On this 20th anniversary, one wish for Nunavut: homes

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Twenty years ago, one fifth of Canada’s territory officially became known as Nunavut.

The historic land claims agreement changed the face of Canada – the result of years of tireless work and personal sacrifice by Inuit of the Kitikmeot, the Kivalliq and the Qikiqtaaluk regions, too many to list here.

Nunavut – our land – had and still has, at its core, as its central vision, thriving Inuit.

But that’s not the current reality.

There isn’t a single statistical report released by the federal government that places Nunavut Inuit on par with Canada-wide statistics when it comes to matters of physical and mental health, suicide, tuberculosis, domestic violence, substance abuse, elder abuse, child sex abuse, student absenteeism, to name a few.

What do all these statistics have in common? Housing. That fact is clearly and repeatedly stated in statistical analyses. Headline after headline, at Nunavut News and elsewhere, have consistently decried the reality of homelessness and overcrowding in the territory, as well as its destructive effects.

We wonder if federal decision-makers read these reports.

Nunavut needs 3,500 homes now, with a price tag of $1 to $1.5 billion.

To put that in context, the feds announced $40 billion for a federal housing strategy in late 2017.

Three thousand five hundred homes may not seem like a crisis for those who live in cities with populations in the millions, but in Nunavut the absence of those 3,500 homes means almost one third of the Inuit population is in need.

It’s worth noting that’s the same need Nunavut News reported on four years ago.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to Iqaluit last month to apologize for the treatment of Inuit during the tuberculosis epidemic – an important recognition to be sure – local press asked about funding dollars for housing. How can tuberculosis be eradicated in the territory if overcrowding, a principal cause for the disease’s spread, is not addressed? Trudeau referred to the $240 million over 10 years the federal government announced in 2017.

Then came the March 19 federal budget. Territorial leaders had reason to hope housing in Nunavut might receive more funding in the wake of Trudeau’s apology. But that evening, Finance Minister George Hickes, on the phone with Nunavut News, sounded even more deflated than Keith Peterson did in 2015.

A trauma and treatment centre does now seem likely, with the feds saying it would be “supporting the construction and ongoing operation of a treatment facility in Nunavut.”

But we wonder to what extent such a centre can accomplish its healing goals if the very conditions at the root of continued trauma and addictions are not rectified.

Nunavummiut need more homes, many more than 100 each year.

Sombre words and a tear on the cheek are not going to get them built.

Nunavut’s housing crunch is a national crisis that should concern every Canadian, including Trudeau.