I'll call the meeting to order.
I'm going to welcome our guests in a moment, but first, I want to go through a couple of quick things. The first is to apologize to everyone for the late start. It was business of the House that kept all committee members until just now.
I wanted to outline the time that we have today. We've lost half an hour because of this. I've heard a number of committee members and others express a desire to finish on time at 5:30, so we're going to have to absorb the loss of time within our allotted period.
I don't want to take any time away from the presentations from our guests. The way that the afternoon was intended to roll out was that the first group would present for 10 minutes, followed immediately by the second group for 10 minutes, leaving 40 minutes for the committee members to ask questions. That would be an hour, and we would have repeated that again for the second two groups.
Because we've lost half an hour, we're going to have to remove 15 minutes from each of the 40-minute question periods, leaving 25 minutes for questions. I'll ask the committee's preference on this. Last week, I tried to accommodate time loss by shaving minutes, and that didn't seem to go over very well, so it's my intention to stick to the minute allotments that we adopted in the routine motions until we run out of time. In other words, we'd let that run for 25 minutes and then simply stop, and move on to the next group of presentations.
Does that sound okay to folks? Okay, thank you. That's what we'll do.
I'm also going to get a little stricter about timekeeping. For the benefit of our guests, the committee members agreed ahead of time on seven minutes per question for the first four questions, followed by five minutes per question. This is a way to maintain fairness among all members. I will be letting you know when you have a minute left in the seven-minute period, and then again when there are about five or 10 seconds left, so you can finish up. I'm really going to keep it to those seven- and five-minute segments.
I would invite committee members to try to keep the opening soliloquies prior to the questions as short as possible and get right to the question so we can hear the most that we can from our guests.
With that throat clearing and introductory comments, I'm very pleased to welcome our first presenters, who are from the ITK.
Thank you very much for being with us. I guess it's Natan Obed, the president, who will be presenting to us today. At your pleasure, please, we'd love to hear from you.
Thank you for having the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami here this afternoon. I look forward to the discussion later. I want to thank you for the invitation.
ITK is the national representational organization for Canada's 60,000 Inuit. We are spread across Canada's Arctic or as we call it Inuit Nunangat: Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador; Nunavik in northern Quebec; Nunavut, which is its territory and also has a land claim body within that territory; and then Inuvialuit region in the western Arctic.
The foundation of our relationship with the federal government is our land claim agreements. The first was signed in 1975 and the last was signed in Nunatsiavut in 2006. The relationship we have is one that is based on the Constitution. The organization that I represent represents a very defined link between each one of our beneficiaries, the members of each one of our four land claim agreements, and the regional bodies that represent them to the regional bodies that elect the national Inuit leader, which is me. Those regional bodies also elect an international leader on the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada.
We have a very tight governance structure. Also, Inuit on the board that I'm president of have the insight and perspective of our women with the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and also the National Inuit Youth Council.
In these days of debate and discussion about who represents whom and the way in which indigenous peoples of Canada choose to represent themselves, I present you with a very clear model from the individual Inuit who live in Canada to the national body that is an unbroken chain of representation, an Inuit democracy, if you will.
Our rights stem from the Constitution. We also draw from international law through UN declarations and UN conventions. We also have the shared space, as I mentioned before, through our comprehensive land claim agreements.
We have a shared space that sometimes is focused on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and often Indigenous and Northern Affairs is the place where everyone goes for the direction on the Inuit perspective. I'm always worried about that, because so many different government departments play a role in the way that Inuit services are delivered, the way that policies and programs are developed, and then the way the overarching relationship that Inuit have with the crown is actualized. While the lead per se always in land claim implementation has been INAC in its many different iterations, I think moving forward it would be safe to say that we would hope that this is expanding out and onward beyond just one department, because while the nuts and bolts of land claims may happen here within Indigenous and Northern Affairs, they spread out across the entire federal government.
Our population is unique. Our median age is 23 and that is a very different median age from the rest of Canada. Our population has grown 26% between 1996 and 2006. We have a very young and rapidly expanding population.
We also are unique in that many of us didn't live in settlements prior to World War II and so many of our people grew up on the land or were born in igloos or sod houses. The story that you often hear about, the very romantic version of Inuit, does exist still in our land, even though the reality for us of the younger generations is very different.
The challenge of our organization is to respect the relationship we have with the land and our traditions, the fact that over 60% of our population still cites as its mother tongue Inuktitut, which is the Inuit language in its many dialects, and the fact that we still feel like we live with the environment and are still coming to terms with this new reality of melding southern Canadian values and southern Canadian governance concepts with the way in which we've always lived our lives.
At the national level, our organization works with each of the four regions to understand what our national concerns are. We released our strategic plan today. In that strategic plan, we talk about seven different objectives and priority areas that we'd like to move at the national level.
Before I get into those seven objectives, I'd like to pause on the relationship piece. Politics may change very rapidly, but bureaucracies, programs, policies, and the implementation of indigenous rights move at a very different pace. We are very encouraged by the recent change of events that has allowed indigenous peoples to participate in events such as the climate change discussions last week in Vancouver, or the fact that the came and participated with us and our board at a meeting at our offices in January.
These changes are all welcome, and hopefully these are all signs of things to come, but we know there are systemic problems that we need to overcome with regard to the way in which we interact with the Government of Canada, and the way in which programs, services, and terms and conditions from Treasury Board all roll out in different ways for Inuit than they might for first nations, without consideration of the Inuit when those different programs, services, or terms and conditions are being drafted.
We think there should be a broad standard across each one of the federal government departments to ensure that whenever we go to talk to a minister, or to a deputy, or down at the program level, there is a structural relationship, and that it doesn't vary from person to person or from department to department. Our rights don't fluctuate that way, and therefore our engagement with the federal government should not be at the whim of a public servant, or at the whim of a particular minister, or be limited by the lack of understanding about the realities of Inuit who don't live on reserves, whose relationship is dictated by land claim agreements and public governments. There is a self-government in Nunatsiavut, but still, the way in which we interact with Canada should be at the forefront of the federal system as a whole.
I will now speak very quickly about the strategic objectives that we are laying out as we move forward for the next three years.
Suicide prevention is our first objective. To take action on suicide prevention, we will be releasing a national Inuit suicide prevention strategy this summer. We have a great belief that this particular strategy and accompanying action plan will create a new path and direction, one that denormalizes suicide in our communities and reduces the rate of suicide for Inuit as a whole.
We also have a housing crisis. Our second objective is to improve access to appropriate housing for Inuit.
Our third objective is to work toward reconciliation and that's reconciliation in the lens of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action, but also reconciliation amongst ourselves. Not all the things that we do as a national organization are outward-focused and lobbying for others to do things. We can do things as Inuit to bring ourselves together and to reconcile for the things that may have gone wrong within our families, within our communities, or across our regions.
Our fourth objective is self-determination in education. We have a national strategy on Inuit education and we have a long way to go to implement its recommendations. We look forward in the next three years to making substantial increases to student attainment, to curriculum development, and to the way in which our language and culture is infused in all that we do.
Our fifth objective is protecting the Inuit Nunangat environment and that links in with climate change. It also links in with the protection of our wildlife. We are a land-based people. We are of the environment. We want to be a part of the Canadian conversation on climate change, not just as a people but as a core component of all the work that happens.
Our sixth objective is strengthening Inuit self-determination in research. Evidence drives decision-making, but evidence also drives the creative process in which we solve our issues. We still have massive gaps in how we understand key components of our lives, which we want to improve. We have a fundamental disconnect with the academic community and also, sometimes, the federal government system for research in relation to how it functions versus how we want it to function. We want to improve those relationships.
Our seventh objective is to enhance the health and well-being of Inuit families and communities. We are working with Health Canada. We're working across different departments to work on these issues already.
I look forward to working with each and every one of you in improving the well-being, health, and economic status of Inuit in Nunangat.
Thank you for the invitation. I assume there are a number of people here who are new to the Parliament and possibly new to the Métis nation.
Very quickly, we're an indigenous people who evolved into a new and distinct nation in primarily western Canada. Our traditional homeland is now encompassed by the three prairie provinces and extends into a contiguous part of British Columbia, Ontario, the Northwest Territories, and the northern United States.
Basically, the Métis National Council is the governmental body mandated to represent the Métis nation, and we do so at national and international levels. We engage in intergovernmental processes in Canada, such as the first ministers' meeting on climate change that took place last week.
We have a lot of challenges. We were dispossessed from our lands and resources in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The exception is, of course, in Alberta. The provincial government in 1938 established Métis settlements. There are currently eight Métis settlements in Alberta. That's an exception, but that's a provincial government initiative.
After 1870, with the fall of the Métis nation in defending itself against Canada, we were treated as individuals and no longer as a collective, and we were dealt with through a scrip process in contradistinction to treaties entered into with first nations as collectivities. We were dealt with as individuals, and the federal government's scrip process was meant to extinguish our aboriginal title.
We are challenging that. We filed a case in 1994, the Morin case in northwest Saskatchewan. It's sitting there because we don't have the money to take it forward, but nevertheless the challenge is there.
In Blais, unasked, the Supreme Court of Canada in 2003 stated that scrip speculation and devaluation were part of a sorry chapter in Canada's history. In Powley on the same day, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that Métis are full-fledged rights-bearing aboriginal peoples, and their rights are no less than those of first nations or other aboriginal peoples. In Cunningham in 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that the Métis have the right to determine their own citizenship.
In Daniels, which is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court appeal division stated that the Métis fall under number 24 of section 91, which is “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians”, and therefore the federal Parliament has the necessary constitutional authority and responsibility or jurisdiction to enter into a government-to-government relationship with the Métis nation.
Of course, that appeal was argued on October 8 of last year, and we're currently awaiting a decision unless of course the current government withdraws its cross-appeal. CAP appealed it to expand the ruling. Canada counter-appealed to say neither the Métis nor non-status Indians fit within that term. I wrote a letter to the in November asking that the cross-appeal be withdrawn. I have not heard to date whether it will or will not be.
With regard to exclusions, the Métis nation is no stranger to exclusion. The only veterans in Canada from World War II who haven't been dealt with are the Métis nation veterans. Métis residential schools are excluded from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, excluded from the June 2008 apology in Parliament, and excluded from the mandate, and hence, also the recommendations or calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
We're excluded from the majority of federal programs such as those of the first nations and inuit health branch, and post-secondary education assistance. We would invite a cap if we had something to cap. In any event, we're also excluded from the various land claims processes, again our only recourse being the courts, and as I say the 1994 statement of claim is just sitting there because there is no way we can afford to move forward.
I'll now talk about priorities on the positive side and about embracing the change in government.
During the campaign, the Liberal Party stated that Canada must complete the unfinished work of Confederation by establishing a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with the Métis nation. The platform or the policy put out by the party is in your kit. Of course we're looking to the government now to act on it.
There are a number of commitments, and it was unprecedented, and we have been working with the Trudeau government to put it into action.
The most critical test of the policy will be whether the federal government is willing to negotiate and reach just and lasting settlements of the unique rights and claims of the Métis nation. As its Métis nation policy rightly recognizes, it is essential to how reconciliation with the Métis people will finally be meaningfully advanced and achieved. The policy committed to by the current government is to immediately establish a negotiations process between Canada and the Manitoba Métis Federation, to settle the outstanding land claim of the Manitoba Métis community, as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in Manitoba Métis Federation Inc. v. Canada, decided in 2013. In fact, the government is acting quickly to engage the Manitoba Métis Federation in this process, and we look forward to the results.
This government also committed to establishing a federal claims process that sets out a framework to address Métis rights, protected by section 35 of the Constitution, which recognizes Métis self-government and would resolve outstanding Métis claims against the crown.
Yes, and I would have finished on time, but I'll still try.
It extended the mandate of the ministerial special representative on Métis engagement, Mr. Tom Isaac, who had been appointed by the previous government to explore the development of a Métis section 35 rights reconciliation framework. Given the commitment of the present government to move on the settlement of our rights and claims, and advancing Métis nation self-government, we are keenly anticipating the upcoming report of Mr. Isaac.
The Métis nation policy also contained a number of important commitments to us that we trust will be addressed in the upcoming federal budget. It committed to invest $25 million over five years in the Métis economic development strategy, which will identify strategic federal investments in Métis nation financial institutions to enhance Métis entrepreneurship and Métis participation in business development and economic growth.
It committed to renew the aboriginal strategic employment and training strategy, ASETS, including nation-to-nation and distinctions-based approaches that respect the unique realities of first nations, Inuit, and the Métis nation in the delivery of these programs and services to our respective communities. With the renewal, the government has committed to add $50 million per year to ASETS.
It committed to fulfill the commitment in the Kelowna accord to enhance existing scholarships and bursaries available to Métis students at various colleges and universities across Canada, in partnership with the Métis nation. It also committed to convert the year-to-year program funding for our Métis nation registries into a permanent program.
The invited the Métis National Council to a meeting with him and a number of his ministers in December 2015 to elaborate on how these commitments could be implemented in the most meaningful way.
We are definitely looking to the budget for the confirmation of these important investments in our social and economic development. The and his ministers have also engaged the Métis National Council, together with the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, in meetings with the provincial health ministers on a health accord, and with first ministers on climate change and clean growth. We appreciate the spirit of partnership surrounding this engagement, which is consistent with the new nation-to-nation relationship sought by the Prime Minister. Moreover, inviting only these three indigenous governments, or representatives of indigenous governments of the three constitutionally recognized indigenous peoples to participate in these intergovernmental forums is consistent with a nation-to-nation approach and the inherent right of self-government.
In closing, the has stated on a number of occasions since coming to office, “There is no relationship more important to me—and to Canada—than the one with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit.” It is our hope to continue working with the government in that spirit to achieve rapid progress.
Mahsi. Merci. Thank you.
Thank you very much for that question. I won't go list by list, but I think there are a number of key departments that can play meaningful and substantive roles in helping us achieve success in our strategic plan, and I think that we're very practical and focused in the way that we would ask for that support.
We recognize that the federal space is limited in what it could do for, say, K through 12 education or any other situation in which provincial and territorial jurisdiction is the sole jurisdiction of the issue.
But there are many things that we can do to overcome gaps and outcomes. I will take Health Canada as an example, where there are a number of different programs and services that are designed to close gaps in health outcomes specifically for first nations and Inuit. A lot of those programs could be improved, and there has to be a discussion with Inuit about the things that are the biggest priority to us.
I'll focus on suicide prevention. There are very few dollars that are available for overarching suicide prevention measures for Canadian Inuit. In the past, we have had small pots of funding that have been rolled out to different territories or provinces, but when we are looking at 11 times the national average for our suicide rates and we're thinking of it as a crisis in jurisdictions such as Nunavut, more action needs to be taken. Sometimes I've asked the question, when is a crisis actually a crisis? When is the federal government going to help us when we call out for that help? How bad does it need to be?
Our tuberculosis rates are about 140 times the national average. Suicide prevention rates I've already mentioned. These are human challenges that do have solutions, and we can use evidence and we can use best practices to be able to design interventions that get us to the place that we need to be.
Sometimes federal investment is secondary to restructuring the way in which you help, but sometimes investment is needed. In the case of housing, I think there is a role for the Government of Canada to play as a significant driver in changing the way that our housing happens across the Arctic. Inuit Nunangat has a housing crisis. As I said, our communities were created mostly after the 1950s. We have huge infrastructure deficits and housing is one of the biggest. How are we going to create a sustainable housing structure in Inuit Nunangat? How are we going to go beyond just social housing? Are we going to create new solutions, whether it's private housing or whether it's a combination of social housing to home ownership or housing design? I think we can be innovative and I think we can find ways to make it cheaper to ensure that this problem, this crisis, doesn't persist.
You can start in any number of places. I'll give the example of Nunavut, where many Inuit speak Inuktitut at home and will always identify Inuktitut as their first language. They go to school from K to 3 or K to 4 in their language, but then transition in grades 4 or 5 to English. There is no real structure of language instruction in their own language beyond language arts at that time.
We need to be able to create a system across Inuit Nunangat, across our 53 communities, where our language is respected in the same way that French and English are respected in southern Canada as languages of instruction, to reach the same outcome and the same goal.
We have an immense amount of other challenges, such as small communities with limited capacity for specific biology, chemistry, or math when they get to grades 10, 11, and 12. We hope we can overcome those through distance education and access to online or satellite-based learning.
We can overcome these challenges, but there are some fundamental problems with our education system that don't allow our children at the end of grade 12 to have the same level of credentials.
I don't think we can say that the way we've provided education is fair. We expect our children to learn through curriculum that wasn't designed for them. We expect them to learn in a southern-based environment without having that balance between learning about a new culture and a new way of learning, and having the foundation of their own language, their own culture, and their own community in the classroom with them from K to 12.
There are a number of things that I think we can improve to ensure that our children have a fair chance of getting a high-quality education that is transferrable anywhere in Canada.
This gives me an opportunity to talk about our vision statement, “Canadian Inuit are prospering through unity and self-determination”.
The ITK is a vehicle for self-determination for Inuit. The expression of self-determination at this table, say, is that Inuit have a chance to speak to you clearly without any limitation about the priorities we have and the way in which we would like to interact and work with you.
On the other side, the federal side, there sometimes is an assumption that the federal government, or any number of government levels, can decide for Inuit what is best for Inuit, or can interpret, based on statistics or other measures, what things will or will not work, such as the nutrition north program. The fact that Inuit are not participating in defining what the eligible items are for the program shows that we have a lack of self-determination in the way in which that program runs. Canada is deciding what healthy foods will be subsidized and will be on our store shelves.
In this era and this time, we expect to have participation in the way in which those major decisions are made, decisions that affect our lives. In just about any different way, whether it's the implementation of land claim agreements, or the ability to represent ourselves and have the government respect the way Inuit represent ourselves, these are things that are works in progress. We're always driving towards higher goals and aspirations.
We have limitations to self-determination now, especially in the way that our colonial history and all the hurts of the past still affect our people today. We talk about it through historical trauma and intergenerational trauma, where the dysfunction we see in our society is often linked to the times when Inuit were brought off the land and coerced into communities, or our children were sent away to residential schools, or our dogs were killed, or our loved ones were sent away for tuberculosis treatment and never came back, and we weren't told what happened to them.
People still have to overcome all of these things. I think a big challenge to our self-determination is our ability to get over that colonial process. That's why we're here talking about how programs can be improved and about the priorities we have as a people that we know will get us towards the path that we need to be on.
. Distinguished members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, it's an honour and a privilege to appear before you, and I thank you for this opportunity to share with you the work of the friendship centre movement, and the National Association of Friendship Centres.
Before I begin, I wish to acknowledge the Algonquin nation, upon whose traditional territory we are meeting today.
My name is Christopher Sheppard. I'm Inuit. I'm originally from Postville, Nunatsiavut, but I now live and work in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. I grew up in the friendship centre movement having been involved in their aboriginal youth council, and I'm currently in my first term as vice-president of the National Association of Friendship Centres, also known as the NAFC.
Accompanying me today is Mr. Jeffrey Cyr, a proud Métis from Manitoba and the NAFC's executive director, as well as Pamela Ouart, NAFC's director of research and special projects.
With our time together I would like to give you a brief overview of the friendship centre movement, the NAFC, and the urban indigenous population in Canada. I would also like to share with you some of the NAFC's strategic priorities and provide you with some examples of the critical work that the NAFC, our provincial and territorial affiliates, and key partners are doing to support indigenous people in urban settings.
Lastly, I would like to highlight the NAFC's priorities for the 42nd Parliament and share my perspectives as to how each of you can support the friendship centre movement to advance our goals of reconciliation, improving Canada's social infrastructure, and advancing social finance opportunities for aboriginal people living in urban environments in Canada. Of course, time permitting, I will do my best to respond to any questions you may have.
I would like to begin by stating some facts to set the context for the work of the friendship centre movement. As you may know, 75% of Canada's indigenous people live off reserve. Nearly 60% live in urban areas. Further, the indigenous population is growing at a faster rate than the Canadian average. This means that there are approximately 840,000 indigenous people living in Canadian cities.
The Canadian indigenous population is also young, with approximately 50% being under the age of 24. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Canada's future social, cultural, and economic development. However, as you have heard from previous presentations, some indigenous youth live in challenging social and economic circumstances.
Since the 1950s friendship centres have become professional service-delivery experts with extensive experience; continual innovation; and deep partnerships with provinces and territories, civil society, and the private sector. The friendship centre movement is the country's most significant off-reserve indigenous service-delivery infrastructure. For over half a century, friendship centres have helped urban indigenous people access the vital services they need to succeed in urban settings across Canada. Friendship centres understand the challenges facing our communities, and their unique wraparound service delivery model ensures we are are equipped to tackle them. Across the country, friendship centres provide culturally appropriate programs and services for indigenous people living in urban centres and have become a place for indigenous and non-indigenous people to come together to share traditions and learn from one another.
Friendship centres are a significant part of Canada's social infrastructure backbone, with more than two million client contacts annually, serving Canada's most vulnerable urban indigenous populations. By creating a space for indigenous people in urban settings, friendship centres provide culturally adept wraparound services and have been catalysts for reconciliation in Canada since their earliest days.
The NAFC is a national association created by friendship centres in Canada in 1972 to be the voice of its members nationally and internationally. The NAFC's membership now comprises seven provincial or territorial associations and 118 friendship centres across Canada, including many in your ridings. The NAFC has a long and unique relationship with the Government of Canada. For the past 30 years the NAFC has been the administrator of national programs delivered to friendship centres and other indigenous organizations on behalf of the Government of Canada. While a not-for-profit network rather than a politically representative organization, the NAFC enjoys a productive relationship with many other indigenous organizations.
In partnership with the Government of Canada, the National Association of Friendship Centres is now administering the delivery of $43 million in programs and services under a realigned urban aboriginal strategy.
This funding has assisted friendship centres and other urban aboriginal service delivery organizations to not only increase services, but also to build and expand partnerships with a range of partners including all levels of government, non-profit organizations, the private sector, and the charitable and philanthropic sectors to support indigenous people living in urban centres to achieve their goals. Through these partnerships, friendship centres have been successful in leveraging funds. In fiscal year 2014-15, friendship centres leveraged, for every federal dollar invested, at a ratio of 7:1.
I would now like to walk you through some of the NAFC's priorities and highlight some of the initiatives that are being implemented to advance these priorities and address the challenges that are experienced by some indigenous people in Canada's urban centres.
In June 2015 the NAFC launched Action for Indigenous Women, a comprehensive initiative to end violence against indigenous women and girls. Action for Indigenous Women builds on proven culturally relevant friendship centre movement initiatives to provide support and change the conditions that lead to violence. This was done through the creation of A4iW Live, a digital community for indigenous youth and the expansion and promotion of NewJourneys.ca, an online resource created by the NAFC supporting indigenous people who have or are planning to relocate to the city.
The NAFC hosts the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network secretariat, which is a research network of urban indigenous communities, policy-makers, and academics engaging in community-driven research with the goal of contributing to a better quality of life for urban indigenous people in urban centres. Social innovation and social finance present tremendous tools with which to build on those strategic relationships to develop new, and just as important, skill-up and skill-out existing initiatives so that they can have broader impact.
In British Columbia, the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres has undertaken a number of initiatives to move social innovation and social finance forward. My colleague Paul Lacerte, the executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, has spoken extensively about these opportunities.
In Quebec, the Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtone du Québec has a history of bringing together stakeholders, civil society, and the provincial and federal governments to address social and economic development issues. The Val-d'Or Native Friendship Centre has developed co-op housing for first nations families.
Here in Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres has also been working with key stakeholders to develop concrete social enterprise and social financing initiatives, including a program that provided training and development to support friendship centres to build capacity and assist in developing local social enterprise ventures.
As we collectively look ahead two weeks from today to the first budget of the new government and beyond, I would like to share with you the priorities of the friendship centre movement for this 42nd Parliament. The friendship centre movement will support communities and grieving families as the work of the national public inquiry on murdered and missing indigenous women is formally established and carries out its critical work.
The NAFC will continue to work with all partners to achieve reconciliation in Canada by implementing the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The friendship centre movement looks forward to working with the government and opposition parties to improve the lives of urban indigenous people in Canada. This will be achieved through core funding investments in friendship centres so that they continue to have the capacity to operate and to meet the needs of these communities. It will also be achieved by committing infrastructure funding and investing in friendship centres. Retrofitting, fixing, expanding, and reinvigorating these pillars of the community not only provide employment while increasing sustainability and accessibility, it also provides safe community spaces for some of the most vulnerable members of Canadian society.
In closing I would like to reaffirm that there are community-based solutions to complex problems, and friendship centres are harnessing the creativity, energy, and knowledge that can unlock new ideas and new thinking, which will lead to enduring social change and contribute to the full inclusion of indigenous people in Canada's economic, cultural, and social fabric.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. I thank you for inviting me here today.
I also would first like to acknowledge the Algonquin people on whose traditional ancestral homelands we are assembled today.
I have appeared before this committee and other standing committees in the past. This will be my first under this Liberal government. By way of introducing myself I am a treaty Mi'kmaq from the Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia. Throughout my life I have been involved in advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples and I intend to continue doing so for many years to come.
In 2000, I served as national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples for six years, up to 2006. I returned to the congress in 2011 when I was elected as vice-chief. I remained in that position for a year. In September 2015, I was re-elected for the fourth time as national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. I am pleased to say that I am back.
For those of you who may not know us let me tell you a little about the organization. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is one of five national indigenous organizations that are recognized by the Government of Canada, and it is recognized by provincial and territorial governments and by the international community as well. For 45 years, since 1971, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, formerly known as the Native Council of Canada, has been a national indigenous representative organization that has represented the interests of the Métis, off-reserve status Indians, and non-status indigenous peoples living in rural, remote, urban, and isolated areas throughout Canada, including the Inuit of southern Labrador.
CAP has been at the forefront of issues that matter most to indigenous peoples for many years. Here are some examples.
CAP fought to ensure that the word “Métis” was included in the Constitution during the constitutional talks of 1982. In fact, it was our former leader, Mr. Harry Daniels, who was widely accredited for getting Métis in the Constitution.
We were also successful in 1999 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on the Corbiere case declaring that all bands holding elections under the Indian Act would be required to extend voting rights to their band members living off reserve.
In January 2013, the Federal Court of Canada affirmed the position that CAP had fought for since 1971, that the Métis and non-status aboriginal people are Indians under section 91, class 24, of the Constitution Act of 1867. This historic ruling granted long overdue recognition and equality to over 600,000 of Canada's forgotten indigenous peoples. We now await a final decision from the Supreme Court.
Fundamentally, CAP seeks to ensure that all indigenous people have equal access to programs and services across the country and that our indigenous and treaty rights, as recognized under section 35 in Canada's Constitution Act of 1982, are given equal protection regardless of residence or Indian Act status.
I would also like to provide you with a quick overview of how the congress operates and what we do.
CAP works closely with its provincial-territorial organizations, referred to PTOs, and advocates on their behalf on the national level. Each of our PTOs is a provincially or territorially incorporated organization that provides research and advocacy support to their members and carries out a range of programs and services for their constituents.
In terms of our youth council, with the ever-growing indigenous youth population, CAP is committed to ensuring that the necessary tools and supports are in place to enable our youth to live successful and productive lives.
On the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, ASETS, indigenous peoples face a number of challenges when entering the labour market, including constitutional, jurisdictional, and geographical gaps. The ASETS program, which started in 1999, fills those gaps by providing skills training, employment counselling, wage subsidies, and self-employment assistance.
Regarding our third annual national grassroots engagement tour, the grassroots engagement tour is an opportunity for indigenous peoples living off reserve in rural and urban areas to engage in town hall-style events and discuss the issues that matter most to them. This year's tour began in Victoria, B.C., and to date we have made nine stops in communities across Canada. Another 13 town halls are scheduled or in the planning stages in the coming weeks. From these sessions we have identified themes that best represent the concerns of our constituents including housing, education, and the Harry Daniels court challenge that is before the Supreme Court.
Now I would like to turn our attention to the promises made in the Liberal platform during this recent election. We are hopeful that this government wants a renewed relationship that includes all indigenous peoples, regardless of where they choose to live. The congress is also committed to working in close partnership with the government and all national, regional, and community indigenous organizations to bring about the much-needed change in recognition for our indigenous peoples.
This is what real partnership must look like. promised real change. The Prime Minister also committed to a new nation-to-nation process that will renew the relations between Canada and all indigenous peoples. In fact, the mandate letters that went out to all cabinet ministers contained specific priorities and directives for each portfolio, and also wording on the Prime Minister's overall expectations.
Let me read one excerpt:
I made a personal commitment to bring new leadership and a new tone to Ottawa.... No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
I also want to reiterate what we have said in the past with respect to nationhood. Traditionally, the indigenous peoples in Canada identified with their own specific nations of peoples, such as mine which is Mi'kmaq. There are Maliseet, Mohawk, Ojibwa, Chipewyan, and there are many more. These are examples of some of the 60 or so nations of indigenous peoples in Canada. The reality is that indigenous nations of peoples have been systematically divided by the federal government through Indian policy, the disinheritance of indigenous peoples' birthright, identity, and the dispossessing of access to their lands and their resources.
Today we have countless classifications for Indian, far too many, and far too confusing. For example, we have status Indians, non-status Indians, off-reserve Indians, on-reserve Indians, registered Indians, treaty Indians, band members, non-band members, beneficiaries, non-beneficiaries, and so on. This list now includes distinct and non-distinct classifications of who is an Indian.
Who is an Indian, or an aboriginal or indigenous person? The definition is very clear under section 35 of the Constitution Act. It says, “'aboriginal peoples of Canada' includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada”.
The Constitution was meant to be inclusive, not exclusive. However, under this new government's commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples across Canada, the big question being asked by many of our people is where do urban and rural indigenous people fit into the government's concept of nation-to-nation relationships.
On December 13, 2015, Christine Martin, the executive director of the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, said to a CBC Vancouver radio host:
I'm not going to lie, I think we're a little concerned about how this is going to roll out in the urban aboriginal community. It leaves out a huge population of approximately 65 per cent of us who don't live on our reserves, and not many of us have connections to the bands that we come from. Some of our people who live here in Vancouver have never been to the band that they come from, let alone be active participants in it.
I want to thank both presenters. I certainly want to say that the Native Friendship Centre in Timmins is an extraordinary tool for the good of the entire community.
Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to ask questions as time has run out on us. We have a motion that, because of the health crisis in Treaty 9, I have to bring to the agenda today. I apologize that I'm not able to ask questions. We can follow up later.
Mr. Chair, while I have the floor, I apologize for bringing it up today as opposed to our planning meeting. I have a family emergency on Thursday. I cannot be here. The emergency we're dealing with right now in Treaty 9 started with the wife of Norman Shewaybick, who died because there was no oxygen in their medical centre. The chiefs of Mushkegowuk have called for a state of emergency. We lost another young person Saturday night. That's two in the last week.
I'm asking the committee, given the seriousness of this.... When a state of emergency is declared anywhere else in the country, things happen. When it happens in Indian country, it seems that there's no response, and that's what I'm hearing from the leadership. They're very frustrated. I think it would be a positive message to invite them.
I had mentioned bringing Chief Isadore Day and the leadership of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which would be Alvin Fiddler. I would suggest having a special meeting, a one-day meeting with a two-hour period. I would suggest April 12, because we're going to be leaving, and then we have the budget. I would suggest it would be good to invite Jonathan Solomon, the chief of Mushkegowuk; the board chair of the Sioux Lookout health authority, who could probably provide some technical advice; and Chief Moonias from Neskantaga, which is also dealing with the heart of the crisis.
I put it to my colleagues. Perhaps we could bring that forward and get that so that when we come back we have something to show that we're actually taking these issues on as they happen, and that we can use our committee to be responsive and provide, hopefully, some solutions.
Don's right, there have been a lot of states of emergency—I can't count how many states of emergency I've seen—and nobody's done diddly-squat. That's the reality.
Yes, so they declare states of emergency and they just wait until people give up. I brought a motion about the suicide crisis and I was told we could do that later, because we're doing lesson 101. That's good, but people are dying. So a state of emergency is declared and we could say, well, there are emergencies everywhere. That could be the vote of this committee.
I didn't bring it to the planning and priorities committee. As I said, I can't be there Thursday, as I have a family emergency that I have to be at.
When you have a state of emergency declared and nothing's done, it sends a real message across the country. I think this next meeting will open the door to the bigger discussion that's affecting the death rates. We've had 600-plus kids in one part of my riding attempt to kill themselves since 2009. If that doesn't mean we should be meeting on this, I don't know what it would be. This isn't to exclude anything else, but a state of emergency was declared and they're asking for national leadership. This is an opportunity.
I would put it to a vote.
The Chair: Mike.