There aren't enough homes to go around for residents of the Hatchet Lake Denesuline Nation, and the houses which do exist are often overcrowded and in need of repair.
During a tour of the community, local media were introduced to Jonas Sha'oulle, an operator at the local water treatment plant who shares his house with 21 other family members.
“We keep it busy, me and my wife, busy here and there, providing food,” Sha'oulle said. “We help each other.”
While the house may be crowded now, it wasn't always that way. Sha'oulle's house was built in 1992, when it was big enough for him, his wife and their two daughters. The family has since grown in size, and Sha'oulle said he wasn't about to kick his daughters and their children out with nowhere to go. He said they have tried to apply for homes being constructed in the community, but they haven't been successful in obtaining a residence yet.
Despite the crowded conditions, the grandfather said he enjoys coming home from work and spending time with his family.
“They all run to you every time you come in, and when you've been out for a couple days it makes you feel wanted,” he said.
Overcrowding is not the only issue in the Sha'oulle household; black mold is present, causing some respiratory issues with the younger children in the residence. The sewer backed up about 15 years ago, he said, leaving several inches of dirty water in the family's basement. Sha'oulle said he believes the flooding created the black mold problem present in the house today.
Mold is also growing in an unfinished addition to the Sha'oulle house which the band started in November, 2017. Sha'oulle said the band had left the project unfinished because funding was no longer available to complete the work. He said he had not been given any timeline as to when the work would be completed on the addition.
The family's lone bathroom is also in need of renovation. Parts of the floor are soft and spongey, and a minor fire in the basement caused further damage. The wall between the toilet and bathtub was bulging like a bubble waiting to burst.
The situation has gotten so bad one of Sha'oulle's daughters said she was scared to be living in the house.
Pierre Kkaikka, 50, lives with 17 other family members in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom single level house.
“All of my kids live in this house, so I ask my band for help," Kkaikka said. "There's a lot of people like that in this community."
Kkaikka said he hasn't been able to find steady employment and uses cash poker games and social assistance as sources of income. He said he's been lucky enough to win a skidoo and a boat, but he's also endured losses which come with gambling. In order to provide for his family, keep the children happy and put food on the table, Kkaikka said he hunts moose and caribou.
He said he would like to help his children find houses and move out, taking a bit of pressure off of him, but there simply aren't any houses being built.
“If I get my kids a house, it's okay, my kids can go live by themselves, but they [can't] so they're just staying here with me,” Kkaikka said.
Leadership working to support better housing
Chief Bart Tsannie acknowledged the community had challenges when it comes to the distribution of houses in Hatchet Lake.
“I know we're building quite a few houses this year but still, not enough for the members here,” he said, noting 10 houses are currently under construction but they have already received 100 applications for them.
The chief of the Hatchet Lake Denesuline Nation said he hopes to do what's best for the band members with the help of both the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
“What you see here in our community, it's the same across the north... it's all the same,” PAGC Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie said.
Joseph said he would like to see meaningful investments in northern communities from companies who invest heavily in extracting resources from the North. The province overall may have benefitted from the industry, but the same opportunities haven't been available to northern communities.
PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said housing is a challenge northern communities face, which he continues to address with the both levels of government.
The 2018 federal budget, tabled Feb. 27, included $600 million over three years to “support housing on reserve as part of a 10-year First Nations Housing Strategy that is being developed with First Nations.”
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice Chief David Pratt acknowledged both the federal financial commitment and the need to address the situation sooner rather than later. To do so, he said, the FSIN will put pressure on both provincial and federal governments. Pratt called on the government of Saskatchewan to end jurisdictional disputes and support Indigenous communities. Although First Nations are supported primarily by the federal government, for Pratt, the provincial government still has a responsibility to “do what's right” for northern Indigenous communities.
“The provincial government needs to get it, that communities like Hatchet Lake, Fond Du Lac and Black Lake, those are Saskatchewan communities as well,” Pratt said.
larongeNOW reached out to Indigenous Services Canada to find out if any commitments had been made or requested by the Hatchet Lake Denesuline Nation to address the band's housing situation. No response was provided by deadline; this story will be updated to reflect their position if it is made available.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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