It's entirely up to you.
This is the year 2019. My wish for you is that, by the end of the year, you have an actual smudge policy that respects indigenous people coming into this space. To have my voice heard is one thing, but to have my voice honoured is another. Frivolous words don't mean a thing unless actions start taking place.
If you don't mind, I'm just going to light the smudge. I will walk around once. While I'm walking around, what you can do is list four things you're grateful for. You will then help with the prayer.
In some cases, we ask for the fire thing and everything to be shut. This stuff is not here to cause havoc. It's here to clean the air, to clean the space.
Don't mind me; I'm just going to talk out loud while I walk around.
Blessed grandfathers and grandmothers, look kindly on us today. We're but human beings here in this room, trying to do our best, not just for us but for our population and the new generation that has yet to come.
I ask us to open our minds, cleanse our minds, to start looking at things in a good way. You have to remember why you have eyes: to look at things twice. You also have to remember why you have ears: to listen twice. You have only one mouth, and there's a harsh reality. Our voice is very important, and you have to use it in an appropriate way, too.
If I feel like crying later, I will cry, because you don't realize how hurtful it is and how much strength we have to put together just to come to these places that still don't see us.
Thank you for honouring us today. We honour you.
Thank you very much for having me.
I have put together a bit of a PowerPoint for you, as well—just pictures, no text. I am presenting as an individual because my family has a bit of a story that relates directly to some of the subject matter of Bill , which you are studying here.
It is the story of this little girl. I will just refer to her by her first initial J., to protect her privacy. J.'s story starts about 25 years ago, when her mom was born in Gatineau and then brought into the child welfare system in Gatineau soon after. J.'s mom was in foster care for a while, and then there was a grandmother type of person. She wasn't a biological relation but there was a very close relationship. She lived on the Ottawa side of the river. That grandmother wanted to take J.'s mom into her care permanently in order to raise her in a stable, loving environment.
However, because of the jurisdictional issue between the fact that J.'s mom was actually in care on the Gatineau side and this grandmother-type was on the Ottawa side, they were not able to sort that out. The grandmother did not have the financial resources to challenge anything in court, or anything like that.
J.'s mom ended up being kicked around from foster home to foster home, and eventually aged out of the system. A few years later, she met a young man from the Peguis First Nation, north of Winnipeg. She met him here in Ottawa and they had a child, which is the little girl you see in front of you.
We knew J.'s mom because J.'s mom was living on the streets when she was pregnant. A priest found her there, sought to find her shelter and then also mentorship from some other ladies, including my wife. My wife met her, did her pregnancy photo shoot for her, took her shopping a few times and got her into a home where she could have care and help.
Eventually J. was born. J. lived with her mom for about eight to nine months, and then there was an incident which required the CAS in Ottawa to take J. into care. At that time, J.'s mom was completely traumatized by that because she herself had lived through foster care. She knew some of the harms in foster care. She had experienced many herself. J.'s mom was completely distraught that J. was in an anonymous home somewhere within the system here in Ottawa.
We showed up to be a moral support for her at her first court appearance. At that court appearance, we asked, “Would you like us to take J. into our home? Would that be any help to you?” Her face lit right up and said, “Would you do that?” We said, “Sure, we would be happy to try to do that.” It would be a temporary thing because the goal, of course, with foster care is to reunite the child with the parent.
After a long approval process, eventually J. was approved to come into our home. Unfortunately, we lived on the Gatineau side and J. was in care on the Ottawa side. Again, there was this jurisdictional issue. We could not be approved as a foster family for J. We made an arrangement where it was by consent. We did not receive any funding or assistance or subsidies or any sort of help from the Ottawa CAS. That was okay; we were happy to help out.
After quite a long time, it became clear that J.'s mom could not have her back. The next step, of course, was to decide whether or not J. should find a stable place that would be permanent. We were willing to do that, although our hope and desire was for J. to be reunited with her mother. That did not happen.
We spent a lot of time with J. We got to know her and love her as our own child. It was not always sunshine as it is in this picture. In fact, J. was up usually two to three, sometimes four times a night, which made for a very exhausted person, such as me, on some of those mornings.
Just to give you a sense of how far we are talking about, the Peguis First Nation is about a two hours' drive north of Winnipeg, a 25-hour car drive from us here in Ottawa.
The cool thing for us as a non-first nations family is that we have begun to learn so much about first nations culture here in Canada. We've been able to participate in some powwows, including the really big one here in June in Ottawa. We've been able to participate in blanket exercises to learn, with new eyes, the legacy of the residential schools. That has been quite remarkable for us.
Not only is J. a treasure in herself, but she also offers so much to a family such as ours. She is pictured here with my father, and with my grandparents. My grandfather actually just passed away five weeks ago.
Here she is hugging my grandmother. This is a woman who grew up in Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II, came over here to Canada soon after, lived a long and difficult but fulfilling life, and now has advanced dementia. Here you can see that J. is full of love for other people, including people with extreme challenges.
J. has integrated into our family quite well, and that is going well. She loves her brother, our son. They get along quite well. They love each other so much, and we love her.
All of this comes down to the point of this bill and where we think we see problems or at least a gap in the bill. There is some wonderful language in this bill, and I'm happy for it. One of the things that's very encouraging is that repeatedly in different parts of the bill, there's reference to the best interests of the child. I think that's very important, and we need to make sure the rest of the bill doesn't undermine that in any way.
This raises the two issues that I see from my lived experience and J.'s lived experience, and I raise two concerns for your consideration, two gaps I think I see in the legislation.
The first is that it creates a bit of a jurisdictional nightmare. I say this having experienced over the last 18 months the headache and the tumults that dealing with just two jurisdictions, Ontario and Quebec, has caused our family and J., and the intergenerational problems it created for J.'s mother and grandmother figure. J.'s mom ended up being kicked around foster care because of this jurisdictional issue.
When I look at subclause 20(1) and subclause 18(1), I have big questions. In fact, if I look at subclause 20(1), in our situation, if this were in place today, we could be dealing with up to five different jurisdictions in order to sort out how J. should be helped. In our case, it would be Manitoba, because the Peguis First Nation is in Manitoba. It would be the Peguis First Nation. It would be Ontario, because J.'s mom is from Ontario. It would be Quebec, because that's originally where we lived, and then it would be the federal government as well, because we're dealing with first nations issues that require the input of the minister.
It's been nothing but crazy. We've had to move from the Quebec side to the Ontario side temporarily in order for this file to wrap up—18 months in the process. I can't imagine what this would be like if we had to deal with five jurisdictions.
Of course the other question with subclause 18(1) is about jurisdiction over non-first nations parents, where one parent is not first nations and the other parent is first nations. How do we deal with that? This ties directly into my second concern about the bill.
It seems to me that there's a gap, a big gap in the bill. I could be wrong about this, but my impression in reading through this bill a couple of times now is that there's an assumption that when we're dealing with first nations children, the parents of the child will both be first nations.
I'm wondering how we use Bill if it's passed into law. In J.'s situation, her father is first nations but her father wasn't really part of the picture because her mom, who is not first nations—she's French Canadian—was the primary caregiver. How do we deal with that situation? I'm seeing a pretty major gap there.
When we tie that in with parents' interests, again, that's dealt with in this bill where it says that the parent should be able to have a say in how their child is taken care of, but which parent? Does one trump the other? Does it matter if one is first nations but not the primary caregiver, and the other one isn't first nations but is the primary caregiver? How does that work in the order of priority, for example, in subclause 16(1)? How do we wrestle with these questions?
In the last 30 seconds that I have, I'll end with this. The best interests of the child does require stability, and there is a reference in the bill to stability being so important. Our hope and prayer is that this is something we have provided for J. and that she has a stable home where her new dad and her new mom not only love each other but love her and put her interests first and primary. I hope that pays dividends for her as she grows and develops.
Thank you so much. Meegwetch.
I'm going to start with the Anishinabek Nation's preamble to our Chi-Naaknigewin, our constitution for the Anishinabek Nation. It's called Ngo Dwe Waangizid Anishinaabe. We are one Anishinabek family. It's on the Anishinabek Nation website if you want to refer to it later.
[Witness spoke in Anishinaabemowin]
My name is Adrienne Pelletier. I'm the social director for the Anishinabek Nation and have been for the last 11 years. When I became the director, I noticed that there was a resolution on the books that said that we were to pursue child welfare jurisdiction. The chiefs and assembly—we represent 40 first nations—asked us to do just that, to pursue child welfare jurisdiction.
We've been on this path since 2008. We took an inherent rights perspective with respect to our jurisdiction over our children, youth and families. We just did it. We didn't ask the government for money. We just went out and we asked our citizens all across Ontario, and we even got folks sending in their comments from across the country and out of country because they have inherent rights as far as we're concerned as an Anishinabek Nation. We took all of their input into a law.
We created an Anishinabek Nation Child Well-Being Law. It's been well vetted through our citizens. It's been enacted in 17 of our first nations currently. We're 40 first nations strong, 66,000 people. We are seen as leaders on this path forward to take back our jurisdiction and look after our own children in a culturally appropriate way.
One of the major issues we have with this legislation is that we're already negotiating with both the province and the federal government to fund our Anishinabek child welfare system but then we have this bill coming in and it's causing interference for us. We would like to continue to pursue our jurisdiction and the path that we set forward under that inherent rights perspective. We continue to do that.
One of the major issues with this bill is that in Ontario we have band representatives and, thanks to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, those band reps are now funded. For many years, for maybe 15 or 20 years, the government stopped funding the band rep position in Ontario. We now have band reps fully funded in Ontario again.
This is our stopgap. The band reps are child advocates to make sure that no child or family service agency is interfering in the rights of that child as an indigenous child or the rights of the parents and the right of their extended family wherever they're from. If they're from two or three or four first nations because they had ties, then that's the right of that child.
We believe that the connection to community and extended family culture and spirit are a requirement for all indigenous children. It's the right of that child just because they're indigenous.
We would like you to make some considerations with respect to the band representative role and my colleague here, Tracey O'Donnell, will talk a little bit about some of the other sections that we have serious concerns with. You do have our submission. When we did that submission, we had 16 first nations that had enacted the law. There are now 17.
We continue to go to our communities, because now the lawmakers are the first nations, so the first nations give us the authority to enact a law for them. It's a community-based law. It's a prevention-based law. It gives the power back to the first nation to set its own community standards, its own way of doing child welfare for its indigenous children.
My name is Tracey O'Donnell. I'm from the Red Rock Indian Band, part of the Anishinabek Nation. I've worked, together with Adrienne Pelletier, on the development of the Anishinabek Nation Child Well-Being Law since its inception. The law, as Adrienne said, is based on first nation jurisdiction, our inherent jurisdiction.
We acknowledge that this bill recognizes the first nation jurisdiction; however, the bill also restricts the exercise of jurisdiction by putting a number of requirements in that we see are going to interfere with the work we've started. The discussions we've had with Canada indicating that this would not interfere with our work are not ringing true, now that we see the words on the page.
Of particular concern is the requirement for an agreement with the governments of those provinces in which we wish to exercise our jurisdiction. We've asked for technical clarification of what this means. For Anishinabek, our law says that our jurisdiction extends to our people, the Anishinabek citizens. The law doesn't have a geographic restriction, so if we have Anishinabek citizens who are living in the province of British Columbia, our law would extend to those individuals as well.
When we read this bill and see the requirement for the indigenous group to engage with the governments of those territories where we wish to exercise our jurisdiction, to us it appears that we would have to negotiate agreements with every one of the provinces and territories within which our citizens live. That's an onerous task and is of concern to us, because we have no resources, other than our first nations' intent to exercise our jurisdiction and move forward to protect Anishinabek children and youth and maintain the unity of Anishinabek families.
As Adrienne mentioned, the issue with the band representative extends to the fact that band representatives under this legislation are not afforded party status in proceedings. In the province of Ontario, band representatives are parties to proceedings, receive notice of all of the actions that are taken through the courts and have standing to represent the first nation in those proceedings.
It's of major importance that this role continue for our first nations. We have a very active band representative program within our first nations. The band representatives are there to speak on behalf of the first nations to ensure that Anishinabek children and youth have a voice and that their connection to the community is maintained.
In fact, we took this so far in our law that under our adoption sections in the Anishinabek Nation Child Well-Being Law, not only is the consent of the biological parents or guardians required, but the consent of the first nation of which the child and the parents are members is also required for an adoption to occur that involves an Anishinabek child.
It's very important for us that this band role be respected and acknowledged. We're concerned that, as the law is currently written, foster parents or care providers have standing as parties but our band representatives' standing is taken away, and that would cause an incredible challenge for our communities. It would also interfere with the implementation of our law.
The other points that we raised are in our written submission, which we know has been prepared for the committee's review in both English and French.
and good morning, Madam Chair Mihychuk, committee members, elders and colleagues.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on Bill . My name is Judy Hughes. I am a Métis citizen and I am the president of Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women's Circle Corporation, out of Saskatchewan, of course.
I appreciate the opportunity to gather on the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin people.
Meegwetch to for recognizing that SAWCC needed a voice at this table. We had to corner her in Meadow Lake, but we got it.
The Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women's Circle Corporation is the provincial not-for-profit voluntary indigenous women's organization. We're celebrating 16 years of providing programs and resources in education, advocacy, research and economic opportunities to all nations of indigenous women, their families and the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Our governance includes a provincial president, directors from the six regions of Saskatchewan, a kokum and a youth advocate. SAWCC is one of the 13 provincial-territorial member associations, or PTMAs, of the Native Women's Association of Canada, which is the largest indigenous women's organization in Canada and boasts a PTMA in every province and territory of Canada.
My comments today are specific to all Métis children and families. Our children are our essence of being. Who will be administering the services and the funds? I'm thinking about the jurisdictional gap that may arise if services are only provided to members of one Métis national organization or government.
How are Métis children going to be identified? I do not want any Métis child left out, as it is with status first nations with Bill , where people are put into categories and then it's decided whether or not they deserve a service. Not all of us are members of the Métis National Council, or in Saskatchewan, Métis Nation Saskatchewan. It's our choice whether we want to be part of that organization. I'm not saying anything negative about it, but it's our choice.
As an example, someone who is not a member of those organizations, such as my niece who has autism, would not be able to, and cannot, access any services that are provided by them, because her mom and dad choose not to be registered members.
It is long overdue for us, as Métis citizens, to have an opportunity to build our child and family services from a blank page and do it right. Why? Because, from my perspective, there is nothing more beautiful than our Métis values, teachings, cultures, language, protocols and ways of being. It would be free of all this systemic discrimination that we find in all of the institutions in Canada.
Growing up, I wasn't able to exercise my right to practise and be proud of my Métis culture. Because of this discrimination, we were forced to pass ourselves off as white. In my younger days, which was quite a few decades ago, I lived in a mixed community of people who were considered white, half-breed and Indian. That's in Bertwell, Saskatchewan, on Highway 23. I was called a “koo-bah squaw” in school. This referred to my being of Ukrainian and Dene heritage.
Regarding Bill , what I see as a significant limitation is that it is missing the voices of the women of many nations—the grandmothers, the kokums. We know that boys and girls have different needs and we want to put it on the record that culturally appropriate gender-based analysis still needs to be done on any legislation, programs and services.
The Métis citizens of Saskatchewan deserve time to understand the implications of Bill , if the legislation passes, and also, the patriarchal approach needs to change. We need to do more research on successful child and family models, and we do have one with the Manitoba Metis Federation model established in 1982, which I think is quite successful. We need more communication and we need to involve the matriarchs.
We have abilities within our communities to develop and implement legislation and reparation programs, versus a top-down, “Here, this is in your best interests” approach. We need to be the ones saying, “This is in the best interests of our children.”
We need partnerships with all levels of government. We're willing to work with all levels of government, including our own indigenous governments, and Canada must be willing to enter into a sincere working relationship with us.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child said that every child has every right, and we must ensure that every Métis child has every right.
Meegwetch. Thank you for listening.
Thank you for the honour of being here today.
If you could indulge me for 30 seconds, let us have 30 seconds of silence for all the children who have died while in care. In your mindset as well, get ready for the reality that some of the present children in care may not return home.
[A moment of silence observed]
Thank you very much.
Please do not misinterpret the tone of my voice. It may come off as being angry, but it's from the five generations of hurt. If you don't mind me, at times I may stand up or sit down; that's just who I am.
The first question I have to ask you, and you don't have to answer me—I want you to think about these things tonight before you go to sleep—is this: Do you see me? Do you see me? I think I'm invisible to some people. Our walk on the bridge again this past while reminded us of that. Is there not a better way to do this? “Get out of the way! You're hindering our traffic!”
I'm glad to be here. I want to be recognized as a human being with one great quality, and I encourage you to have that quality too—the quality of honesty. Learning how to relate to one another over this next while is going to be really interesting.
Please don't misinterpret my presence here as an approval of this bill. It is not an approval of this bill.
Please do not play politics with our children's lives. This is a very serious matter, and if we're going to do this shift, let's do it appropriately and in a really respectful manner. Walk with respect. Walk with forgiveness.
Listening means two things....
Don't mind me; I do parenting classes. I'm not here to talk to you as though you're kids, if you know what I mean.
Listening means two things: You hear what I say and do what I'm asking you to do. I'm in my sixties now. I need to see some markers, because I've heard idle words since I was in my late twenties and I have seen no improvements in my community.
Besides being part of SAWCC, I'm a part of the Aboriginal Family Defence League. It is a non-incorporated entity and it will never be incorporated. I've advocated for families for the last 35 years, and I still advocate for families to get children back today. I'm still traumatized by the archaic patriarchal approaches that come out of the people who are there to supposedly help us. I am encouraging you to relate to us differently.
Treaties...? There's a word my relative used during the Constitution talks when somebody asked him about treaties. He said, really, the federal state is in hypocrisy. They've been fighting us for years. Look how long it took to get Jordan's principle. Look at the fact that they took up the Supreme Court issue around children to fight us. That is appalling. I want to say “blasphemy”, to some degree. It's blasphemy. It's terrible.
To help with the shift, what you need to realize is that we have grandmothers, we have kokums in our community—matriarchs who have been here for many years. That traditional kinship system is still alive. It's why we still have a generation of grandmothers willing to help by interfering and asking for those grandchildren to be tended by them and not by the state.
I want to make a plea for the most important institution of all—family. If you can, explain to me why and what is preventing us from that investment. Really try to help me understand it, because I can't. What my eyes see is a contradiction, the state willing to waste $18,000 a month to keep nine children away from a mother that they already raised in foster care. It's intergenerational. They already have second generation kids in care. What does that tell you in regard to what they're doing? This way is not working.
At the last meeting I went to, as I was leaving a young person said.... I'm an advocate for families, but what he said was, “Kokum, you're a hostage negotiator. You're negotiating for the return of children.”
What I need to awaken you to, especially in Saskatchewan and maybe throughout Canada, is that there is a national crisis going on. It's called genocide, as well. Do you know that it's illegal to remove one group of children and place them with others. It is against the law to do that.
We have a national crisis going on. We have a child advocate in Saskatchewan who just released a report on suicide. Action...? What's going to be done? Suicide is a result of PTSD, the ripple effect.
We do not have an opioid epidemic in our community. We have a doctor and a pharmaceutical problem. I'm trying to re-shift this stuff because we keep on being blamed as if this is our problem. These are not our problems.
Poverty...? We have economic poverty that started when they killed the buffalo.
Housing...? It's a treaty right. We have homeless people.
Affordable housing...? No, at $1,300 to $1,500 a month, you can't afford that.
Missing and murdered indigenous women happens on a daily basis, and it's still going on in this community.
I'm here to remind you that it's illegal what they're doing. What I'm here to do as well is to demand.... In Saskatchewan, Merriman refuses to meet with common citizens who have been doing this work and have the answers. He ignores us. We're invisible. I'm demanding from Saskatchewan a hundred children home by Christmas and a hundred children thereafter. We know the reasons children are being taken. We all know why. If we don't help with this shift, we're going to be part of the problem. I can't apologize any more to children, and you can't continue to pay out children.
I just want to highlight the fact that our law gives the power back to the community. The community will set their community standards, how they want their children served. It recognizes and affirms customary care, which means that a member of the child's extended family looks after that child while the parents do what they have to do to get well. It stops the court proceedings.
In Ontario, for up to two years, you can become a Crown ward. In my opinion, no institution should be in charge of a child, and that's what a Crown ward is.
We want to repatriate all our Crown wards back to their communities under our own Anishinabe law. We have a very respectful relationship with the Province of Ontario. We are negotiating a collaboration agreement with the Province of Ontario that respects the Anishinabe authority and respects our first nations. If you give too much power to children's aid societies, you have the situation we have in Manitoba where children's aid societies do whatever they want. There are no band reps in Manitoba.
You can do in vitro care to that unborn child. You can wrap services around the mom, as Native Child and Family Services of Toronto does, as some of our indigenous children's aid societies do. They support that mom as she's trying to deliver a healthy baby, instead of giving her a birth alert and saying they're going to just rip her child out of her arms after that child is born.
We are trying to make a difference in Ontario so that the very important connection between the spirit of that child and that mom is maintained. We respect that in Ontario, and I know all of the indigenous societies are trying to make sure that we support babies before they're even born and we wrap services around that mom. We connect them with the healthy babies healthy children program. In our communities, we have community well-being workers and family well-being workers.
All of that is important structure to respect the inherent right of that unborn child. We have to respect the spirit of every child and make sure they're connected to their family, their extended family and their community, even if they've never been there before. That's a right of that child to know where they come from and to know who their relatives are, and to have access to their anishinaabe-wiinzowin, which is their spirit name.
As first nations here in Canada, we all know what happened to us in the past. I think we've come to a time right now that we're at a crossroads: We work together or we keep fighting again for many generations.
For my part, I choose not to fight again. I will fight for our rights, yes, of course. I will fight for our recognition. I will fight so that we can enjoy living in peace here in Canada together. We have to foresee how life will be in the future. I think it's now the time—it doesn't matter whether you're Liberal, Conservative, or NDP—that you understand that you have to invest in first nations to ensure security, to ensure defence of our territory, to ensure that first nations have a sense of belonging to Canada and to ensure as well that first nations have a sense of stewardship towards Canada.
That's how we have to look at it from now on. So many of us are youth, and I say that everywhere. I'm starting to feel a little bit old, but 72% of my people are younger than I am. There are many people and there's a lot of potential. If we keep ignoring indigenous rights, we're just passing on more problems to them and to your kids and grandchildren as well. It doesn't matter, then, which party you're from. We all have to understand that we have to work together to ensure a better future for Canada, all together.
That's what I wanted to say before.
Canada recognizes that Indigenous peoples have the inherent right of self-government. This right includes legislative jurisdiction over child and family services.
Bill reaffirms this right, but adjusts its application. Although the legislation of the Indigenous governing body has the force of law, in the absence of a coordination agreement, it's difficult to see how the legislation would be applied.
An entity or authority could be designated to decide on the terms of the coordination agreement in the event of a dispute. This authority could be a two-headed authority, consisting of an Indigenous representative and a state representative, who should reach a joint decision.
In addition, proper funding is needed to enforce the provisions of the Indigenous legislation. In the case of child and family services, in the absence of guaranteed funding, the Indigenous authorities may adopt their own legislation. However, the legislation is unlikely to be implemented. It would be desirable to include a commitment to this effect in the legislation.
The minimum standards set out in Bill must also be met by Indigenous groups that adopt their own legislation. These clauses concern in particular the best interests of Indigenous children.
In the event of a dispute concerning the determination of the best interests of the Indigenous child, the state courts would make the decision. However, state courts reflect the culture of the dominant society. The application of this principle has led the courts to decide to place a number of Indigenous children in the care of non-Indigenous foster families without regard for the preservation of cultural identity.
The legislation says nothing about the grounds for which a child may be taken in certain situations by child and family services.
Will these grounds be the same as the grounds set out in the provincial legislation?
Could the Indigenous legislation include different grounds for intervention?
I'm already anticipating many issues with this part of the legislation.
Clause 13 of the bill states that the Indigenous governing body has the right to make representations in any civil proceedings.
The child and family services agencies are the most knowledgeable about the child's situation. As a result, it would be better if these agencies could intervene instead of the Indigenous governing body, which has more of a political role.
In addition, the legislation should be amended to establish the right of these service provider organizations to submit their observations, and not to make representations. The latter phrase is associated with party status, which isn't assigned by law to the Indigenous entity.
The bill's focus on an Indigenous child's living environment seems entirely appropriate. However, the bill under consideration could be amended to ensure a justification for the decision to place the child in the care of an adult who isn't a member of the child's family, community, nation or any other Indigenous community or nation. This is very important. The decision should provide reasons, from the start, describing all the efforts made to try to keep the child with their family. This should be added to the legislation.
I'll now turn the floor over to our expert legal counsel in this area. She has assisted us throughout the process.
For the people who don't know, the Attikamek nation is now a leader in child protection.
Hello. Thank you for inviting us here today.
My presentation will be wide-ranging.
The definition of a family as appears in Bill is very interesting, because it takes into account the child's perception, traditional indigenous customs as well as whom indigenous peoples consider to be a close relative of the child. This is very positive and the bill is respectful of the various concepts of family within indigenous culture.
There is an entire section on the child's socio-economic conditions. In Canada, the fact that indigenous peoples suffer from unfavourable socio-economic conditions and overcrowded housing is well-known and well documented. These conditions constitute clinical risk factors to be taken into account when evaluating a child's situation.
While it is positive that the bill expressly mentions that the child must not be apprehended solely because of its socio-economic conditions, in the absence of concrete measures to improve living conditions for indigenous peoples, this section is meaningless in provinces like Quebec, where it is possible for the authorities to intervene on behalf of a child by citing a serious risk of negligence.
As to Jordan's principle, which I'm sure you all know very well, legislators are not in the habit of putting names in bills. However, we could perhaps make an exception here. Canada could apply this principle as it was defined by the tribunal to all children, regardless of their place of residence. We hope that the bill will mention that the Government of Canada recognizes Jordan's principle and commits to putting it into practice.
In subsection 12(1) of the bill, we find the notion of “significant measure”, whereby before any significant measure is taken in relation to the child, the service provider must provide notice of the measure to the child's parents and others. Basically, one wonders what is the significant measure. Perhaps that should be defined.
I will stop here.
, Madam Chair.
Ulaakut. Good morning, everyone. It's good to be here.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is the national representative organization for the 65,000 Inuit who live in Canada, the majority of whom live in Inuit Nunangat, our homeland. About 65% of our population still live in our homeland, and 35% now live outside of Inuit Nunangat. Our homeland encompasses 51 communities, nearly a third of Canada's landmass and 50% of its coastline.
ITK is governed by the elected leaders of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Makivik Corporation and the Nunatsiavut Government.
These four Inuit representational organizations and governments are Inuit rights holders under section 35 of the Constitution, having negotiated comprehensive Inuit-Crown land claim agreements between 1975 and 2005. It is therefore an appropriate and positive development that the Crown engaged Inuit rights holders in the development of Bill . ITK helped facilitate regional engagement with the Government of Canada throughout this process through our national governance structure.
Too many Inuit children and youth have been and continue to be placed in care because of issues of neglect that can largely be attributed to the lack of attention to addressing social and economic inequities among Inuit. Because of the limited number of foster homes, professional services and residential care facilities throughout Inuit Nunangat, children are often sent outside of their communities and/or regions to be placed in care. As a consequence, far too many of our children are unable to participate in our culture and society and as members of our communities.
In July 2018 ITK created a working group to provide input, review documentation and provide recommendations related to the proposed federal legislation to the ITK board of directors. The working group included representation from Nunavut Tunngavik, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Nunatsiavut Government, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services on behalf of Makivik Corporation, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada.
ITK worked with the Government of Canada as well as the Assembly of First Nations and the Métis National Council to co-develop options for federal legislation to address the protection of Inuit children.
Through the input of ITK's working group and the engagement session organized by Pauktuutit, Inuit developed and submitted to Indigenous Services Canada a series of priorities for child protection. They included doing whatever is possible to keep children with their immediate and extended families, a goal reflected in clauses 15 and 16; ensuring that all care provided to Inuit children and families is culturally appropriate, as reflected in clauses 9 and 11; ensuring that Inuit children and youth living outside of Inuit Nunangat are identified as Inuit and are provided with culturally appropriate care, which is reflected in clauses 9, 11 and 28; ensuring that Inuit children and youth sent outside of Inuit Nunangat for specialized care remain in contact with their culture and home community, which is reflected in clauses 9, 10, 11 and 17. Inuit also called for the legislation to be outcomes-focused, distinctions-based, evidence-based and reflective of Inuit self-determination.
While much of what Inuit proposed was incorporated into Bill , ITK is requesting an amendment to clause 28 of the bill, which speaks to information agreements. We know that indigenous children aged 0 to 14 make up 7.7% of all children in Canada yet represent 52% of children in foster care in private homes. However, with the limited data available in public reports, it is not possible to readily determine how many Inuit children have active statuses within child welfare services both within and outside of Inuit Nunangat.
Therefore, ITK requests that paragraph 28(a) be amended to ensure that data gathered on indigenous children in care are disaggregated to clarify whether they are first nations, Inuit or Métis, and in the case of Inuit, that their affiliated land claim organization be identified. This would enable service providers to connect with and serve notice to the Inuit land claim organizations so that Inuit children and youth can continue to receive the benefits they are entitled to under their respective land claim agreements.
At a high level, there is consensus across Inuit Nunangat about how child welfare services would ideally be delivered within Inuit communities; however, none of the regions has been able to make a significant shift towards this vision on a system-wide scale. Bill can help us do so.
The status quo is completely unacceptable. There may be systems that may work and there may be fears about creating new solutions or interventions that improve systems, but in the end we have to figure out a way to ensure that this broken system can be repaired and that indigenous and Inuit self-determination can be the focal point for the new way in which we think about how child services are delivered.
It's an honour for me to be here. I'll try to bring an administrative perspective to you on Bill and what we hope it means for an agency implementing that legislation.
As Chief Roulette has mentioned, through what I'll call convenient interpretation of provincial acts, we've been able to return approximately 50% of our children in the last two years. We've gone from approximately 600 children in care to approximately 298. That was through our interpretation of standards and legislation that were actually in direct contradiction sometimes, because the rules wouldn't allow certain things.
One thing we find is that Manitoba is a unique province in terms of devolution and of services being turned over to first nations. We still operate within the context of original provincial legislation as drafted in the 1980s as we move forward with customary care, which has the community involved in decision-making around what happens to families, and resource sharing, whereby you have housing, education, health and the chief and council as parts of a customary committee in which we sit down together and make plans around how each service delivery body can contribute to the case plan for families in the community.
In addition, there's the block funding model, which your government more or less does already. Our federal funding flows directly to us. On the provincial side it flows through an authority that we're dealing with as well, because we don't think it's necessary for our funding to flow through an aboriginal authority to us, which would involve administration fees. We see such an authority as an extension of government, another level of bureaucracy that's unnecessary.
We deal with those kinds of things. Your government, as I said, is already there in terms of how our funding flows, and we're hoping that this bill will allow first nations, instead of being in contradiction of legislation and standards, to begin to develop their own, which would allow us to continue our unique way of providing services on reserve as they pertain to our families.
We're hoping that such a bill would mean that regardless of where children reside, whether they're on or off reserve, they're funded 100%, that the system is 100% and we get away from the sixty-forty split in Manitoba whereby the feds fund us 40% and the province funds us 60%. That is based on cases in which children are brought into care, if you aren't familiar with it.
We're hoping that Bill addresses this and that, regardless of where our children are, we are a federal responsibility and there are mechanisms in place for us to continue our own service delivery model and serve what has been mentioned, the best interests of children in care.
I know there are some documents such as “Bringing our Children Home” out there, and for Sandy Bay CFS that means something different, in terms of best interests. We've had discussions with our chief and council about whether the reserve is the best place for our children when there is no housing, high unemployment, huge health risks, gangs and drugs. Is that the best place to bring children home?
Child and family services is sometimes the dumping ground for other services, such as justice. They seem to think that child welfare can solve all of those problems, when we're currently certainly not equipped to address socio-economic conditions on first nations.
Through our customary care model and the sharing of resources, we can certainly change the outlook for kids in care. From an administrative service delivery perspective, Bill is something we're very excited about.
There are some cautionary things that we're also afraid of. Not every first nation in Manitoba has the relationship we have with our chief and council, and there is certainly a risk of agencies being enveloped by their chief and council. When you have elections every two years and faces change every two years, that can certainly be detrimental to the continuity of service of a child welfare agency. Be mindful of that. We're certainly mindful of it.
We're hoping—and it has already been documented—that Bill will supersede any provincial or federal legislation.
There was fear that such a bill would only apply on reserve, and then agencies would be forced to implement both provincial legislation and federal legislation. People would receive different services depending on where they were coming into contact with the system. We're being mindful of that, but we are highly optimistic about Bill .
Thank you for the question.
As you say, it would indeed be beneficial if provinces were to help with funding. Currently, we fall under federal jurisdiction. Apart from a few special projects, provinces do not fund programs and services for first nations. This is certainly a concern of ours.
I will give you an example. We signed an agreement under subsection 37.5 of the Youth Protection Act of Quebec. For those of you who do not know of this agreement, we have enjoyed complete autonomy in terms of youth services since January 29, 2018, after more than 15 years of negotiations.
Two of our communities are autonomous and are situated in a certain town, but people are starting to move to other urban centres. They are therefore out of our system and we would like to offer them our services, but we don't have the necessary funding to do so in other cities.
We are pleased with the bill's orientation. In general, we are going in the right direction. People are talking about reestablishing relationships between nations, between the federal government and indigenous governments. I believe that reconciliation happens slowly, step by step, one victory at a time, but there remains the question of funding. How are we going to meet all the needs of first nations? I don't think we will be able to provide an answer today, but we will have to think about it. At the very least, there has to be some sorts of promise in the bill that will become binding.
Thank you, Chair, and good morning. Good morning to members of the committee.
I'm pleased to have an opportunity, on behalf of the Métis nation, to speak to you today on this most important bill, Bill . This proposed act holds the promise of a better future for our children and youth, our families, our communities and our nation. The reality today is that too many Métis nation children and youth become institutionalized through mainstream child and family services systems, alienated from their personal identities, their family relations and their cultural roots.
The proposed act provides a road map for overcoming that reality through four main areas, at least, for the Métis nation.
The first area is the promotion of the right of self-determination possessed by the Métis nation through recognizing self-government and jurisdiction in the area of child welfare. Should this act be passed, the right of the Métis nation and its governments to exercise responsibility over the upbringing, training, education and well-being of our children will be recognized. Where indigenous governments enact child and family services laws, these will take precedence over provincial laws where negotiations over a period of one year do not result in agreement.
The second area contained in the proposed act is the promotion of culturally competent, equitable, responsive and effective care on the basis of substantive equality compared to non-indigenous children in Canada. The Métis nation has developed capacity in positive culturally based practices that have proven results, some of which you will hear about shortly from my colleagues this morning and in future hearings from other Métis nation leaders and care providers.
The third area concerns placing the best interests of the child as paramount, including rights of children to know their parents, families, communities and history.
The fourth area relates to placing prevention and early intervention at the centre of child and family services, replacing the current model and practices of intervention.
During the co-development process the Métis nation assessed the standards and rights contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This proposed act is one of many steps needed for Métis nation children, families and communities to fully realize their right to survival, dignity and well-being. The co-development process must continue in order to develop a regulatory framework for implementation of the act. Tripartite tables engaging Métis nation, federal and provincial governments will need to be established. Financial commitments required for the implementation of the proposed act will need to be made.
It is important that these next steps are not misconstrued as barriers to immediate adoption of the proposed act. It is important that each one of us who holds a leadership role takes the necessary action to ensure that this proposed act is adopted. Now is the time for transformative change that will positively impact, throughout Canada, the children and youth of the Métis nation, first nations and Inuit.
The Métis nation is appreciative of the support we believe we will be given by all parties to the passage of this bill. This legislation is about the future of our children and ensuring that they have the best possible opportunity for happy, healthy childhoods, living with their families and in their communities and culture.
I look forward to the passing of Bill and its implementation. I encourage all members of this committee to do their utmost to ensure that this happens.
Good morning. I'm Billie Schibler. I'm the CEO of the Metis Child and Family Services Authority in Manitoba.
I want to begin by acknowledging our members of Parliament as well as our Métis leader for our Métis National Council.
I want to begin by indicating that in my presentation—I don't know if you received any copies of it—I spend time discussing things from the perspective of someone who has not only been a service provider in child welfare in Manitoba but also a person who has been a recipient, been affected by and cared for many children who have been part of the child welfare system.
It's important for me to begin from that place, because it provides you with the greater context of my understanding of Bill and its importance.
I also want to acknowledge, as we begin to look at this, that there has been a lot of work done by the federal government and our indigenous political leaders to recognize this and bring this bill forward, and I'm grateful for it.
From a personal level, I've been very blessed in my life to have been able to live with my mother and grandmother as a child. My mother was 13 years old when she had me, and it was at a time when there was very little support provided to young single mothers. I'm able to look at life and my career in that context and through my own eyes, growing up as a child and having been provided that opportunity, when so many of our other families have not had that. I'm very welcoming of the legislative changes that are proposed.
My background is as a social worker. I've also been a foster parent for over 30 years. I have had more than 45 children come through my home, at any given time. I'm currently caring for one of my own grandchildren, whom I've had since he was a baby. He's now 10 years old. That's a very common thing with our indigenous families, as you know. If we're given the opportunity, we provide care when some of our family members are not able to do so.
I lost one of my brothers during the onset of the sixties scoop. We never found each other until we were in our mid-thirties. We learned a lot from each other's experiences, and it told us a lot about the child welfare system and what needed to change. That is so reflective of the history of our families and our people.
I have had the opportunity to deliver child welfare services in both Manitoba and Ontario, in leading child welfare in first nation communities as well as urban settings, and delivering front-line service. I've had a fairly rounded understanding of what needs to occur, and also look at it as a former children's advocate in Manitoba.
For those of you who don't know Manitoba's child welfare history—I'm assuming most of you do—we have a history that is deeply entrenched in a lot of pain. We have a long history of unclaimed struggles as Métis people. We now have some strong Métis leaders who have brought our matters to the forefront in their negotiations at the federal level, and we're very please about that. We have a larger number of children in care per capita than any other province. I'm sure you've heard those statistics.
Our Métis child welfare system is part of a devolved system. That happened 15 years ago. What ended up occurring in our devolution of child welfare was that the child welfare system never fully devolved the way it was intended to, and our ability to make our own decisions as to how to best support our families never occurred. While we were considered to be partners as part of the four authorities that existed, we never developed our own legislation. We were not able to control our own funding.
Currently as the CEO, I can say that we have two agencies. My colleague will speak on one of our agencies in a few minutes. We have the entire jurisdiction of the province for those who choose to come to us for service or for Métis families and Inuit families that we're mandated to serve. That is large.
We currently have 1,275 children in care out of the nearly 11,000 children in care in Manitoba. Even though our practice is to try our best to preserve families, many of these children are coming to us as permanent wards, with wardship granted through the courts. Once they have been made a permanent ward, they go to their culturally appropriate authorities if they're not being serviced there already. A lot of those children are coming to us through a permanent order of the child welfare system. We have not had any opportunity to provide service to their families, so it becomes very challenging for us to accept the children at that time, when they should have been part of our system right from the beginning.
We know from looking at any proposed legislation and the bill, that there has to be a complete mechanism whereby our system is notified of any Métis families coming to the attention of the child welfare system so that we can have early involvement. Otherwise, we're doing a major disservice to our families and to our children.
We know that it's very difficult to undo the history of child welfare services in Manitoba—or anywhere—that were not culturally appropriate to begin with. As we look at Bill , first of all, I want to commend the way that it begins. The preamble clearly identifies and recognizes the history and the true issues that exist for our people. Most importantly, it acknowledges the significance of working together to accept and address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.
With the history of indigenous peoples in Canada, we know what that looks like. We know about the residential and day schools, the sixties scoop, murdered and missing indigenous women, and the increasing number of indigenous children in care. We know that the effects of these tragedies have existed for decades and centuries. How, then, do we undo these effects? That's really what I think any changes in legislation—any proposed bills—need to take into consideration.
We need to look at how we can undo these effects and at how long that will take, considering the trauma and the impacts of racism, addictions, mental health problems, the high number of suicides, homelessness, non-sustainable traditional lands, family and community violence, gang affiliation and the overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
We have fragmented family units and a disconnection from land, culture and identity that continues to afflict our people. We acknowledge that it is mental health week here; I'm not sure if that's across Canada. The current mental health of indigenous peoples and the escalating addictions crisis are further symptoms of generational pain and blood memory from trauma.
If we are still living out these effects and we see them every day on our streets, in our cities and in our services, how does the child welfare system move away from a protection mindset and practice? If we recognize that the truth is the entry point for reconciliation, then what brings us to reconciliation beyond that first step of telling our truths?
If we say “no more band-aids” and that we want to see legislation that allows us to reveal so that we can heal, then it must be recognized that the reveal is our truth of generational accounts of government policies and historic wrongdoings. How do we move forward into reconciliation without a focus on healing? What does that healing look like?
From our own individual value base, it's going to look different. Some might think that an apology is the road to healing, or that residential school payouts are the road to healing, or that changes in legislation are the road to healing. We can all agree that healing is a process of becoming healthy, but it isn't a one-size-fits-all. Healing is the purging of a lot of emotional pain and trauma—generations of it.
Healing and the anticipated transformation needs to be recognized as a journey. It needs to be a place where people feel safe to be able to tell their stories. It needs to be offered through positive solutions and planned options that support healing in everything we talk about in terms of prevention and support. In fitting with Jordan's principle, there needs to be jurisdictional accessibility to these services. There needs to be accountability and support from each level of government for the funding and provision of these services.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to you all today and for your work on this important topic and legislation.
I'd also like to thank our indigenous elders, leaders and politicians who assisted in bringing forward the issues faced by indigenous people when working with and for the welfare of indigenous children.
I would especially like to thank the leadership of the Métis people, both nationally and provincially, for supporting Bill . For the Métis people most especially, this bill can lead to substantive and meaningful change.
I have had the honour of being the executive director of Metis Child, Family and Community Services in Manitoba for only the past one and a half years. I came to this role after working within and around child welfare systems for more than 25 years, and I have seen many changes in that time. I've worked in three different provinces during that time.
In child welfare, we see ourselves as helpers. One of the important lessons that we all learn eventually is that, without hope, there is no change. Bill gives me hope that we can finally have a child welfare system truly designed and controlled by indigenous people. Metis Child, Family and Community Services, for those who are unfamiliar, is a fully delegated child welfare agency. We deliver services in the city of Winnipeg, as well as in the Interlake and Eastman regions of Manitoba. Our specific mandate is to deliver services for Métis and Inuit, although the structure of devolved services in Manitoba is such that we also serve some non-indigenous and first nations people.
As a fully delegated agency, we provide services both to families to prevent children from entering into care but also to families as they work toward the reunification of children in temporary or permanent care.
Currently, 929 children of the 1,200 that Ms. Schibler referred to are in my agency's care. We are a very large agency. This number of children in our care has remained generally stable for the past five years, but it's disturbing that the proportion of those children who have been permanently removed from their parents is steadily increasing. At the end of the last fiscal year, 668 of these 929 children were in permanent care. In our agency, we still support families to have regular involvement and meaningful engagement with their children, even though they're in permanent care. They see them as often as weekly. Hopefully, they're placed within their families, and those families are involved in every important decision regarding them. It's a very important principle that we follow within our agency.
The reason for this change in the proportion of children in care being more permanent than temporary is not only that we're working hard to reduce the number of children coming into care through apprehension or temporary orders, but permanent orders are relatively long-lasting. That's the main piece of that, but there are systemic issues within our legislation and the justice-related systems that have really impacted how children end up staying in care.
Those of you familiar with the state of child welfare in Manitoba will recognize that we've been in a state of crisis for many years, despite having travelled a path toward devolving powers to indigenous agencies more than a decade ago. Where some would see this as a cautionary tale about empowering indigenous people, I would counter that it's cautionary insofar as Manitoba did not go nearly far enough with the meaningful sharing of powers, and Bill provides a mechanism to resolve this.
Currently, as a fully delegated agency, we can do what any other child welfare agency in the province can do. That's the problem. We can't do things differently. We have to do what child welfare has always done. The legislation in Manitoba is set up so that, once children enter care, the only exit point is adoption, except for those children we have a guardianship application for. The legislation supports adoption and the funding structure supports adoption, and we cannot follow that path.
When a child comes into care in Winnipeg, it's long been the policy that children be placed with their family or extended family. It's been that way precisely as Bill proposes. It's been that way for decades.
We have 270 related family caregivers in our agency. However, before a decision is ever made that a child must go into care, we created a family conferencing program to support and engage families and extended families. In many cases, the families themselves are the ones involved in the decision to have the children leave their parents' care, and they have come up with their own plan for that child's care.
Even though the provincial policy is for children to be placed with family, we receive no dedicated funding from the Province of Manitoba for either our kinship care program or our family conferencing program. Instead, I have to divert funding that is meant for child protection staff for that.
The province funds shelters and emergency care foster homes through private agencies. The vast majority of the children in these third party homes are indigenous, and yet the vast majority of these homes are not. As a result, we have had young Métis children speak Tagalog as their first language, and teenagers tell us that they're Filipino, not Métis. We've had other children raised within traditional Mennonite communities, and this has been a fact since devolution.
This continuing practice of funding third party care providers rather than funding culturally appropriate agencies is continuing the process of colonization. The historic funding structures and the relationship simply do not match the outcomes we are trying to achieve. This bill would allow us to work around these remnants of the colonizing structures and processes to further create specific Métis resources.
Another example of a Métis-specific resource, which has received considerable attention, is our living in family enhancement program. Within these homes, children live in a foster home along with their parent, ensuring that attachment is never broken or that it can be restored if they had previously been separated.
I want to emphasize the incredibly hard work and deep caring that is prevalent within the child welfare system across the country. However, listening to some critics, one would have to agree with a provincial MLA, who expressed to me in the context of a legislative review in Manitoba, that social workers act like they are crazy.
Child welfare systems are supposed to be designed to help families and protect children. People working within child welfare were attracted to it because they want to support families and protect children. Yet, we are caught between finely written principles that we wholeheartedly believe in and the dangerous situations we find children to be in. The only solutions that are funded by mainstream government are the removal of children from their family and nation, and bringing our own people into an intimidating court system that they have only experienced as being punitive towards them.
By supporting indigenous people to create alternative solutions, Bill creates hope. As noted earlier, with hope, we can create change.
Thank you for your time.
I have already had to shorten my speech two or three times.
The second priority is the state's duty to offer compensation. We all know that decades of assimilation policies have left deep scars on our indigenous peoples, scars which even now are too often passed down from generation to generation and will take time to heal. The state is responsible for this healing, the state that is the architect of the ills that beset us. Even though our child-rearing knowledge and skills must be recognized, respected and celebrated, that does not mean that the Canadian government can wash its hands of its responsibility towards our nations. The jurisdictional transfer, if it is truly to be in the interests of our children, must be accompanied by concrete measures to repair the damages caused by colonialism.
The third priority is substantive equality. The intricacies of federalism have for far too long served to justify the status quo, which is fundamentally unjust. It is unjust because even now, indigenous children do not enjoy their full rights simply because they are indigenous. It is unjust that because of our history, their needs are greater. And yet the resources given to them are less generous, hard to access and ill-suited.
I will quote the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's 2016 decision:
Substantive equality and Canada's international obligations require that first nations children on-reserve be provided child and family services of comparable quality and accessibility as those provided to all Canadians off-reserve, including that they be sufficiently funded to meet the real needs of first nations children and families and do not perpetuate historical disadvantage.
Using these three guiding principles, I will now make a few pointed comments on the current version of Bill , in the hope that they will help shape necessary amendments before the bill is passed, in order to ensure that this desperately needed and long-awaited bill will really bring the hoped-for results for indigenous children, their families and their communities.
I will keep to three main topics: funding, Jordan's principle and living conditions for indigenous children.
You know as well as I do that funding is the crux of the matter. Without sufficient funds, it will be impossible for our nations to put into practice the guiding principles provided for in the bill when exercising their jurisdiction in the field of child and family services.
The current sad state of affairs is well known and can no longer be denied since the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal handed down its decision in 2016. Indigenous children are victims of racial discrimination in Canada. This is because of chronic underfinancing of child services in indigenous communities.
Given that the human rights of our children in our communities are being violated, we at Quebec Native Women Inc. were very surprised and disappointed to read that Bill is silent on the question of funding. The preamble includes a recognition of “the ongoing call for funding for child and family services that is predictable, stable, sustainable, needs-based and consistent with the principle of substantive equality.” And yet the word “funding” does not appear elsewhere in the bill. There are no sections that clearly state how this call will become reality.
Funding here is not a political issue. It is a question of human rights. These are non-negotiable, nor are they optional.
Consequently, Bill C-92 must provide solid commitments on behalf of the federal government for equal funding of child and family services in an indigenous setting in full compliance with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's orders. This is the bare minimum that would be acceptable to Quebec Native Women Inc..
I turn now to Jordan's principle and the call for action No. 3 which reads as follows: “We call upon all levels of government to fully implement Jordan's principle.” I would personally like to remind you that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has often times repeated that Canada is bound to fully apply Jordan's principle. It seems, however, that this principle is not included in Bill C-92.
What is Jordan's principle? It is simply a principle stating that no care or service can be refused, interrupted or delayed for an indigenous child because of a jurisdictional conflict. And yet in reality in our communities it is sadly not that simple. Too many indigenous children in Canada are still the victims of bureaucratic squabbles and their rights suffer.
Quebec Native Women Inc. notes that subsection 9(3) of Bill C-92, which establishes the principle of substantive equality, states at paragraph (e) that: “[...] a jurisdictional dispute must not result in a gap in the child and family services that are provided in relation to indigenous children.” We are therefore requesting that Bill C-92 be amended in order to fully include Jordan's principle and make it binding on all orders of government who are involved in child and family services for indigenous peoples.
As to socio-economic conditions, the problem of over-representation by indigenous children in youth protection services cannot be separated from other problems affecting indigenous children's well-being.
Quebec Native Women Inc. notes that section 15 of the bill states that poverty and the lack of suitable housing and infrastructure should not be used as a reason to justify the apprehension of an indigenous child by child services. Obviously, such a section is necessary but it does nothing to solve the underlying problems.
If Bill C-92 is indeed to solve the problem of over-representation by indigenous children in child protection services and to help the welfare of indigenous children and families, the bill should include a holistic approach which truly takes into account all the issues affecting our nations. This should include incorporating positive obligations in the bill so that the Canadian government and provinces take all necessary measures in order to improve socio-economic conditions for indigenous children and families. It is essential that these measures apply to all indigenous children, whether they live on a reserve or not and whether they are status Indians or not, in order to ensure substantive equality and to truly work in terms of prevention. I would remind you of section 21 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which Canada ratified and has promised to uphold.
Quebec Native Women Inc. has three recommendations concerning Bill C-92.
Firstly, we have to include a specific section in the bill on funding for child and family services for indigenous nations to guarantee predictable, stable, sustainable and needs-based funding in accordance with the principle of substantive equality.
Secondly, the bill must be amended to include Jordan's principle as legally binding on all levels of government and for all types of care and services for indigenous children.
Thirdly, the bill must include positive obligations for the Canadian government and provinces who will take all necessary measures to improve socio-economic conditions for indigenous children and their families, including those living off-reserve and in cities.
Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, I would like to remind you that today you have the opportunity to truly act for your country. Do not let it go by. The life and well-being of thousands of children depend on you. Don't let politics make you forget for whom you are working: children. Do not forget either why you are working: to give those children a chance to lead a rich and dignified life.
Good morning everyone. My name is Raven McCallum. I'm Haida and British on my mom's side and Métis on my father's side. I was born and raised in Vancouver. I now live in Victoria on the territory of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples.
I've been a youth adviser with the Ministry of Children and Family Development Youth Advisory Council for almost four years. The Youth Advisory Council is a group of former youth in care who provide advice and recommendations to the ministry based on their experiences and stories.
Thank you for the opportunity to present my thoughts regarding Bill . It is an honour and I'm grateful that the youth voice is being heard as part of the reflection on Bill C-92. Overall, I find Bill C-92 to be a step toward necessary changes that need to occur. However, I do take issue with some of the material.
I will provide my insights describing both the highlights and areas for development. Before I begin, I feel that as a youth representative I need to share a bit about my personal story in order to provide context to my understanding of Bill .
I was raised both in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and a delegated aboriginal agency. Prior to moving into care, I lived with my mother and grandmother. When I lived with my family, I grew up knowing that I was Haida and Métis, and spent my time surrounded by indigenous family and friends.
While I was in care, I had almost no connection to my culture until my teenage years. Some homes disregarded my culture and many reinforced stereotypical notions of what it meant to be indigenous, and others, who made small attempts, assumed it was okay to simply connect me to any indigenous culture that was not my own.
This further discouraged me from participating in culture and it caused me to feel a loss of connectedness and confusion even within my own family. My first experience of being reconnected with culture did not happen until I was 17 years old when I went to a Haida homecoming. I was not connected with my Métis culture at any point during my time in care. I met people from my Métis community of Île-à-la-Crosse for the first time last year. Some of the most impactful times in my life were those times I connected with Haida Gwaii and Île-à-la-Crosse.
The current reality for Métis people in Canada is that our culture often gets brushed under the carpet, particularly if we also belong to another nation. There are many misconceptions about what Métis is and that results in culture being disregarded. It's a painful experience to believe that a person's identity is not important or is less important than other aspects of their cultural background. Just as much as anyone else, Métis children need to be connected to their community and culture.
The significance of my story is that these kinds of experiences are happening to so many young people across the country. Unfortunately, many people aren't as lucky as I am and often go their whole lives not knowing who they are, where they belong and that they are loved by entire communities.
In reflecting on Bill , I considered whether or not it will aid in overcoming the same barriers to accessing culture in communities that I've experienced. While I was reviewing it, I asked myself the following questions: Are opportunities being opened for communities to know who and where their children are? Does it support them to bring their children home? Is Métis culture acknowledged to the same extent as others? Are youth's voices empowered?
There are definitely components of Bill that will support communities to know the location of their children. Paragraph 13(b) outlines that the indigenous governing body, acting on behalf of the nation to which their children belong, has the right to make representations, which I'm in support of. If my nations had been behind me doing these significant legal proceedings, alternative options to staying in non-indigenous homes may have been created.
Subclause 12(1) states that the service provider must provide notice to the child's parents, as well as to the indigenous governing body that the child belongs to. I believe this will allow communities the opportunity to share their thoughts on how to provide the best care possible for children and maybe even create permanent options or offer preventive services. I would hope this subclause would be applied in all circumstances. I have questions about what is meant by “before taking any significant measure”. In an ideal world, communities would be informed if a child's parents were being investigated before significant measures were needed or even thought of.
Additionally, clauses 27 to 30 discuss information sharing which is important to ensuring that all levels of government have strong communication channels, so that indigenous children can have the best care possible.
Indigenous communities should have the same access to information regarding their children that the provinces and federal government have. Given that there are many Métis communities across Canada and that many Métis people are living in provinces that their family did not originate from, who would be responsible? Is it the Métis group whose province the family lived in or the province where the family has heritage or extended family? Métis dynamics are complex and I don't think there was enough specific focus for Métis people in this bill. Additionally, I do not see any reference about how to approach situations when a child belongs to more than one nation. I think it's something that is important to acknowledge. We need to know all aspects of our identity.
I feel that the youth voice is not reflected very strongly in Bill . The language is complex, and I hope to see documents that are youth-friendly in the future, particularly since the rights of the indigenous child are highlighted in the bill in subclause 10(3).
Paragraph 10(3)(d) describes that a child should be able to determine the importance of an ongoing relationship with the indigenous group. My interpretation of this point is that children can choose whether they want to be connected to culture and family. Connection to culture and family is a concept that is difficult for even adults to grasp, so how can a child be responsible for this decision? The situation is even more complicated because some children will have been placed in non-indigenous homes and might feel pressure to live a certain way, and some others have seen negative indigenous role models, so their ability to decide about this could be skewed. To be blunt, I think that this point might open opportunities to create excuses to decide not to connect a child to culture.
I think this paragraph should be omitted entirely, especially considering paragraph 10(3)(e) highlights the fact that the child's views and preferences should be a considered factor determining their best interests. Paragraph 10(3)(e) is a helpful point, and I think it encompasses many things, including relationships that the child chooses to maintain.
I would like to move ahead to discuss some of my general comments.
My understanding of subclause 13(a) is that care providers are being granted the same level of influence as parents and indigenous communities in legal proceedings. This makes me very uncomfortable, because some of my caregivers have not had my best interests at heart. I would not be comfortable if some of my caregivers had the right to party status in a civil proceeding, particularly without my permission. Given that many care providers are not indigenous, this also creates imbalances between families and communities.
I appreciate that Bill in subclause 16(2) discusses prioritizing siblings to stay together. This is an important point. I was separated from my siblings at a young age, and it was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. It's important to keep siblings together to support permanency and belonging.
In summary, I generally support the intent of Bill . I think it is a step in the right direction and has the potential to create meaningful change, with some adjustments to reflect the needs of youth in community.
Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to share my thoughts.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
What I said was, “Hi, thank you for gathering here on the territory of the Algonquin people.”
It's a pleasure to be here today. The reason I'm here is to show support for Bill . The reason we're doing that at the Saskatoon Tribal Council is to put our children first and foremost. Children have to be the primary reason this bill is passed. When we look at the situations that occurred with the Saskatoon Tribal Council and some of the history—MPs sitting around the table will know what happened in Saskatchewan—we understand that the Saskatoon Tribal Council has done something historic with Premier Scott Moe and the provincial government.
In June 2016, the Saskatoon Tribal Council lost its delegation authority and the ability to take care of its children. If we back up one step, we know about the residential school era, about the sixties scoop and all the things that have affected our people.
What the Saskatoon Tribal Council has done since June 2016 is sit down with Minister Paul Merriman, who I believe is doing good work in Saskatchewan, and members of the cabinet of Saskatchewan to work together to make a difference in our children's lives.
I can say this because, when I was elected in October 2017, I sat down and had a coffee with Minister Paul Merriman to talk about our situation. Eighteen months later, we've created one of the historic agreements in Saskatchewan, what I call “knocking down a brick wall” with the provincial government and creating a reconciliation agreement for child and family services for our children, which gives us the jurisdiction to get our children home.
That jurisdiction is not going to happen tomorrow. It's a process that happens anywhere from tomorrow to three to five years at the community's pace. However, it's a partnership and we're working together. It's a collaboration. We've set up some forums for leaders, which means me and our chiefs. We'll sit with the ministers and talk about how we can improve the situation. The second piece is the technical working group that allows our technicians to do the work and make sure there's an opportunity for our children to be safe.
I have to emphasize that the nation-to-nation relationship, the government-to-government relationship with the province and the chiefs I represent—they're the ones who signed the delegation agreement for the safety and well-being of our kids—is the most important piece of all because these people are the stakeholders for the children. It contains their views. I'm the voice of our leaders. I come here today to ensure that Bill moves forward in those directions because it's imperative that we break a cycle that has not been favourable to first nations children in our province.
In Saskatchewan, we have probably the second-most number of cases of children in care. I'm going to brag about our relationship with the province because it's important. People need to understand that we are working together for what's best for our children. Other first nations could be upset with us, or some could be supportive, and that's okay; that's their opinion. Our opinion is we have to build partnerships and relationships, as we've done with the federal and provincial governments. To us, it's meaningful because it's building bridges. We have to work together. In order to do that, Bill , in clause 20, gives us the ability to call everybody together to emphasize what we're doing for children.
I'll give you an example. In Saskatoon the Saskatoon Tribal Council currently works closely with the province. We run six homes for the Ministry of Social Services. Currently, three kids out of the 45 kids in those homes are from my tribal council. We take care of other kids. We follow every rule, every regulation. We meet or exceed all the provincial government's expectations in running those homes.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council and our chiefs are accountable and transparent. We're doing what's best for the children. Finally, we have the opportunity to take care of our own children.
Currently we have 300 kids in care within the province from my tribal council. We have a plan to repatriate those kids. We plan to bring in another 10 homes and follow all of the rules and regulations of the province but also apply our rules and regulations from our nations. It's working together and respecting those rules and regulations that lead us to jurisdiction of our kids.
The second piece is, when we look at this whole process, I really have to give credit to Premier Scott Moe, Minister Paul Merriman, and the cabinet of Saskatchewan for taking a chance on the Saskatoon Tribal Council and building that relationship and that partnership with us. It's not too favourable in our province, but at the same time, if we don't sit across the table like this and talk about it, we're not going to get things done.
We all have to work together. It doesn't matter who the kids are or where they come from. It's about the safety of those children, because when you look at the youth justice system in our province, 90% plus of boys and girls who are incarcerated are first nations children, 90%. That in turn leads to the correctional centre. I'm working in the correctional centre right now with first nations men to better their lives so they can go home and take care of their children, because it's leading to broken families, and then the children end up in a system that's not favourable, and they lose their culture, their language and their identity.
As leaders, we have to stand up and do what's best for those people. We have to fight for them to make sure we're making a difference and providing every opportunity to change their lives. Again, I'm not just working with first nations people. It doesn't matter what race you are, how old you are, what colour you are or where you come from; it's about people.
Remember this analogy. When children are at a playground, they don't know race, they don't know colour and they don't know age. They play and they have fun. It's the same process here. We all have to work together to make sure that we make a difference in people's lives.
I'd rather sit in a meeting like this and work together instead of pointing fingers in the media and saying, “Something's wrong. We need to do things differently.” We need to sit down like adults and show our young people that we can make a difference for people.
That's the most important thing to me, because when we look at the direction of our leadership, it's to come here to build partnerships and to build relationships. All of the programs and services that we do in the city of Saskatoon.... We have 90 plus organizations that are part of Reconciliation Saskatoon that are knocking down barriers of racism and knocking down barriers of poverty and neglect for first nations children. That's the most meaningful part of why we're doing what we're doing.
I want to make it very clear that today is not about me as the tribal chief; it's about the children who we serve. It has to be what's best for the children who need to be brought home to their families. I'll give you an example: I was born in January 1971. Six months into my life, my mother gave me to my great-grandparents. There was never a certificate on the wall that said I had to follow a system or that my mom had to follow a system to give me to my great-grandparents. That's what we call kinship. We've lost that.
A system that has been imposed on us has to be changed, and Bill helps that system change. Is it going to be perfect? Show me any bill that's perfect. I don't see any bill that's perfect. We can always amend and make things better.
When we talk about these kinds of issues and moving forward, I really want to focus on how we can really work together. The important thing that I want to say today, over and over again, is that it's about building relationships and building partnerships, but understanding that we, as first nations people, have the inherent and treaty right to take care of our children. It was never given up.
I look back at the situations that occurred back in the day. When a child is taken now, we hear about amber alerts. Where was the amber alert when our kids were picked up from our first nation and put in the back of a truck to be taken to a residential school? We have an ability to change that, and I'm here today, not to come to you with a problem, but to come here with solutions. Based on what we've done with our work in Saskatchewan, we're moving mountains with solutions. It's very important that we all work together as federal and provincial governments to make that happen for all children.
To talk about how many kids we've saved, since I've signed my agreement, I've kept three kids from being adopted, and seven are going to be repatriated back to their community. Those are the numbers I want to talk about.
[Witness spoke in Wet'suwet'en
I want to thank the first nations whose land we're on for allowing us to speak of our children.
Canada must honour the commitments made specifically for our children regarding child welfare jurisdiction in the MOU that was ratified in our feast hall on October 2018 in Moricetown. Conflict with the existing agreement means that the MOU prevails.
Wet'suwet'en engagement and participation in changes to provincial and federal legislation could impact the work contemplated under the MOU. Bureaucrats and lawyers will interpret narrowly, and need us to ensure broad holistic interpretation through Wet'suwet'en engagement and participation on policy, practice and regulations implementation after the bill is passed. On the whole, the jurisdiction provisions are a step forward and should be brought into force.
Do not bring into force the practice provisions. On the whole, these provisions are a step backward, especially for B.C. in a recent CFCSA amendment. Much more work is needed by experienced grassroots community-level practitioners.
There is too much discretion for social workers to interpret what is meant by “best interests of the children” based on colonial western concepts, values and biases. Cultural safety must be explicit.
The definition of “caregiver” places foster parents and biological parents on equal footing in court and in the child welfare system. On the whole, foster parents are equipped with far greater resources to advocate and navigate western systems than biological parents.
We need stronger ties. The practice provisions pit first nations against one another rather than strengthening the circle around children. Intermarriage between nations is not new. Specific to hereditary systems is the important role of the father clan. This flies in the face of the value of multiculturalism in Canada.
As an unintended consequence, stronger nations will get stronger through having resources and leadership to exercise jurisdiction, while struggling nations and smaller communities will likely struggle more with these practise provisions. This is contrary to indigenous values and to the intent of the preamble, which is for all indigenous children. We need a level playing field.
Before I turn it over to my grandfather clan here, it's coming from me when I say that I'm a little bit concerned that this bill is being written without our input. I could go to China or Germany and write a bill for them; that's how it seems to me. This bill is written by people who don't know anything about us or our children. That concerns me.
[Witness spoke in Wet'suwet'en
My name is Yaga’lahl. I am from the house of Spookw—a Gitksan house—and the Wolf Clan. I'm a hereditary chief. I'm also an elected chief.
The village that I come from is on our house territory, which is the house of Spookw. Our membership is now 792, of which two-thirds are living off reserve. They're everywhere; they're in different provinces and even some are in the States.
One thing that concerns me is that there are different acts and provisions that are made for our aboriginal people and a lot of times we're told only after the fact that these things have become law or whatever. One thing that concerns me is the problem where we are dictated right from birth to death.
When I was born, I was number 68. When I got married to a non-native person I was 12-1B, and lo and behold in 1985, I became C31. Afterwards I was reinstated into my village and I became 222. That's a headache remedy, you know? It's interesting that we're given so many numbers. Where else is that done?
I feel that one of the things that happened with our village makes it very unique. We are the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en in my village. The houses and the clans represented there are almost equal. There are nine houses of the Wet'suwet'en and nine house of the Gitksan.
How that came about is that many years ago, there was an abundance of salmon coming up the river at the village that I come from and where I was born and raised. People from the east used to come and used to prepare their salmon in our canyon. The canyon bottom is like 292 feet from the bridge above. There's a silver suspension bridge that goes across the river. They used to come and do fishing there and then go back to their own village. Some stayed because I guess they saw some handsome people on the other side, and there was some intermarriage then.
We're talking about two different nations that would be involved in this bill. What is important to us is our feast hall where all of our problems are taken. Anything that happens within our culture is settled in that feast hall. The Father Clan is a very special group. They are required to always be available, like, for me. In that case, he's also from my Father Clan, so it's interesting.
I think extended family is what really should be considered when you're thinking about children in care. Extended family, I feel, are the ones who should be considered first, but also, now, especially when expenses are so high, those families sometimes need to have some extra help, which in my village we do. I will give you an example.
I'm here today to provide a few thoughts on Bill , and provide a perspective as a professional who's worked in the field for more than 30 years in both child welfare and mental health, and for the past 15 years as deputy minister of the Department of Health and Social Development for Nunatsiavut Government. That's in Labrador in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. We represent about 7,000 beneficiaries.
Perhaps more important, I'm an adoptive parent, a parent of a traditionally adopted daughter; a foster parent of approximately 19 children, and a step-parent of a daughter who now has her own foster daughter, my granddaughter. I've been intricately entwined in the child-welfare system from both a personal and professional perspective for about 30 years.
I would like to start by commending the drafters of Bill , as I feel the legislation is much needed and is timely. The principles of the bill—the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality—are ones that the Nunatsiavut Government fully supports and ones that have guided our own work within child welfare. I am pleased that the federal government recognizes that a new approach is needed and is taking steps to empower decision-making by indigenous governments, families and communities.
We have seen the impacts first-hand in our communities when children are removed from families and communities and assimilated into non-indigenous families and communities, often by the best-intentioned caregivers and professionals. We recognize that, as an indigenous government, we cannot simply criticize the current systems but need to play an active role in addressing the issues and proposing solutions.
Nunatsiavut Government has taken a very proactive approach in addressing child welfare and is taking steps toward devolution. We've implemented Inuit-specific bachelor of social work programs, a foster home recruitment and retention campaign with two social workers attached, and supervised access for families with children in care. We've engaged in an Inuit child welfare review with the child and youth advocate's office within the province, which will be finalized by June 1. We've taken an active role in consultations regarding the new provincial Children and Youth Care and Protection Act and are a big part of a policy working group around that new act. We have created a position of indigenous representative to carry out many of the duties that are listed in that new act around indigenous children.
We've developed an adoption protocol for Labrador Inuit children, and we exercise regularly our intervenor status in any adoption matters. We've developed a process for cultural continuity plans. We've done a lot of training that we call “allies in healing”, focusing on intergenerational trauma and healing training for professionals, including lawyers, child welfare workers and social workers involved in that system. We also have created a family connections program, which is an intervention program that I'm going to speak to a bit later. We've also carved out a portion of housing dollars received from the federal government to support families who are at risk of their children coming into care or potentially could have their children returned with appropriate housing and supports.
Often, we have been trailblazers and have struggled with having the province recognize our role in advocating and supporting Inuit children, families and communities, and the need for indigenous social work practice has been challenging. So having the support of Bill would mean a lot to us. We generally have had to foot the bill for developing all of the above or have sought out project funding and initiatives.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time speaking to the actual bill, as I think the intent and content for the most part are on track. However, I would like to speak to a key element that I think needs to be included in the legislation and is missing from our own provincial legislation as well; that is preventing children from coming into care.
Although not explicitly stated, this legislation seems to imply that the focus is on providing services when a child comes into care, stating:
The best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in the making of decisions or the taking of actions in the context of the provision of...services in relation to an Indigenous child and, in the case of decisions or actions related to child apprehension, the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration.
The financial cost of having a child come into care is huge. In a time of fiscal accountability, that alone should give folks cause to look at the system. As a foster parent, I receive $2,000 a month to care for my current foster child. I also receive child care and additional expenses. Imagine what a parent could do with half this amount of money. They could pay rent, pay heat and light bills, buy groceries and pay a babysitter for a short break. Often we're told that prevention is the responsibility of another department—education, public health, etc.—but I'm speaking about specific, targeted interventions that will support families and prevent children from coming into care.
Nunatsiavut Government has developed a model of prevention and intervention. We call it the family connections program. It has been funded under the national family violence prevention initiative for three years. It was seen as a promising best practice, so it has now been extended for an additional three years and is currently being evaluated. We believe the model has supported families, kept children out of care, reunited children with families and involved the extended family in planning for children. With the addition of the creation of some supportive housing units, it has also provided safe spaces for families.
Within our communities, health and social service providers and their organizations intend to, and strive to, provide safe, effective and appropriate service programs to their indigenous clients. However, the reality is that many indigenous people have experienced having their cultural identity, beliefs and lifestyles maligned by non-indigenous service providers. The result is that there is often low utilization of available resources. It's well known that people who need services the most often do not engage in those services, and when they do, it's with reluctance. Services are provided many times as a one-off. In the past, service providers have often advised families on “what they need to do”, but this model allows families to advise service providers on “what they need help doing”. Sometimes, seemingly small things create stress. An unexpected expense, a family illness, a child having issues at school, paying a phone bill or hydro bill, buying winter clothing, family contact, financial issues of many kinds—they add up to an incident of relapse in addictions and family violence.
To effect change, strong relationships must be created that are supportive and non-judgmental, that value every member in the family, and that do not exclude, fragment or isolate individual family members. Interdisciplinary practice is an approach and philosophy that considers the family as a holistic unit. The western response to family violence and/or dysfunction seems to be counterintuitive to the Inuit way of life. Generally, women and children leave the home and enter a shelter that provides short-term safety. Counselling supports are offered to individual family members. Men often become involved in the justice system. As the cycle continues, all too often families are further fractured by children being placed in care. History repeats itself, and families once again become fragmented and dislocated, this time by family violence and addictions.
While it is recognized that there will be times when families can't remain together, with appropriate supports, inter-agency collaborations and community and cultural supports, family healing becomes possible.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
This is a very new experience for me, this topic, and it's a great privilege to hear from the three chiefs who have just spoken and the person who has just spoken, who I don't think is a chief, but is extremely knowledgeable. That has been very helpful.
I think it is important to state that the act is constitutional. I don't think anyone would suggest for a minute that it was not constitutional, but the power over Indians and lands reserved for the Indians would clearly cover this kind of legislation.
I have not had any experience with this particular topic. I have worked very closely with some first nations, in particular the Yukon first nations, because I helped them to negotiate a land claims agreement and a self-government agreement. That was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. I spent a great deal of time in Yukon working with the Yukon first nations.
My experience with aboriginal people has really been quite limited and, in particular, the kind of family problems which this bill is hoping to greatly address is not something that I can say anything very much about, I don't think.
The principles behind the bill seem to be very sound and I have nothing to offer in the way of criticism. There is nothing in the bill, as several speakers have mentioned, about resources. For example, there is no provision in the bill for a caregiver to be remunerated for that work. I would have thought that in many situations that would be an important thing, and if resources are not made available for that, then a lot will not happen.
That would be one suggestion I would make, that there should be resources made available and that would enable, for example, caregivers to be remunerated. That would be very good.
That's probably all I can say, Madam Chair, and I'll be happy to chime in, in response to questions.
First of all, thank you for the question. Thank you for raising it, because at the end of the day, this is why our chiefs of the Saskatoon Tribal Council don't allow anybody to speak on their behalf, because they are not the rights holders of the children of those communities.
The rights holders are the nation-to-nation agreement holders, who are the chiefs. In their support, in regard to our regional office, which is FSIN, they don't have the ability to sign agreements on behalf of my nation. I don't have the ability to sign, and I am the tribal chief of those nations. I bring it to them, and they decide if they want to sign agreements with the provincial government.
I said earlier in my testimony that Premier Scott Moe called our agreement a historic agreement, because never in our province have we ever had a signing like we did for reconciliation for child welfare agreements. We're actually partners. They will not dictate to us; we will not dictate to them. We will work together for what's best for the children.
A lot of other first nations and communities, and I can't speak on their behalf, but if they choose not to work with the government, children might fall through the cracks. I guarantee that our children are not going to fall through the cracks. We are going to put every measure in place to make sure those children's safety is first and primary.
We're proud of the fact that we built that relationship. As I said earlier, In June 2016 we didn't have anything, we had no funding for our kids. The province took our agency away. We're okay with that. But we built it back up to hopefully create a model for the rest of Canada to follow, to say that we have to work with everybody in the room, provincial and federal governments, to make sure that we can do this together.
I'm very proud to say, and I'll say it again, publicly, that former minister and current are supporting this bill. In our province, Minister Paul Merriman and Premier Scott Moe have worked with the Saskatoon Tribal Council and our chiefs to make sure that this is done properly.
If other organizations are coming here and stating that they don't have a good working relationship with our province, that's on them. I think, for us, we can lead the way by example, by making sure we're making a difference for different children.
It makes me wonder how our ancestors survived for over 15,000 years before the Indian Act came about. A lot of changes have happened in just my lifetime. There have been so many changes. I think a lot of the sharing that used to go on doesn't happen anymore, because of the changes that have been going on in the past 150 years.
With funding, I feel that one of the things we do is.... As I mentioned before, in the case of the grandfather who is raising his two orphaned grandchildren, I think help can be provided, if he doesn't have an extended family who can go in and help. We can at least provide support for the children.
Not only that, it's amazing to me that off-reserve caregivers get three times the amount of funding for each child. How did that come about? How was that amount determined to be the proper amount? There are the same needs on reserve as there are off reserve. You still have to provide all those different things, like a roof over their heads, clothing and food. It makes me wonder how they even existed without these. There used to be a lot of sharing among the people. As you know, that is why there were a lot of people who settled in this country. Our people were so generous in sharing our country.
At one time, we had plenty of wildlife. A lot of our resources have been depleted. For example, in my village, in our canyon, where the people used to come for their salmon, there was plenty, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans blew up the rock in our river and destroyed the fishery, so that we would have to try to get our salmon elsewhere. Then, of course, the Department of Fisheries had their agents following us around, ready to shoot us, or whatever, if we'd get salmon from another area.
The habitat of the wildlife has also been totally disrupted by all of the resources being ripped off the land. They have done away with the habitat of the animals. This is why you see animals coming closer to town. In Vancouver, the bears are even coming into the houses. You can see why, because you can see the houses going further up that mountain. Who sold them that mountain? It makes me wonder.