The Assembly of First Nations’ National Housing and Infrastructure Forum and Tradeshow


Speaking Notes forthe Honourable , Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada


November 2, 2016Winnipeg, Manitoba

Check against delivery

Thank you, Merci, Meegwetch, Ekosi, Mahsi Cho.

I’d like to thank National Chief Perry Bellegarde for his welcome, and all partners for bringing us together today on Treaty 1 Territory.

It’s a great pleasure to be here.

It’s at meetings like this that  the seeds are planted for solutions.

And we all know that housing and infrastructure is an area where we need the solutions that communities have been calling for.

I’ve been looking forward to this Forum.

I believe we must truly move forward together with updated and innovative approaches to First Nations housing and infrastructure.

Investing in infrastructure is about investing in people and communities.

It’s about closing the unacceptable housing gap and improving the quality of life of Indigenous communities.

People need quality housing, safe drinking water, better schools and cultural spaces that bring them together as a community.

Yet for many Indigenous communities, transformational change is needed to ensure basic infrastructure needs are met.

Unfortunately, there are too many awful stories.

For instance, the fact that the R35 houses in our most northern communities were all bought in Florida doesn’t make any sense. How can those houses be appropriate for the northern environment? I could quote Mike Holmes, but that would be swearing.

Ten years ago, as Minister of Public Health, I spoke at the Board of Trade in Toronto about the opening of 17 video conferencing centres for health, including one in Nunavut.

I remarked that in the house next door the centre in Nunavut was a home with 17 people living in it.

I remember thinking that those two situations just didn’t work – to have that kind of technology available in the north, while still having that kind of problem in terms of residential overcrowding: it makes no sense at all.

Crowded homes do not promote positive social and health outcomes.

Crowded homes do not encourage students to do their homework so that they can thrive in the classroom.

We know that overcrowded houses increase the likelihood tuberculosis and other infectious diseases can spread.

So it’s no surprise then, that compared to Canadian-born non-Indigenous populations, the incidence rate of TB for Inuit populations was almost four hundred times higher.

Just as upsetting, for First Nations the rate was 32 times higher.

We see the same with suicide, as rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Indigenous youth.

For Inuit youth the rate is eleven times the national average.

And the terrible deaths in Pikangikum earlier this year happened because the road was so bad that the fire engine couldn’t get to the burning house in time to save those nine lives.

This simply isn’t acceptable. We need to do better.

I believe it is all about infrastructure.

Last month I had the honour to spend the day with First Nations youth leaders in Cat Lake and Pikangikum, who are supporting community-driven solutions and doing things differently.

They have ideas that can help change the status quo, like Quintin Rae from North Spirit Lake First Nation, who took the initiative to become his community’s certified water plant operator.

That’s why we are working together with youth and leaders to develop an effective long-term approach to address infrastructure requirements on reserve.

Our government is making historic investments to affirm our commitment to these changes.

Budget 2016 is flowing $4.6 billion over five years to support infrastructure in both First Nations and Inuit communities.

As of October, funding has been directed towards a range of infrastructure projects, including the construction, service or renovation of:

  • up to 3,174 housing units,
  • 195 on-reserve water and wastewater projects (including 25 that address long-term drinking water advisories),
  • 130 school-related projects,
  • and 159 culture and recreation projects.

As we move forward together, these numbers will increase and we’ll begin to close the gap that has existed for too long.


One area that is a top priority is water.

Clean, safe drinking water remains a significant issue in First Nations communities and it is one we are determined to address.

I firmly believe that we will never be able to truly renew the nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations until every family in every First Nation community in Canada is able to turn on their tap and drink the water.

We need to remember that it is not just the boil water advisories that need attention, it’s also the communities where they cannot even turn the taps on and have water flow out.

That’s why, through Budget 2016, we are providing $1.8 billion over five years to First Nations communities to strengthen on-reserve water infrastructure.

In addition, we’re providing nearly $142 million over five years in new funding for water monitoring and testing.

Since November 2015, a total of 14 long-term drinking water advisories on reserves across Canada have been lifted.

This year, working in partnership, we are moving forward on 195 water and wastewater projects, including 25 that will address 34 long-term drinking water advisories in 24 communities.

 Here in Manitoba, work is already underway on 22 water and wastewater projects in 19 Manitoba First Nations.

These projects will benefit more than 27,000 band members on reserve.

We want to do it the right way.

We are working in full partnership with First Nations technical advisors and leaders to support long-term First Nations-led approaches.

In Manitoba, we are collaborating on an innovative idea to develop a portable water treatment plant that can be flown anywhere in the Region on short notice in emergency situations.

This is the kind of collaboration that is needed going forward – with less of the department playing “red light-green light” in a way that is still paternalistic.

Recently in Dryden, I had the opportunity recently to meet the team behind the innovative Keewaytinook Okimakanak or KO Safe Water Hub project.

The men and women behind this project are training and certifying local water and wastewater plant operators and provide 24/7 emergency support services for communities.

They are also acquiring and installing remote water monitoring equipment and provide operational support.

As a result they are not just helping to eliminate boil water advisories and build community capacity, but they are also empowering communities to manage their water systems.

By working together, we are now ensuring that they’re able to expand their work to fourteen additional communities, meaning they are now reaching nineteen communities in northern Ontario.

It’s projects like the KO Safe Water Project that underline the importance of working in partnership to not just provide the much needed dollars, but also to support long-term community capacity.


For housing too, our Government is interested in supporting innovative ideas and solutions to make real progress on closing the unacceptable gap.

One good example of where innovation is happening is Haida Gwaii, where they were having a problem with all the roofs needing to be replaced because they were rotting.

They bought a machine that could build steel roofs and put a steel roof on every home in the community, rather than shipping them all in, and it’s really working for them.

They’re also heating all of the homes with hot water based on briquettes they’re making out of sawdust.

This is the kind of amazing, innovative leadership that we are talking about, and it is at meetings like this that we can start to harvest and share solutions.

I also want to point out how some of the Budget 2016 investments will be used to help the housing situation.

These investments are about a new partnership and about reconciliation.

A high priority is the over $10 million over three years for renovations and the construction of new shelters for victims of family violence in First Nations communities.

This year alone we are allocating nearly $50 million to support 159 cultural and recreation infrastructure projects, as well as over $100 million for 130 school infrastructure projects.

There’s the nearly $420 million over two years to address immediate and short-term housing needs in First Nations communities.

Additionally, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has given nearly $140 million over two years for the renovation and retrofit of existing housing on reserve.

This spring, my department launched a call for proposals for funding through three new funds dedicated to on-reserve housing.

The new funds are for immediate needs, capacity development and housing innovation.

Innovative, community-led approaches needed

Beyond ensuring adequate investments, we need a creative solutions and nation to nation approach to deal with the challenges.

These approaches need to be driven by comprehensive community planning and Indigenous institutions.

This morning you heard John Van Nostrand, who talked about how we need to think smarter and do better. I agree.

I see my job as trying to build institutions, not just programs.

The more we can get moving on institutions like the First Nations Finance Authority, the First Nations Tax Authority, or the Technical Service Advisory in Alberta the better.

In 2014, when I sat on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, it was clear during the study of land management that, coast to coast to coast, it was the communities who were making their own decisions on these issues that were doing well.

Another good example is the comprehensive community planning, which includes infrastructure plans many BC First Nations are developing.

It is clear that Comprehensive Community Planning ‎is essential to building stronger, healthier and more sustainable communities.

By bringing youth and elders and all members together to establish their priorities, communities are better able to identify their needs, build on their strengths and prepare for the future.

I also applaud the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations’ for their vision to ensure all First Nations members living on or away from their community have access to safe, secure and affordable housing.

This is the kind of inclusive, holistic approach we want to take on the National Housing Strategy.

My department, in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and with support from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, is engaging First Nations communities and other key partners on this approach.

Long-term, community-driven approaches are what is needed to make real progress on closing the inexcusable gaps that exists in too many communities.

We are committed to get this right and work Nation-to-Nation to move forward partnership with you and Indigenous communities coast-to-coast-to-coast.

We want to make sure that our next 150 years of confederation leave a different legacy for the next generations.

Thank you, Merci, Ekosi, Meegwetch, Mahsi Cho.

Read more