Inuit Housing Crisis in Canada: A Legacy of Colonialism, Says Federal Housing Advocate

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Housing in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, in October 2022. (David Gunn/CBC)

In a revealing report, federal housing advocate Marie-Josee Houle has accused every level of government in Canada of failing the Inuit people‘s right to housing, underscoring the severe human rights implications.

Dire Housing Conditions as Colonialism’s Legacy

According to CTV News, Houle’s report states, “The housing conditions that the Inuit inhabit are the direct result of colonialism and a staggering failure by successive federal, provincial, and territorial governments over many decades.” Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Houle added, “The level of distress cannot be understated, nor can the toll that being unhoused or precariously housed has on one’s physical, mental, and emotional health.”

The Inuit community of Rigolet on the northern coast of Labrador as seen in front of Hamilton Inlet. Photograph: Darren Calabrese

Research and Observations in Northern Communitiegs

Houle’s findings are based on her travels to northern communities, including Nunavut and Nunatsiavut in Labrador, in October of last year. She was invited by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national organization representing Inuit in Canada, to conduct her research. Her observations paint a grim reality of life for the Inuit in the North, with instances of people burning parts of their homes for warmth or resorting to sleeping in cars or tents.

Alarming Statistics and Lack of Resources

The report sheds light on staggering statistics: Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador, for instance, has a homelessness rate four times higher than Toronto or Vancouver. More than half of the Inuit population in traditional territories live in overcrowded housing, with nearly a third in homes needing major repairs. In Nunatsiavut, 78% of the population cannot access home insurance, exacerbating the housing crisis.

Canada’s federal housing advocate is shedding a light on what she says is the failure of every level of government to uphold the right to housing for Inuit, and in turn, denying their human rights.Houses are seen Saturday, April 25, 2015 in Iqaluit, Nunavut. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)

High Costs and Inadequate Facilities

The cost of heating is prohibitively high, with expenses reaching up to $57 per day in Nunatsiavut and $500 per week in Rankin Inlet. Furthermore, Houle found that inadequate water, sanitation, and heating facilities have led to environments conducive to harmful mould growth.

New Housing Developments Stalled

Houle’s report points out the lack of new housing developments in many northern communities. For example, Pangnirtung, with a population of 1,500, hasn’t seen new construction in a decade, and in Rankin Inlet, only 15 housing units were built in 2022, with 20 planned for 2023.

Children play at dusk in the Inuit community of Labrador. Photograph: Darren Calabrese

Mental Health and Children at Risk

The lack of stable housing is severely impacting those in need of mental health and addiction support. It also puts Inuit women in Nunatsiavut at risk of having their children seized by the state. Overcrowding in Inuit housing has been linked to the spread of tuberculosis and other viruses, with rates more than 300 times higher than that of non-Indigenous Canadians between 2015 and 2018.

Call for Government Action

Houle’s report includes several recommendations, notably transferring jurisdiction over Inuit housing programs to Inuit governments and recognizing housing as a human right. NDP MP Lori Idlout, representing Nunavut, told CTV News, “We’re not being heard loud enough.” Idlout hopes the report will reignite the conversation about this increasingly dire issue.