I'll mention that Yvonne Jones, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, is with us today, as is Hunter Tootoo, the member from Nunavut.
Welcome to you both.
Joël Lightbound is sitting in today for Rémi Massé, and Alistair MacGregor is sitting in for Charlie Angus, so we have some different faces around the table today.
Welcome to you all.
I'll begin by acknowledging that we're meeting today on traditional Algonquin territory and we're very thankful for that, as we are at every meeting.
We have two panels today. In the first hour we're welcoming Leave Out Violence Nova Scotia Society with three representatives of that organization. I'd like to introduce you to Sarah MacLaren, the executive director; Shurenda Michael, a youth leader with LOVE; and Richard Taylor, operations manager.
I'll review the rules. We're happy to have you speak for up to ten minutes. When we get to about nine minutes, I'm going to show a yellow card, which means we're nearing the end. The red card means to please try to get to your point as quickly as possible and then we'll get to the questions.
I'll use the same cards for questions from committee members, which are also timed.
With that, I'm happy to give you the floor to share the ten minutes amongst yourselves as you see fit.
My Name Is Shurenda Michael. I'm from Shubenacadie. I am a third-year university student at Saint Mary's.
This meeting is important to me today, because at 12 years old, I told my family I wanted to kill myself. My mom reacted saying, “I'll kill you before you kill yourself”. That was the reaction on her part. Later that day my grandfather, who was in the RCMP at the time, came home, and they said, “You have to break it to him.” I said, “Okay.” I broke it to him and I said, “I want to kill myself.” He said, “What's your plan?” I was 12 at the time and I said, “I don't have a plan; I just feel pain.” He said, “When? Why?” and he asked me all the questions and communicated with me, and it was important for me to realize that it wasn't only me who was going through this. He said, “Rough day on a job, family arguments.” He thought the same. It astonished me, and I couldn't believe that someone who was so respectable in my eyes and so strong was broken too. It wasn't just me.
Another reason this is so close to me is that my mom lost her best friend when she was 22 years old—she had just had me—to suicide. She didn't know that 19 years later I would go through the same thing and lose a friend. She always asked herself why and what she could have done. She always beat herself up about it.
It's an intergenerational thing in these communities. It's not just one generation; it's not just my generation. This was 20 years ago when she lost her best friend, and then I lost a close friend of mine to this.
The thing I find important is leaving that stigma at the door, because the stigma of, “Oh, you're just having a bad day, not a bad life” doesn't let you explain, and there's a lot of, “You're the problem of it all” and “You want to break everyone else down” when really you don't; you just want help. You want to be able to tell people. When my mom told me that she was going to kill me before I killed myself, I felt like a bigger mistake.
My father wasn't in my life, so my mom called my father before my grandfather stepped up. I asked him, “Why weren't you there for me?” He said, “I don't know.” He didn't have an answer for me. At 12 years old that made me feel like I was a mistake to my father, and that hurt me even more. When my grandfather hugged me and told me, “It's okay. I've felt this way too” and he communicated with me, it made me feel like it wasn't only me going through this. Opening that door and being able to communicate that you aren't the only one going through this made me able to....
I know I go through it every now and then because I'm in university and I let my anxiety and depression eat me every now and then to this day, but there are different ways I can reach out now. I have the support of the LOVE program and different supports now.
That's what I have to say.
I was told that if you commit suicide, you go to hell. I was told that if you commit suicide, you can go into limbo. I was told this by the Catholic school that I went to, which is Lester B. Pearson Catholic High School on Jasmine Crescent here in Ottawa. At home, my mother was very fearful that I, my family members, my brothers and sisters, she, her husband, would some day somehow end up in hell. She was taught that from her mother. She was taught that from the Indian day boarding school. Fear was the mechanism to teach, so the moment that I got out of line there was fear. The moment that my brothers and sisters got out of line, there was fear. My mother loves me, and my mother loves my brothers and sisters. She loves her grandchildren. She lives now with regret.
The effects of Indian residential school, and to a greater extent an overall Eurocentric societal model, transcend much of what we deal with today, because it's been going on for 500 years.
I work with kids now and I have been working with them for many years. I see all the symptoms. I see those who are fragmented. I see those who have incarceration issues, those who may have lost family members to violent ends, including suicide. It is my hope that through the sharing and telling of their stories, under their terms and gently, over time, they in effect are healing by virtue of unpacking the traumatic experiences they have undergone.
I hope this committee will consider that in their processes. The healing is in the story. The story is in the individual. Collateral healing can happen at a community level.
Welálin. Thank you.
Hello. I'm the least credible voice amongst my people here. The only reason I get to sit here today is that people have been kind enough and generous enough to teach me, so I want to acknowledge my teachers.
I'll make three really quick points. You can ask me about them when my minutes are up.
One, for those of us who are members of the dominant class—the white, privileged class—if we want to do this work with any integrity, we must humble ourselves. We are used to dominating spaces, the economy, language, and conversations. We are used to it. We will not be effective if we walk into spaces with that attitude. It requires humility. To build a partnership with trust, we have to humble ourselves and become listeners and learners.
Two, I just want to speak to politics. This issue is too important.
I'm sorry but I'm really distracted by your side chit-chat. I don't mean to be rude; I just can't handle it.
Whatever is decided by this committee cannot fall victim to party politics. It is more important than one party's term in office. It is more important than whoever comes next. If Ottawa can't agree across party lines then you're in trouble, because the solution is going to take so much time, commitment, and persistence, that everyone has to agree on what you're going to do. It's more important than what party you support or belong to. People are dying.
Third, I say this to you who are funders. I think that at the end of the day there will be a decision on how you spend your money to address this problem. You need to do something radically different from what has been done. It is time to get some creative brains involved in the process to determine how you're going to spend your money. Anyone who runs a not-for-profit knows that the money goes to the best grant writer. The money goes to the person who knows how to do it best. It doesn't always penetrate into the community.
The solution to this problem is in relationships. It is deeply human. A bureaucratic approach is not going to be successful. You need the money to get to the elder who's feeding five children because they're hungry. You need the money to get to the guy who's running the sweat lodge so he can buy wood to run his sweat lodge. You need the money to penetrate into the community, and that requires a creative approach to how you fund.
That's all I have to say. Thank you for hearing me.
Thank you to the presenters. I apologize for being a little bit late.
We just returned from visiting a number of communities in the north. Kuujjuaq was one of them, as was Iqaluit. I'm from the Northwest Territories, and we've been discussing the suicide crisis going on in our communities. We figure that in Yukon, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Nunavik, and Labrador in the last 15 years, well over 1,000 people have committed suicide.
When we talk about solutions, they raise things like housing and overcrowding as being huge issues. I think a number of the organizations that presented to us stated that it would probably solve 50% of the problems if we could deal with the housing issue.
It was also stated that we need to fix the people who went through the residential schools. The children are saying, “Fix our parents.”
The economy, of course, is something else that is really lacking. A healthy economy that provides jobs, employment, and training is just non-existent in those areas.
I'm not familiar with your part of the country, so I want to ask you what factors and circumstances you think are contributing to youth experiencing a sense of despair or mental health problems. Is it depression? Is it anxiety? Could you talk a little bit about that?
Thank you for that response.
It's interesting how we're spread all over the country as aboriginal people, but we have so many of the same challenges. The communities in my riding are next door to a diamond mine, yet most people can't find a way to get to work because it's three hours away. It's only women who can get to work because all the men can't pass the criminal records check. They all have criminal records from when they were young and they can't get them dealt with. It takes 10 years to deal with a criminal record, to get a pardon.
One of the things we heard about regarding the communities of Kuujjuaq and Iqaluit was the need for crisis centres, family centres, and cultural centres. I keep thinking about that recommendation, but I also look at what we have already in all parts of Canada, which is the friendship centre program. In Nunavut, I think there's only one, so it's not so much there. Is there such a facility or program in your community that could deliver programs of sport, culture, language, or issues of mental health if it were well-resourced?
Thank you to our guests for being here today.
We're hearing repeated things from most of our witnesses. The ITK has put together what is perhaps a nice template of how to proceed. They have the protective factors and the risk factors. We seem to have a fairly clear idea of what is causing this. Two of the things that really jump out for me are cultural continuity and family strength. These are two areas that they've outlined as protective factors; so if your family is intact, if your family members are all in a loving relationship with one another, you're much less likely to be involved in suicide or other risky behaviours.
We seem to have identified the issues; there are a whole host of organizations across the country that are working towards this. I imagine that suicide prevention is just one of the aspects that you deal with, and none of these things happen in a vacuum. Economy, family, and education are all parts of the solution.
Could you elaborate a bit about what your organization is doing to promote strong family ties, to promote cultural continuity, and to promote the local economy in terms of food production?
I agree with Sarah, in the sense that in Michael's community and in Eskasoni, and in Sipekne'katik, where Shurenda and I are from, while we experience the same sorts of trauma and the communities are responding in the same ways, the solution is not necessarily going to be the same.
Perhaps in Michael's community they still speak their language. Perhaps in my community many people are still traditional. In the Mohawk communities, they still are very tied to their old and traditional ways. In Sipekne'katik and in Mi'kma'ki, it is not like that: we are regularly attempting to return to our old ways.
Determining which factors are causing the greatest amount of trauma would be difficult when trying to employ a solution on a national scale. This is not to say that a national scale is not a possibility, because, as we see with the government and with the various tribes here in Canada, in some cases it applies to one tribe, and in other cases it does not apply. In Nova Scotia, we have a certain gas tax, and in New Brunswick that gas tax is not there, yet both nations, both tribes, are the same. We are Mi'kma'ki.
The government has perhaps inadvertently—hopefully inadvertently, although the pattern would suggest otherwise—caused dissension among the tribes themselves by offering certain things to one and other things to others, taking away things from some, and so on and so forth.
A national-scale solution can be applied only after all of the necessary rocks have been turned over at the local level, in order to finally be able to define what it is that can help and can work, with perhaps a range or a scale of possibilities within a national program, but the people themselves, aboriginal people, must be dealt with as one with the government. I firmly believe—and this is strictly my own belief—that we should indeed be viewed as one, because if we're not viewed as one, that's where we get into problems when one tribe is given something but there's nothing for another.
Again, people don't like our answers because they want to be able to say, “How do I write that down? How do I roll out a national strategy around caring for young people?”
Time limits are doing a great disservice to our young people. If yo have programs that run short-term projects, let them go. If you want to address long-term systemic programs, stop running six-month theatre projects in communities that let the theatre runner make $20,000 and the community have a play, and nothing else.
Run long-term programs. If you want to know one thing that is working for lowering recidivism, that's one thing that's working. Another thing that's working, I think, is that, again, we allow our youth to make their mistakes and come back. We go to court with our youth. Our criminal justice system is racist. I'm sorry, I hate to use the word here today, but it is. I sometimes call myself the white shield. I put my little blazer on and I'm like, “Look, I am with this kid.” It makes a difference. We hate to think it makes a difference, but it makes a difference.
Thanks for the question.
We're out of time. It goes really quickly, but what we heard from you is extremely valuable.
Shurenda, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing what you shared, your story.
Richard and Sarah, thank you for coming as well and explaining to us your program and how it works.
Thank you all for a whirlwind day-long trip to Ottawa. I want to ask you to leave the annual report with us if you could. We'll table that as well.
The final thing is that we've created an online portal for this study, and we're trying to spread that as far and wide as we can. Anyone is welcome to leave—we call it a brief, but just say what you want to say—up to about 3,000 words, and Michelle is going to email you the link.
Sarah and Richard, please share that with your people, your kids, as broadly as you want and maybe talk about it with them. There's a really nice opportunity to write. It could be an F-write. We would welcome that. Thanks so much.
We're going to suspend for a couple of minutes.
First and foremost, I'd like to thank everybody for having us here.
The opportunity to speak on this issue has become dear and close to my heart. Our communities are in crisis.
My name is Matthew Glode. I'm from Millbrook First Nation, Nova Scotia, and I'm here to talk to you about mental illness.
Our son Cody started his battle with depression at the age of 13. He was a victim of bullying, and bullying wreaks havoc in our communities and in the adolescents' lives. When Cody started to self-harm, little did we know it was the beginning of a long, dark, and lonely road that would end in tragedy. We spoke openly about mental health and sought help immediately, while at the same time attending to our daughter Caitlin, who also started her own battle with depression and mental illness.
For Cody, the course of action was medication, therapy, and martial arts. Martial arts gave him a whole new perspective; it gave him something to really look forward to. He did well in school, avoided the party scene, and spent most of his time in the gym teaching kids martial arts. His self-esteem was once again where it should be—or so we thought.
He graduated from high school. He tried his hand at university and worked part-time. He seemed to have it all, although from time to time he would tell us that he was sad and didn't understand why. We always encouraged and supported him, and he continued to work hard at the gym. He started on new medication and continued therapy. Cody dreamed of becoming a professional MMA fighter. He also began to pursue a career as a firefighter. He graduated from fire school in April 2015, and little did we know that some time prior to the end he stopped taking his medication. When we did approach him, Cody explained that it made him feel worse and that it wasn't working. Someone close to us told us that he had stopped taking it. How do you make a 20-year-old firefighter/fighter take his medication?
On June 15, he was hired full-time with the Truro Fire Service. He was the youngest firefighter ever hired, and the only first nations firefighter ever hired. To say that we were proud would be an understatement.
Cody should have been on top of the world, and, yes, on the outside he appeared to be. He really had it all: a very hopeful future in MMA, a full-time career, a brand new car that he paid cash for, and a beautiful girlfriend he planned to marry. On the inside, Cody was dying a slow, painful death. He didn't want his employer to know. He was reluctant to seek out help right away. Finally, he went to the emergency room and was given completely new medication, and was told to follow up with his family doctor. Although he still didn't want to tell anything to his employer, he did seem to want to battle this illness head-on.
I truly believe that he wanted to live; however, he was exhausted from always pretending to be okay. He told me that he couldn't remember the last time that he'd felt happy—he thought at maybe 11 years old. He couldn't sleep. The pills weren't working. The thoughts in his head grew darker and darker, and so did his writing in his journal.
On March 2, our son Cody took his own life.
Many wonder how such an accomplished young man could do this. He left behind me and my wife of 22 years, his sister, three brothers, a niece, a loving girlfriend, and a large extended family of friends and co-workers alike.
This does not happen to families like mine. This does not happen to someone like Cody. For that matter, it shouldn't happen to any family or any individual.
Mental illness isn't picky; it spares no one. It doesn't matter your race, your age, your upbringing, your education, or your ambitions. It bites and digs its teeth in deep and does not release its prey.
The suicide rate in first nations communities is twice the national average. One would think that with a number like that help would be more readily available, but that's wrong.
Cody went to the doctor. He was told to call. He was given a piece of paper with a name on it. He was told to call to make an appointment with the psychologist. I'd seen Cody lose in the ring. I'd seen him lose in competition, but I'd never ever seen him defeated. When he came home that day, he was defeated. His shoulders were slumped when he found out there was a two-month waiting period to get in to see somebody. He was defeated. I saw a difference in his demeanor then. Two weeks into the two-month wait, Cody took his life. His story was not the first and it will not be the last, as long as this continues.
Would it have changed Cody's outcome if he had gotten in sooner? We don't know, and unfortunately we'll never know. But it may have bought him some time.
For a lot of people suffering from mental illness, who are deep in that pit of despair, making a phone call would be climbing Mount Everest. If Cody had gone into the office with a bump on his head, high sugars, chest pain, or even a broken foot, help would have been immediate. Mental health issues need immediate action. “Mental health” are words that people have to be comfortable with. Our son was not crazy. He did not have bad nerves. He was not lonely. He suffered every day from mental illness. If it had been cancer, there would have been all kinds of help available.
Mental health is lonely and crippling. It kills its victims. We as a nation need to make mental health a household word. We need to put in place a system that saves lives, one that, if need be, holds that person's hand until they get the help they need. We need people there to continue the care even after help has been given and received, whether that be with a simple visit or a phone call, or a person in place who would offer a hug, words of encouragement, or a listening ear. Sometimes it's so simple, but yet crucial to that person on the dark and lonely road of mental illness.
I do know that in that moment when my son could no longer bear his inner pain, he wasn't alone. God, the Creator, reached out and took him in his arms and said, “I've got you. I'm taking you home.”
Welálin. Thank you.
Yes, I would, of course.
I've just listened to a young girl say she was broken, and I take great offence at that. I take great offence that this young girl or any of our children feel like they are broken. As a people, we are not broken. The systems are broken and the policies are broken, and that's what needs to change. In our community, whether you're on reserve or in an urban context, we are not broken. The systems are broken. They've been broken. They've been designed to fail us time and time again. I've seen it happen over and over again.
I believe in my heart of hearts that there is a way forward. We talk about reconciliation—everybody throws that word around now—and it's where we need to go. I actually believe that it can be done. I believe that it will take a long time to be done. I believe that it will take us doing things together, not having government do things to our community, but with us, beside us, not in front of us, and not behind us. I believe that those policies need to be joint and they need to be done together.
I believe in my heart that our community can get better. I believe that when society as a whole recognizes.... I heard Richard say it: we need to have understanding of why things are the way they are. Don't hold it against us that our families were put into residential schools or that there was the sixties scoop, or the past and all of those things that created this, like the Indian Act. They've all been created to assimilate and to eradicate the Indian problem, and those are real things.
Those are very real. I believe that when I look at the mental health issues. I am going to go to the friendship centre now, because we know when people come through our door.... Somebody may come in for employment, housing, education, or addiction services. They're all intertwined. It's a social cocktail mix. I don't know what you want to call it, but usually, nine times out of ten—and I'm going to say 99.9% of the time—there are mental health issues, and they all need to be treated together.
People need to be treated with respect. It breaks my heart knowing that out of everything we do, we couldn't even help my own nephew. I questioned what I do because of that. However, I also believe that what happened to Cody, for me, is the changing point even in my life. I believe that something good will come from Cody's passing.
For me, I believe that in the organization, the friendship centre, and our community, we have to start doing things together, not in silos, not separately, and not in Ottawa, but together. We talk about a national strategy. We talk about all these things. The reality is that we have to start doing things together. I don't mean at each other. I mean together. We need to have that honest truthful conversation, and humility has to play a role in that.
I actually love Canada. I don't like some of the history that has happened to our people at all, but I do believe that, moving forward, if we do things together, it can be very different. In our programs at the friendship centre, we try to take mainstream services and incorporate them in our community. I think there's some validity in some of those systems if they can incorporate our systems, our needs, and our wants.
My brother and I have had the conversation. Is medication the answer? Are cultural competencies the answer? I believe things have to be done together. Is it just medication? No. I've had conversations where it's medication, medication, medication. I've seen my other nephew, Matthew's other son, who carries Cody's bundle, take part in those monthly sweats for Cody. Those are healing for him. That is no different from going to the doctor for a bandage, to be quite honest.
Thank you for coming and sharing your story with us. I know it must be very difficult to share the story.
I come from the community of Thunder Bay in northwestern Ontario. I'm Ontario's only first nation member of Parliament, and I often see institutional racism across government agencies, in police forces, in city councils, and in municipalities, all across institutions.
I'll give you an example. The friendship centre in Thunder Bay was attempting to have a youth centre built. Unfortunately, because it was a first nation or Indian friendship centre that was proposing the youth centre, there was a lot of vocal opposition. They never said that the reason they were vocal was that the Indian Friendship Centre was the proponent, but many people felt that was the reason there was vocal opposition. Then the city ultimately defeated or didn't approve the centre, so it was a lost opportunity in my community to help out first nation youth and indeed all youth in our community.
It's now a chicken wing spot. It's not that I don't like chicken wings, but I think a better use of that facility could have been as a youth centre.
One of the great things that we've heard about—and I've heard this from my colleagues—is the work that friendship centres do across the country. I'm not that familiar with your friendship centre in Halifax, and although, the chair and I have a friend from the Eskasoni Mi'kmaw Nation named Jaime Batiste, I'm not that familiar with his community or the communities on the east coast.
Could you let us know about anything that your friendship centre does specifically with youth or has been planning to do with youth in a preventive way to help youth avoid these situations, or just to help our youth generally?
There are 13 first nations in Nova Scotia, and some of them have subcommunities. Some of them are quite strong and some of them need some help. Some of them are strong financially; some of them are not. Culturally they are very different. Eskasoni is very rich in its language. Then, if you go to Millbrook, where we're from, it doesn't seem to be as strong. It's not that the community doesn't want it; it's that colonization happened first where we are, and then it spread, so we've had the longest contact, which affects our language and our cultural pieces.
It's always a challenge, even for us in the urban context. We have to pull from our community, the 13 first nations, many times to get that cultural component in the urban context. We do it and we are seeing it more and more as a transition, as the migration from the first nations community into the urban context. You're seeing more and more traditional people come into the urban context.
There are wide ranges. No two communities are the same. I do see our indigenous community in Halifax, HRM, as a community. It's not recognized as a community, but we're very much a community. We provided programs and services to 4,800 clients last year, and I suspect we are actually missing more than that.
After Cody passed, a younger member of council came to my house. He brought a smudge bowl and an eagle feather, and he reached out to us and said they were going to have a sweat that night for the family. That was the day of Cody's death.
We had another individual come into the house. I'll be honest: I've been in law enforcement for quite a few years, and I was skeptical when he came to the house with tattoos on his neck and he was a rough-looking character. He came in and sat with my children. The kids from the community were there and he drummed with them. He stayed there for 18 hours a day to drum and pray with the kids. He got nothing; he didn't get paid. He didn't do anything other than put his time into those children.
I really believe that without him we would have had more suicides as a result of Cody's. A lot of kids in the community looked up to Cody. He was a role model, a firefighter, and an MMA fighter. He was a tough guy, and everybody loved him. He was a great kid and a great young man. I guess I'll always call him a kid, but he was a great young man.
This man who came to our house is the type of person you need. You need people who have their heart and soul in this stuff. Unfortunately, he was running a program there and because he has a criminal record, and it has taken a long time for him to get a pardon, he's been asked to step away from that. This man was sent to our family by God. He's done so much for my oldest son. He's done so much for us. I can't say enough.
Pamela and Matthew, thank you very much, as Cathy said, for coming here today and putting a human face on a very difficult issue. I think sometimes when we're discussing policies and general statistics we forget the human factor, so thank you for coming and sharing that story with me today.
Pamela, I think I'll start with you. As I said to our previous witnesses, part of my riding lies on the traditional territories of the Cowichan people. The Cowichan tribes form the largest first nations band in British Columbia. I've been privileged to have a very deep relationship with them over the past few years.
I've lived there for 27 years, and for much of my life, in my youth growing up, it was like the two solitudes. I went through my entire childhood and teenage years without ever finding out or learning about people I saw every day, my neighbours. We hosted the North American Indigenous Games in 2008, and that acted as a real catalyst for the community. Ever since then we've been trying to build bridges. We've had the Walk of the Nations. There's not an event that goes by that doesn't acknowledge the territory it stands on.
A lot of work still needs to be done, but I see the beginnings of something really positive. We have a friendship centre in the Cowichan Valley, and one of its main goals is to provide the cultural bridge between the aboriginal and non-aboriginal population.
I'm just wondering if you could tell the committee a bit about some of the programs that exist in your area, or something that can be used as a template in that regard.
One of the biggest roles I see a friendship centre playing is bridging that gap.
Part of my mandate as executive director is to ensure that I am out there educating people on what a friendship centre does and what our communities are doing, but that's intertwined in all our programs and services.
Friendship centres have an open-door policy. If anybody comes through my door, I provide programs and services to them. Some of our programs nobody ever wanted to touch. For example, our methadone program and our needle-exchange program were needed by the community, and not just by our indigenous community; there was a huge need in the non-indigenous community. We worked with the non-indigenous community to bring in those programs under the umbrella of the friendship centre.
It's part of our being really good neighbours and part of our having the ability to send our staff to schools and to governments. We get a lot of calls for an elder to do an opening. We know that, and I now have a programs coordinator, and that's part of her job. It's building those pieces into our friendship centre and into our programs.
Often we do it on our own dime, because it's that important to us. Most of our programs don't cover expenses around that. I do stuff on the weekends all the time. I don't get paid for that stuff, but it's important enough to me and my community, as we move forward, to ensure that we're good neighbours; and we are good neighbours. I want people coming in through my door. How many times do I hear people who walk by my door saying we are the building with the paintings on it? If you ever see a picture of our friendship centre, that's what you will see; I can guarantee you. But it's more than that. It's about building long-term relationships and partnerships that you want to be long term so there are long-term benefits for everybody.
We can't do everything, so it's about how we position ourselves to bring in programs we may not have the expertise for, but we bring them in under the umbrella of the friendship centre. We provide free rent to several organizations; that's how important I believe those organizations are for our community. It's about bringing people into our community while we're still going out.
We provide cultural training. Our elder Debbie did cultural training for, I'm going to say, 500 HR and police officers. We didn't charge for any of that. It's about building relationships.
Now a lot of the Halifax police will come by for tea or coffee. We never had that before. It starts to break down those barriers, and that is so important to do. It allows us to make a really quick call if.... I have a perfect example. I got a call last week. A young man I've known for a long time, who has been part of our centre for as long as I can remember, was picked up by the police. They asked what to do in this situation. They came to us first before they hauled him off to put him in a cell. We were able to bridge that, and they were comfortable enough to come to us. That is really key, because the issue was more of a cultural issue than a criminal issue. We were able to walk through that, and that's a big difference. I probably would never have seen that before.
I wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. It's very tough for us to listen to something so tragic that happened to you directly, and I think all of us, especially as aboriginal people, can relate to having lost someone, family or friend.
We visited a number of communities and the issue is widespread, and just when I started thinking we had the pieces of the puzzle lined up, your story made it all crash to the sidelines, because there are so many different things that you could point to, and sometimes you can't point to any of them. I heard for most of my life that we have issues as a result of residential schools. We had a residential school in my community, and it destroyed a lot of people. As I've travelled around this last go-round, I'm hearing that one of the most important things is to be able to restore pride in our people so they can be proud of who they are, and especially the youth. That's going to be a very difficult challenge.
I watched my daughter struggle with the loss of her friend, and we encouraged her to speak about it and she spoke in classes, and other schools heard about it so they got her to travel. As a result, her phone was ringing day and night because of people in situations who had no place to turn, so they were turning to a young girl who was only about 16 years old. I finally had to ask her not to do it anymore, because she was awake day and night and she was getting depressed over the issue. But that points to the lack of resources. I'm really not one to want to reinvent the wheel, and I'm also one who really supports friendship centres. I founded the one in my community. I wrote the constitution and bylaws. I worked for years until we got the money. I helped other communities develop them only to watch them get cut, slashed to a point where they could barely function. Most things are done by whoever has the time, whoever wants to donate their time, and whatever handouts they can get for the food kitchen or whatever.
But there's an opportunity there to make it something that communities could use, and the program hasn't expanded in the last few years. We have the Aboriginal Head Start, which really caters to the younger population, the young mothers, the families that have young children and that are challenged. A lot of the families, we know, are impacted by FAE or alcohol or learning disabilities and things of that nature, and they work with them. They help them. They teach them, including through the sports circles. There are so many things that are out there, but some of them are almost invisible. Aboriginal Head Start is plopped so far down in Public Health, you don't even know it exists. I don't even think the deputy knows where it's at, because they never raise it; they never talk about it. I ask about it. There's no real plan for it.
So there are so many things that exist that we could use. In our last northern tour, I heard it put best that we have to have facilities that can act as crisis centres, family centres, cultural centres. I think friendship centres could maybe fill that void. Maybe we could talk about that, and maybe talk about the resources that are needed.
I honestly believe that every aboriginal community should have a friendship centre, and they should be resourced to deal with the many issues they need to tackle. We can't ignore that the issue of FAE is widespread in our communities. The jails are full of people who really need help and assistance. As for suicide, friendship centres can deliver education programs, cultural programs, sports programs, and so many other things.
I watched our friendship centre be the only facility open in the whole community during the Christmas holidays, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It stayed open all night trying to help people who needed rides, people who were homeless, people who were hungry. Every other government facility shut down. In fact, every other government facility is run by non-community members, so they all leave. They go home for the holidays.
I really believe what you said about having a solution by our own people. Our social ills have to be cured by our own people, but we need the resources to deal with them.
Thank you for being here. It's a profound story that you've given, and it definitely gives me some heartache.
I want to congratulate the friendship centres on the success they have. I think a big part of that success is that almost every one of them has somebody like you who champions them. We've heard over and over again that it's community engagement and communities that bring forward the ideas. Those are the successful programs. We've also heard that, considering the amount of work that's done through friendship centres, they punch way above their weight because of individuals who are personally invested in them.
If we were to try to facilitate having a friendship centre in every community or in every urban centre, how would we go about ensuring that there would be a group of people or an individual like you to be the backstop on that?
Just as with every other program, typically the intent is amazing, but if we don't have the right people to backstop it, it never happens, or the money gets spent and nothing happens.
If we're going to go down this avenue of having friendship centres as a solution, how will we find the right people to backstop them?