There’s no way Canada can even begin to address issues facing Inuit until it adequately funds housing in Nunavut, says NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq.
The first-time MP, whose election platform centred on Nunavut’s housing crisis, is currently touring communities in the territory to collect photos and stories from residents about their living conditions.
She says she’s met people living in overcrowded homes that are falling apart and reek of mould, and heard stories about homes that get so cold that the beds freeze to the wall.
“Violence, abuse, deaths, mental health — I don’t think that we can start addressing those things until there is adequate housing and people are not living in overcrowded homes and mouldy homes,” Qaqqaq told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.
“We’re talking about a basic human right, and we need to start from there.”
As of October 2019, around 5,000 people in Nunavut were waiting for public housing, and about half of Nunavut’s 38,000 residents lived in overcrowded homes.
In August 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Iqaluit to announce $290 million over eight years to build housing in the territory.
However, the announcement was a re-hashing of two previous funding commitments — $240 million earmarked in 2017 for a national housing strategy, and another $50 million from the Canada-wide Investing in Affordable Housing initiative. The most recent budget contained no new money for housing.
“The amount of maintenance that is needed throughout the territory, the homes that already are totally mould-infested that need repairs, it’s not even enough to keep up with what is currently here. And we already know that housing is a dire need,” Qaqqaq said.
As It Happens has reached out to Employment and Social Development Canada for comment.
Ceilings, windows & a furnace room in Kugaaruk. People deserve homes that are sustainable & SAFE. Communities struggle to keep up with the demand, there isn’t enough $$ or access to materials is extremely limited. The fed govt is restricting Inuit from living in healthy homes pic.twitter.com/PZgps3SHnU
Qaqqaq has toured parts of the Kitikmeot and Kivalliq regions of Nunavut in the hopes of bringing greater attention to the housing crisis. She spoke to As It Happens on Wednesday from Rankin Inlet, and next plans to visit Baker Lake before heading to Ottawa next week.
“I’ve been describing it as mould boxes, basically. Some homes, before you even enter, you can smell the mould,” she said.
“I’m sitting in homes for 10, 15 minutes and I can feel it. I’m starting to get sneezy, I’m starting to feel stuffy. Imagine people that are living in those situations.”
What those reports do not show you is the experiences of parents having children taken away from them because their home is deemed unfit and they have nowhere else to go.– Mumilaaq Qaqqaq
While those images may seem shocking to some, Qaqqaq says they’re nothing new,.
“The entirety of the history of the relationship between Inuit and the federal government has never been good. We have never, ever in that relationship seen adequate housing, livable costs or year-round clean drinking water,” she said.
“It’s not by choice that Inuit went to residential school, had forced relocation, had their dogs slaughtered. The colonial history has been so impactful, and it’s still very much in your face. And the federal government does less than the bare minimum to address the concern.”
Children taken away, victims trapped with abusers
The housing crisis has been well-studied by successive governments, Qaqqaq said. But, she argued, it’s hard to see the full scope of the issue from statistics alone.
“What those reports do not show you, though, is the experiences of parents having children taken away from them because their home is deemed unfit and they have nowhere else to go,” she said.
“In my mind, that’s a modern version of colonization. Taking our kids away from us because you’re giving us homes that don’t meet basic human rights?”
She says she has met women who live with abusive family members and have no choice but to remain in harm’s way because there’s nowhere else to go.
“Reports don’t capture things like that. Reports don’t capture the experiences of a child finding another sibling who had just died by suicide and not knowing what to do in that moment, and trashing the house,” she said.
“This is not just about housing. It’s about all the inequity that ties with it.”
Qaqqaq plans to wrap up her tour by next week and bring her findings back to Ottawa, where she will strategize with her fellow party members and push the federal government to include more funding for Nunavut housing its upcoming budget.
But in the meantime, she invites the Liberal government to follow in her footsteps and visit people on the ground in Nunavut to see their housing conditions first-hand — and not just during an election campaign.
“During the  federal election … Liberal officials were up here seven times. Well, where were they for the four years before that?” she said.
“Trudeau is really good at saying pretty words, but I don’t trust anything he says because we don’t see any action. If he really did care about reconciliation, if he did really care about Inuit, we would see action.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC North. Interview produced by Katie Geleff.