Betty Ann Lavallée
National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

As the elected National Chief for the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, my goal from the beginning has been to highlight the discrepancies, injustices, and unfairness, combined with the lack of access to programs and services targeted at Aboriginal Peoples living off-reserve. What is clear is that those living off-reserve have been ignored for far too long, and consequently have continued to be one of the most vulnerable groups in Canada.

Rapid growth

The 2011 National Household Survey released by Statistics Canada demonstrates that the number of Aboriginal Peoples living off-reserve has increased dramatically. According to the figures, there are now over 1.4 million Aboriginal Peoples in Canada — an increase of 20 percent over the past five years. In addition, the number of Aboriginal Peoples living off-reserve is now estimated to be over 75 percent of the total Aboriginal population.  

Today, the majority of Aboriginal Peoples live off-reserve, yet out of the $10 billion per year that the federal government invests in Aboriginal programming, over 80 percent goes to assist on-reserve status Indians. Only $1 out of $8 in spending is allocated for off-reserve Aboriginal Peoples.

A fundamental right

“Without safe and affordable housing, an Aboriginal person’s dreams of education, skills training and jobs, and a life free of violence with equitable opportunities will not be possible.”  

All Aboriginal organizations are faced with their own set of challenges and views on what they see as the most urgent issue to address. For the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, having access to safe and affordable housing is not only important, it speaks to what Canada is all about, and to what we should come to expect as a fundamental right. 

I believe that without providing disadvantaged Aboriginal Peoples a place to live, progress on our priorities will be that much more difficult to accomplish. 

Focused priorities

Many of the Aboriginal youth living off-reserve don’t have a place to live. They spend their days looking for a place and often they end up staying at someone’s home, couch-surfing. If they can’t find somewhere to stay, they often end up on the street. 

Without safe and affordable housing, an Aboriginal person’s dreams of education, skills training and jobs, and a life free of violence with equitable opportunities will not be possible.  Housing is at the root of all the success we can achieve in other priority areas.

Need for funding

I had the opportunity this year to travel across the country to do a grassroots tour, to meet with our constituents and hear their concerns. Housing was paramount in all the communities I visited. Unfortunately, the last time any significant money was invested for affordable housing in urban Aboriginal communities was in 2006. 

There is a critical need for new investments and funding, and it is my hope that by working together we can find the best and most effective solutions to address this need.