Infrastructure on reserve land has been left dwindling for too long, Splatsin Indian Band Chief Wayne Christian said.
Christian urged the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, to invest in British Columbia’s reserves during a breakfast talk with the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Thursday, July 12.
“For whatever reason, when you come to our reserve lands, everything seems to stop there. The roads become different. I always joke, ‘Well, you’re on the res now,'” Christian said.
“The management of infrastructure by the federal government for our communities is abysmal. It’s actually second-class how it’s considered discriminatory because we don’t have the same level of services available to our communities that other communities have.”
Christian said the infrastructure program needs to be revamped in the context of reserve land.
“You can drive through British Columbia and you can really see all of a sudden the roads change,” Christian said, noting the reserve on Salmon River Road as a prime example of that difference in infrastructure.
“As soon as you hit that boundary, things seem to deteriorate. We quite honestly have second-class processes in our communities. It’s been going on for too long. If you’re going to really address it, you need to invest in our communities.”
Sohi said Infrastructure Canada, which funds municipal and provincial infrastructure, is making changes on how they work with indigenous communities.
“You are actually right. When you get to that point then you go into the indigenous communities, that infrastructure, even though it’s managed by a different department within the federal government, we’re trying to improve that cooperation,” Sohi said.
Sohi told Christian he will discuss the matter with the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services and the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.
Housing key to fighting homeless problems
Housing and support are key to fighting the homelessness problems in Vernon and Canada as a whole, Sohi said.
“Housing is critical, but what kind of support do they have in their house,” Sohi said.
According to Sohi, the federal government has invested $40 billion into affordable housing and shelters through their 10-year national housing strategy.
“Our goal is to reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent,” Sohi said.
Federal programming through the strategy includes support for interventions and preventative strategies to mitigate homelessness before it begins.
An October 2017 homeless count survey conducted by the partners in action committee found that 153 people were considered homeless on Oct. 18, 2017. Of that 153, 24 per cent were female, 74 per cent were male and two per cent indicated transgender or other. Nearly half, 44 per cent, have called Vernon home for more than 10 years and 76 per cent said they grew up in the community.
The average age of those sleeping outside was 38, while those in shelter averaged 50-years-old.