Leadership of the far north say the federal government needs to do more to support housing projects in northwestern Ontario.

Their message comes after a new study showed that poor housing conditions in First Nation communities are directly linked to respiratory illness, a heightened risk of hospitalization and a variety of health issues for First Nation families.

“This study confirms what our leaders have been saying for years – that deplorable housing is directly linked to the poor health of so many of our people. We have known for years that the quality of health and housing are linked, and we now have solid data to support this,” said Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Derek Fox.

The study, Respiratory Morbidity in Indigenous Children in Relation to Housing Conditions in Remote Communities in Northwestern Ontario, was published by the Canadian Medical Association on January 24.

The study documented indoor air quality and housing characteristics in four First Nations communities, including Lac Seul First Nation, Kasabonika Lake First Nation, Sandy Lake First Nation and Big Trout Lake First Nation.

The study found that one in four children had been medically evacuated for medical illness, and one in five children were hospitalized within the first two years of their lives. High amounts of mould and bacterial residue were found within their homes.

As well, over 85 per cent of homes lacked controlled ventilation, over 50 per cent had damaged windows, 44 per cent showed water penetration in exterior walls, and 6 per cent had immediate safety issues.

“Without adequate ventilation, these houses are like living in a plastic bag,” said study author and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s Director of Housing and Infrastructure, Michael McKay.

“Centuries of assimilation tactics, colonialism, and systemic racism have created structural barriers including employment, education, economic and housing inadequacies,” adds McKay.

Now, the authors of the study and NAN leadership are urging the federal government to improve housing and infrastructure in First Nation communities to benefit the health of their members.

“We have been advocating for years for substantial improvements to housing, but the government keeps asking for proof that the mouldy, drafty houses many of our members are forced to live in are connected to their poor health,” adds Chief Fox.

“This dedicated team has confirmed this link, and we thank everyone who has contributed to this important study. We now look to our federal Treaty partner to work with us on these recommendations.”

The study was created in partnership with the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, the CHEO Research Institute, the University of Ottawa and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. It was funded by Health Canada and Indigenous Services Canada.