Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you very much for hearing our testimony again today.
We thank the status of women committee for inviting us to participate in this important study on improving the economic prospects for girls with disabilities in Canada. It is vital to give us meaningful ways to participate in the decisions that affect our lives at policy tables. We are grateful for this opportunity to open what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue.
As visitors to the lands of the Six Nations people, we thank the Haudenosaunee people for the use of their lands to come together today. We ask for guidance and wisdom from our Creator for the words that will allow us to come to an understanding and meaningful change in our society so that we may all live free of violence, abuse, and poverty.
Concerning issues facing girls with disabilities, we offer the expertise of our limited experience as the basis for input and collaboration to increase our opportunity for inclusive attitudes and practices for Canadian girls with disabilities in their quest for economic prosperity. As I'm sure you've heard from other experts during this study, the social determinants of health have an enormous impact on the economic prospects for girls in Canada.
Canada lists the 11 determinants of health as: income and social status, social support networks, education and literacy, employment and working conditions, physical and social environments, biology and genetic endowment—I find that one fascinating—personal health practices and coping skills, healthy child development, health services, gender, and culture.
In our work we are focused on how gender and disability intersect in this regard and impact upon our constituents. Of course, we think also of how other things, such as race, culture, or sexual orientation also situate us in this regard.
I would be remiss in not pointing out that much of the data that we can and will cite in our brief, which will follow, is not current because the PALS, SLID, and long-form census data used are no longer being collected. This data set and these pieces of information need to be brought back, so that, going forward, we can continue to work with the Government of Canada on being well informed of the situation of girls with disabilities in Canada.
As for poverty, access to education, and underemployment, the statistics are grim. I could speak at length about this to you today, but I won't. I have some statistics that I'll share. I will tell you that there are some disturbing numbers, including that the highest rates of unemployment by far and the lowest levels of income belong to young women with disabilities and girls with disabilities, regardless of their age. This is consistent within any population you want to look at in Canada. We heard from you the last time about women having the highest rates of violence. Well, it's the same in education. It's the same in income supports. They're the most compromised, and again I'll remind the committee that we're talking about one in five Canadian women.
In Canada, half of working-age adults with disabilities aged 15 to 64 live on low income. People with disabilities are twice as likely to live on a low income compared to people without disabilities. Some 25% of Canadians without disabilities are without a high school diploma, compared with 37% of those with a disability. Research demonstrates that if proper supports are in place to have children with disabilities included in regular classrooms, all students benefit.
Recent studies show that 41% of children with disabilities felt threatened at school or on the school bus within the past year and that 36% were assaulted at school or on the bus. I don't want to dwell on the issue of violence, but I will come back to the fact that this is something that constitutes another impact and is one of the reasons that we always need to bring this back into any discourse about women and girls with disabilities, because it's a part of their daily lives.
Research indicates that inclusion promotes social skills for children with and without disabilities, and so the concept of inclusive education becomes extremely important around a lot of different things, and not just for opportunities for children with disabilities but for society as a whole to move forward in becoming a truly inclusive society.
Inadequate skills and education lead to barriers to employment. Among Canadians aged 15 to 64 without a disability, 75% are employed compared with just 51% of those with disabilities.
As I said, I'm not going to dwell on statistics today, but I want to share one more with you. There is some good news from a report from 2010 by a dear friend of ours from the government, from Human Resources and Skills Development, Aron Spector. It is called “Changing Educational Attainment and Enrolment Patterns Among Youth with Disabilities 1999-2006”. The good news is:
||More youth with disabilities are successfully remaining in school to the point where they receive post-secondary accreditation.
||Youth with disabilities who complete post-secondary schooling are much more likely to find and keep employment.
And in employment rates for university degree graduates 25-29, there was only a six percentage-point difference between disabled students and non-disabled students in 2007. So this is really good news.
In other words, educational attainments have improved in Canada for young people with disabilities, and particularly young women with disabilities.
Finally, “Unemployment rates for this population were approximately 5%.”
What's the message from this study? It was a huge study, and I'm not going to get into it today. Fundamentally, it is that:
||Accommodation in schools has likely been resulting in a substantially increased number of successes among young people with disabilities in both completing post-secondary schooling and in finding work.
So that is some really good and important news. And I will tell you that I was really pleased to see that, among girls with disabilities, the statistics are quite similar to those we see for non-disabled young women, which is that, based on the recent studies, the level of educational attainment for girls with disabilities has surpassed that of young men with disabilities. It's not a contest, but at the same time I think this is very encouraging. As I said, to see the parallels between disabled and non-disabled women becoming ever closer is a very encouraging indicator.
Today instead, I'd like to speak to you about one of our guests. She's one of the visitors present here. She's a friend of mine, Kuy Chheng Treng, from Cambodia. She's visiting Canada under the Coady Institute's international women in leadership program. She is, I'm pleased to say, staying with DAWN over a two-month period. She's a visiting scholar for our organization, and she and I are working together while she's here.
The reason I want to talk to you about Chheng is linked to the discussion today and this very subject. I realized that it was important to bring some exciting news from the international community to the table for discussion around social enterprise, which is an idea that DAWN Canada is committed to—social enterprise in the context of how social enterprise can be used and coupled to create both employment and educational opportunities for young people, not just in Chheng's community in Cambodia but here in Canada.
Digital Divide Data is a social enterprise with offices around the world, with its roots beginning in Cambodia, where my colleague Kuy Chheng Treng is from. If you look at the Canadian situation for young women with, say, a high school education, there are statistics to indicate that in the past 10 years or so she's much more likely than she was to finish her post-secondary education, but she is still very likely to face unemployment. That the rates of unemployment are still above 50% for women with disabilities speaks to what she's facing when she finishes her post-secondary education here in Canada.
Let me juxtapose this with the situation that Chheng found herself in at the age of 18 with the social enterprise called Digital Divide Data in Cambodia, which has focused on two things. It has focused on providing young people with disabilities and people who are marginalized....
Again I say, this model is transferable not just to women with disabilities, but to any groups in which there are high rates of unemployment and limited opportunities for post-secondary education. That includes our young people here in Canada, women or men. What happens with Digital Divide is that young people come to the organization and are given an opportunity to complete their post-secondary education while they work. So their day is split between post-secondary education and work.
Chheng has been with Digital Divide for 10 years. She has completed her master's in finance. She's a senior manager in accounting. She has travelled all over the place. She's here in Canada because she's been provided with the kind of supports that she said....
I have a biography. If anybody wants to see it after, I'd be happy to share it with them.
The opportunity Chheng was provided with was the opportunity to have two key things that young people need today: work experience and education. What happens otherwise, when you come out of post-secondary institutions, is that nobody will give you an opportunity and nobody wants to give you a job, because you have no experience.
I say to you today that when you finish wrapping up this study and you want to look at one of the most meaningful ways to change things here in Canada for young women with disabilities—and I would say for many other young women—it would be to consider supporting the idea of social enterprise as a way forward.
Social enterprise is one of the emerging models here in Canada.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's great to be back in front of this committee this afternoon.
As many of you likely know, CCSD has been around for 92 years. We call it the grande dame of social policy in Canada. CCSD has contributed significantly to building Canada's social infrastructure in collaboration with multiple governments over its 90-some years, including the development of the concepts of EI, disability, and old-age pension.
I'm also here as the founder and president of the HERA Mission of Canada, an international NGO foundation I started while doing some development work in western Kenya, where I adopted my son. There we support over 200 orphans and 90 widows who are grandmas and great-grandmas. Part of my opening remarks are focused on Canada, but a lot of what I'll reflect on in the Q and A is also from some of our experiences in western Kenya.
The focus of this is really about honouring our promise to Canada's kids, particularly giving Canadian girls the best start.
We are a country at a crossroads. Yes, we've heard this before. It's an adage often used for dramatic effect, a footnote at key points in our country's development that is often used as a signal for a positive shift forward, marking progress and upwards mobility for our country.
This is not the case in today's Canada, for today's kids. The crossroads analogy clearly demarcates that, today in Canada, we are a country on two tracks, forging separate paths that are clearly segmenting and separating Canadians, drawing lines based on income, wealth, and for a small few, extreme wealth. The other segment of Canadians is stuck in a labyrinth, a maze with high walls, trap doors, and few exits that often guarantee re-entry.
For these Canadians, their path is cyclical—extreme poverty with little or no meaningful opportunities for upward movement. There is another segment emerging since the recent economic downturn—an eroding middle class whose financial security, once taken for granted, is now less certain.
With the weakened job market and costs rising on every front, these families are running a race and gaining very little ground. Canada is changing. We are more divided, more segmented than ever before, and yes, even when it comes to our kids.
Canada used to lead in this area. Regardless of the challenges in front of us, we always put our kids first. This was a collective promise we made to them, and to each other. Our children are our greatest resource, and all of us—parents, grandparents, neighbours, teachers, policy-makers, parliamentarians—share an obligation to give them the best start. That was an essential tenet, a Canadian value.
Then, something changed.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, at 15.1%, Canada's child poverty rate is higher than the OECD average. More than one in seven Canadian children now live in poverty. Canada ranks 13th on this indicator, and scores a “C” grade.
The Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden—have the lowest rates of child poverty, with less than 5% of children living in poor households. The relationship between social spending and reducing poverty rates is clear. These leading countries boast strong traditions of wealth distribution. They have addressed inequality while Canada has silently watched the gap grow.
A “C” for a country as well-endowed as Canada? It really is inconceivable.
At least we've been consistent. Canada's has received a steady “C” since the 1980s for our lacklustre performance on child poverty. We all remember the 1989 Canadian House of Commons’ unanimous resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, and there was some initial success. The poverty rate fell from 15.8% in the mid-1980s to 12.8% in the mid-1990s. Since then, however, the rate has increased to 15.1% in the mid-2000s, reversing earlier progress.
Today in Canada we are leaving at least 639,000 children behind. That's one in ten. The message to them is: you don't count, you are on your own. When it comes to our kids, a “C” is a failure. We are all failing to address the critical need for early learning, universal child care, affordable housing, and necessary public supports that assist families in realizing their economic potential. That's where it starts—with our kids. Kids thrive when their parents are thriving. Kids thrive when they are given the best start between zero to five. The early years make the greatest impact and determine your life's path. We all know this. There are mountains of evidence to support this.
Any of us who are parents know that if our kids are going to thrive they need a stable, safe home environment; parents who have access to a support system; accredited and affordable child care; and places to grow, interact, and learn with other toddlers, and from other parents. They need fresh air, clean water, exercise, and nutritious food. Much of this is out of reach if your family is poor.
Despite knowing this, we have ghettoized Canada's poor and have officially become a country where your postal code matters more than your genetic code. Poverty is literally making segments of us sick.
Clyde Hertzman, an internationally renowned Canadian researcher on early child development, has demonstrated time and time again how to reduce the number of ADHD diagnoses, reduce school dropout rates, and slash the incidence of crime and drug addiction by better understanding the dynamics of early child interventions. When we invest in all children early in their lives, we can boost their academic achievement and set them on the right path for the rest of their lives. Hertzman has followed cohorts of early-years kids through life and has found instances of lower rates of chronic disease, higher rates of post-secondary education completion, and lower rates of unemployment.
Early learning is a life changer, and Canada needs to invest in it. Yes, we can afford it. The government could take the $2.5 billion universal child care benefit expenditure and divide it between the provinces and territories, invest in early child care and education programs, and make a difference to moderate- and low-income families immediately. Families in all regions of this country are desperate for high-quality, affordable child care so they can work or study. Provinces, local governments, and community groups are struggling to find the funds to provide early childhood education and child care for Canadian families.
Listen, as parents we are far more productive and effective in our lives when we know our kids are thriving in the best possible environment when we leave them to go to work. It is that simple. It's good for all of us. Canadian families are doing their part; our governments need to do theirs.
This is ultimately about inclusion, opportunity, participation, and shared prosperity. It's what defines us as a nation. It's a promise and an obligation we have made to our kids, each other, and our communities. It is the Canadian way.
Poverty is a big issue. We have to create opportunities for kids, and if I had to give a hit list of things I would tackle, education is a biggie.
In Kenya, there are so many things that we could do, and we're doing a number of different things through my foundation. But the one thing that we know is a game-changer in our villages is access to education. So getting as many kids in a generation as possible a good quality education will increase the opportunities they have in front of them.
As DAWN said, you can get through the education system but if there are no meaningful, good quality jobs, what's the point? We know that youth unemployment is at its highest in the country in 10 years, so that is an issue.
When I talk about education, I'm also talking about financial literacy. I look at our demographics, our aging. I look at my parents and their generation. They were not given financial literacy, the fundamentals about planning for a future, building a cushion, etc. It's not found in our curriculum in a way that speaks to kids and gets kids excited about those opportunities. There is this sense that at some point somebody is always going to take care of them—that there is some program. So we need to create an awareness and some responsibility around some of those issues.
A big thing for girls is self-esteem. As I was saying to the previous member, you need to see yourself. If you believe there are opportunities for you in the community, you need to see that for yourself. If you've witnessed your mother and your grandmother isolated without any opportunities, living in cyclical poverty, sick because they've had poor living conditions, living in an abusive relationship, you don't see very many options for yourself.
So this is about community building. You cannot deal with kids without dealing with their families. You cannot deal with kids without supporting their parents, so dealing with poverty is a big one.
As I said, I think it would be wonderful to hear from them. I realize we can't do that today.
In terms of Digital Divide's model, the background is that somebody from California who's actually originally from Canada, Jeremy Hockenstein, was part of a group of people who were looking to expand in terms of new markets. He went into Cambodia about 10 years ago and developed the Digital Divide Data model, which is built around the idea that they have a viable social enterprise.... I'll give you an example. Their sales last year were $2.3 million. What did they do with the $2.3 million they made last year? They reinvested it in more social enterprise.
What are they doing? They're providing a technical service. As I said, I don't need to go into the specifics of it, but it's a highly technical company that has developed a market internationally, including here, and they provide services to countries around the world in terms of the work they do. But the key thing they do is that they give opportunities to young people like Chheng, who came to an organization and started at 18, as I said, with her high school degree, her ambition, and not much else in terms of support.
Chheng had really an awful lot of barriers against her chances of getting to post-secondary education. Due to the way that Digital Divide is modelled, she was able to work her way through the employment opportunities at Digital Divide while completing her degree. As I said, she's now a senior accountant there. There are colleagues of Chheng's I know who left Digital Divide and went on to other work in the private sector.
Fundamentally what social enterprise does in this particular model is that it uses education and employment experience to create revenue or, in other words, to generate human and financial capital to keep investing in more human and financial capital. It's a wonderful cycle. It takes really essentially what I would say is the capitalist model and turns it on its ear, and says no, instead of the profits going to a few, the profits are reinvested in the people on whom the social enterprise is grounded.
In this case it's very focused on creating employment for young people with disabilities and young people who are from very poor incomes. It's not specifically people with disabilities, but with an understanding that is one of the poorest communities in Cambodia or anywhere, they are inevitably one of the groups that have been focused on.
That's a great question. Discrimination starts early and it's often latent. It's not obvious. People don't set out to create barriers. Often the barriers are institutionalized or systemic. As women, you experience them and question it.
Finding a high-quality child care place that's safe for your kids—when you find that, it shouldn't feel like a lottery win. It's funny, because I'm a single mom of a little boy, and one of the things that I've learned is that elementary school can be very geared to young women. The environment is very geared towards young women. Often boys don't thrive in that learning environment the way that girls do.
It's flipping the paradigm and finding balance for both genders to thrive. It's trying to create opportunities in which kids see themselves and they see mentors who they respect, and where there are opportunities for them to grow and flourish. The gender analysis, for example, is a great opportunity. But if it's only an analysis, if it's only a “what are the barriers”, if there is no actual implementation, and if it doesn't go beyond government, then we're not really shifting the balance.
In regard to your question earlier about those employers who got it right, where we're seeing shifts in the demographics with respect to more women working in certain segments of the job market, likely somebody in that organization had the leadership and the vision to actually put a gender lens on their company or their organization, and started to create those conditions that everybody can come to work and thrive in. It starts there.
A gender lens is really about men and women, girls and boys, thriving and finding balance in those environments. Often what we end up doing when we do these analyses is that we look at one or the other, as opposed to creating those conditions where everyone can thrive equally. A lot of those barriers can be seen as divisive. Often they're latent. Nobody sets out to create those barriers, just like for people with disabilities, but they're there.
Making shifts in those takes time, but it takes concerted effort and it takes leadership. I also think that young women truly need to see themselves in government, in prominent decision-making roles, at the head of leadership.
I come from health care and I was a senior executive at one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country. I remember sitting at my first meeting of medical heads. There were 47 medical divisions in the hospital. There was only one female head. Imagine. What does that say about the culture?
I want to start by thanking the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for this opportunity to speak today. I consider this a great honour. I accepted the invitation without hesitation. Once I started to prepare my thoughts on how I was going to present this, I realized I could only present a statement based on my own personal issues and experiences as an indigenous woman in Canada, and drawing upon my role as the regional manager for the National Centre for First Nations Governance. I also appreciate the fact that there are many different approaches that could be considered on how we, as Canadians, collectively work toward improving the economic prospects for Canadian girls. But for my presentation today I've decided to centre my thoughts around the theme of “nation rebuilding and indigenous women—the strength of our nations”.
Today we hear about many reconciliation processes. A very important healing movement is under way in Canada between indigenous and non-indigenous people, overseen by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, dealing with the devastating legacies left by residential schools. However, I want to bring in another aspect of reconciliation, because I feel that it's a multi-dimensional process, and talk about other issues of restoring lands, economic self-sufficiency, and expanding the jurisdiction of first nations. It can also provide an opportunity to reaffirm the role of our indigenous women through the reclaiming of balance in their home communities and in the Canadian society at large. It is only through forums for dialogue such as this that all parties can search for respectful approaches that will recreate the just relationship we are seeking.
It has been said that indigenous women are the strength of our nations. Traditionally, indigenous women have always played a central role within families and within their nations. Specific tasks were overseen by women in traditional governance structures and in spiritual ceremonies. Cultural teachings passed through oral traditions of indigenous peoples illustrate that indigenous men and women were equal in power, and each had the autonomy within their own personal and social lives.
No more can we ignore the misplaced role and the marginalized voice of indigenous woman. There are too many stories of our indigenous women's accomplishments, their unique strengths, and their ongoing resilience. It is from showcasing these types of examples that our indigenous women will find a place of empowerment and celebration, leading them to their rightful place in society. In an effort to reclaim this balance, indigenous women need to begin to understand the historical context that has challenged the role of indigenous women in today's society, especially in the areas of leadership, governance, and economic development.
Speaking about historical context and traditional indigenous societies, indigenous women played a central role within their families, their government, and in ceremonies. Women were viewed as both the life-givers and caretakers. Men respected women for the sacred gifts they believed the creator had given them, such as being responsible for the early socialization of children, and keepers of the home fires.
In a presentation I recently went to by Kathleen Whitecloud at a conference of first nation managers said that colonization—the imposition of foreign values and their cultural standards—brought about tremendous historical, social, and economic changes.
Suppression of indigenous society and their traditional practices was a common custom—a way to bring about assimilation and the dismantling of the indigenous identity. Unilaterally imposed federal legislation, such as the British North America Act and the Indian Act; attempts at assimilation such as the 1969 white paper; residential schools; over-policing; an ineffective justice system; the loss of our traditional livelihoods; and the removal from our traditional lands to be placed on reserves have all contributed to dependence on a welfare economy, thus creating intergenerational poverty and a very poor socio-economic status. Women were all but ignored, as can be seen in the treaty-making process and in subsequent federal legislation such as the Indian Act, and in many administrative rulings regarding citizenship and gender inequalities.
Today we see the effects of colonization as a dispossessed people, alienated from their traditional practices. The breakdown of families is apparent. There is overrepresentation of aboriginal people in the justice system. There are social inequalities, institutionalized discrimination, systemic racism, lateral violence, discriminatory hiring practices, and violence against women—such as the file on missing and murdered aboriginal women of Canada.
I've come to learn, and I have always talked about this when I'm in communities delivering workshops, that the path to self-determination and nation rebuilding begins with the self, and any journey begins with one person. For indigenous women, empowerment and decolonization will appear in the form of sharing indigenous knowledge, increasing leadership roles, and capacity development with special attention being paid to post-secondary education and skills development, indigenous language revitalization, and the revival of the traditional role of women.
The importance of post-secondary education and skills development as the turning point for anyone seeking to better their life and the lives of dependants cannot be overstated. However, what must be stressed are the types of support systems that are required for indigenous women as they pursue their educational and career goals. The treaty right to education means investing in the future by educating our indigenous people. Educated people will be part of the solution.
Adequate resources don't just mean funding, scholarships, and bursaries, especially for indigenous women. Additional factors are often associated: proper child care, health, transportation, and access to student services that are first nation specific, for example, ceremonial activities and elder counselling. Never mind the fact that to pursue the dreams of higher education or career development means once again leaving their home communities for urban centres and all that this change entails.
Indian control of Indian education speaks to the need for culturally appropriate educational institutions and the need to have educational opportunities that focus on this cultural alignment. Bilingual, bicultural education talks about the challenges of walking in two worlds, and it is equally important for an indigenous person to have the knowledge base from both worlds, both contemporary and traditional.
Indigenous knowledge includes traditional teachings about creation; learning our songs and our stories; exploring our indigenous laws, protocols, and methodologies; practising our ceremonies; sustaining the arts; reconnecting to our sacred places; and much more. As these teachings are shared among indigenous people, women's identity and cultural connections will increase, resulting in long-term, positive impacts on their families and communities.
Why am I talking so much about this cultural identity and how it is linked to stronger economic independence?
I'm taking a quote from a professor at the University of Regina, Dr. Bob Kayseas. He just made a presentation to a conference here and he talks about this. He says:
||Over time the strengthening of aboriginal culture will converge with the entrepreneurial pursuits of our people. This convergence will lead to increased involvement in sustainable entrepreneurship.
As we navigate away from the nucleus of the self and the family, and move toward the larger realm of community and nation rebuilding, we start to see another group of challenges that discriminates against the role of the indigenous woman. Today's mainstream approach to leadership, business, and governance structures is very top down and non-inclusive, and too often these approaches are adopted by first nation contemporary governance structures, once again marginalizing the voice of the indigenous woman.
This is reaffirmed by Dr. Kayseas' research when he spoke of livelihood and economic independence with a group of elders who spoke of the disruption in the family and the community systems, and the impact on the transmission of culture, the language, and the value system. The researcher made the connection that indigenous peoples' traditional pursuit and conception of livelihood are strongly linked to their world views and their survival depends on innovation, hard work, sharing, and mutual respect for all creation. Our resilience as independent people, our livelihood, can be described in today's terms as economic independence and prosperity.
The National Centre for First Nations Governance, Prairie region, has listened to the concerns of the people in our workshops and our forums, in the work that I do working and sitting as a board member for the First Nations University of Canada, and also in participating in the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute and Aboriginal Women's Leaders: Saskatchewan. We talk about the need to bring women together so they can start discussing these issues, and how to move forward and come up with strategies to deal with them.
So we are developing a proposal to host a forum to discuss these issues.
My name is Paige Isaac. I am Mi'kmaq and I am from Listigouche First Nation.
I want to thank the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for inviting me here to speak. I feel very honoured.
I'm a McGill graduate. I'm a biology major. I started working at the First Peoples' House at McGill University as soon as I finished, and have a new-found passion for education and advancing aboriginal education in this country.
I'll say a little bit about the First Peoples' House and how we contribute to the economic prospects of aboriginal people through education.
We're a part of student services. We're dedicated to providing support for first nations, Inuit, Métis, status and non-status students by establishing a sense of community and a voice for these students who have left their home communities in order to pursue their education. A large part of our student population is women and mothers. We see a lot of the active student population. They're in medicine, law, education, and social work, among other fields. We offer wide-ranging activities. Our staff has actually grown in recent years to help manage this. We do everything from outreach to communities as early as grade school and high school, to families, and to other universities. We support them while they're here, we celebrate them at graduation, and we help with their integration into employment.
I just want to highlight a couple of our really successful outreach programs. This year will see our sixth annual Eagle Spirit High Performance Camp. It runs for a long weekend in May and brings together aboriginal youth ages 13 to 17 from all over the country to come to McGill, spend a weekend here, learn about health careers, amongst others, and find their passion. And there's a lot of focus on sports and physical fitness and overall well-being.
We're seeing a lot more campers, actually, apply to McGill. We have our first student completing his first year at university here. He wants to get into sports medicine. So it's a really successful program. We collaborate with many different people, and you can see that in my notes. We also raise awareness in the McGill community about aboriginal history, culture, and identity through various programs.
I'll talk a little bit about the obstacles. The recommendation I would have is for a sustainable and long-term investment, especially to keep some of the new positions we have. They're running on grants and need to be continually renewed. Funding for students—the post-secondary student support program—is not up to par with the cost of living. This program needs to be maintained. I would encourage that it not turn into a loan program, and that the cap be removed and increased. It offers a lot of restrictions. A lot of our students have to be full-time, they sometimes can't take classes in the summer, and it is good for only certain programs. It doesn't actually support transitional programs, which some universities are developing because they see a need, because some K to 12 students are not being qualified to go into university. So it would be really great if some of these programs could be supported.
In terms of housing, we actually offer housing in our building, but the costs are very high and it's not suitable for families.
I see the need for culturally appropriate counselling. There's a lot of healing needed, and a lot of students do not feel comfortable seeing just any counsellor. There's a need for more communication between community post-secondary counsellors, institutions, and federal and provincial governments to come together to create a more uniform and modernized strategy to advance aboriginal education.
I was recently at a conference and we were discussing unemployment and poverty. They had the statistics up there—high unemployment and high poverty—and one student brought up a really good point. She asked if we could break down these terms and ask who sets these standards.
I think a lot more could be in the discussion on unemployment and poverty, such as our aboriginal values in these standards that have been put in place. What does it mean to aboriginal people to be unemployed and living in poverty? It's a very diverse situation for many different people.
You know, we're always associated with some of these nasty statistics. There is not enough recognition that the situations of aboriginal people around the country are diverse. Stereotypes still exist because of these statistics. More emphasis could be put on what we are doing right and what we're doing well. We are doctors, lawyers, and CEOs. This needs to be visible.
There are structural and systemic problems. Aboriginal and western values tend to clash. I think there needs to be better coordination and more education and awareness campaigns. I think it needs to be moved beyond just awareness. We need to move towards more understanding.
I think a mandated improved aboriginal curriculum in K to 12 is definitely needed. Then we wouldn't have to go do all these education and awareness campaigns. We would be dealing with these in school, talking about them more in-depth, analyzing them, and coming up with solutions together. We would have a curriculum with indigenous perspectives and resources.
Faculties of education in universities and colleges across the country can do the same. We're teaching future teachers, and everyone has to be in the same boat learning how to engage with aboriginal issues.
There should be more mentoring and support, especially for graduate students. As I work in the university, we would like to see that happening.
There should be more aboriginal inclusion. One of our students would really like to see a commercial highlighting various aboriginal people in various positions to really make these positions and fields more visible so that young aboriginal women and boys can see themselves in these work fields.
We should highlight or create a document on useful grants that could help fund economic projects on and off reserve. Making that information easily accessible would be good.
I'll raise some particular factors affecting women. Child care is one. Raising a family while in school, away from community support, is a big one. In most cases, the women going back to school are the sole caretakers. We tend to see aboriginal mothers going back to school later on, because they see the importance of education, and they see it influencing their children. If they want their children to grow up to be successful, they know that they need to set that path. We need to support them.
Discrimination is another one. Being a woman and indigenous, it still happens.
There is self-esteem. Again, we need more mentoring programs. Programs that exist could be tailored and could connect with aboriginal communities to make sure that we're empowering all women.
There is a little bit of a difference between those on reserve and off reserve. Again, aboriginal people are very diverse, and we need to always keep that in mind. They're very diverse socially, culturally, and economically. We need to be aware of assumptions. I give an example here. When we're creating an outreach program, say with a school on reserve, that's great. At the same time, there are a lot of parents sending their children to private schools or urban schools, because they think that's a better opportunity for them. I think we need to make sure that we're aware of that and we reach out to those students as well.
I've noticed that a lot of on-reserve students coming to an urban setting have a lot more social, cultural, and emotional needs, because that's what they're getting in the community. We need to make sure that we're having that in the urban setting as well, and are creating that community. Students on reserve usually have to move to an urban setting, if they want the same opportunities as the rest of the population—whether that's going to high school, going to post-secondary, getting employment, or even for health.
So there are a lot of trade-offs. Because to get a good education and a chance to succeed, you most likely have to leave your community and your family and integrate.
On the top four things that I see as an area that we could start exploring, again, I could talk a lot about the colonization, but I think we really have to understand that as first nations women we have to understand the impacts and how that looks in today's culture. So it's about understanding the role of the woman, the leadership and the governance issues, and how nation rebuilding and self-governance are all tied into that, and really showcasing stories of success—stories of women leaders and of the resilience that we have as first nations women.
Another area would be encouraging economic independence. Again, it would be showcasing a lot of entrepreneurs and corporate and community people, and building the financial literacy among them, really promoting that strong administrative practitioner approach, building their capacity, and building those opportunities for training. So it would be really focusing on profiling that.
Also, the mentorship aspect is key in this. We have to look at the next generation of our emerging leaders and reach out to them to see what kinds of needs they have, and we have to really think about how we can service and facilitate that with them. If it's through projects that are already out there, NCFNG has some things that we do with our services. We have a mentorship program. There are also other organizations, such as the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute and their project, where they're really trying to empower women.
Also, another area that I think is key is to start to look at the role of women in the area of board governance, because I think there's a role, and there's a decision-making aspect in there, and women have to start becoming more aware of that as an avenue. Because when you think of indigenous leadership, the first thought for a lot of them is that it has to be an elected position, but there are other avenues whereby we can start participating in decision-making. So really, it's about building that capacity at a first nations level and at the indigenous women's level, increasing the board governance role, and talking about the challenges and why is it important to have women's voices in these areas.
Those are my top four.