Thank you, Madam Chair. It's a pleasure to be before the committee today. Just as you have acknowledged, we too acknowledge that we're on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I'm pleased to be joined today by the deputy minister of Indigenous Services Canada. We'll both be speaking about Division 25 of Bill .
The Government of Canada is renewing its relationship with indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
A vital component of this renewed relationship is Canada's commitment to take action to dismantle the colonial structures of the past. On August 28, 2017, the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the creation of two new departments. These departments are Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada.
We need to begin building a truly renewed relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis. Division 25 of Bill , the budget implementation act of 2019, is a key step in the ongoing process of reconciliation. It builds on the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples from 1996:
...the enactment of companion legislation by the Parliament of Canada legislation to create the new laws and institutions needed to implement the renewed relationship. Their combined purpose is to provide the authority and tools for Aboriginal people to structure their own political, social and economic future.
More than 20 years ago, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called for this move to improve the delivery of services for indigenous peoples and to accelerate the movement towards self-determination. Quite simply, two departments will better serve the distinct needs of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Furthermore, the creation of two departments follows the direction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and article 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ensuring the advancement of self-determination.
Division 25 would enact two statutes to establish the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs and the Department of Indigenous Services. These statutes define the powers, duties and functions of respective ministers, as well as repeal the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act in order to formally dissolve Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada will accelerate the work already begun to renew the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples. Equally as important, the department will continue to promote the self-reliance, prosperity and well-being of the residents and communities of the north. It will continue to work to create first nations, Inuit, and Métis institutions to build the capacity needed to support the implementation of their vision of self-determination.
The guides the government's forward-looking and transformative work to create a new relationship with indigenous peoples. The minister has been tasked by the with better whole-of-government coordination, and the acceleration of self-government and self-determination agreements based on new policies, laws and operational practices.
As the needs of the north and northerners are distinct from those in the south, this bill would provide a basis in statute to establish the position of minister of northern affairs. The minister of northern affairs would guide the government's work in the north, including a new Arctic policy for Canada. In collaboration with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, the minister of northern affairs would continue to advance work on a shared Arctic leadership model and support northern programming, governing institutions and scientific initiatives.
This proposed legislative initiative is an important step in the process of eliminating colonial structures. It would establish a new legislative basis that will better allow for collaboration and co-operation in assisting indigenous peoples in defining their vision of self-determination.
I want to thank the committee members for their attention.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I also want to thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today. I would like to recognize that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I'd like to follow my colleague the deputy minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada's remarks by addressing the impact of the bill on my department.
I will be very short, but I'm just coming back on some elements.
Through Division 25 of Bill , the dissolution of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the federal government is establishing two departments that will be better equipped to work with indigenous partners. This is an important turning point in the relationship between indigenous peoples and Canada.
The mandate of the Department of Indigenous Services is to work collaboratively with partners to improve access to high-quality services for indigenous people. Its vision is to support and empower indigenous peoples to independently deliver services and address socio-economic conditions in their communities as they move forward on the path of self-determination.
The Minister of Indigenous Services is continuing the important work of improving the quality of services delivered to first nations, Inuit and Métis. This includes ensuring a consistent, high-quality and distinctions-based approach to the delivery of those services. A rigorous results and delivery approach is being adopted, focused on improving outcomes for indigenous people. Over time, one fundamental measure of success would be that the appropriate programs and services be increasingly delivered by indigenous people for indigenous people.
Madam Chair, transformation is about changing how we work, and that's basically what we're trying to do. We are changing how we listen and how we partner in a way that enables us to properly support the rights and self-determination of indigenous peoples.
I want to thank the committee members for their attention.
We'll be welcoming you questions.
It was my understanding that the important objective at the time was to focus on the relationship, to separate the relationship side from the service side. It was important to make sure we really focused on re-establishing the relationship and the focus on the services would be a separate one.
It was also important to eliminate the old colonial structure that was INAC, which has been seen for years and years as the legislation that is basically implementing the Indian Act from A to Z. That's what the commission was focusing on.
For us, it also means, to be fair, the relationship will never disappear. It is important to continue to have a relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis. On the delivery side, the objective is to make sure we have the structure in place to deliver the best services. We believe that, over the long term, the services should be delivered by first nations, Inuit and Métis.
If you look at the two departments, some aspects of my department are supposed to disappear over time while the other departments won't disappear. Our goal, as I say to the staff sometimes, is to be a species at risk, looking for its own extinction. At the end of the day, we're trying to implement, on the service side, the most efficient way of delivering those services.
We do believe that people themselves should be delivering those services. It's the same objective on both sides. On the Crown relationship, it ends up with the rights agenda. On our side, it could be the administrative structure that leads at some point to the rights agenda. However, on both sides, we're basically trying to encourage and promote self-determination.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the officials.
I want to put on the record that this piece of legislation is buried in an omnibus bill. The finance committee so far has heard from over 100 witnesses. They have not had any opportunity to look at this particular aspect of it or bring in witnesses regarding that piece. We asked this committee to have one extra hour so we would have an opportunity to bring some witnesses other than department officials. I want to note that the committee refused to take one extra hour to bring in some organizations that might be impacted by this legislation, to get a sense from them of what's happening and how it's happening.
I want to compare that to Bill, which was a stand-alone piece of legislation. When the officials came to us, they guaranteed that everything was fine. I'm hearing today that everything is fine without the opportunity to have witnesses. We heard through our witnesses that there were flaws. Amendments were needed. We are very uncomfortable with both the process and the fact that there has not been any ability for our committee to give it due scrutiny. Certainly philosophically we believe that the separation of the departments is a good move. The fact that we are not able to do our jobs is, I think, quite shameful.
I know that's not your responsibility. It was the decision of the current government to do what they said they weren't going to do: bury things in omnibus legislation and not allow committees to do the work they were supposed to do. When issues are pointed out down the road I think we can come back to not allowing proper process.
I'm going to start with a quick question. Hopefully you have it right there.
The FTEs for the two departments with health, pre the change, and the FTEs now.... Again, I want a combined total; it should be at your fingertips, including health because we acknowledge the transfer.
I have a few points on this.
I think the most important point for us is how we are moving to services that would be delivered by first nations, Inuit and Métis. If you look at, for example, the last few years and what we have been trying to do, we now have 85 first nations that are under 10-year grants. That means that 90% of the reporting that was more about what we would ask for from them, from the Treasury Board's requirement perspective, is now eliminated. That means they have the flexibility that they need to decide how they will invest this funding to achieve the outcomes they are looking for.
It is a big shift, and it is something we are trying to increase. Now we are looking at the issues like what the right escalator would be for those first nations to make sure that services are sustainable.
You have what we're trying to do on the health side. There's the First Nation Health Authority in B.C., which inspires us. We are having discussions across the country with first nations in places where they would like to take control of their health services.
We're doing the same on education and the creation of school boards. It's finding ways where we would be getting out of the business. We're not imposing an approach. We're not saying that this is the approach they should follow. However, we are saying that we're open for that kind of business, and there has been a response out there.
Child and family services legislation is a big element for us. We recognize jurisdictions and are asking first nations, Inuit and Métis who want it to claim their jurisdictions. I think that's probably the most important aspect for decolonization in our department.
Also, for us, on the way of moving from programs to services in the culture of the department, we're not there to impose programs from the centre. We're not there to just say that you've asked for something but it doesn't fit with the programs. We're trying to take the opposite approach, which is to say that it makes sense, and how can we make it work?
It is a new approach.
I am going to Toronto tomorrow. It's all gathering meetings with the chiefs in Ontario. We have gatherings like that in Ontario, too.
There are more and more staff meetings between our employees and first nations, Inuit and Métis where we try to integrate them in our decision-making process. We also, as you know, are working more on co-development, like we did for education and for CFS. It's a totally new approach for us. We're trying to change the way we are dealing with indigenous issues to make sure it's built on partnership, and not necessarily trying to develop programs from the centre.
Recruitment is important: getting more first nations, Inuit and Métis in the department. If you look at my stats, we're probably at 26% to 28% of our employees who self-identify as first nations, Inuit or Métis. In some regions, it's 50%. We're trying to make an effort to have more first nations, Inuit and Métis, especially at the executive level.
Those are the kinds of elements we're trying to pursue to ensure that there is decolonization.
The Department of Indian Affairs is actually one of the oldest continuous institutions in the history of Canada. It's been around since 1755 in various forms. It has changed and evolved many times, but almost always has had the same core function until relatively recently, which is the integration and assimilation of indigenous peoples into the broader Canadian society.
Over the years, the department, in its many forms, has always maintained this core role of “caring for” in an extremely paternalistic way, from the creation of schools to dictate how indigenous children should be educated to governance structures that are imposed through the Indian Act to limit how communities themselves can actually govern themselves to retain that power within the department itself.
This largely created an institution, a cultural institution, inside the department, where the department always thought it was right, so it acted in what it thought was the best interest, but often this best interest was not what was actually best for the community. It was what was best for the state or for the government at the time.
Over time, we've moved considerably away from these earlier concepts, especially since the 1950s and the 1960s, when we started to realize—“we” as the department—that the Indian Act was much more harmful than protective. We have been, over time, amending various pieces of legislation and creating new structures to address that, but as the royal commission pointed out, the structure still remains. We are still operating under the exact same structure as was established in 1966 through the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act.
This is an opportunity to actually break that structure to create new structures and to build on new relationships going forward that have a foundation of the original intent and the original relationships between settlers and indigenous peoples in Canada.
I was deputy minister of Infrastructure Canada and there was no legislation. It was under another income. You can always ask, should they have legislation or not? That's a good question.
I think in our case, it was necessary to have legislation because there was already legislation. There's one that actually recognized INAC as a department, so we needed to replace INAC by something. The legislation allowed us to do that. The legislation also established more authorities of the two ministers in Parliament, so in front of you. OIC is really executive; it's really more a relationship between the prime minister and the executive and the minister. In this case it gave us some legal authorities that we would not have through an OIC, especially, for example, on management of data and especially regarding who's responsible for legislation that is established. That's something that is there.
We have a legacy. The First Nations Land Management Act, the other legislation that related to first nations, Inuit and Métis, was mentioned. It was important to establish, through legislation, who is responsible for those authorities.
There's no science, machinery. There's a lot of art, to be honest. There are departments that can live with an OIC, but in this case, given the importance of the issue, too.... We're talking about two departments. If you look on my side, and I don't want to diminish anything from the other side because it's as complex.... If you go into the provincial governments, you will not find a department that manages health, social, economic...as well as infrastructure and others. It is actually a very complex area, and getting a legislative base is actually quite useful for us.
Yes, clearly there have been way more initiatives and activities as a result of the last few years. Is it all due to having two departments or just one? It's hard to know, but having two ministers—one minister dedicated only to services, and one to rights—has been very useful over the last few years. It means that a minister doesn't have to choose, sometimes in the same day, at which table to sit. It's the same thing for the DMs. It's the same thing for the organization. We can proceed full-throttle, on the services side.
You mentioned a long list of outcomes and activities. On housing, we are aiming to have 16,000 houses repaired or built over five years—with our friends, of course, at CMHC. We have been building significant numbers of schools. We're on time on the famous water issue. More than 85 long-term boil water advisories have been lifted.
You were talking about Jordan's principle. We are now at more than 220,000 demands that have been responded to under Jordan's principle, which is quite significant. We were mentioning child and family services. In a bit more than a year, we co-developed a proposal for legislation that is now in front of you, for jurisdiction under child and family services.
We mentioned grants earlier. There are more than 85 communities. We offered 10-years grants to more than 100 first nations communities this year. I would like to remind you that grants have been discussed in the old INAC, since the 1980s. There was only one community in the country that actually had a grant, and now we have 85. It's a significant change.
When you look at all of this together.... On mental health, we did a lot. We also did a lot in other areas. We can send you more stats if you want, but a lot of that is on our website.
On the last point, we developed, as you know, a new funding formula on education. We're now implementing this formula across the country. The formula was co-developed with first nations.
Significant things have happened. For sure, the fact that we split and created those two departments helped. The fact that we have health on our side also helps. When you address housing issues, such as those at Cat Lake, as you heard this winter, it's really helpful to have health, social services and infrastructure together. I think that, yes, the split clearly offered us tools that we didn't have before.
For first nations communities, it also means future capacity to integrate those services. For example, on the grants side, we were able to include health, which we would not have been able to do if we were the old INAC. A lot of results emerged, probably most of them from the fact that they split the two departments.
It always has been in the DNA of the department. I think it's because we didn't have the tools to achieve that. Since the 1980s at least, and even in the 1970s—the historians may disagree with me—there's always been an attempt to attempt to devolve. That's what it was called at the time. The transfer of services, most of the time, was at the community level. Most of the time it was the programs that were transferred. Most of the time resources were not necessarily at the appropriate level. We're now trying to ask what the right combination is among those three elements.
That's why, for example, on school boards, we're not backtracking. We're actually responding to demands. First nations, Inuit and Métis decide how they want to do that. It's their services in the end. There's no one-size-fits-all approach in this.
What we're trying to do more is identify partners across the country who want to do things differently and would like to take charge of their services. We're not coming to the table precluding with of a sense of what it should be because as soon as we do that, we end up with a program and it will end up with exceptions across the country, to be honest. We're trying more to listen to people.
We have interest, for example, in post-secondary education. We're getting a lot of interest on infrastructure. You may have heard that there are actually first nations in B.C. that are interested in creating a first nations institution on infrastructure. We support them in developing what it may look like. We'll look with them at what it could look like without presuming the result. We're doing it a bit that way. We're moving in that direction.
It doesn't mean that all the staff are going to lose their jobs. It's not the way to see that. For example, we continue to have a relationship with the first nations health authorities. We have a regular relationship. It's more of a partnership relationship. We just don't deliver the services as we did before. We entered into a trilateral agreement on mental health with them and the Province of B.C. last year. It is something that we will continue.
The way we approach it is really to ask all partners what institutions and capacity they need. What kind of services do they want to deliver? It should not be programs, it should be services and making sure that the resources are there.
The work we've been doing on the formula for education is an important one. The work that we're doing under the grants on formulas is an important one. If you agree on a funding formula, the rest becomes more about how they will manage it differently.
It's hard to explain because it's not one-size-fits-all. It's basically opening the door for different approaches.
Madam Chair, thank you. Sorry, I went long.
The issue we have at the moment is we treat all first nations communities the same way. You implement programs the way they have been developed, even if you had higher or lower capacity. If we move with grants and more self-determination, the communities that are ready will take that, which means our staff will be able to focus more on the relationship with first nations that have more needs.
Who should help them? A lot of the work we have done with the first nations institutions has been on how they can help us to get first nations out of third party management, for example, not our going there and telling them what to do, but more first nations institutions working with them.
For communities like Grassy Narrows, like Cat Lake and communities in the north in many cases, the question is how do we support them and help them to get the capacity, rather than just going with the compliance with our programs. That's the way we want to see the shift and how we move them towards this stream so they end up with self-determination.
Self-determination doesn't necessarily take a local-only aspect. It could be regional. The work we've done on education in the north, for example, is not just with one community; it's with many. I think it's looking with them at the models that would help them get there and make the decisions they want to make to achieve self-government.
In the past it was a one-size-fits-all approach; the program was the same for everybody, even if you're in a better position, even if you don't necessarily need this money for this specific aspect, because you already addressed this issue. How can you reallocate? We're getting this flexibility and we're giving to the communities that are ready to take it, which will give us a chance to have a plan and work directly with the communities in need.
Thank you so much for the invitation. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments this morning.
Wachay misiway. Jocelyn Formsma nitoscheen.
I'm from the Moose Cree First Nation. I'm currently the executive director at the National Association of Friendship Centres.
For the last 15 years or so I've also been an indigenous children's rights advocate and an advocate for indigenous youth engagement and leadership development. I've also been engaged with various aspects of child welfare reform.
I've been a board member of the National Indian Child Welfare Association for the last 12 years. I assisted with their international advocacy work, which resulted in helping to bring about the first set of Indian child welfare act regulations in the 36 years of the act's enactment.
Today I'm going to provide you with an overview of how friendship centres have been engaged in child and family services, our perspectives on the bill, and how we think it might affect indigenous people living in urban settings. I'd also be happy to speak to questions related to experiences with the Indian Child Welfare Act if I'm asked following this presentation.
The work of friendship centres in child and family services is largely unknown and unrecognized. As you know, friendship centres provide a wide range of services, many of which can be considered prevention services such as prenatal supports, parental supports, child supports, programs that help families keep and care for their children and programs that assist parents to get children back if they are apprehended.
We have developed a cultural competency curriculum for foster parents, providing essential cultural programming for children living in care. Foster and adoptive parents often use friendship centre programming to ensure their foster or adopted child or children have access to culture and community.
Friendship centres are the sites of supervised visits, have sometimes been the sites of apprehensions and have also been called upon to provide intervention services on behalf of child and family service agencies or court supports to indigenous children, youth and families. Friendship centres also provide aftercare support services for youth who are leaving care.
In regard to the bill, we do not see the explicit consideration for urban and rural-based indigenous children, youth, families and communities.
The NAFC, as the secretariat for the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network—soon to be disbanded due to lack of funding—facilitated community-driven research initiatives that looked at the situation of indigenous children in care and indigenous families involved with the child welfare system, exploring the need for culturally appropriate training for non-indigenous caregivers of indigenous children in care—all from an urban lens.
Many definitions within the act currently are broad enough that arguments could be made for our inclusion, but we fear without explicit inclusion, it also allows for passive exclusion.
We have drafted a brief paper that outlines some of our perspectives and we would like to provide that to the committee for your consideration. It outlines some of the perspectives that we feel are necessary to consider before finalizing the act.
In reviewing Bill , the NAFC has some concerns around the on-the-ground realities of implementing jurisdiction regarding indigenous children who live in urban settings. While the NAFC fully supports and promotes first nations, Inuit and Métis jurisdictions, we know that in reality the resources are often not available or sufficient for indigenous governments to be able to provide the full range of services required in the towns and cities in which their members reside. Friendship centres and other urban indigenous organizations that provide similar services are often unintentionally left to work with indigenous children, youth and families who are not currently receiving services and supports from their respective indigenous governments.
The NAFC would like to be put on record as being interested in, and having unique perspectives to inform, the development of any and all regulations that may come if Bill is passed. The regulations section of the proposed act makes mention of the inclusion of indigenous governing bodies in the consultation process of developing said regulations. We believe our insights and the insights of friendship centres can help ensure that regulations and policies will be reflective of the needs of indigenous peoples who reside in urban settings.
We have a number of recommendations on Bill .
One regards urban indigenous inclusion. Rural and urban-based indigenous children, youth, families, communities and organizations ought to be mentioned in the drafting and implementation of this act. At present, we feel the broad language of the act does create space for the inclusion of urban indigenous peoples, but we also fear that the broadness may result in exclusion.
In terms of jurisdiction, there needs to be more clarity on the expression and extent of jurisdiction amongst and between different first nations, Métis and Inuit governments; provincial, territorial and federal governments; and the roles of civil society and non-political, yet indigenous-owned and operated, entities such as friendship centres. What we find in the urban spaces is that often these jurisdictions will overlap, and unless there's collaboration and coordination on how those jurisdictions will overlap within the urban spaces, we worry that children are going to be either left out or be subject to the cases that led to the unfortunate situation with Jordan's principle.
Stable funding commitments and mechanisms are needed to ensure that the implementation of this act will be possible for communities. Furthermore, those funding provisions should take into consideration the work that will be required following the passing of this act, which will include education, stakeholder engagement and advocacy, which also could include data collection.
Capacity dollars should be considered as communities will need to work towards building capacity if they are to assume jurisdiction over services and resources to support partnership development and engagement with stakeholders.
Bill contains no mandate for data collection. As the representative organization of friendship centres, the NAFC knows the value of data and how it can inform and guide effective programming and services, which results in better outcomes for the people that friendship centres serve. Data collection is a tool necessary for the improvement of services and for identifying gaps that need to be addressed. Without a specific mandate to collect data, Bill may inadvertently promote the current data status quo, which is lack of in-depth national data regarding indigenous child and family welfare. This was an experience that we found in the Indian Child Welfare Act. Although there were provisions for data collection, they weren't adequately funded and supported, which has led to a lack of data despite almost 40 years of the existence of the act.
We thank you again for the opportunity to provide comments and perspectives on this bill; we trust our submissions will inform your work. We look forward to any questions.
Hello. Thanks for having me.
Kwe, ni'n teluisi Pam Palmater.
I am from the sovereign Mi'kmaq nation on unceded Mi'kmaq territory. I have been a practising lawyer for 20 years, 10 of which were spent at Justice Canada and Indian Affairs, where I received all the training in the legislative process, statutory interpretation and legislative drafting. I also have my doctorate in law on legislation that impacts indigenous people, so I have a very particular focus here, and it's very legislative, as opposed to policy-based.
I'm here to speak against Bill as it is currently drafted. I think that without substantive amendments it risks interjurisdictional chaos, legal chaos and chaos on and off reserve. In addition, of course, it won't do anything to address the humanitarian crisis.
I have several core problems with it. One is the same problem I have with Bill and Bill , which is that they are pan-aboriginal legislation. By being pan-aboriginal, in fact, it discriminates against first nations because it doesn't focus on first nations' specific rights, our unique histories, our unique socio-economic conditions or our specific interests. To my mind, first nation rights should never be limited by the different legal, political and social statuses of other groups.
For example, the Métis do not suffer the same acute socio-economic conditions that first nations do. That's just a fact. We also know that in Canadian law, when you treat everyone formally the same, you end up treating the most disadvantaged unequally. What we're advocating is substantive equality that is first nations-specific, so first nations-specific legislation and not formal equality.
The other concern is that there is no independent recognition or status for first nations laws that make them paramount. They are only considered to be a federal law, no different from a bylaw under the Indian Act. For anyone who has ever worked with first nations or at Justice Canada or Indian Affairs, it is nearly impossible to get the RCMP or anyone else to enforce Indian Act bylaws.
Right now, under this legislation, instead of being paramount, first nation laws are conditional or subject to the provisions of the Charter; the Canadian Human Rights Act; section 35 of the Constitution Act; all of the limiting Supreme Court of Canada cases; the division of powers under section 91(24); coordination agreements and all of the interpretations that courts would give to those coordination agreements—of which there could be upwards of 634—and failure to abide; pre-existing provincial court definitions of “best interests of the child”, which I have to remind everyone here are court-defined and open to the same amount of racism and abuse that's already been shown in the courts against first nations children; and, of course, clauses 10 to 15 of Bill itself.
Those are a lot of things that trump first nations laws, and that's a problem. There has to be a discussion that is not only about recognizing first nations jurisdiction in and of itself but also about issues around paramountcy of laws and how these jurisdictions will work together.
My other concern is that it forces first nations to negotiate agreements with federal and provincial government, when provincial governments are the problem. The federal government is the problem in the sense of discriminatory, chronic underfunding. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has already talked about that. However, it's the provinces that have allowed these human rights abuses to continue despite the research and despite all of the evidence. The last people many first nations want to work with are the provinces, which commit the abuses. To actually force that is to reinforce this horrendous humanitarian crisis, and that is something that I think many first nations have already testified to being rightly against.
The biggest thing, I guess, is that despite being sold as committing funding to first nations, there's no statutory commitment for funding. It is one thing to acknowledge in a “whereas” clause that there are calls for funding, that in principle maybe we'll talk about funding or we'll figure out ways to talk about it. However, there is no statutory commitment saying the minister will fund first nations for all of the services and actually define what those services are—and leave it flexible enough.
There are no guidelines around how that funding would be provided such as population, demographics, birth rates, actual costs, first nations rights around this, which are very different from Métis and Inuit rights. There's nothing that makes Jordan's principle mandatory in this legislation, and that should, in fact, be a core part of the legislation. It's certainly a core part of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. There's no commitment to address the underlying root causes of child apprehension, which for first nations specifically tend to mostly be socio-economic conditions. It's not just good enough to fund aftercare or parental programs if you're not also saying we will also make a commitment to housing, food, water, education and access to health care, which are all the reasons why most of these kids are taken away to begin with.
Another core legislative problem is that the minister retains all of the powers under the act, including the power to make regulations. There's only a requirement to consult with indigenous groups, and we all know how poorly consultation works in practice. We've been subject to hundreds of court cases because the federal government still doesn't understand how to actually consult, accommodate and get consent, because all of those things work together as a package. Now with UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we're talking about free, prior and informed consent. This bill is the opposite of that. It's basically saying we'll talk to you but we get to do all of the regulations, and it's in the regulations where a lot more damage can be done, a lot more control can be had. Or there can be no regulations at all, because we've seen ministers promise, “we're just going to do this act and we'll solve all the problems in regulations” and, hello, no regulations. We're just going on past practice.
The global pan-indigenous consultations also skew what should be in the regulations. What is good for first nations may have nothing to do with Métis, so why would Métis have a voice in what kind of regulations will apply to first nations and vice versa? That's part of the legal problem with the pan-indigenous nature. By empowering one entity, that is, by empowering the minister throughout all of the sections of this legislation, you are in essence disempowering another. Whatever power the minister has, that's something that first nations don't have, and that's a real problem.
I do find it really disturbing that in all of this legislation, knowing how closely related forced and coerced sterilization is to child apprehensions and how they've been linked, there is no provision in here that specifically prohibits the use of forced or coerced sterilizations in any child and family services situation, especially with regard to child care
There are lots of other issue around wording. There should be a discussion about jurisdiction over off-reserve, issues around data collection, but my specific suggested amendments are that if you're going to do legislation for those first nations that consent, it needs to be specific first nations legislation whether you're talking about languages or child and family services. Only first nations are under the Indian Act. First nations have an entirely different set of rights and laws, and you cannot put them all together.
There needs to be, if there is legislation, fully funded opt-out provisions so that first nations that are already engaged with child and family services don't have to be a part of this legislation, that their choice isn't just status quo or nothing, that a fully funded alternative means if we're not funding you under this process, we will fund you under your own process.
There needs to be targeted and committed funding specifically for first nations that is based on population, inflation, costs and needs. The first nations inherent right to be self-determining over child and family services must be recognized in their own right, not attached to section 35, not attached to UNDRIP, not attached to anything external. The inherent pre-existing right needs to be the foundation of any legislation going forward.
I would also add that if you want to give real effect to this, repeal section 88 of the Indian Act to oust provincial jurisdiction over first nations altogether.
My last recommendations specifically reference UNDRIP and all of the provisions, and specifically reference the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and say that this bill should not pass as is. It needs at a minimum comprehensive review with first nations experts, including people like Dr. Cindy Blackstock, who has extensive amendments to make, and organizations like the National Association of Friendship Centres.
Hello, my name is Josh Ferland. I was born in Winnipeg, where I still live. I'm proud to be here today to talk about Bill , and to share my experiences and hopes for the bill. Thank you for having me and allowing me to share my thoughts. I hope that my voice will make a difference for young people.
I was once a child in care. I understand this is the first time the federal government has entered child welfare in such a big way. I am in favour of Bill because I'm Métis, and this is the first time Métis people will get support and funding from the federal government for child welfare.
Having grown up in care, I believe it's important to have better supports for youth in all stages of their development as well as supports that will help them achieve long-term goals. What I would have preferred over group-home living was to have found a long-term foster home much earlier than I did. They took me in and treated me as their own. They taught me skills and values that serve me well as an adult: the importance of working hard, developing a good work ethic, to be respectful and considerate of all people, the importance of giving back. In spite of why I was there, I'm thankful to my foster family for their love and acceptance.
I'd like to talk about some of the other supports I've had in my life. I'm thankful to the Manitoba Métis Federation, which funds the Metis Child and Family Services Authority, for having a Métis spirit worker. They have helped me as I transitioned out of care. I know from my own experience that there's not a lot of support for young people who age out of care. That's why having funding for programs such as this is so important. The Métis spirit worker told me about job training the MMF was providing. She helped me sign up and get ready, and even drove me to the training site an hour and a half out of the city of Winnipeg. I'll continue to work with Rhiannon Lynch as long as I can. This program ends support to youth after the age of 25.
I believe these types of programs are essential and should be a priority for helping young adults. Through my training, I earned several certifications that led me to a great opportunity. I still had to figure out a few more things before the job became a reality. The job was an hour and a half out of town and I had no way to get there. I don't have a car and there are no buses that go out there. I didn't have a place to stay or any money for rent. There is no startup funding available for youth like me. It's crazy to think how many thousands and thousands of dollars were spent on my 12 years in care. And then, when I finally got to a place where I could start to pay my own way, I just needed a few hundred dollars to start working, but there was no help. I just needed enough to get to my first paycheque. I was so close.
I'm telling you this because sometimes it isn't the big things that kill our dreams—it's the little things. This is something that I would like people to remember as you decide what can happen as a result of this bill.
I was lucky that I had people in my life who were willing to go above and beyond what they had to do. My Métis spirit worker fundraised for me, and collected and donated gift cards. Pat Horsley from the Métis agency, who is here with me today, drove me out to my job and arranged accommodations for me until I got my first paycheque. Pat contacted the MMF and the Metis Community Liaison Department, and they donated a gift card so I could buy food. Even though they don't get provincial funding to help youth after they leave care, the Metis Child and Family Services Authority pitched in so I could get started. I'm so glad they found a way to make it work.
I was so thankful they put me ahead of a system that seems so clunky.
As kids in care, we feel like we hear lots of “no's”, and much of what happens to us is out of our control.
I hope the new bill will give new hope that we can do things differently going forward. It has the potential to have more positive outcomes for our current youth in care.
Thank you for listening. I am honoured to have this opportunity.
I would love to respond to several things you've said.
The AFN, MNC and ITK had claimed that this was going to be co-drafted, and that's not how Justice Canada actually does legislation. There is no co-drafting of legislation. So then they changed the wording, admitted it wasn't co-drafting and said it was “co-developed”.
Co-developing with an organization is not actually co-developing or taking instruction from actual rights-holding first nations. I have heard the testimony both here and in the pre-study in the Senate. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which represents 63 first nations, is categorically against Bill . They had protests against it on Friday. There's a coalition of first nations across the country that are doing national days of action against Bill C-92, including first nations from the Chiefs of Ontario and first nations from Alberta. All of this stuff is on the record. There is significant resistance, and there have been experts like Cindy Blackstock and others who have testified that there are big problems with this bill.
It's not how you presented it. You've kind of left out all of the people who are in opposition to it for rightful reasons, and you have to keep in mind that these so-called first nations laws that allegedly have paramountcy are federal laws. They're to be treated like federal laws, not first nations laws in and of themselves, subject to the charter of the Canadian Human Rights Act, section 35, division of powers, coordination agreements and clauses 10 to 15 of the bill.
You can't just read one section in isolation when you interpret legislation. You have to read it all and look at all of the provisions.
Thank you all so much for being here today.
One of the questions as we deliberate this legislation is how long do indigenous children in this country have to wait?
I really appreciate the work of Cindy Blackstock. I think it's devastating in this country that we have seen so many non-compliance orders. We need to have ownership of that as a federal government. All the people in the House have to own part of that. It's quite distressing.
I believe we need to have funding in the legislation. At the very least we need to make sure that the resources are there for those communities to do the work they so desperately need to do.
You spoke a little about it, Pam, and I would love to hear from all of you. Does the funding have to be in the legislation?
I have heard many witnesses say, and I agree, it shouldn't be a dollar amount, but there have to be some strong funding principles. We have the Human Rights Tribunal decision that gives us some very good language that I think would be amazing to add to this legislation.
If I could start with you, Pamela, to talk about that, then move on to Jocelyn and Joshua, if there is anything they would like to add.
I agree, too. I agree with Dr. Blackstock's concerns and of course with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision around the need for funding. It can't be a principle; it can't be a “whereas” clause. There has to be a commitment with very specific guidelines about how that funding will be determined, that it will be population-based, needs based on circumstance and those kinds of things. It has to be flexible enough so that it can be negotiated but very directive so that people can't wiggle out of it, and it has to be a judiciable right. It has to be a substantive right in the legislation that we could take to court.
Part of the problem, once again, is that, if you leave it as principles or “whereas” clauses, you're asking the most impoverished people in this country, the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable, to have enough money to go to court to sue Canada over and over again, and there are millions of dollars in these cases.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is just one avenue, but when you're talking about court, you're literally talking about millions of dollars in experts. People who are working at friendship centres don't have enough money for that. First nations don't have enough money for that. Single moms and kids trying to address the system don't have enough money for that. To just say, “Well, you know, there's enough that maybe you can make some court arguments”, that's not it. I wholeheartedly agree with Cindy Blackstock when she says we have to be beyond first steps. We have to be beyond something's better than nothing. We have to be beyond incremental steps. You either have equality or you don't.
We're going to have to make a radical shift here. You're going to have to put the commitment in writing and make it a judiciable right for everybody, or what's the point of it? It's just another fluff policy piece so that we will have to sue again and spend many years in courts, and kids will lose their lives in foster care. We know it's not just damaging, but people lose their lives. It leads to murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, human trafficking, child porn, people getting caught up in gangs and over-incarceration. Two-thirds of all indigenous people in prison come from the foster care system. All of these problems that we're trying to deal with can be dealt with in a very radical way if we just do what we're supposed to do on this, and that's have a human rights framework and a first nations framework. It's as simple as that.
Good morning. Thank you, members of the committee, for allowing me some time to speak on a very important matter that affects our children, our families, our communities and the nation.
My name is Jerry Daniels. I'm the grand chief for the Southern Chiefs' Organization: 34 first nations in southern Manitoba, primarily the Anishinabe and Dakota peoples; 90,000 citizens in total.
[Witness spoke in Ojibwe as follows:]
Ogimaamakwad ndizhinikaaz Binesii ndoodem.
[Ojibwe text translated as follows:]
Leading cloud is my name, Thunderbird is my clan.
My relatives, I am happy to come and join you and to speak about a legislative act that I know is being discussed in great detail about how it can impact the quality of life of our children, how it can create opportunity. We're talking about a system that has had very detrimental effects on many of our children and our families, and has caused great harm over a great number of years. Some have even characterized it as a continuation of the residential school era.
First nations have the inherent right to self-determination and self-government. We have laws, customs and have entered into treaty. First nations have our own ways of caring for our children. What I will share with you as well is that I'm actually a member of the people who have gone through the CFS system. As a young person I was in group homes and I struggled as a young person. My family moved around a lot and I ended up there. However, in my experience I was able to meet many elders and many good people who were a part of the system and helped me to become who I am and helped me to establish some values. In fact, the first sweat lodge that I went to was through the CFS system. It was at the Selkirk Healing Centre in Manitoba.
First nations have our own ways of keeping our families and communities strong and intact. However, our laws, institutions and system have been impacted by the Canadian legal system, specifically the CFS Act.
We have been focused on supporting community-driven solutions. Since I've been in office, which is a little over two years, I have tried to focus on what's working in Manitoba. My focus shifted to the Sandy Bay First Nation where we've seen changes in the number of children who were in care. They brought down the number of children by using more practical techniques in working with families. They worked with families and with the extended family and they found other means to ensure the best interests of the child...which didn't result in the apprehension or the break-up of the family. That's where I'd like to focus, and I think that's where the priorities need to be when we think of CFS.
We have a CFS liaison at the Southern Chiefs' Organization. We are actually the primary authority for CFS in southern Manitoba. We make the board appointments to the southern authority, which is the regulatory body for all of the agencies in southern Manitoba. We have been collaborating with them over the last couple of years very intensely to ensure that the regulations are reflecting community needs and that they're supportive of what needs to happen on the ground.
We have a lot of challenges, but I don't think the challenges are insurmountable. I think we're quite capable of ensuring that families are reunited and that the best interests of the child are established, as well as the cultural values and traditions of our people, which enable our children to have a strong foundation in their identity.
I want to talk about how we really need federal intervention when it comes to CFS. We've had a great deal of trouble working with the province on finding common ground when it comes to the customary care. The Southern Chiefs' Organization supported it. I steer, with the province...and we work with them and we agreed in principle what customary care would be, which is community laws, community direction.
That would drive priorities and regulations and how children would be supported or how we would deal with a situation that isn't in the interests of the child.
It has been our focus over the last couple of years. What we are starting to see is that there is a change from where we had thought it would be—where the customary care would be really done with the community and the family—to now almost like an agency-driven personal care plan, which you can already do through the current legislation.
When I look at the proposed legislation when we're talking about substantive equality and the best interests of the child, I think that these are good things. I don't think that we're ever going to get it totally right. I think that the practicality of any legislation on the ground is subject to the people who are implementing it and subject to the interpretation of those people in the communities and throughout the region.
People in the communities care. They're not there to kidnap our children. They're there to protect our children and to do the best job that they can. I truly believe that. I don't think that people in CFS agencies, the workers, are there to do anything other than that, so if they are given the ability to direct funding towards helping families and ensuring there is a plan and that families are supported, you're going to see better outcomes.
That is why I support Bill . It is really about being able to give first nations the jurisdiction, to not allow interference in that jurisdiction and to support it. Like others who are here and who have just presented at this committee, and like others, I'm sure, who have been here, I have concerns about funding: that it may not be enough for the governance side, that it may not be enough for the service delivery side.
My hope is that the substantive equality provision will reflect that and that it will translate into enough funding so that we get it right. The fact that Manitoba has such a high number of children.... It is ground zero for CFS. We have to be given an opportunity to take direct control of CFS, and it needs to be funded properly. We are prepared to do that. We've been doing that. We've been working with CFS directors. We've been connecting them with our community leadership. We've been including our women and our grandmothers in the process. That is the approach that we're taking, so it's my hope that people continue to work to move the agenda forward, to focus on supporting families and the community. If we can allow for them to take the lead on this, I think you're going to see child and family services, child welfare, delivered much more effectively in the community and supported much more effectively.
It's time for government, really, to get out of the way and to allow for that. They're going to make mistakes the same way government has been making mistakes for the last hundred years, and they're going to continue to make mistakes. However, we learn and we adjust, and we continue to build off knowledge from those situations.
That's our argument. We do not think that Bill is going to be the end-all for CFS. We think that it's going to be an interim measure. Like any other act that is passed through this Parliament, it's going to have to be changed and adjusted through the experience that's lived on the ground.
That's what I'm here to communicate to you. I hope that this bill is moved forward so that we can get on with supporting the development of laws at a community and regional level, and focus on what substantive equality really means and how that's actually going to look through the comprehensive negotiated agreements that are going to have to take place after the bill is passed. Those are going to include community members. They're going to include people in the community. They're going to include regional bodies.
That is going to be the final agreement in the interim, once again. It's an agreement, but it's still a wait and see, because you have to see the impacts. The quality of life of those people who are ending up in jails, who are ending up on the street, is going to improve, because you're going to have a community-driven strategy. That is the most important part of this bill.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning to our senators, members of Parliament, as well as our Assembly of First Nations staff who are with us. I want to thank you for the prayers offered to us this morning. I want to, as you did Madam Chairman, acknowledge the Algonquin nation as we are meeting on its territory.
I am Vice-Chief Morley Watson, and I hold the portfolio of health and social development for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
Bill contemplates critical and long overdue reconciliation of jurisdiction over first nations children across Canada. It is the top issue for first nations in Saskatchewan as we realize that we have the second highest number of children in care and more than 80% of those children are our children. We have also endured, and continue to endure, one of the most dysfunctional child welfare systems infested with some of the most racist and derogatory attitudes that effectively produces results contrary to the fundamental values and principles of child welfare.
From residential schools to the sixties scoop, to modern-day decisions to apprehend children, when healthier and safer alternatives are available, first nations children are ultimately the victims. Provinces are failing the first nations children and families for which they have been delegated responsibility for protecting and supporting. It is time for our provinces to step aside and support those who actually are passionate about supporting first nations children and families.
Here are why six provisions of Bill are so important to us.
Number one is clause 18, the affirmation and recognition that is our inherent right to provide for our children, to care for them, and to keep our families together.
Number two is clause 14, that the priority must be on prevention and keeping our family units together.
Number three is that if a child is removed, the priority must be on placement in the family and in our communities.
Number four is that birth alerts must be stopped. The trauma of removing children in hospitals is so traumatic to the mothers and family that it represents everything that has failed about a provincial child welfare system imposed on our people. That is also in clause 14.
Number five is clause 9, that the best interests of the child must be interpreted with understanding of our identity, connection to our families, culture, languages, territories and values.
Number six is that poverty and poor health are not reasons to remove a child from our families and communities.
We know this bill was not co-drafted with first nations. Canada drafted it on its own, but shared a consultation draft with our federation. It was developed with our input into the process and our office met with the current and former minister many times, as well as with officials. We submitted briefs and positions to inform the changes we believed were required. Canada did not accept all of our policy positions, but we urged Canada to include predictable, sustainable needs-based funding provisions.
In Saskatchewan, the 74 first nations of the FSIN, for over 50 years, have built distinct, co-operative institutions to serve our people in our communities, such as the First Nations University of Canada, the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies and the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority. Other bodies have been created and operated with great impact.
We are rebuilding our nation, supporting our young people to provide them with the education their grandparents were denied. We want to build more supports for our first nations in relation to child welfare. Our demonstrated ability to create jobs for our people and economically enhance opportunities for the people of our region is a key goal and issue. By building capacity, first nations will not be looked upon as an economic burden, as we currently are. We will build our own economies with more opportunity and jobs from this bill, and we will build families at the same time.
The bill needs to reference the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Bill has a “purposes” section that references the United Nations declaration, because the protection of human rights and the implementation of the United Nations declaration is the framework for this cultural, language and family-building work that we must do together in Canada.
I thank you for this opportunity to address this important bill for our first nations people in Saskatchewan. We know this work is difficult and it will take many strategies and collective efforts. We urge you to accept the importance of this bill and to make improvements, but not to delay it. The FSIN and many of our other tribal councils and first nations are working to implement their authority and laws for children and families.
We cannot be held back any longer. Our children deserve better than the status quo of today. We hope that this bill will help to influence continued recognition of inherent and treaty rights, title and jurisdiction in future co-developments. We know that the only way to maintain healthy and thriving communities is by supporting our people to raise their children in accordance with our own history, culture, languages, customs and laws.
We know that our children are not subjects or commodities to be owned or to be considered property. They are a gift from the Creator. It is a sacred responsibility to protect and nurture our children. It is inherent to us, as people, to care for our children according to our laws, no matter where they reside.
In all aspects, children are considered—always. This was true even at the time of treaty. Our elders wanted to ensure health and happiness for all of our children, as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.
Madam Chairman, thank you for this opportunity.
Thank you so much, Dan. It was a pleasure to meet you at Christmastime.
I guess the big thing is that we say, as nations, we've always been able to govern ourselves. History tells us that. Unfortunately, when you've had governments doing that for you, that's where we say that we have that ability. We've always had that ability. Unfortunately, a lot of times we're not given that opportunity to make those decisions for our people and our communities.
I believe that the times have changed. We've always wanted to accept that. We've always wanted to be given that opportunity.
If given that opportunity, Dan, we've always acted in the best interests of our people, and our children are no less important. We would always act in their best interests and help to make those decisions that are best for them.
I think all we need, my friend, is that opportunity to be able to lead, and fully lead our communities and our people. If granted that, I am sure, given history and given what we know, we would certainly do a tremendous job at leading our people.
Of course we do. We have to be able to work as collaboratively as possible. When that has been exhausted, however, we have to be able to move on. My hope is that the federal government can intervene in that instance. That's why I asked, long before there was ever any drafted legislation, how you're going to intervene if the province decides that it doesn't want an agreement at a federal level.
That's my wholehearted question, and that is why I've always collaborated with the province to try to have an agreement that would continue to get towards where we're trying to go, which is community-driven strategies and first nations laws being recognized. That's the endgame here. We need it to be funded properly.
When I have to work with the province, when I have to work with the feds, I've continued to be adamant that we're here, we're at the table. We're the ones appointing the board members to the southern authority, which is the current regulatory body for southern Manitoba. It's our responsibility to ensure that the people who are our partners, our treaty partners, are well informed and that they're reflective of what's really happening on the ground. That's what we've tried to do. We've been constantly meeting with the executive directors, the agency directors, to get their opinion and trying to bridge the communication between them and the southern authority and how their relationship works.
That's really on the ground that it's being implemented. Then we have to deal with the government regulatory level. We tried to inform that table as well—and that's what I'm doing here—so that you have an understanding of how it truly is rolled out in Manitoba, in southern Manitoba. That's how we've done it.
We're the only ones doing the Doula Initiative where we have our women and our doulas supporting families. They have anywhere between 200 to 300 mothers they support through the process right at birth. From what I hear, it's going to be quite successful in the way that it's going to impact families.
In southern Manitoba we've been challenged with this, not only on CFS but really along many different lines, with the discussion around Treaty 1, Treaty 2, the Dakota governance, Treaty 5, and the already long-established Treaty 3 and Treaty 4.
What unites many of us in southern Manitoba is that we're all Anishinabe people. We have Dakota people. There are really only two nations, when you think about it, but we like to negotiate with Canada based on the treaty, really because we need to remind Canada and remind Canadians that we've never relinquished our jurisdiction. No person of sound mind would ever do that or relinquish their title to the land.
The way in which we want to create the narrative in terms of our government-to-government relationship is through an internationally recognized treaty. That's how we approach these things.
The way we've done it in southern Manitoba, and the way I see us proceeding, is the recognition of the inaakonigewin, the Anishinabe law, and later the Dakota law. These things are going to be done at the community level. They are going to be done at the tribal council level, and they are going to be done at the treaty level. We're working towards an SCO-level law.
The way that is developed is the harmonization of all those laws. Those laws at their core come from the community, so it's community by community. However, as a lawmaker, a legislator or a regulator who wants to ensure that indigenous children are protected and that families are supported, we have to do it community by community. Where there's an instance in which there's an opportunity to have a regional law or agreement, we should do that, and later on, much more, at a higher level.
It's the same way that Canada would go about trying to rectify Alberta's laws with Quebec. You have very diverse cultures, but you have to try to find a way to support all of them, their own ambitions and their own interests. That's how we do it in southern Manitoba.
Thank you. Good morning.
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
I'm a member of the Neskonlith Indian Band, but I reside with my wife, who is from the Kamloops Secwépemc. We have five children and one grandson. I work for the Secwépemc Child and Family Services Agency. My title with the agency is “cultural worker”. We are caregivers for the agency, and currently we have two little girls who are part of our family.
I'm honoured and thankful that, on behalf of the agency, I can share a small part of the thoughts on the new Bill . However, before I get started, I'd like to recognize that these proceedings are taking place on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. I would like to thank them for allowing me the chance to share what my feelings and thoughts are for the children and families who we serve.
After reading Bill , the first thing that I thought was this: How does it affect the families and the culture of those families as a whole? Yes, Bill C-92 focuses on the child or children who have a chance to be placed with extended family or with members within their community. However, what is most important is how it keeps the family connected.
For children, their main want is to be with their parents. With these thoughts and feeling of reconnecting, this needs to go beyond the children and should involve their parents. It should allow them to grow together and to learn and reconnect. This love will always be between a child and a parent as a group, and they will find their roots in remembering who they are.
It is exciting to see that the government, with the introduction of Bill , is recognizing how important it is for individuals to be grounded and to have a place and a sense of identity. However, there are also times to remember that these children may be in a different nation or territory learning their ways and traditions. There may be something from the past of the parents that has made them move to another nation, that has made them move away to protect the children they love from their own nation, their own reserve, their own people. For the interests of the children, they may be placed with caregivers from those host nations who treat and love that child like their own. They have a connection with the family, but most of all, they teach the child in their home with the same values, the same love and the same respect that all nations have.
Bill may be as strong as the language in the assurances in the old law that families will be afforded the opportunity to remain connected throughout any interaction with child and welfare services.
I'd like to thank you for allowing me a brief time to speak. Now I'd like to pass it on to my colleague.
[Witness spoke in Wet'suwet'en as follows:]
Hadih so’endzin? Siy Bernie Charlie sjutnee.
[Wet'suwet'en text translated as follows:]
Hello how are you? My name is Bernie Charlie.
I introduced myself to you in my Carrier language.
My name is Bernie Charlie. I am a proud Carrier matriarch in training. I am the youngest child of nine of my mother, Dil-za Dza-kiy, Violet Charlie, who holds this hereditary chief name that she acquired through the traditional governance system of my people called the bah'lats also known commonly as the potlatch.
I want to acknowledge my late father, Ben Charlie Sr., who has crossed over to the spirit world to watch over us with our ancestors.
In our bah'lats, we have four clans: the Jihl tse yu, which is the frog clan; Likh ji bu, the bear clan; Gilhanten, the caribou clan; and.... Sorry, I can't read my own typing.
Anyway, I sit with the Likh ji bu, the bear clan of my people, and my late father belonged to Gilhanten, the caribou clan. In our bah'lats, children are born into the clan of their mothers. Before contact, it was the matriarchs, the mothers, the grandmothers and the extended family who were the decision-makers for the people in relation to the political, social and economic governance of the communities. The bah'lats are still very much alive in our nation. My community of origin, which is the Lake Babine nation, is statistically the third largest band in B.C.
I want to acknowledge the unceded ancestral homelands of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, where I have the privilege to work, to live and to play. I am very fortunate that I have a surrogate family in this beautiful territory of the Secwépemc people. I have an entire network of surrogate parents and extended family who I find comfort in when I need support in my life.
I am the mother of two beautiful children and a surrogate mother to several others who refer to me as a guide, a mentor and a protector for them. I am also a kyé7e, a grandmother to one beautiful biological baby girl and to several others who refer to me as their grandmother in our cultural customs.
As the youngest child in the family of my siblings, my siblings would say that I was the spoiled one. However, I do recall that the multiple cousins who lived with us through many of my formative years were often fed first, given new linen and often bought new clothes as opposed to the recycled clothes that I recall I was able to choose from first. I did not realize at that time that they were foster children and that they were given to our family because they were abused or neglected in their own homes down the street on our reserve.
My recollections of my childhood include living in a government-subsidized, four-bedroom CMHC house that was filled to the brim with multiple generations, including my aged deaf and blind xpé7e, my grandfather, my parents, my siblings and my cousins. At one point in time, there were 13 people living in our four-bedroom home. My parents ensured that we were always fed, that we were clean, and that we were sent to the local Catholic school for our education. When my older siblings completed elementary school, they were sent away to the Catholic boarding high school, which was almost 300 kilometres away from us.
I needed to share with you this small bit of my history and how it relates to this pre-study on Bill .
My work on the front lines as a resource social worker with Secwépemc Child and Family Services Agency has given me some excellent first-hand experience in sharing some of what I have learned. I take a completely relational approach from the perspective of a C6 delegated social worker, which simply means that I have the authority and the obligation to remove a child from an unsafe environment.
I made some notes of potential considerations, and I will just review them according to how they appear in the document.
In regard to the principle of the best interests of the child, historically children were raised in communal family systems where the extended family group all assumed the responsibility of caring for children: parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and others in the community.
Currently, under the provincial legislation, the focus is primarily on the individual child. This has been the practice in child welfare. Due to the high numbers of indigenous children in care, it is proven that this process is not working.
In moving forward, the focus needs to be on the family unit: the family and the extended family that cares for and provides for children. What is best for families and communities will always be best for children.
With regard to the best interests of the indigenous child, may I suggest the wording in subclause 10(1) read, “The best interests of the family must be the primary consideration”.
Another theme is capacity, building the foundation for children to be home and stay home in times of crisis, investing in rebuilding what was lost. This lends itself to communities coming back to life and caring for families naturally.
Among other factors to be considered, with regard to the child's cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, or lack thereof, segments of the urban population, specifically in B.C., have seen that due to multiple factors such as—
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
I'm acknowledging and honouring the unceded lands and the peoples of the Algonquin territory, where these proceedings are taking place.
I'm from the Secwépemc Nation, one of the largest nations in the interior of British Columbia. I am a member of executive of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. We've been working towards the implementation, exercise and recognition of our inherent title and treaty rights. The union has been involved in advocacy work and efforts with the provincial government and the federal government to recognize and affirm our inherent jurisdiction over our children, for many decades.
It's important that the work of advancing the policy and legislation for our children is a priority of our B.C. first nations, and for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. I'm also a member of the First Nations Leadership Council in B.C. We're made up of the First Nations Summit, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. Our three organizations work together, and bring respective political mandates to build a strong collective and unified voice in British Columbia. One of those issues has always been the children and youth.
It started in 2002, with the Tsawwassen Accord—it will all be in our brief we submitted to you—and also in the leadership accord developed in 2005. We've been working toward these outcomes and changes for our children. Bill does offer practical and meaningful progress that aligns with our work here in B.C.
It is the utmost importance in critical timing this legislation is presenting. Even though we've done some provincial changes to the legislation out here, with respect to children and family, we find that we're still stuck in a lot of the old models. The only thing we were able to do was delegated agencies for many years. Really, the delegated agencies were supposed to be a transition to full jurisdiction for our nations.
We have been stuck in that process. We need to carry on with that work, into the affirmation and recognition of our inherent title rights, especially with our children. We have to change, because indigenous children across Canada are overrepresented in the system. The first contact with the settlers and colonial laws impacted our families, and broke down our families, through residential schools. It's documented in all the different commissions and hearings that have happened in Canada.
We need to make that change. Our families are fractured, and we need to bring them back together, for that meaningful change in the lives of the children—to be able to bring them home.
In our community, we recently brought 20 children home, but it was a lot of effort and fight to do that. We held an honouring and recognition for our children. Our nation also held one, about a month ago, in Vancouver, where many families were reunited with their children. That's only the start of the work. There needs to be a lot more work in bringing up our children, and truly connecting them with who they are, in their lands, their families and their communities. We have to have that meaningful change for our children and families.
One of the core purposes of this legislation must be to implement the United Nations declaration. It's truly a framework for reconciliation, and it was recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yet, the provisions in the bill, under clause 8, do not reference the United Nations declaration as the context for the reconciliation in child welfare. It's only referenced in the preamble, but not in the critically important and substantive clause 8, on purpose and principles. That needs to change in this legislation.
I also emphasize this because the United Nations declaration reflects the minimum standards of the survival and dignity of our indigenous people. It sets out the minimum standards of human rights. It's an important provision that needs to be emphasized in the implementation of Bill , once it becomes legislation. Article 22 focuses on the importance of respecting the rights of girls and women and ensuring they do not experience discrimination. For this reason, I urge you to consider an amendment to clause 8 of Bill C-92, adding paragraph (c), as follows, “To implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a progressive framework for the resolution of human rights issues impacting children, youth, and families.”
One of the other things I wanted to note is that this is a historic and transformational moment for Canada and for indigenous people across Canada. We cannot let this moment pass. If we went back in time to the residential school policy legislation changes, for example, had we made that change, how many families would not have had to go through that whole residential school experience? We're saying that with this child and family legislation, we have an opportunity to make these changes, stop the number of children going into care and reunify them with their community and their family.
There must be that meaningful change, because there are more children in care now through this child welfare system than at the height of the residential schools. It's continuing to grow. Former minister mentioned that this was a humanitarian crisis, which it very much is, so we can't sit by idly and let this go. We have to keep pressing forward on these changes that are to come. We've been doing it in the courts. We've been doing it in other avenues, but now we have the opportunity through legislation.
It's been about four years now since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report urging Canada to deal with the residential schools and the child welfare system, and to support languages. We're on that threshold, and we need to be able to carry on with this work and not let another year pass by.
Bill provides a means by which we can begin to action some of these calls. I think the core...the families, the communities and our legal systems are really important. Since the time it was established, that colonial law, as I mentioned, severed that connection. It was meant to assimilate our people into the system, and the result was the removal of our children and the disruption of our family systems.
The other part of this is the funding piece. Bill must include the funding. We can't rely just on the coordination agreements that dictate the resources for this rebuilding. Because of the colonial impact, it's important that Canada also attach the funding to this process so that we don't have to rely on, as Bernie mentioned earlier, the western view of the best interests of the child. It's really important to rely on the collective interests of not just the child, but the families as well. They were trying to stop the transmission of our culture, our ceremonies, our language and our laws, but in a reverse way we can turn that around so that we're empowering the children, the families and the communities for healing and for rebuilding. It's really important to rebuild our families, our communities, our nations.
Our Secwépemc Nation is doing a lot of that work in our child and family jurisdiction. It's called Stsmémelt. We've been working with the Secwépemc Child and Family Services and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council in rebuilding that. It's a lot of work, and it does need to be resourced.
This approach didn't survive, because our people had resilience and have survived it. I stand before you today despite the damage that the colonial laws caused. We're going to continue to rebuild our people and our children, our families. Canada has an obligation to right these wrongs that impacted so many of our families and children across Canada. We really need to bring our children home so they can be raised in our communities by our own people and know that they can connect with their communities and their language and their laws.
I wanted to touch on one other area. I acknowledge and support a lot of the nations that have issues with this legislation, because each nation has a right to self-determination under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, article 3. If they wish to enact their own laws, they just need the recognition, whether it's their treaty recognition or their inherent recognition; they have the free choice to do that themselves. This legislation must find a way to respect that, or again, it will be a colonial path, and we don't want to go down that path.
We want to be able to respect those nations that make their own decisions for their nations and do not rely on Canada's laws to do that. It's their choice if they don't want to recognize the bill. We have a mandate here in B.C. Our chiefs have already identified the mandate to work with this bill, Bill . It's federal legislation. It provides affirmation to our inherent children's rights that exist and does not rely on these colonial laws.
We will submit our brief. Again, thank you for the time to discuss these issues with you. I look forward to the questions you may have.
Thank you so much for your presentations.
I must say, Ms. Charlie, that the time you spent talking about your culture and how you grew up, etc., really brings home the fact that what we're talking about here is the de-culturalization of a people, with children being apprehended and sent off to foster homes that are not in themselves indigenous.
There are a couple of things. Most of the people we heard from are supportive of the bill, but they have found some things that they wanted to discuss. One of them I'd like to hear from you about is this. I think, Ms. Charlie, you made a really important point about the collective, about not just the best interests of the child, but the best interests of the families and the community and that whole ability to bring back nations to what they used to be. As you said, the best interests of the child, when it's interpreted through a western colonial lens, is very different.
In British Columbia we have been told, and I have been told by many provincial bureaucrats who wish to remain anonymous, that more children have been apprehended today and over the last 30 years than have been in the residential school time. They were taken from their families and put into foster homes that were not indigenous. How do you see this happening for urban aboriginal children? I think this is the key thing.
On reserve, it's easy to get involved back in the family. But when someone has moved away to an urban area and they're very far away from families, and many times they're fleeing abuse within the family itself, how do you see that ability to come back together happening so that you can protect the child while trying to reunite the child with the family? That's the first question. The second question is, if it's not possible to do that, how do you see the role of either friendship centres or of neighbouring bands being able to take up that role of bringing the child back? Do you see that as a possibility? How do you see funding going to that ability to help neighbouring bands to bring back children into their band, even if the children can't go back to their original band?
We had a nation ceremony a few months ago here in Vancouver at the Joe Mathias Centre. The reason we chose to do it outside of our nation and do it in Vancouver was that there are many children in the urban areas and many families. A number of our 17 communities participated. The children were from all over. We had the whole Joe Mathias Centre filled with families and children. Each community blanketed and welcomed home their children. Some had a lot, some had a few.
There's much more work. The families called for us to do that each year so that we could recognize the children who are in care and the ones we're still working on bringing home.
About a month later, our community of Neskonlith welcomed home 20 children, which was a high number. Our family support worker Gena Edwards and our councillor Fay Ginther worked for a long time in reunifying those children with the community and the families. It was really emotional to a lot of the families.
I recognize that there's still a lot of healing to the children and a lot of healing to those families that participated. Our families also asked that we continue to do that work.
We had a baby who was being removed in Toronto, for example, and thankfully, they notified us. They almost took the baby and put the baby in the system. We had to ask almost door to door in our community whose relative this baby was. We found out it was because of the sixties scoop when the grandfather was removed. He didn't have a connection with the community, so nobody knew this baby, but it was because of the gap and the void that the sixties scoop caused. We were able to bring the baby home. He was one of the 20 children we brought home and we're working on reconnecting him with his family. His sister is still, unfortunately, in Toronto. She's not from our community, but the grandmother did express interest in having that child placed with us, so that the brother and sister can be together.
Those are the kinds of stories each one of those children and their families could have shared, the horrendous experience they had and the work it's going to take for healing and the work it's going to take for reunifying them with their family, their culture and their language.