Good morning, my name is Scott. I am Coast Salish from Vancouver Island. I am currently the executive director of an urban aboriginal organization known as Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society, ALIVE. We've been around for approximately seven years and we are a resident-based organization. We do not take government money for programs, and our goal as an organization is to seek to create opportunities throughout Vancouver's 24 communities taking on the existing barriers. We develop processes with the parks boards, the school boards, and the City of Vancouver to identify the barriers, create solutions, and create opportunities so all urban indigenous peoples have equality of opportunity for conditions.
Saying that, I also wear another title, which is the vice-president of the Northwest Indigenous Council, which is perhaps Canada's newest provincial off-reserve political organization representing off-reserve aboriginal peoples. Very recently, in the last six weeks, we just got membership in the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples as our national political organization to advocate on behalf of the interests of our people living off-reserve throughout Canada.
We did get short notice that this event was happening, and we are very pleased to be able to have the opportunity to present some of the key issues we've identified here in Vancouver as they relate to suicide, and most importantly, about how we address it in an innovative way that moves beyond the status quo we've seen among all levels of government, which in essence in the urban environment here in Vancouver has ghettoized indigenous people, segregated them, and reduced their level of choice. We've been working quite diligently for the last seven years on an evidence-based innovative approach on how we should move forward to get in front of issues like suicide, child apprehension, graduation, and the whole array of issues. We know what the approach needs to have in order to support all vulnerable populations.
In saying that, I want to share this with you. About this time four years ago, we had a press conference here in east Vancouver in the Grandview-Woodlands area, and that press conference dealt with a suicide pact that was averted back in late October four years ago. Thirty young people had made a commitment to commit suicide together in east Vancouver. The outreach workers and the police were able to identify 24 of those 30 young people, and bring them to the hospital and have them assessed. They identified that all of them were aboriginal. They were all under the age of 15, mostly 13 to 15, and mostly aboriginal girls who were being preyed upon by gangs, older men, in the east Vancouver area, a hop, skip and a jump from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where our young people get preyed upon for peddling drugs, sexually exploited, and all the things that we've come to know and that research has shared with us.
Immediately upon learning of this suicide pact, we and a number of our key organizations organized an emergency crisis response, which we identified as a youth matters crisis response, bringing together in essence about 60 different organizations and government levels that all claimed to be working to support the vulnerable children and families in Vancouver's east side. Through that emergency response, with Christmas around the corner, we recognized that we not only had to support just the young people, but we also had to support the families because of the unstable housing, the issues around education, and so forth.
Through the youth matters emergency response four years ago today, we have created what we call a “community partnership agreement”. I believe we have sent you that information and it's going to be translated for you. I don't have a copy here.
In the last four years—and much to the dismay of many who like the status quo here in Vancouver—we've been able to develop a process to work with vulnerable children and families from the ground up. We work from needs before they become issues, from the prenatal stage, when the fetus is inside mummy's tummy, all the way through a post-secondary graduation strategy. We bring in partners from academia, the hospitals, the schools, the community centres, the libraries, the police, and everyone else out there who is providing services.
You've all heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but have you ever seen a village in an urban context? The answer to that is virtually “no,” because we have created a system in Canada for the last 70 years where we've segregated urban indigenous populations. We have taken the on-reserve model, replicated it in the off-reserve context, and never questioned that. We've never had the evidence to say that it actually works.
In 2011, the “Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study” came out. It is a national study looking at the needs and aspirations of urban indigenous populations. It tells a very different story from what service providers tell, a story about wanting to take our place in the community, to graduate, to have housing, and to have real opportunities like every other Canadian or Vancouverite. We are very proud of who we are. The issues are immense, i.e., racism and discrimination. We know about that, but that study was a key study that challenged the status quo.
Since November, 2012, which was the time of the suicide pact on which we did a press conference, we have been working with a whole array of other partners, principally out of the Ray-Cam Cooperative Centre where we have been working on this model for nine years. We have now extended it from that community centre to five other community centres.
We are now building villages in each of those five communities, pulling them together, doing the research, connecting the services, and challenging the non-aboriginal organizations. We ask, “Where is your aboriginal strategy? Do you hire aboriginal people? Are they on your board of directors? Are they members? Are you working with the non-indigenous population through a reconciliation lens?”
All of these hard questions are things our political leaders have been saying for at least 10 years at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels, but you never see them being developed and organized at the community level.
This is what we have been doing here in Vancouver. We are very pleased, because the evidence from our partners through the University of British Columbia is showing that we're actually getting the results we've been seeking. By bringing the doctors and nurses right into the programs, and those services into a community centre, we're able to connect with the programs and services, build up the trust level, and then build those relations so that assessments happen at a much earlier date. We bring in the dentists, the lawyers, and so forth.
We had the highest vulnerability rate of children going into kindergarten in the province of B.C. After four years of the model we've been developing, we were able to reduce our vulnerability from 73% to 50%. While the federal and provincial governments were cutting programs and services, we were able to unite organizations and develop a proactive, evidence-based model that is starting to show real results, where urban indigenous children and families can take their place in their community, on the board of directors, designing programs and services.
We call this model a collective impact, place-based approach.
This is a model that's been developed around the world, but you only have to go down to the United States and look at another model down there, which this is based on, called Promising Neighborhoods. The recommendation I would make to this committee is to look at the Promising Neighborhoods model and look at having a pilot project across this country, because you cannot deal with suicide in isolation of poverty, housing, homelessness, education, and so forth. If you want to be serious about this, then you need to start to looking at a more comprehensive approach that's grounded in indigenous philosophy and that has a nice reconciliation lens to it.
Thank you very much.
I also got notice late yesterday. Can you give me two days' notice at least? No, just a few hours.
I'm here representing the Cheslatta Carrier Nation. I would like to thank the Coast Salish first nation for allowing me to be here on their territory to tell my story.
My name is Mavis Benson. I am from the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, which is in central northern B.C. It's a semi-isolated community. You take a ferry west of Burns Lake for about 15 kilometres. It takes about 15 minutes, and my community is on that side beside two other bands and a non-native community.
I am also a mother and the grandmother to three of my grandchildren. I am their sole caregiver. I'm sorry, I'm sick, too, so they got me at a really good time.
I want to share my story with you all because I believe it's the story of thousands, a story that shares a similar core to other people, and a story that I hope inflicts a spark for change.
Suicide has taken many lives in my community of Cheslatta. This is due to colonialism, the Indian residential schools, and the forceable eviction of our people in 1952 from their traditional territory.
Our community used to be a close-knit, culturally oriented community that worked together in all aspects of life. Due to the Indian residential schools, we have lost most of our language, culture, and identity. Our community is fractured and lateral violence is the norm. Alcohol was a part of my life growing up, and violence and sexual abuse came with that. This is not only for me, it was for the majority of my cousins, everybody that I know my age, and younger and older. The forceable eviction of my people from their traditional homelands took their pride, their way of life, and their culture. They were forced to live in a foreign world, one that was unkind and unwelcoming. The people began to drink to numb the pain of both the Indian residential school and the forceable eviction. This intergenerational trauma continues in our community and our peoples today, especially on-reserve.
As an example, I will give you a short bio of my life. My presentation is quite different from Scott's, and I'd like to thank Scott for his presentation.
At the age of nine, I was put into Lejac Indian Residential School. I was told it was for my own good, that I would get a good education there, and that they would treat me better than I was treated at home. I remember being excited and scared at the same time. That dream of a caring and loving educational environment was crushed as soon as I took that long walk up those stairs to the school's doors. I experienced racism amongst my own people, as well as abuse by adult supervisors.
My first day of class was exciting, as I sat down and got ready to join all the other children. The teacher had me do a test to see what level I would be put into, A being the smarter kids, and B, C and D being the dumbest, as she stated.
She put me in the corner by myself, and I completed the test without any problems. I happily turned my test into her, and she marked it while I sat at my desk. She came up to me and said I cheated. She hit my hands hard with a yardstick and called me a “stupid, dirty Indian”. I was put into group C. I later found out that I didn't get any questions wrong, so why did she do this? It confused me for many years as to how I approached my academics. Do I try to do my best? If I do, I may get punished. So I don't, and then I get punished anyway. I ended up making sure that I did not get all my answers correct. I intentionally got questions wrong because I did not want to get hit again. It was not an experience I'll ever forget, and this was an experience for many of my peers in my classes.
You see, in Indian residential school, education was never the priority, discipline was. I was made to feel inferior and stupid, something I still deal with today. I lost touch with who I was in an educational context and at a personal level. I was made to hate myself and authority figures. This is a fact of life for all of the members of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation. Drugs, alcohol, and addiction to prescriptions is the norm.
When I returned to my community later on after residential school, I continued to endure horrific abuses of all kinds at the hands of a family member, who was also a residential school survivor of 15 years. My only refuge was when I attended school, where the teachers always encouraged me to excel at everything I did.
I clearly remember the day when the special education class started, because I did not see any of my cousins or friends in my classes. I asked my teacher about this, and he said they were put into a special class. I wanted to go to that class too. I demanded to go to that class now. My teacher told me to go sit down and do my work, and basically just shut up, so I went and sat down and shut up.
Anyway, when I think about it now, I'm forever grateful to my teachers for believing in my potential as an academic student, because to clarify, all those students who were put into that class never did graduate. That's where the problems starts, and one of the biggest problems that we have in our communities to this day is graduating illiterate community members, and I see it in my community.
My home life was not a good one. It was one fuelled by alcohol, violence, poverty, and sexual abuse. That continued daily for most of my childhood. Many times I tried ending my life, but to no avail. To clarify, the first time I sliced my wrist was at the age of 10. No one in my family cared. I just cried myself to sleep and woke up the next day feeling weak, but still alive. I tried this a couple more times in my teen years, but again I didn't succeed, thank goodness.
At the age of 13, I ran away from home due to the unrelenting abuse that I had to endure daily. Thinking that running away was going to solve my problems was a fantasy, and reality hit quickly. I went from one hell to another. At the age of 16 I had my one and only daughter, and I did not know how to be a parent. As a single mother, not long after my daughter was born, I went back home to my community to find my way in life. During that time, I felt a yearning to return to high school and graduate. If it had not been for school during my younger years, then I would have died at a very young age due to the intergenerational trauma that I experienced.
While my story is one of hope and resiliency, more must be done, and each and every one of you in this room is capable of helping to make the calls to action for meaningful social change, as it pertains to our aboriginal youth and families, and our communities on- and off-reserve, especially on-reserve. A hope for a better future through a purposeful healing and educational system is needed.
I also have some ideas here. For example, in our community, when there is an attempted suicide, we have to call 911. Well, Burns Lake is close to 800 kilometres from Kamloops, and 911 dispatch goes to Kamloops. There is no 911 in Burns Lake. The ferry stops at 11 o'clock at night, and suicides usually happen after drinking late at night, between 12 and six in the morning. Those are the times that we usually experience all of the incidents of anything, such as someone getting beat up, a murder, or someone going missing. Parties happen at that time, and suicide attempts usually occur during that time in our community. When we call 911, they dispatch us to Kamloops, to that dispatch, and it takes forever. I'm thankful we have that contact to 911, but there should be one in Burns Lake itself.
The ferry service stops at 11 p.m., and it doesn't start until 5:30 in the morning, so when someone does try to commit suicide, it takes forever for the ambulance, at least an hour and a half to two hours. If they rush, it's an hour and a half to start up the ferry, to get the ferry going, and get the ambulance. If there's no ambulance service—they have an ambulance service on the south side—and if they're not available, or if no one's there—they volunteer on the south side—then they have to wait for the one from Burns Lake to come. They have to get the ferry across to the north side, bring it back over to the south side, and then dispatch it wherever.
Our community is 50 kilometres in radius. We're not a community with all the houses in one spot. We're 50 kilometres apart from one end of our community to the other. We're very spread apart. I believe that we need better ambulance service with people who are certified to be ambulance paramedics, and that's one of the biggest things in our community.
I also have three other recommendations. One is that we have a trauma counsellor rather than counsellors in our community. Counsellors in our community rotate every two years. They do their time, and then they leave. When I was working there, I decided to see a counsellor. She had to leave, and then they said, “Oh, there's another one coming in.” I'm not going to tell my story over and over again, I'm just not going to do that, and if I don't do that, who else is going to do it? No one's going to do it, and it has continued. I've left my community in 2009 to do my undergrad degree and then my graduate degree.
So no one's going to do that. They're just not going to do it. I highly recommend a trauma counsellor in our community, and also treatment for families regarding historical trauma in our communities, especially the ones who have gone through suicide—like we've all gone through it—but the ones with suicide attempts or they've committed suicide. They need trauma counselling. They don't need alcohol counselling; they need trauma counselling. That's what we're experiencing.
I also totally agree with a community centre, of course, as Scott said, for sports and culture. We need our cultural teachings and our language to be brought back to life. That would bring the spirit back of our people.
I'd like to thank you.
There are a number of challenges, of course—very different from the on-reserve versus off-reserve—and the federal government, regardless of what political party has been in power, has never been the friend of the off-reserve indigenous population. I think we have to start there.
There is the Supreme Court of Canada Daniels decision, which says that the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility to non-status and Métis, including the status population.
That historical evolution of that relationship has for all purposes, up until 2015—and I would suggest even to this day—left the off-reserve population in a vacuum. The devolution process of the federal government in 1996 to the province, and the province to the city, has created this vacuum where nobody wants to step forward and step up and say who's really responsible for this 80% of the population living off-reserve. That hasn't happened. Now the landscape has changed, and hopefully we'll see some progress with this new government.
What we have witnessed over the last 70 years here in Vancouver, and it's well documented, is.... You can look at the demographic patterns of where indigenous people live in Vancouver as an example. We make up 2% of Vancouver's population. The majority of us live in east Vancouver. The majority of us in east Vancouver live in what we call the Grandview—Woodlands area, and then the second community—it's like an L—is the Downtown Eastside, Canada's most impoverished urban area code.
The programs and services that have been developed over those 70 years have created, in just Downtown Eastside alone, 260 non-profits, and in the Grandview—Woodlands area, 40 other non-profits. If you go to the other communities in the nearby areas, there are very few.
What we have effectively done without questioning—because for whatever reason we don't question this stuff—is we have created a ghetto. We've ghettoized urban aboriginal people. We segregate them in the educational institutions, and we segregate them in programs and services. We say that if you want day care you have to go over to this community in the Downtown Eastside to get your service. We pull them out of their natural community, away from their natural friends, their parents, their work, and their public school.
We have a whole bunch of alienation that has been taking place unquestioned. The key concept we have to be looking at when we're dealing with indigenous populations, on- or off-reserve, is what is the framework? What is our goal? Do we really intend to close the gaps, if that's our goal? Then how do we get there?
The key concept, as we see with our brothers and sisters on reservations, is that they have a comprehensive community planning process that's funded. When it comes to the off-reserve, you have federal governments, provincial governments, municipal governments that don't want to deal with these issues. They all say it's someone else's responsibility. At the end of the day, what we see is a concentrated population in cities cross this country, which has ghettoized us, with no means, to this day, to find comprehensive indigenized solutions that go beyond an item—that go beyond suicide, beyond poverty, or homelessness, or day care, or whatever.
Thank you. I hope I answered your question. I don't know if I did.
I just quit smoking and drinking coffee yesterday, so those are tough questions.
It's very simple: research, research. We can look at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples done in 1996. We can look at the reports that came out, but most importantly, we can look at the 94 TRC recommendations that just came out. The first five deal with child welfare. The first five of 94 deal with child welfare. Who's doing what where?
The City of Vancouver adopted it. The parks board here in Vancouver adopted it. The school board adopted it. They're all implementing strategies. They're working co-operatively. The research of who is doing what where is important.
Second, look at promising neighbourhoods in the United States. Why are they doing this in 61 communities, and what are the results of it? Ultimately, you'll see that it's going to save resources and save lives.
Third, work with our national political organizations. I make a very clear distinction between political organizations and service organizations. They have different mandates. The federal government has played those organizations off each other. Honestly, I think in 2016 we need to move beyond that.
Fourth, implement it, and five, evaluate it, because really the wave of the future for indigenous populations, the TRC recommendations, and Canadians as a whole is taking the best practices around the world—promising neighbourhoods, the collective impact, place-based—and start doing it here in Canada. We are way behind, and it gets a number of birds with one stone because we start working with children and families at a very young age and with girls so they don't end up as another statistic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Do the math. We start building and bringing them together through a reconciliation lens. It's being done here in Vancouver, and we can do it across the country.
Thank you for coming. It's a pleasure to be here. The stories we have been hearing across the country—and from people from across the country in Ottawa—have been very helpful, first, in my own learning about the different issues across the country, and also in learning about us as indigenous people. I say “us”, because I am from Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation, Anishinaabe from Ontario. I am Ontario's only first nations member of Parliament, and I'm also the chair of the indigenous Liberal caucus.
My lens is changing a bit, or perhaps my view on where we go with this issue. Of course, there are the immediate things we need to do, reacting to the crisis immediately with some kind of response—and I've said this over...through so many different witnesses. In the past, it's been crisis teams that have been developed by FNIHB or Health Canada. We've heard that some of those teams would come in and then leave. That's not effective. It's not the right way to deal with this crisis.
What we heard last night.... We were at a youth centre on the lower east side, UNYA, with indigenous youth from the lower east side area. They said that programs like that and centres like that go a long way, but there were a lot of youth, their friends, who weren't there and who had been dealing with thoughts of suicide and needed something more, or a follow-up—needed a safe space, but also someone to talk to.
I think it's happening in pockets, mainly not because of anything governments are doing but because of what the people on the ground are doing. It's very important to listen to people on the ground, because that's where we are seeing it, at the front line. We are seeing positive results of programs like UNYA, and we are seeing not-so-good results from Health Canada teams going into communities like my area of the country in northwestern Ontario, Pikangikum, and leaving, and then we have another crisis pop up there, or in northern Saskatchewan.
I believe I know your answer, and maybe I've said parts of it, but what should the federal government do immediately? I believe we need to work in partnership, not only with municipalities but with the provincial government and the providers of service. What can we do to make it easier to do the job that you guys do, and what else should we be doing for the immediate...?
I believe on-reserve, or when I experienced suicide pacts with our youth—it's not only youths, it's young adults, too—it's a lot different than off-reserve because off-reserve has a lot of services. We don't have any services in our communities, none whatsoever.
When I was on band council, for example, I worked 24/7. If someone wanted to commit suicide, the cops would call me in the middle of the night, like 2 o'clock in the morning, because they can't get there fast enough. I'd go to the house. I'm not a counsellor. I was a political leader. I would go there and sit with the person until an ambulance attendant and the cops could come.
That's what the chief and council continue to do now. They're not psychologists, psychiatrists, or counsellors. They're political leaders, but they put their own time in to help. If they hear there is a suicide pact going on, then they go into the houses, regardless of whether the residents are drinking, or doing drugs, or whatever. We were all there at one time. We don't segregate them. We don't isolate them. We make them feel like they are part of the community and they're worth something, because we are all human beings. We're all Cheslatta people.
The thing is that we don't have services that can assist these people in our communities. We have lots of services here in the city. That's one reason why, as Scott was saying, a lot of first nations people are segregated on the east side.
I live in southwest Vancouver, and I did that on purpose. I wanted my children to have a chance to have a better education and a better outlook on life. They're doing amazingly, all three, well, two of them. One has to go to the east side to a day care, but it's an awesome day care. As I say, on-reserve we don't have the services. Even mental health workers don't necessarily live on the south side. There's no housing there, so they live in town. When something like that happens, the ferry is not going to start up just for them. They will start up for the ambulance or the police, and that's it.
I remember one time, there was an incident that happened, and they told my uncle, who was the chief at the time, “Go see if they're really dead.” when there was the murder of two people. The cops told him to do that. He came and got my mom and my sister to go there and check if the two individuals were murdered, and they were. Then he called them, and then they came.
To get started today, we're going to be talking to you about our upstream suicide prevention program called Cuystwi. As we know, indigenous suicide isn't a new issue in Canada. It was established as a priority action area in the “Transformative Change Accord: First Nations Health Plan” back in 2005. To ground the rest of our talk, I want to give some background on the values and the philosophy that we use in our programming.
One of the main points is that colonization and racism are determinants of health for indigenous people. I think that's something that really needs to be kept at the forefront when we're looking at prevention efforts. Secondly, we use evidence from the literature that states that identity, culture, and connections to land are really important when we're talking about indigenous youth suicide prevention.
That brings us to Cuystwi and how we got started with our program. We were doing some work with first nations communities in northern B.C., and they had expressed desire for an upstream suicide prevention programming for their youth. They really wanted a program that would teach youth our history from the indigenous perspective. They requested that it should be culturally relevant and would promote wellness, and that it would be culturally safe and decolonizing in nature.
With that feedback, we hosted four World Café-style focus groups in the north where we brought youth together to flesh out what that meant to them and what they wanted to see. When we got some positive feedback from those youth, we moved on to a think tank in Vancouver in 2012, where we brought youth and youth workers from 20 different nations together to really flesh out what that would look like to them. On the slides, you can see one of the drawings representing what the youth wanted to see.
With that positive feedback and the direction from the youth, we embarked on the creation of an online quest called Cuystwi. It's meant for youth aged 10 to 12 and it's designed so they go through a journey with many different activities, videos, and audio. That was one of the things that they expressed; they wanted it to be interactive and they wanted to use media tools. The online quest can be explored either as an individual or as a group. It's meant to be facilitated in community, by community members, and to complement other existing youth programs.
The quests were really meant to be a conversation starter and not meant to be the be-all and end-all of information. We really wanted to provide a platform that communities could use to make it their own; to have their own teachings and their own values that they could bring to the table.
That being said, the five main themes that the quest goes through are strengthening identity, understanding the importance of culture and wellness, understanding colonization and how it affects us, our families, and our communities. It gives them some tools to deal with racism and it ends with an invitation to become a young warrior.
From there, we moved on to the development of phase 2 Cuystwi. There was a desire expressed that we wanted to address some of the older age groups, so this one was for 13- to 15-year olds. It has a very similar style with an online quest that youth can go through again, either by themselves or in a group. We built on the five main themes from phase 1, but we also added on topics like healthy relationships, and that can be with the land, our friends, our families, and significant others. We talk about sexuality, self-regulation and emotions, and we really go into more depth around the Indian Act and residential schools, again, teaching our history from our perspective. Both programs are free to use. You send us an email and we'll send you a link.
We also provide facilitator manuals, so that communities have a resource, in addition to accessibility to needed support. Again, we really want to emphasize that it's something that communities can take and use in the way they see fit. They don't need to use it exactly the way the quest is laid out. It's meant so the youth can take what they want to learn and supplement it into their other programming.
As best practice, we really believe in having youth-driven programming, with the understanding that youth know what they need. Many health promotion programs have been implemented without an indigenous world view or real and meaningful engagement or collaboration with the people who actually would be using the services they're developing. We believe that youth need to be recognized as experts in determining what they need to stay well and we really need to fully support and engage youth, so they are part of the development from the very beginning when we're moving forward with programming. This really helps to ensure that there are high rates of participation, that people feel like they have a sense of ownership over the content, and take pride in their communities.
With that being said, we also want to recognize that indigenous youth aren't one specific group. When we're talking about programming, we really need to be understanding that there's youth on-reserve, in foster care, and in urban settings, so we really need to address all of those.
One of the ways that we've been ensuring that we have youth involvement in our development of our programming is that we had 12 pilot communities from around B.C. We asked those communities to send us youth representatives who were interested in sitting on an advisory panel. It was an advisory panel where they could provide direct feedback and help develop content with us, but it was also an opportunity for youth to get some training. We used telehealth equipment, so that we could bring in people to provide training around research, facilitation, skills, and leadership, etc., so that they could go back into their communities to solicit more feedback from youth in their communities, and it had a ripple effect outwards.
We always make sure we pay our youth to give us their time, and we honour them for their contributions. I think that's really important.
We have facilitator gatherings so that community members can send representatives and young people down to learn about how they can use Cuystwi in their communities, as well as gain skills around facilitation.
We have a youthful team. We try to keep our team with youth under 25, which I think is really important, so that youth are at the table not only when we're in the workplace, but also when we're in a community.
One of the main ways right now that we ensure that we have youth involvement is to do a lot of video workshops around the province. It's not only a way to help youth gain skills to tell their stories through media, but it's a way that we can work with them to create content that's relevant and meaningful to them.
One of the benefits that we've seen from doing our work this way is that it's decolonizing in nature. It gives us an opportunity again to learn our history from our perspectives. We have youth at the table developing the content and making sure it's relevant, and they're going to be interested in what you're creating.
It's skills building, and it's not only for our staff. We believe in mentoring, so we do hire young people and help them figure out what their passion is, but also with the communities we work with, their youth are gaining skills as well. It's a lot of fun being able to work with youth, and most importantly, we believe that it's important that youth are able to see themselves in the content and that it's not just a resource. They can connect with it.
Now I'm going to turn it over to Cassandra, who is going to share a bit of her story.
That's the second phase of Cuystwi. That's built off the initial program we started for 10- to 12-year-olds. The communities we worked with said that they wanted some programming for youth who are a little bit older.
As you can see on the slides, it's set up as a quest map so that's what it would look like online if you went into it and logged onto the training. Youth can sign up either themselves or through a youth worker after the community has requested a link. It goes through 24 different lessons on various different topics. There is stuff around colonization, racism, learning about our history, talking about wellness, learning what healthy relationships look like, sexuality, and learning about emotions and self-regulation. It's really an opportunity to start conversations, maybe, on topics that aren't always talked about in our communities or that people aren't necessarily comfortable with, and that's why we also have a facilitator manual that we will provide to the communities as a resource to help their youth go through the training.
But really it's an opportunity for communities to make it their own. There is already a lot of wonderful programming going on in communities, and this is another resource that they can use to support it. We've had our pilot communities run it in on-reserve schools. We've had people do it in youth centres, summer camps, and anywhere that would complement something that was already happening, usually.
Some communities have used it as a reason to gather in the first place so that's what they were going to do, go through the training with their youth. Maybe they would meet once a week or something, and then we really encourage them to bring in elders or people who have specific cultural teachings or values. Some people used it as an opportunity to talk about the content, but also to learn to can fish or to build a smokehouse. We had people who would use it as a way to start a drum group. One of our communities had a very small drum group but, because there was community buy-in and interest, the drum group actually ended up with about 60 members who were showing up every week together, which is pretty amazing.
We have people who used it as an opportunity to put it with some physical activity and started a judo club, and then this was a component of it. It's really meant to be a versatile program that can really just be taken as communities want to use it.
Debbie Williams from Duncan, B.C., was going to join me this morning, but her flight was cancelled out of Duncan due to weather.
As introduced, my name is Eric Klapatiuk. I'm with the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. I sit as their youth executive. Currently, I'm residing in and working with the Friendship House of Prince Rupert.
One of the things the friendship centres across B.C. and across Canada really advocate for is the urban aboriginal population in the nation. When we say urban aboriginal people, we talk about virtually anyone who is seeking help, but mainly our first nations, Inuit, and Métis brothers and sisters who are moving away from their own home communities and relocating into urban centres, whether that be for employment or education. When we talk about urban people, these are the people we're talking about, people who are moving from their home communities to these big urban centres where supports are not as easily available. Their social circles are not the same; they diminish.
I moved to a new centre in Prince Rupert, and it's not the same as my home community. It's not the same as Kamloops. It's not the same as Quesnel. Prince Rupert is a completely different isolated town I'm navigating.
I want to start my conversation about someone who is very close to me in my life and has become one of my brothers in my day-to-day life. I'm going to give this person the name of Matt. He is a very happy individual, someone in whom you would never see any outward signs of suicide. He was very good at hiding it. That's what we find when it comes to people who are considering or planning suicide. They don't want people to know, but at the same time they want people to know, and they will put feelers out.
Matt was suffering for a long time. He was in a relationship, and the relationship brought him down to a level where he did not know what to do. He did not want to reach out to anyone, and the more we tried to be there for him, the more he pushed us away.
I remember getting a phone call at 6:30 in the morning from his mom asking me to come over to his house. I instantly went over, and I had a conversation with his mom. She was completely devastated. That morning Matt was driving home and stopped his car in oncoming traffic. He just stopped it and turned the engine off.
In Quesnel during the winter months, this is a dangerous thing to do. Road conditions aren't great, the weather conditions aren't amazing, and his plan in that moment was that he needed to leave. There was nothing more he could do. He had had it with everything that had been going on. He'd had it with relationships that were not there for him. He'd had it with having no support. He saw himself as rejected and as a burden to his friends and society, and he felt that sharp pain of stigma toward people who are suffering. He had a feeling there was no support and he was cut off. I am thankful now he is still with us, and I'm there for him, and his family is there for him, and we're all able to sit there and support him.
One of the things that has come out of this for me, as a bystander and a witness to his struggle, is this feeling of depression. Even though Matt was not successful in his suicide, it still affected us around him. I had an internal struggle of why no one was there to help him. Why was he not asking us for help?
Also, because of my relationship with him, I think I did not understand the fact of it being hard to be someone close to someone who is committing suicide. We forget that we're a huge part of their lives, and would assume they would come to us when they are struggling and just be outright about it.
Matt is a first nations individual and we live in a society that still views aboriginal people as “less than”. We live in a society that is rampant with racism, and this was another factor in why Matt believed he needed to commit suicide.
Matt attended Gathering of Voices, which is a national youth conference that the B.C. association hosts. One thing that Gathering of Voices does well is adding that connection to community, adding that togetherness, that culture of learning, adding that engaging aspect and that ability to express oneself and be real with other youth around the province and around the country.
We know that Gathering of Voices works. We've had instances where youth participants—people as young as 10, 12, and 14 years old—coming to Gathering of Voices with a plan. I have had conversations with people one year and they've come to that particular conference with a plan. I would see them the next year for Gathering of Voices, and even though I wouldn't remember their names, I would remember I had talked to them before and they were so thankful I had taken five minutes out of my day to have a conversation, taken five minutes out of my day to see how they were doing and really ask them how they were feeling and if they were enjoying themselves. That was a change for them. That was what flipped in their minds, saying, “There is no isolation here. I am not isolated in my small remote community. I have support outside of my community.” Gathering of Voices is a conference that youth around the province really look forward to.
In Prince Rupert, where I'm now living, one of the most difficult obstacles these youth face on a month-to-month basis is having nothing to do on the weekends. We are doing the best we can with what we have. I ask them to tell me something that's missing in their lives right now, and weekend programming for youth is a critical missing part of that.
Weekends have traditionally and concurrently been an avenue where we see rises in drinking and drug use. When you bring it into a remote community like Prince Rupert, a small community, those numbers rise. When we look into the aspects of why these young people are turning to risky behaviours, we see the reasons. They're turning to drugs and alcohol because they are trying to numb themselves from their struggles, from their feelings of isolation, and from the sense that they are a burden.
Within the B.C. association, we really utilize every moment of our programming. We push this culture of helping everybody within the organization. If you come in and are needing support, we will stop what we're doing to help you. Every life matters, and we don't.... It's increasing the knowledge that suicide is not a flaw; it is not that person's fault.
Sorry, I'm getting a little carried away; it's an emotional topic to talk about but nothing gets done if you don't talk about it.
Gathering Our Voices, as I said, is great. People look forward to it, and we help a lot of people.
Good morning, everyone.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the ancestors—the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people—of the unceded territories that we are meeting on today. I thank them for allowing me to be a visitor to their territory to carry out this important work that we will be discussing today.
I would also like to thank the standing committee for extending an invitation to me and President Morin Dal Col to be here this morning to speak to the issue of suicide among indigenous peoples and communities. I bring regrets from President Morin Dal Col who is feeling under the weather this morning. She was planning to be a part of this presentation this morning so she could address this important subject on behalf of Métis people in British Columbia. She did want me to convey to you her deep concern for many families—Métis, first nations, and Inuit—right across this country, who have experienced the loss of a loved one or loved ones through the taking of their own lives, and she offers her praise to this committee for undertaking these hearings and looking for the solutions to address this very serious issue.
My name is Cassidy Caron. I am Métis. My families come from St. Louis and Batoche, Saskatchewan, and I'm the provincial Métis youth chairperson and minister of youth for Métis Nation British Columbia. I am honoured to be here today. The work that is being done and the stories that are being shared across the country are incredibly valuable and it is necessary that they are heard so that action can be taken.
First, I want to offer a brief background of the Métis people here in British Columbia. Métis are recognized under section 35 of the Constitution Act as one of three distinct aboriginal peoples in Canada. Métis have been documented in B.C. as early as 1793 and nearly 70,000 self-identified Métis people reside throughout British Columbia. Métis Nation British Columbia is recognized by the provincial and federal government and the Métis National Council as the official governing body representing Métis in B.C., including more than 14,500 Métis people who have applied for and been granted Métis citizenship.
I would like to share with you the story of Nick Lang—noting we have received special permission from his family to do so—to underscore how gaps in cultural support, and not having a responsive system, led to the devastating end to this young man's life. Just last month, the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth in British Columbia released its investigative report detailing the circumstances leading up to the death of Nick Lang.
Nick was a 15-year-old Métis youth. Nick's mother described him in the RCY report as a child who was extremely kind, happy, generous, and sensitive to other people's feelings and emotions. His father described Nick as someone who made friends easily, with his older brother remaining his closest friend throughout his life. From a young age, Nick identified as Métis, and came to learn about and experience his culture. Nick was a proud citizen of Métis Nation British Columbia. He was connected to his culture through the love of being outdoors and fishing. He enjoyed cultural ceremonies, and his parents described him as being both curious about and proud of his identity.
Nick struggled through his early teen years, becoming addicted to marijuana and escalating to the use of methamphetamines. Nick's parents spent many years reaching out for assistance, beginning with the local Ministry of Children and Family Development office, hoping the social worker would offer support services or resources. None were offered as all non-protection-based MCFD services are voluntary. They then researched mandatory treatment options for Nick, however they could not find any public options that they felt were appropriate for him and the private programs that they looked at were beyond their reach financially.
His parents reached out to a director from Métis Nation B.C. to ask if she knew of any Métis-specific programs or financial assistance for a private program. However, she was unaware of any appropriate substance use programs for Métis youth in B.C. She genuinely wanted to help Nick's family, but did not have the access to funding or services to do so.
Nick's substance use and negative behaviour escalated to the point where he assaulted his mother and became involved with the youth justice system. While waiting for his sentencing, police were notified when Nick posted on Facebook that he would be “dead by sunrise”. Nick was located in possession of a concealed weapon and was brought to the local hospital to have his mental health assessed, considering his post, which hinted at suicidal ideation. However, Nick did not receive a mental health assessment when he denied that he was suicidal. Nick was sentenced for assault with a weapon and placed on an intensive support and supervision order with extensive conditions.
After many years of his parents desperately seeking for services to support Nick, he began attending a full-time attendance program as ordered by the youth justice system. Tragically, even this support did not come soon enough for Nick, who after less than one week in the program was found hanging in a bedroom closet of the care home where he was staying while attending this program.
Nick's experiences highlight gaps in available and appropriate support services and a complete lack of provincial resources focused on supporting the development of appropriate Métis-specific services. The McCreary Centre Society recently released a Métis-specific profile on youth health in British Columbia. This disaggregated data is the first of its kind and reports on some sobering statistics on Métis youth health, including mental health. The data comes from the 2013 B.C. adolescent health survey administered to youth aged 12 to 19; and from the 2013 data, 32% of aboriginal youth identified as Métis.
In the report, it states that 35% of Métis youth in British Columbia report having at least one mental health condition. The most common were depression and anxiety. In 2008, over a quarter, 27%, of Métis girls aged 12 to 19 had deliberately cut or injured themselves. In 2013, this number increased for Métis girls to 36%.
Females were more likely than their peers five years ago to consider suicide and twice as likely to attempt. Métis youth were more likely than their non-Métis peers to consider or attempt suicide. Among Métis youth, females were more likely to have missed out on needed mental health care than medical care. Many Métis youth were concerned about the lack of cultural awareness within the health care system and were cautious about approaching health care professionals for fear of encountering racism.
They felt that culturally specific services and the availability of professionals who identify as Métis would help to reduce their reluctance to seek help. It was also reported that strong, community-based relationships were considered key for success and wellness of Métis youth. Both youth and adults have told us that cultural connectedness plays an important role in the wellness of Métis youth. Taking part in cultural practices was particularly linked to positive mental health for youth.
One of the challenges in building services for Métis people is that the unique history and heritage of Métis people may not necessarily fit into the traditionally held understanding of what it means to be indigenous. As a result, we as Métis people have struggled to have our rights and our unique identity recognized. Recently, the Government of Canada announced its mental wellness helpline for indigenous peoples. This helpline, however, does not meet the needs of Métis people as it is specifically the first nations and Inuit hope for wellness helpline.
As a 24/7 hotline, this would have been an amazing opportunity to offer Métis people in distress. This is one example of our Métis people being excluded from safe and responsive services for indigenous people, which is why we urge the standing committee, moving forward with your studies, to be inclusive of Métis people and not merge them into the umbrella of indigenous or aboriginal people in Canada.
The need to work with Métis communities to develop Métis-appropriate services is even greater when one considers the number of Métis people in B.C. and Canada, as I earlier stated. Currently, MNBC is not sufficiently resourced to fulfill its mandate to develop and enhance opportunities for Métis communities by implementing culturally relevant social and economic programs and services.
There is need for sustainable and sufficient funding for Métis governing bodies to work with our communities to take ownership and control over mental wellness programs and over suicide prevention and intervention.
One example of taking ownership was the blue ribbon suicide prevention campaign launched by Métis Nation – Saskatchewan in 2014. It created a tool kit to educate those involved in front-line positions who may come into contact with Métis youth in distress. The campaign was also designed to share teachings and traditions with Métis youth so that they have a stronger sense of belonging and know they are part of a larger community.
We strongly recommend that the federal government, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, implement a national strategy for suicide prevention and intervention and to ensure the inclusion of Métis people; that there be meaningful collaboration and consultation with Métis communities in developing and implementing the plan; and that the strategy include a plan for the development and delivery of culturally responsive services for Métis children and families.
I want to thank you so much for your time and for considering these points as well as Nick's story, and for moving forward with your study on suicide among indigenous peoples and communities.
I certainly agree with Cassidy's recommendation that we need to speak to our communities. We're so under-resourced.
Just so you know what the ministry of health looks like for Métis Nation B.C., there are 70,000 self-identified Métis. I'm the full-time director of health, and I have a three-quarter-time assistant.
Since the Daniels decision, we've logged and tracked over 171 direct inquiries around assistance with MSP, drug and alcohol counselling, auditory needs, visual needs, etc., for people who are really struggling to get by.
That was no different when Nicholas Lang's father called me. We are trying to connect with community services as best we can, trying to make those connections. But, of course, as one person serving an entire province, it's really hard to know what every health authority is up to.
We make a point of sending people to the emergency room to ask what crisis services are available right now in their community because we don't have all the answers. It's impossible for us to know them because we're so under-resourced.
We definitely make linkages with the friendship centres as much as we can, as well. We always figure that they have infrastructure in place and that they have some community programs that are appropriate for Métis people. But in the case described in the RCY report about the loss of a beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed Métis boy, that boy was looking for Métis services and did not find them.
It would be amazing, definitely, for the federal government to commit to the promises made in their platform. Then we could meet some of the needs and outcomes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission around addressing the jurisdictional dispute concerning aboriginal people who are not on a reserve, and around recognizing, respecting, and addressing the distinct health needs of the Métis people.
Distinguished leaders, I'm from the village of Kitkatla. I'm from the Eagle Tribe. I'm from the house of Gilaskmx. It's an honour to be here today. I'm especially looking forward to our discussions.
In 2007, in Hazelton, B.C., in Gitxsan territory, the hospital staff recorded 57 suicide-related incidents, including completions. In 2006, I was asked by the First Nations Summit and the children's commission to gather information from youth in Haida, Tsimshian, and Nisga'a territories following a number of suicide completions and attempts in Tsimshian territory. In 2005, matriarchs of Ahousaht directed the hereditary and administrative leadership to address the drug dealers and bootleggers, giving them an ultimatum of treatment or banishment. The chiefs and community set up a six-month treatment and cultural rehabilitation program and 22 of the 23 identified community members chose to attend the community-based treatment program. During the six months—it was a six-month treatment program—there were no suicide attempts in Ahousaht. During the six-month treatment program, the drug dealers and bootleggers disclosed that they had sexually assaulted others. The victims were brought in and included in the healing program.
Mental health services, through non-insured health benefits, has its roots in the Indian problem. The results of that conditioning is the challenge that we, as Canadians and North Americans, need to take on because we are human beings. Suicides in first nations communities are not random acts, but rather, there is a thick line that connects suicide with intergenerational trauma through physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and sexual atrocities and violations against first nations children. Mental health has been described as the scarcity model that focuses on disease rather than historical facts that are now published in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the “Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples”. The scarcity model makes a covert statement that the situation will not change. They are Indians after all. This is a terminal disease. However, we have heard through commissions like this one of violence against first nations in Indian residential schools, federal day schools, Indian hospitals, foster care, the justice system, and through land loss.
The decisions to be united as Canadians must be founded on human values and principles that are the foundations of the First Nations Health Authority, gathered from ancestral law. They include respect, discipline, relationships, fairness, excellence, and honouring our ancestors through following traditional protocol. The strength of first nations people is in the simple fact that we exist today. We live knowing and learning our traditional songs, dances, protocol, art, and understanding the importance of the unity of heart and mind. The First Nations Health Authority is working to respond to the youth, who clearly said at the Prince Rupert gathering in 2006, “We want the abuse, addictions, and violence to stop” in our families and we want culture. Prevention comes through facing facts with compassionate understanding in families, tribes, communities, and nations, with seeing the past clearly, without the distortion of believing we are the Indian problem. This is a Canadian endeavour and requires commitment and unity of all.
In the previous panel I came in near the end and there were discussions around prevention. Prevention comes from a disease model when we look at prevention, and we need to work towards preventing.
If we're looking at families, we'll see that working with families is in itself prevention. When we look at the fact that cultural protocol already exists in the communities, we're not really accessing that yet as first nations people here in British Columbia, for many reasons, but they all relate to our history as Canadians.
Probably one of the biggest issues that we're facing today is sexual abuse; it's intergenerational incest. So, getting to that is not an easy task because, as I mentioned earlier, it's a matter of looking at these facts and how these facts have impacted us as a people.
First, what we're looking at is connecting with the values and principles that come from our ancestral teachings, or what I say is ancestral law. As we do that and follow that, then that's our responsibility as first nations people.
We're looking to our partners, the Ministry of Health, in mental wellness particularly, to be working with us in doing this, not to fit the indigenous protocol into the mental health model, but for us to be working as partners, so that when they come in, they're following cultural protocol, or when we go into a community, we're following cultural protocol.
Here I am. I'm Tsimshian and I'm in Coast Salish territory. I want to recognize that because I'm not from this territory. My last words are for peace in all of the Coast Salish territories here.
My name is Shannon McDonald. I am a Nishnawbe Métis from southern Manitoba and I live as a guest on the territory of the Coast Salish people in Victoria. Prior to joining the First Nations Health Authority a year ago, I had worked for the Ministry of Health in B.C. as the executive director of aboriginal health, and prior to that as a regional medical officer with Health Canada. So I'm well aware of all the different ways in which we have tried to do this work.
Personally, my family has been deeply touched by suicide; two of my immediate family members have taken their own lives. For me, this is more than just a file.
Suicide needs to be understood in a broad context of mental health and wellness. The First Nations Health Authority has worked very hard to develop a perspective on wellness that includes social determinants of health, that includes environment, partnerships, but most importantly, the family and community. The work that we do reflects the things that Patricia has said in supporting those individual families and communities to find wellness.
It's a different way of looking at things. After medical school, I trained in psychiatry as part of a residency, and I lasted two years because the model that they were teaching was strictly biologically focused. It was all about medication; it was all about incarceration, for lack of a better term. It really wasn't about teaching people to find their own wellness. I really struggled with that. Is that a cultural statement for me, that this doesn't fit with the culture of my understanding of healing? I went to see an elder, and the first thing the elder said went after my ego, “It took us 500 years to get this sick; what makes you think you're going to change that in a short period of time?” I said, “Oh, okay.”
The second thing that was said was that you need to learn the difference between curing and healing. The western medical model is very based on curing—here, there's something wrong; cut it out; give it medication changing it biochemically. That's not about healing the spirit, healing the person, or healing the family or community in which they live.
We understand that our work has to be culturally grounded. It has to be guided by the ancestral teachings. However, we also have to work in partnership with an acute care system that will serve those individuals in our community who need that curing care, who need biochemical support, who may need safety in a place where they can heal without hurting themselves or others. We understand that we are part of a much broader continuum. The acute care system starts from here and goes to discharge or sending people back to the community. Our work is intended to wrap around people, long before they get to the hospital, and definitely after they've gotten out.
The work that we do with our provincial partners is challenging. The work has to do with providing culturally safe and humble services to individuals as they enter the system, understanding the history that may have brought them there and truly listening. That hasn't always been my experience. There are systemic barriers within our health systems, and a lot of people have grown up to believe that indigenous people are just going to be that way. I trained at Health Sciences Centre in downtown Winnipeg, and for those of you who don't know that area, more than 60% of the patients in that hospital are indigenous people who come from elsewhere in the province. The only indigenous people that my colleagues ever met were the sickest of the sick. They never saw families who were well; they never saw communities that were intact; they never saw cultural celebrations or elders teaching, so they never understood the rest of the holistic picture.
I can sit here and quote suicide statistics in the province; they have improved slowly. The numbers are small, thank God. We know that about 10 years ago, Chris Lalonde did a study that tried to connect community strengths—solidarity, self-determination, and some of the things that provided strength in communities—to suicide.
He found that 90% of the suicides in the youth in B.C. happen in 10% of the communities. The assumption that there's a suicide problem in every community is incorrect. That tells us that there are things going on in those communities, in those families, that we need to support. We need to support change.
Since the transfer of responsibility for health from Health Canada to the First Nations Health Authority, we've created regional mental adviser positions to work with communities and to act as a liaison between health authority services and those we provide at a community level. But those people are stretched very, very thin. We have some new funding through Health Canada programs to increase our ability to respond to the mental health needs in communities, but communities continue to identify to us at every opportunity that they need more. They need more at home. They need more available in the school. They need more available in the health centre, and they need it available in their homes.
Since the transfer we've also created a program called hope, health, and healing. It is a tool kit that supports communities in understanding the resources and strengths they already have to identify what they may need to come to a fuller place of wellness and ability to support those people in distress. We're also working with the B.C. Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Child and Family Development, and other cross-government groups to ensure that whatever programs are out there are culturally safe for the individuals accessing them.
But the stories don't always work. Not so long ago I was called to support a family who had a really disturbing incident occur. They had cut down one of their family members who was trying to hang himself. They called an ambulance. The individual was taken to a hospital about an hour away from the community where he waited for four hours. The family weren't there with him. He waited in triage. He was seen by the emergency doctor, cleared medically, and sent home. He never saw mental health workers. No arrangements for follow-up were done. He had no coat, no shoes, no money, and no way to get home. The family was horrified, and rightly so. The doctors in the emergency room all looked at each other and said, “I thought you did that.” It was obvious at that time that the wraparound service that we talked about in all of our partnership accord discussions wasn't quite hitting the ground yet. So I do work now with doctors in B.C. helping them understand what the situation of those patients is before they walk in and how they need to walk out in way that they are supported and headed towards wellness.
In partnership with the Ministry of Health, we now have 30 projects going on in our communities in the province through something called joint project board, and it was part of the partnership agreement with the Ministry of Health. Many of those projects have a mental wellness focus. We are looking at developing a trauma-informed program to make sure that all of our front-line staff have had significant training and are able to provide trauma-responsive care.
Last, but not least then, as I have very little time left, I just want to say that the services that are available are woefully insufficient, and I am always being called by communities to come to help. But there is only one of me, and there are 203 communities in the province. We need to be able to do this in partnership with our provincial and federal partners, but we need to be able to do it in a systemically organized way and a culturally safe and responsive way that reflects the actual needs of the communities and the people we serve.
I read an article a couple of days ago and it was in the Sun, of all places. I don't read the Sun, it was just in my Google news feed. It had to do with spending on administration in health and it compared northern European countries and Canada. We're spending more or the same, but we have worse health outcomes. Part of the argument in the article was that the bureaucracy in our health care system here in Canada is so massive that it takes so long to make decisions and it takes so many layers just to get anything done.
I see in my province of Ontario, LHINs, local health integration networks, which I thought was a horrible idea because I spent a little bit of time in Manitoba Health at the aboriginal health branch years ago. Before I was there, the creation of the regional health authorities of Manitoba took place. I didn't understand why they were created. I understood why they thought it was a good idea but one of the regions, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, essentially became Manitoba Health.
Why did we have people at Manitoba Health doing the same things? They became a monster. They kept on growing. They expanded into different office buildings and we had our health budget going to bureaucrats.
The problem I hear in Ontario, and it's from the first nations health directors—again another layer of bureaucracy, if you will—maybe, but they're on the ground. They know what the immediate problems are in the community. I'd rather see that than have someone in Thunder Bay at an LHIN making decisions. What I'm hearing from the first nations and the health directors and the health providers is that the LHINs are making bad decisions. I think we're going to hear this in Sioux Lookout tomorrow. They're designed to make local decisions because they're supposed to be local experts, but they're making bad decisions on all kinds of things that affect the health outcomes of people from northern first nations, from urban aboriginal populations in northwestern Ontario.
I like the idea of a First Nations Health Authority, to get rid of some of the bureaucracy, but to link that more with the communities and the health directors, and having them with you, having one oversight body for all first nations.
I think that would clear up a lot of the duplication that's everywhere. We heard from the Provincial Health Services Authority, an excellent program, but it is a program that the First Nations Health Authority should be delivering on, indigenous mental health, because you guys should be the experts on that. It's just duplication.
What do you see your future becoming? What are your aspirations for the First Nations Health Authority? Was I on the right track with reducing bureaucracy and having you do part of that?
There are risks and benefits to the First Nations Health Authority.
I came to B.C. six years ago from the federal system, so I had an understanding of what they were trying to get away from. Everything that the regional office of first nations and inuit health had been doing—the funding, the building, the people, everything else—was part of the transfer agreement. We are just getting through what organizationally we are calling transition, sort of coming from that system to a transformative system where we have an opportunity to do things very differently.
At the same time, our funders have huge accountability requirements, so that's always a challenge, and because of that, you have to create a bureaucracy to be able to do that work of the planning, the response, the data, and the surveillance, those pieces. There's an element of bureaucracy you can't really avoid.
When the First Nations Health Authority was created, one of the strongest statements that came through from our communities was that everything we do should be community driven and nation based. We have a commitment to engage, and engagement is expensive. We have regional offices and we have regional caucuses. There is constant communication between regional leadership and regional health directors and the organization. But we also have to fit within this broader system and interact within the broader system, so my world is meeting with doctors in B.C., the B.C. coroners service, the provincial Ministry of Health, and some of our federal counterparts, and, and.... Even though we are working very hard to transform to be community responsive, to put as many resources in the region and community as available, it's inevitable that we're going to have some kind of administrative structure to support that.
It takes time to figure all that out. It takes time to unravel how things have been done in the past, how decisions have been made in the past, and how we might want to change the way those decisions are made.
My friends in Ontario would tell you that the chiefs in NAN, the chiefs of Ontario, and others don't necessarily agree on what those priorities are. We were really lucky that the 203 communities in B.C. came together with a single vision and continue to support that.
. Good day. I bring greetings from the Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation. We are part of the Dehcho First Nations in the Northwest Territories. I am honoured to be in this part of the country to honour also the Coast Salish territory as we are here today.
Respectfully, I offered tobacco to the grandmothers and grandfathers of this land outside of this hotel this morning for guidance for this committee in working on the youth and suicide issue.
I've been working for my community and people since I was 23 years of age. I attended 13 years of residential school in the Northwest Territories. Youth and suicide in our native community is a very serious issue. Knock on wood, we've had little pockets of suicide occasionally happening in our northern region thus far. I am quite aware of what has been happening in Lac la Ronge recently.
I want to focus my presentation to you today on the legacy and impact of residential schools on my community and the Dehcho region.
The Roman Catholic mission was first established in my community in the 1860s by the Grey Nuns, first as an orphanage, and then as Sacred Heart Mission school built in 1930. I attended there beginning when I was six years old, for about seven years; then I went on to Grollier Hall in Inuvik, Lapointe Hall in Fort Simpson, and Grandin College in Fort Smith. All that time we were taught the golden rules of “don't talk, don't trust, don't feel” in all the schools that I attended.
When brought to the mission school, you were basically abandoned by your parents and community, hoping that, in the name of God, you would be cared for. One of the biggest impacts and results of the residential school is that many of us did not have a clue about proper parenting. Hugs, kisses, and nurturing were foreign to us. In our community today you can barely see evidence of this nurturing that I want to speak to today.
Personally, I have suffered at least two, or maybe three, bouts of depression, which eventually will lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide. I've learned that “depression” is defined as anger turned inwards. Suicide is the result of spiritual wounding. In the residential school, you completely abandoned what you were just beginning to believe in. Then we were indoctrinated in Roman Catholic practices and doctrine.
It has been about 30 years now, and I and others have sobered up and have begun our journey of recovery and healing.
I am fortunate to have relearned my Dene language, and to have had an accelerated learning of Dene culture and beliefs over the past 20 years. I am very grateful to elders and my community for this.
Elders advise us that all of the solutions we're seeking are embodied in Mother Nature and on the land. On-the-land education is key for us and for our communities that are seeking recovery.
It is also critical that we have parenting workshops and training for young parents. What a child learns and experiences from zero to six years old is paramount.
The sense of belonging has to be restored in our community. Renewing Dene culture through workshops is so critical. It's a requirement.
We need to complete the residential school work that was started 16 years ago in our community. Some of my people who I work with have a question: are we prepared to deal with youth suicide in our community? Right now, the answer would be no. Do we have the resources and plan in our community? The answer is probably still no, but we're working like the dickens to get there.
Cross-cultural training for front-line workers, social workers, and mental health workers has to be mandatory, especially if they come to our community. This has to be implemented as soon as possible by all governments concerned.
We always believe that Dene culture, beliefs, and values are based on relationships. These have to be restored if we're going to get some kind of a foothold on how to address and begin searching for the solution that all of us in Canada are seeking.
Sometimes I share with some people the fact that over a year ago, on October 19, I voted for the first time in a long time in the federal election. That morning, before I went to the polling station, I told my wife that I would vote that day for healing to begin for all native communities and also for the rest of Canada. I wanted to share that with you as part of my presentation.
I also included in my document a brief history of my community, and also a second page outlining the typical characteristics of a residential school survivor.
Thank you for being here today, Chief.
I also want to acknowledge that we are welcomed here on Coast Salish land. I'm from Anishinaabe territory in Ontario, quite a distance away.
I was the executive director at Grand Council Treaty No. 3. In terms of the long-term issues with suicide, one of the things I've said over and again is that we're never going to be out of the cycle of dependency, the cycle of depression, or the cycle of low self-worth if we're always beggars in our own land.
I don't know what the situation is around your community. I was just looking at where it was on the map. I worked for a brief time in Yellowknife—actually north of Yellowknife—at a gold mine called Colomac, which became defunct a long time ago. I worked with some of your community members there, and with people from Rae-Edzo.
As I see it, one of the options for first nations is to have a real stake in the resource revenue sharing. In the western provinces, generally that would mean that the money the province would normally collect would go to the first nations. I've been struggling with this for years. When the resource runs out....
Where you are, I know there aren't many trees, but there's probably a mining industry. There's probably a huge mining industry right across the whole Northwest Territories, so looking at ways of doing it....
In my area of the country there is an 80-year turnaround for softwood trees, but it's a so-called renewable resource. If we can get real revenue sharing where we collect the resources for our community, then that's long-term, sustainable, predictable funding to allow us not to beg for money in our own land through contribution agreements. You must know what those are like. INAC bureaucrats or Health Canada bureaucrats dictate what we do in our communities, whereas we know—or should know—what to do best, because we're on the ground living it every day.
Is there any potential? Has your community looked at the option of getting into negotiations with the Government of the Northwest Territories or the Government of Canada regarding resource revenue sharing ?
My name is Sam George. I come from the Squamish Nation.
We all know the suffering of the suicide, one who leaves suddenly and unexpectedly. I came late, but I look at my grandparents. They didn't drink, they didn't do drugs, and they lived off the culture. My parents turned to the alcohol. My parents were residential school survivors, and then my generation turned to alcohol and drugs. My children's generation—I'm not saying everybody—but that generation got into the alcohol and drugs too. Now I'm seeing, so to speak, the grandchildren going into the drugs and alcohol. I was once drug-and-alcohol dependent myself, but I've been without now for going on 27 years. I was taught by my grandparents. I went to the culture. My grandparents didn't have any funds or government sponsors. All they had to go on was what their parents left them. I'm finding out, being a drug-and-alcohol survivor, that I want to get back to my culture—drumming and singing, the sweat lodges. It's not my culture, but I adopted it. I had to find something to go back to.
Funding from the government helps, but it has to be put into regenerating our culture. I really feel this strongly. I am a residential school survivor—I went there for nine years. I was forced to abandon what my grandparents taught me. When I finally straightened out my life, I went back to the culture and what it had to give us. All it cost was some hard labour—cutting wood, building a sweat lodge, and finding the creator. I needed to find something to give me hope.
I also went to prison and finished seven years at the age of 15, because of my alcoholism. I wanted to find something different, to find something meaningful in my life, and that meaningfulness came from my culture, in an adopted culture. We need to get back to whatever we had before. I think it's so important to find out what my parents did, what my grandparents did, even if I have to go back three generations.
My grandfather was sort of like a policeman. He walked around the reserve when it got dark, and he had a stick. He never used it on anybody, but we always thought he did. When we saw him coming, we all went running inside. When it got dark, we were all inside. It's things like that. When I look at my alcoholism...you don't look at the drugs, the alcohol, the gas sniffing, the glue sniffing. We do it because there's nothing else; we don't know anything else. We have nothing to do. I look at my generation. I have a grade 10 education, and my Dad had a grade 3 education, and the ones I was brought up with had a grade 7 education. I know where it stands now, but you have to have something to believe in, something to do.
I had a sweat lodge. I had a young man come to me on a Friday night. He said, “Sam, are you having a sweat tonight?” I said, “No, I'm not.” On Sunday, he jumped off the Lions Gate Bridge. I don't blame myself because I didn't have a sweat lodge that night—but he asked me. You know, if I had had that sweat, would he have done that? He was looking for something. He wanted something.
It's okay to give them education. It's okay to say, “Let's put some funds in this, let's put some funds in that.” I know that's what you are here for, to find out what they need. What do these kids need? What does anybody need who takes their own life? Why do they get stuck there in their pain? Why are they stuck there?
I've been stuck there. I thought of suicide. I'm glad.... The only thing stopping me was my fear. The only thing that kept me back in this world was a belief in something to give me back some of my self-respect, to give me something I needed, and that was my culture. All it takes is to make a drum. Maybe they don't use drums. Find out who they are, where they're from. I'm glad you are here to find out and try to help. The strongest thing is to find out what they believe in.
I worked in an all-native treatment centre. You see so many. The treatment centre was trying to give them what to believe in—to find something, to find themselves—to give them some hope, and to teach them to love themselves. Maybe you've heard it all before and you all know that, but that's so important.
Even on my reserve in North Vancouver, there are a lot of people who have nothing, or they think they have nothing. We've had one too many.... Even one suicide is too many. They walk around at night, three or four in the morning, thinking they have nothing, and they go home and....
I've done it all, and I've seen it all. I just can't stress how culture plays a big part in our lives, to readopt it, to strengthen it. That's what I really believe in.
Thank you for listening.
My name is Gertie Pierre, and I am from the Sechelt Nation.
I work for the residential school society, and I am one of the committee members for the study on murdered and missing women. I have travelled to Manitoba, Prince George, and Williams Lake and listened to the stories of grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and children about their mothers having been murdered and gone missing, and now there are men who are going missing and being murdered.
I think about what it is going to take for the government to start doing something. They say that they've hired all these commissioners to start doing something about the murdered and missing women. We had one meeting with the commissioner, and I don't even know where their office is. I don't know when they'll have another meeting in regard to the seriousness of what's going on.
I always say that the people in Downtown Eastside weren't born to be living Downtown Eastside. They're there because they came from residential schools or they're the product of residential schools. My children are products of residential school. I went to residential school for 10 years, and my husband went for 13 years. My daughter said to me, “I didn't have to go to residential school because I was raised in one in the home.” Everything that we did.... We disciplined them just like they disciplined us in residential school. There was no love, there were no hugs, and there was no caring for them because I wasn't healed at that time.
I look at all these young girls who are running away from home and ending up in Downtown Eastside, or they're being murdered, or they're going missing, and it's because of that. In the home that they lived in, there was no love. We were never taught that in residential school. All we were taught was a lot of anger and hate. We were put down, and we were never praised. I could never remember a nun, a brother, or a priest praising me for anything. They just made me feel like I was nothing and I was going to end up as an alcoholic, which I did. I was an alcoholic for 35 years, from 15 until 35, and then I decided enough was enough. I tried to commit suicide a lot of times because I just couldn't stand myself because of the way I was brought up in residential school. They made you feel lesser than....
I decided I couldn't kill myself by overdosing on my prescription sleeping pills, Valium, and drinking, so I had to start to look at sobering up. I had four children at that time. They were taken away by the ministry, and I was all by myself, so I decided to sober up. I sobered up in 1981. My husband was an alcoholic, and we decided to go through a treatment centre. We went, and we've been 35 years clean now.
I have to say that the children are really suffering. In my community, they start young. They are 12, 13, or 14 years old, and they're already into drinking and starting to experiment with coke, crystal meth, and marijuana. We've heard that it's peddled in elementary school. They have dealers outside of an elementary school to sell drugs to the children. In the high school they're up there peddling their drugs.
I really believe that they need to look at more treatment centres, programs, and services for our youth to make them come to realize the dangers of what drugs and alcohol are doing to them.
They're becoming alcoholics and addicted to drugs at a younger age, and we don't have treatment centres for younger children who are addicted. They land up in the city, and they're living on the streets. I walk in Downtown Eastside and I see young children down there. It really concerns me: parents are looking for them because they are missing, and they don't know where they're at. I believe the government has to look seriously at what is going on with our younger generation because if they don't we're going to keep on losing them. They're going to go missing, and they're still going to be murdered.
My niece was brutally murdered in 1992. They started the march because of my niece because she was so brutally murdered. Now the murderer is trying for parole. The family is trying to prevent him from coming out because he's such a horrible person. I'm hoping he doesn't get parole and that he won't do again what he did to other women on the streets.
Thank you for listening; I really appreciate it.
[Witness speaks in an aboriginal language]
[Witness speaks in Cree
In my culture, it's appropriate for the elder to speak the language before he addresses people of authority. I'm going to assume you're the people of authority here.
My name is Munjuice, my nickname is Ray Thunderchild. I come from the Thunderchild Cree Nation, in Saskatchewan. I've made my home here in Vancouver for 25 years. I always let my elders come speak before I do. These are my colleagues, both of them, Gertie and Sam George. We work for the Indian Residential Schools Survivor Society as cultural support workers/elders.
My big thing in the overall picture is to keep the elders alive, keep them talking, keep them talking to the young people. Suicide, yes, it's a big thing in not just the first nations culture. Sometimes we need elders to open up, to talk to the younger people. I wrote a proposal here maybe some 15, 20 years ago to start a culture camp, sometimes even once every three months, to educate the young people. I carry my drum with me at all times. This is how I grew up. This is the way I was raised. Knock on wood when I say this, and I'm very proud to say this, I'm a 60-year-old man today, and have never ever been in jail because of this. I'm very proud to say that. My grandfather trained me and my father trained me before they passed on. They're both gone now. I often wonder what I am going to say, but I take my drum with me. My drum helps me. My feather helps me. The story of that eagle feather, this is what we walk on. We walk from the bottom. We have these little furries because we're just learning here yet. We have this walk to walk on. The one side is kind of small. We notice that a lot of people don't recognize the acknowledgements that they have created for themselves. Too many fall to the other side, the wide side. It's too easy. That's why suicide happens, so we need to prevent that. We need to bring elders forward to teach the young people.
First of all, the language is very important. I grew up in residential school, but I somehow maintained my language. I went to a day school, but even at day school it was really rough for me. I'm partially deaf because of day school, I'm crippled because of day school, but I'm still alive. That's the main thing. I continue to teach, but my grandfather taught me about this, the drum, the eagle feather. As I said earlier on, the road it gets narrower as we walk. We begin to understand sometimes, as we get halfway maybe. Some elders say they never make it to the top. Even if they're old, they never make it because sometimes they choose the other side and it's too easy for them. We need to educate a lot of these elders.
When they were talking about education earlier on, I don't even have a grade 5, yet I have two degrees. Somehow I maintained the ability to continue to do what I do today: teaching young people, educating elders about some of the stuff that they didn't know. I need to, we need to, our society needs to also, find some places where they can teach the young people, because suicide is too easy a way out for a lot of these young people.
Today there was the funeral for a young man everybody looked up to. We never thought that he would be the one to do it, but he hanged himself.
He's come a long way in that culture, that borrowed culture. Like Sam was saying, “I come from that culture, we've brought it over here.” My drums and my style of singing are my culture, the powwow is my culture, and the sweat lodge is my culture, everything in that way.
I'm very fortunate to also say that I have taught a lot of young people to come to that circle with me. Every Tuesday night, we sing powwow at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre from seven o'clock until 10 o'clock. We don't just teach them when they're that small. We have young, small babies even sitting with us. We're training them already.
After 25 years of being here, some day I would like to invite all of you to come and see the evidence at that friendship centre. It's keeping everybody alive in that way. We can keep the Residential School Survivor Society going that way, helping the elders to educate more young people. I think that survival from suicide would be a lot better.
I want to continue to work on that behalf. I am not of this culture here. I'm here as a visitor, but I'm Canadian. I'm Cree. I'm very proud of it, very proud of what I do and where I go.
I'm also a very well-established first nations actor. I've been in major movies, where a lot of young people watched me and how I walk. This is how I walk. I bring them with me, and even the elders I bring them with me. I teach them. I am one, but I'd like to say that I want to thank you, each and every one of you, for hearing what I have to say and just to help out society in the best way that I can. I am only one, I wish I was more.
[Witness speaks in an aboriginal language]
Good afternoon. My name is Yvonne Rigsby-Jones. I'm Snuneymuxw First Nation. My mother was from the white family and my father was first generation born in this country. My other grandparents came from England on a ship, a mixed blessing. I've had lots of gifts from walking in both worlds. I've worked in the addiction field. I retired from a treatment centre after almost 30 years. I'm currently working as the addiction specialist for the health authority.
However I'm here today as a wife, a mother, a grandmother. Following up on what I've heard today, I have three comments. One is Shannon McDonald commented on the trauma-informed schools, and I think so often over the years, people have worked in silos at whatever organization they're from. The trauma-informed schools are making a great difference for our children. Kuujjuaq has 14 trauma-informed schools and their completion rates have gone up immensely. Three states in the U.S. work with trauma-informed schools from kindergarten right through.
My daughter is a teacher in our school system and for the children who are living in violence or are hungry at school, they're living a lot of the residential school behaviours and issues in their homes. The majority of the staff do not know or understand their struggles. I'm an advocate for looking for solutions. I think that could be a part of one.
The other one that I want to bring forward is not very popular but we need to also figure out how to help and work with our sex offenders in communities because so many times one of the root causes of suicide is sexual abuse. To date no programs are running. I think if somebody is federally sentenced, the provincial justice system has excellent forensic programs in the individual towns but our nation doesn't have a safe way or a forum for people to receive help. We're going to continue to have victims of sexual abuse if we can't figure out how to help the offenders. I don't know if that's been brought up to you very often in this tour but I think it's a really important piece that is difficult to bring up and difficult for people to hear or scary to try to start to address. I'm just putting it forward.
The other piece that I heard Elder Sam George address is the lack of pride and identity. It's a huge piece of healing at the centre that I worked at for so many years. It was very common that people didn't know who they were as an aboriginal person. So many had no pride in being who they were. That part of the healing is always very beneficial. When your parents have grown up or you've grown up being called a stupid Indian, it is so inbred and stuck in your whole being.
My husband is a survivor of Alberni Indian Residential School. He was one of the pioneers and leaders in going forward with a court case. Where I worked, he did trauma healing for survivors of residential schools. Change is happening but not fast enough sometimes. We're still losing too many of our youths, and I echo what I heard just recently, one loss is one too many.
I thank you for your time and for listening to me.
I wish you a safe journey.
[Witness speaks in an aboriginal language]
Thank you for having me.
My name is Cody Kenny and I work for Aboriginal Sport BC. I represent an organization called BCAAFC, which is the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. I've been working as the regional coordinator for the Vancouver coastal region for over a year now. I develop sport in our region for aboriginal youth, as well as for adults, through coaching clinics.
Before that I was working as aboriginal cultural programmer for the Carnegie Community Centre in the Downtown Eastside, which is a very highly populated aboriginal area and a very highly vulnerable area, so I can speak on behalf of that vulnerable section of Vancouver.
Moving into my new role, I got to experience a lot of things first-hand in terms of sport and where we're at in British Columbia, and I think we do need a lot of work.
Currently, the thing we do well is hosting large tournaments. In British Columbia there's a lot of aboriginal youth soccer tournaments in the spring and summer. Once they end, teens kind of end and there's no continuation, so I do really believe we need established commissioners and established leagues. We need to support through funding to bring our players to higher levels of competition.
One thing we did in the summer was host aboriginal soccer championships, and the winning team of these championships did go on to represent Team BC at the North American Indigenous Games. It was on me to put together U15 and U17 teams for men and for women. We lost, but forming these teams formed friendships and identity. It's sad that this only happens once every two years, that we have this tournament only once every two years.
Another thing we do really well is the All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert. Teams practice all year long, then they go up once a year to play in an all-native tournament, but once it's over, it's done.
What I truly believe is that we need continuation of programs like these. We need funding to bring our athletes to the next level, and supports so they stay together.
That's the bulk of it. Are there any questions?