was ever colonized should be all
compensated, regardless of where they come from. The UN could
handle it and be fair to everyone.
I heard that in one country, people wanted compensation for slavery,
but other people wanted compensation for fighting a war to free them
from slavery.
Fun and games?

#18. Posted by Sparrow, Cambridge Bay. on September 14, 2018

# 17,
Quite right, Cock. Fun &a Games is the answer.
All those organizations after money to help the ” people “.
However the ” people ” never get anything, apart from the big shots
in control.
Look at MMIWG , for example. 50 Million Dollars for tea and bannock
meetings?
We have a very stupid or a very shrewd government.

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?