Millions in housing money go to FN communities

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is home to dozens of aboriginal people whose numbers were ignored when a multimillion housing fund from Ottawa was…

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is home to dozens of aboriginal people whose numbers were ignored when a multimillion housing fund from Ottawa was split, says chief Mike Smith.

A resolution passed by a majority at Council of Yukon First Nations leadership meetings in late January will see the organization divvy up the $32.5 million federal Northern Housing Trust to all 14 Yukon First Nations.

The Champagne/Aishihik First Nations will receive the largest slice — more than $3 million for housing —while White River First Nation will receive the least, at $1.67 million.

Kwanlin Dun will receive $2.4 million, roughly equal to the sum received by most Yukon First Nations.

While the money will definitely help the community, Smith is adamant Kwanlin Dun repeatedly loses out because of its rather unique situation.

“Because there’s so many First Nations moving into Whitehorse (and living in the Kwanlin Dun village), we wanted to have that money used for those people who are moving in — to relieve pressure on Kwanlin Dun,” said Smith.

But the formula used to split up the fund — based on beneficiary population and remoteness of the community — doesn’t reflect that reality, he explained.

There are more than 200 status Indians and members of Kwanlin Dun, but many are officially considered beneficiaries of other Yukon First Nations, he said.

“Basically, their numbers counted with their home First Nation,” said Smith of the housing fund allocations. “We wanted that addressed, but it fell on deaf ears.”

A similar problem has plagued the First Nation since the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed, as compensation money allocated to Kwanlin Dun was lower than it should have been.

“We fell short about $400,000,” said Smith.

Kwanlin Dun has about 200 housing units in the McIntyre Village in Whitehorse.

There are long lineups for housing and any money would be helpful to take a bit of pressure off Kwanlin Dun, said Smith.

First Nation governments hoping to access the housing trust money will first have to sign a funding agreement with the Yukon government.

That’s because the $50 million Ottawa gave to the Yukon through the trust will be sent to the Yukon government, not individual First Nation governments or even CYFN.

As is often the case with large federal handouts, the situation led to controversy, fuelled later when the Yukon government announced it would keep $17.5 million of the money for its own programs.

Smith is miffed that the Yukon government received the money and will administer it.

So too was a majority of CYFN: at the organization’s general assembly in Mayo in July, chief and councils from its membership passed a scathing resolution, calling on the Yukon government to release the entire $50 million to individual First Nations.

In December, the rift between Premier Dennis Fentie and First Nation chiefs and councils was repaired at the Yukon Forum roundtable

The next step to see money arriving in communities is getting each First Nation government up to speed, said CYFN grand chief Andy Carvill last week.

“We’re working now on getting that information out to the communities and assisting the chiefs with the roll-out of that information,” said Carvill.

“We’re also looking at setting up a bit of a work plan; each community is going to undertake to do the work plan to access the fund, and then we’re looking at the reporting requirements attached to those dollars also,” he said.

To receive money under the program, the Yukon government requires a First Nation to specify exactly what projects it will be used to fund, said CYFN officials.

Projects that qualify include low-income housing and repairs to mouldy houses, they said.

Under the Housing Trust, the Yukon and Northwest Territories will receive $50 million, while Nunavut will get $200 million.