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Natan Obed re-elected to lead group representing Inuit in Canada

INUVIK, N.W.T.—The newly re-elected leader of Canada’s 60,000 Inuit says he plans to make housing a priority during his second term as president.

“We’re in the final stages of creating an Inuit strategy on housing,” said Natan Obed, 42, who on Thursday was once again chosen to head Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Natan Obed, right, meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March. In addition to poor housing, Obed pledged to work on a suicide prevention plan and the eradication of tuberculosis
Natan Obed, right, meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March. In addition to poor housing, Obed pledged to work on a suicide prevention plan and the eradication of tuberculosis  (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

Housing is an issue in all four of Canada’s Inuit regions, but it is particularly acute in Nunavut, where the number of families living in housing that is inadequate or too expensive is roughly three times higher than the national average.

The territory estimates a housing shortfall of 3,000 units, and the number is growing. Experts such as Nunavut’s health minister have blamed poor housing for generating many of the territory’s other social ills.

Obed notes the last three federal budgets have committed $ 800 million over 10 years to address the problem, but he knows that won’t be enough.

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“We are talking not just about building new houses, but about reimagining the way housing works in Inuit (regions).”

His group’s strategy will promote private home ownership, better building design and more efficient contracting and construction, Obed said.

“Within all these big things that cost a lot of money, there are also many efficiencies and many partnerships other that federal partnerships that we can pursue.”

Obed said the strategy should be released in November.

He added that he would continue implementing a suicide prevention plan brought in during his first term. Eradication of tuberculosis — still a problem in Inuit communities — will be another priority.

Together with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, Obed has set a goal of halving active TB cases among Inuit by 2025 and eliminating the disease by 2030.

In his first term, he did not shy away from controversy, especially when he called on Edmonton’s Canadian Football League team to change its name from the Eskimos. He denies doing so just to draw attention.

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“Positions that Inuit have taken are sometimes very controversial,” he said.

“But they’re all designed to educate, inform and transform Canadian society so that it imagines Inuit as a part of it and as self-determining Indigenous people who deserve the same rights and considerations that all Canadians do.”

TORONTO STAR