[Witness speaks in Tsilhqot'in
Thank you for giving us this opportunity. We're thankful to be here to present to the standing committee and honoured to be on Algonquin territory. I want to acknowledge that, first and foremost.
The Tsilhqot'in people have fought long and hard for the establishment of our aboriginal rights and title. That's been my career. I have spent eight and a half years as chief for Tl'etinqox, Anaham, community. Nine years before that I was director of government services for Tsilhqot’in National Government. Nine years before that, I held just about every position from fishery coordinator to natural resource community liaison. I did just about everything within the tribal council except for being an accountant, so I've seen and worked my whole career advancing our aboriginal rights and title.
The Tsilhqot'in case has been my career. At the time of winning our aboriginal title in B.C.'s supreme court, I knew it was time to go back to my community.
I'm a fifth-generation chief in my community. Chief Anahim, the grand chief of the Tsilhqot'in during the Tsilhqot'in War, was my great-great grandfather. Chief Casimir was my grandfather, the last hereditary chief in our community.
I tell my community, I don't fear you but I fear my ancestors on the other side. One day I'll meet up with them so I have to do and conduct myself in an honourable way.
The fires we experienced this summer, I don't ever want to experience that kind of intensity again. That was...but it was also an act of self-government. We talk about self-government and we want self-government, but the reality is that people aren't ready for that, or so it seems. The moment we decided.... In 2009-10, my community was evacuated. We were also evacuated in 2003, which was the last time there was a major report on wildfires, a firestorm report.
In 2010, when our community was evacuated, we had our members in gymnasiums with cot after cot after cot, which reminded our people of residential schools. To be lining up in cafeterias just like residential school, eating foods that are not traditionally appropriate for our people, and worrying about our homes, hearing rumours and reports of looting and so on and so forth.... Social media is really a powerful thing and it plays a big part, especially when a big thing like that is happening. It adds to the confusion. You have to be aware of that.
We also have a lot of band members who were living in other cities in 2010, and they came to Williams Lake to help our community members. We're proud people. We don't want anybody looking after us. We'll do it ourselves. Our members came to volunteer, and they were university students. In one case, it was on the fourth day, they learned there was actually a spare room for the volunteers, and that spare room was filled with refreshments, sandwiches. If you wanted to have a nap, there was a cot over there. There was a couch. There was a TV. Our volunteers discovered that on the fourth day.
Two of our university student volunteers were walking in, one a master's student, at the same time as two non-aboriginal ladies were walking out, and one of them said, “I don't trust them” and told the other to go back in and keep an eye on them.
Right then and there, we said that we will never listen to an evacuation order ever again. We will not be a burden to anyone. We will look after ourselves.
We put a tremendous amount of resources into training our members. From 2010 to the fires this year, we've probably trained about 400 firefighters. We have a long history of fighting fires. We live in the Tsilhqot'in. We're in a fire zone. This isn't going to be the last fire that my community is ever going to face. This will continue. We're surrounded by lodgepole pine. When you open a book on the lodgepole pine, the first thing you read is that it's fire dependent. If you look at the pictures or slides, there's dead trees sprinkled all throughout. That's the case. That's what we live in. We're fine. Generation after generation, we learn how to deal and how to look for it.
I grew up fighting fire. My first job was at 15 years old. All throughout high school, I fought fire during my school days. I knew if I got on a fire and I fought fire for five days, I would make more money in those five days than the other kids who stayed on the reserve and worked for their community all summer. I had a lot of experience fighting fire. After graduating from high school, the B.C. Forest Service starting establishing native-unit firefighting crews. I was asked to head up our native-unit firefighting crew in Alexis Creek, but my views can be viewed as extreme at times. When I looked at that list of all the firefighters they had, I told them, “I think you have too many potheads on your crew. If I were to run it, I'd be constantly wanting to fire everybody, so I think I'll save my stress and go work for fisheries instead.” Also, I had had enough of fighting fire. It's not the cleanest job in the world. You have to get dirty to be effective fighting fire. I had had enough at that point.
When the evacuation order happened, the RCMP came into our community. I was stranded in Kamloops. I had to go pick up my baler. I have a small hobby farm. I do the chief thing on a part-time basis. That's my part-time job, I tell people. I'm a full-time rancher. On my way back, the fires around 100 Mile and Barriere stranded me in Kamloops.
Following social media, the fires that were happening around Williams Lake erupted and we were hearing reports of RCMP officers coming through our community banging on doors, kicking down doors, threatening our members, and asking for dental records if people didn't want to leave. “Give us your dental records, so that we can identify you after the fires,” and comments such as that. I got hot under the collar. I had a hard time finding a hotel in Kamloops. I finally found one. One of my other councillors was in Merritt picking up a vehicle. We were in the same situation. We were in contact with each other.
The next morning, I got a Facebook post. One of my councillors wrote that there were only a couple of other councillors including him who were in the community that night and said that was the only leadership. There needs to be more leaders in our community. We have 12 councillors and one chief in our community. “Where the heck is the chief?” he said.
I read that post and I was like, “I'm coming back to Anaham. If I have to run all the way back, I'm going to run all the way back to scalp this guy”. I told my councillor in Merritt, “You meet me and I'll get as far as Barriere and I'll wait at the gas station in Barriere.” We caught up to each other in Barriere and we continued on. We made it home that night. The next day, when we got in, the RCMP came in and informed us that there was an evacuation order and for our community to leave.
I said, “We're not leaving.”
Instantly his whole demeanour changed, and he said, “We're going to put up roadblocks on both sides of your community, and if you leave, you can't come back.” I said, “We have no intention of leaving, so it doesn't matter if you have roadblocks.” The response there was, “Your children can't make decisions for themselves, so we're going to come back with the ministry of children and families and take your kids.”
I said, “In that case, we'd better put up a roadblock and keep you guys out of our community then.” He looked at me and said, “Your roadblocks won't slow us down.” At that point, I lost my temper and told him, “Maybe our roadblocks won't slow you down, but bullets flying past your head would definitely turn you around.” Suddenly I realized what I'd said and thought, “Holy cow, I'd better have a good comeback line or I'm in jail.”
I told him, “Maybe before you come back in here with an attitude you need to go back to your RCMP office and talk to your RCMP lawyer, because what you'll probably find is that on Indian reserve land, your evacuation order does not apply unless chief and council sign, and we are not about to sign any evacuation order.” At that point, they left, but we had to assert ourselves, and it was upsetting. It seemed like every government agent who came through...and I got tired of hearing this over and over: “Do you guys even have a plan?” or “Do you even know how many people are in your community?”
Since 2010 we've developed our policies around firefighting and emergency. We're on version six. To date, I haven't met an agent or organization anywhere that has more of a plan than we have.
When you're going to make a stand, you'd better be prepared and you'd better know what you're doing. We're involved with a logging company, Tsi Del Del logging, the largest logging company in and around the city of Williams Lake. We log 400,000 cubic metres of wood. We have some of the best heavy equipment operators you're going to find anywhere. We have over 400 people who are trained firefighters certified under the B.C. process. Suddenly government agents are running around asking what kinds of qualifications we have and what kind of training we have. It's the same goddamn training they have. They're the instructors.
I will say this. I often tell people this. The fires this summer were never a threat to our community. The bureaucracy and the governments that were all around us were a threat to our community during this crisis.
Leave us alone.
The problem is not at our level. I think the problem of financial resources is with the province and Canada, but it wasn't until our situation arose in just about every newspaper across Canada with my statement on INAC policies.... My community was the most dysfunctional of Tsilhqot'in communities when I stepped in. We had close to a $5-million deficit. It had taken me eight and a half years to climb out of that. For us to leave now and lose even five or 10 homes in a fire, we would never recover, because INAC's policies are to impoverish our people.
When I made that statement, we got a response. We had the regional director general in Vancouver show up in a chopper the next day in our community. While she was there, promising that their finances were going to be left in place, her FSOs in our administration room were threatening to cut off our funding.
Right from day one, I told people that they had to look after their finances. We hired an auditor and I told him to look after this, because we're going to get called, I guarantee you. Prepare the finances for an audit, because we're probably going to get audited. They're going to do everything they can to try to discredit us, so be prepared for a forensic audit. That's how I won my finances, and today we continue to fight that.
They want to go over every line, line by line. We spent $3.1 million on the fire, and we've only been paid back $840,000, and they want to go over everything. If you issued a $2 cheque, they're going to question you about that, asking what that is and telling you to justify that. You have to spend 15 minutes on every last fricking transaction. When they finally agree to pay you, they're not going to tell you what they're paying and what they're not, as if to set us up. Now when our pan-audit goes through, I can see the INAC FSO having a field day clawing back all of the finances that went in through all of this, to continue to try to keep us impoverished.
I told Justin Trudeau when he came to Williams Lake to cut B.C. right out of the whole deal. We'll make this nation to nation: Canada and Tsilhqot'in.
When you provide us with funding, we have strict regulations as first nations people, so when Canada does this for a B.C. wildfire, why don't they have the same standard for them? I don't mind. I love being in those situations, and I've gone to the Supreme Court of Canada. I feel we have to be accountable to my members. I don't mind being held to a high standard, but if you're going to do that and share those finances, why don't you hold that same standard to every other agent, especially non-native agents, because non-native people think that we got it for free. If they're held to the same standard, I guarantee attitudes will change in this country.
You know, I think it all comes down to attitude, the attitude we have toward first nation people, stereotypes, whatever. Every government agency that came running in.... I got to the point where I told our EOC coordinator that I was sick and tired of government officials running in and every last one of them saying things like, “Do you even know what you're doing? Do you even have a policy? Do you even know how many people you have in your community? What are your plans? What are you going to do?” In the end, I just started telling them that we were going to run down to the river and take all our clothes off, and that we had logs there, so we'd tie the babies to the logs and throw the logs in the river and then we'd jump in.
But it wasn't until the Department of National Defence, somebody from Ottawa, called me at home, called me late at night, and I decided, since this was a military guy, I was going to go through our emergency operations policies. I spent one full hour with him and talked to him, detail by detail. At the end of that hour, he said he was sorry for underestimating us, for not realizing that we have policies.
I figured he would understand because this was very much like a military-style operation that we ran in our community. We took.... There was no more band office in our community, and that structure, all our stuff. There was no more health, no more chief and council. In our Tsilhqot'in way, before contact, we had lots of chiefs in our community. Each chief was responsible for certain things in our community, and in times when there was a threat to the community, a threat to the women, children, and elders, the war chief would take over.
When the war chief took over, everybody became subordinate to that person. That's what our emergency operations centre and policy was and how I explained it to our community. People bought into that. It was something they could relate to, and they related to that. It was through this crisis that we found harmony. For two months we had harmony amongst us. You exclude all the other government agencies, remove all of them, and just within our community we had harmony. Fire was never a threat to us, never a threat.
I think we need to have a full review. In 2003, Gary Filmon, the former Manitoba premier, did that in B.C. We need another one similar to that to review what went on this summer.
I'm very thankful for your question. I've been waiting for that question.
Every step of the way we had to fight and argue and really assert ourselves. The AFN assembly in Regina.... In August, I left for the community. The day after I got to Regina I found out that B.C. Wildfire Service laid off not 10%, 25%, or 50%, but my whole crew, 100% of our crew, and replaced them with Mexican and Australian firefighters. Not only that, but they had no problem appointing someone from Australia to be the very head person to plan how to fight that fire.
There are times when I don't want to talk to my firefighters because sometimes the stories they tell me almost send me over the deep end. The guy there is supposed to be in charge of the fires, and he's sitting there and says, “Holy shit. I don't know what to do. Where I'm from we only have brush and grass fires. Those fires are 30 feet tall. I've never seen that in my life.” Yet, here he's instructing, and they have laid off my whole crew.
I got back to my councillors and my emergency operations centre, and I told them to call a meeting right away. I said, “I want you to tell them that if they don't hire our crews back, we're going to personally escort every last firefighter out of the Tsilhqot'in. It doesn't matter if everything burns because just as many white ranches as Indian reserves are going to burn down.”
Why do we have to resort to those types of...before our firefighters are recognized?
Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here, and also to be following the evidence presented by Chief Joe and his colleagues.
My name is Edward John. I am an elected member of the First Nations Summit executive, elected over 11 terms.
This summer was like no other. In British Columbia, as you know, there was a state of emergency. I did have the pleasure to be invited to Chief Joe's community, the Tl'etinqox, a Tsilhqot'in community at the Anaham reserve, as it is known in English.
The Tsilhqot'in people live to the south of where I come from. I come from the geographic centre of the province, and the language that the chief and his people speak is the same language that my people speak, so we share a common heritage. I know the communities well. They are in the middle of the interior. We are in the northern part of the interior, and there is a southern interior.
Most of the fires took place, of course, in the south, in the Williams Lakes-Quesnel area. There were fires to the north.
I happened to be in this community for one day at the height of these fires, really to see for myself. I was invited by the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in British Columbia. I requested that the head of Indian Affairs in the region, the regional director general, Catherine Lappe, attend as well, because there was no federal presence on these matters involving the first nation communities, so it was important that she be invited. We were brought in by helicopter to Williams Lake, and out to the communities. It was absolutely amazing to see the countryside on fire.
My office has provided to the clerk four documents: the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada-Emergency Management B.C. memorandum of understanding that was signed last spring; the Canada-B.C. wildfire response agreement, which was tabled with you; a proposal that we submitted to the calling for immediate resources to be put into our communities; and a resolution from our chiefs supporting the proposal.
I listened briefly to the testimony of Chief Joe. It was about traditional knowledge. The people who come from these areas and who know their lands and territories were completely disregarded in the face of so-called expertise. I am not downplaying the expertise by any stretch of the imagination, but here are people who know the lands and territories and understand all the nuances and contours of their lands, yet they are being disregarded in this situation. I think it's really important to understand the question that was raised on traditional knowledge, and I want to thank you for doing so.
The memorandum of understanding with Emergency Management B.C. is very well intentioned. We participated in the development of that, but we did not sign that MOU because it did not go as far as we expected it to. It was an MOU between B.C. and Indian Affairs—once again, the federal government transferring resources to the provinces without our full participation on how the resources are to be used. It's the same with the wildfire response agreement. Something in the neighbourhood of $2 million was transferred to the province on this.
What has happened is that, on the operational side, it has fallen apart, and we saw that in spades. The relationship between Emergency Management B.C., for example, or Wildfire B.C.... When we travelled to Williams Lake, we had a briefing for maybe an hour or an hour and a half with EMBC and Wildfire B.C. officials, and other officials responsible for this matter.
I asked what steps they take when they advise and provide recommendations to the regional district chair or the mayor from Williams Lake, and they went through the steps as to how they provide the recommendation for an evacuation alert and an evacuation order. Then I asked when they talked to the chiefs, what steps they took? The answer was a blank stare, because they didn't know. They figured it was sufficient for the regional district to make evacuation alert orders, as well as evacuation orders, that would apply to the on-reserve first nations communities. Of course, neither the regional district nor the mayor have any authority on reserve, so there's a vacuum there.
One of the big issues we have is that a state of emergency was declared, but that does not suspend civil or political rights. Individuals who are ordered to evacuate do not have to evacuate. People who were evacuated were told that their houses would be protected. Once they left, their houses were not protected and the non-aboriginal people's homes burned down. We have seen examples of that in the province.
One of the recommendations I would make for this committee, because you have access to the resources to do this, is to do a legal review of the situation and a legal analysis. We have our own legal analysis on this, but I think it's really important that one of the outcomes of this work that you do is to provide instructions to the research department of your Parliament here to help provide some of the background work.
This document, which I'm not sure you have, is a “Proposal for a BC First Nations Emergency Management Fund to Prepare For, Prevent, Respond to and Recover from Emergencies (2017)”, not just fires but other risks. Flooding is an annual occurrence in British Columbia. We're in an earthquake zone in the Lower Mainland and on the west coast of British Columbia.
Here's the point. The timber that's burning there in the picture is dead from the mountain pine beetle. About 90% of the timber in that territory is pine. At the beginning of the 1990s, we had a massive mountain pine beetle attack that destroyed millions of hectares of timber, and that is now the fuel for these fires. The fire seasons are not over. Expect them next year and the following year. This was a massive fire, but it could get worse.
We provided some recommendations to the government. , the Minister of Public Safety, met with us. We have $33 billion over the next 10 years for green opportunities funding, and he suggested that some of these funds could be used for the purposes that we've outlined, at least that was our understanding.
We made some recommendations. There are seven of them.
First is to review and, as necessary, revise the status and adequacy of all 203 first nations' emergency preparedness, evacuation, and response plans and their full and effective operational implementation. This is where we went to .
Second is support for the development of comprehensive strategic and operational level engagement and implementation plans of all B.C. first nations with provincial, federal, regional districts and municipalities, for effective and coordinated response capacities.
Third is support all first nations' acquisition and ongoing maintenance of necessary assets including infrastructures, equipment, and supplies to respond fully and effectively to emergency situations such as floods and forest fires.
Fourth is support for capacity development—which is Joe's point about bringing in firefighters from Australia and Mexico—including training and accreditation of first nations peoples who are responsible to manage and respond to emergency situations. Where trained, these response teams should be brought into situations where their skill and expertise are required.
Fifth is support for those evacuated or relocated and for recovery, restoration, and/or rebuilding of lands, homes, and infrastructure in first nations communities, as well as support for those evacuees returning, bearing in mind their dignity, health, and well-being.
Six is support for this community, Tl'etinqox village, as a central gathering point for those on Highway 24 to Chilcotin Highway. As he said, his community, they remained and they became a place of refuge. It's an important place that should be supported.
Seven is that there will continue to be broader impacts, such as loss of traditional food security due to the inaccessibility of traditional food sources including fish, loss of hay and grazing land for livestock, and loss of cultural heritage, among many other items.
We've outlined five steps that we think were necessary, including a session between Canada, British Columbia, and us to review what happened.
I take this opportunity to make those comments to you.
I think we agree with that. I know just about every community has a volunteer fire department. I know my community does. I know that Chief Alphonse's community does.
We have also established a First Nations' Emergency Services Society to deal with preparing and helping our communities address these. In British Columbia we have been proactive on many fronts. We take people who have expertise in certain areas and assign them to the First Nations Health Authority, for example, the first nations education, the first nations child welfare, across the board. Those who have expertise are assigned by the leadership in British Columbia to take the lead on many areas and develop action plans to move forward.
One of these areas is safety in our communities, which is absolutely essential. In our communities I'm aware that the training is sporadic, but it's desperately needed. This is part of the recommendations we make. We called for the government to set aside over a four- or five-year period $200 million to help first nations to have a thorough review. response was that they'll do an inventory. Do it, but there's still action that needs to be taken: up-to-date, decent firefighting equipment and skills, and the training necessary to fight domestic fires in the communities or other kinds of emergencies that may arise, including wildfires.
When I flew over one of these communities adjacent to Chief Alphonse's community, there was fire on three sides of the village. In the middle of the village as we flew over, what they were doing was protecting the houses. It's the grass fires, as you will see in the pictures here, that will burn the houses down.
What they had was two skidders, I think one water tank, and they had these little tanks called piss cans. Firefighters call them that. I'm not saying bad words here. Everybody uses those words out there. They are just small tanks that the firefighters use to fight little grass fires here and there.
That's all they had there to protect that community, and they managed to do an amazing job of that. Similar to what Chief Alphonse was saying, if they had evacuated as they were requested to, they would have lost many of their houses in the community including a brand new health centre, the school they have, and the infrastructure for water and sewer. They would have been all gone.
The issue of consent is raised in the Haida decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. It's also raised in the Tsilhqot'in decision. The chair of the Tsilhqot'in Nation or the national government is Chief Joe. It's about the ability to make decisions.
The specific wording of free, prior, and informed consent is in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but it doesn't have its origin there. It has its origin in other international conventions that have taken those words. In the context of the UN declaration, it's threaded throughout the 46 articles. For example, it says that if the state must consult and co-operate with indigenous peoples. If it is considering legislative or administrative measures that may affect indigenous peoples, then it requires their free, prior, and informed consent when it is considering that.
For example, we heard the other day speaking in support of 's bill on the UN declaration. Free, prior, and informed consent is an important concept. The bad thing about the media and those who don't support the declaration is, “How could those Indians have a veto?”
I think there's a misconstruction of the concept of free, prior, and informed consent. The better interpretation of free, prior, and informed consent.... Consent at the end of the day is a decision that's made after a process, so governments go through a process to come to some decision. First nations' governments are in that same place. First nations' governments will look at information ahead of time. They should be free from any coercion. It should be prior to decisions being made. There should be extensive consideration. It may require an environmental assessment process or some other process that would help inform the decision-making process.
Free, prior, and informed consent essentially, at its core, is about governments making decisions. When the Province of British Columbia, the provinces, the national government, the territorial governments, or municipal governments are making decisions, that's what they're doing. A good example is if you have a specific claims agreement or maybe even a land claims agreement with the Government of Canada, you insist that you bring it to your community. The community looks at it. There will be people who support it, and there will be people who don't support it. You should have all of the best information in front of the community. When the moment comes for voting, what do you think is being done? It's called free, prior, and informed consent, the decision-making process. The result is the consent. The consent that says “no” or the consent that says “yes”.
It has been endemic in our systems for the last 150 years. The Government of Canada, in exercising its jurisdictional head of power under 91(24), could have embarked on a trajectory that's completely different from where we are now. Instead, where we are now is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded as its truth: cultural genocide. It was a perception that the knowledge of indigenous peoples was irrelevant to these things, that they weren't smart enough, that they didn't understand or have a philosophical or cultural base of who they are or where they come from.
When former prime minister Stephen Harper rose in the House and apologized, he said that they thought our ways were inferior and that they were wrong, and he apologized for that. I really think it's a perception. It's still out there in space. People think we don't have the wherewithal to make good decisions. The people think we're just drunks and people looking for handouts. There's an element in our society that thinks like that.
Thanks to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process over these six years, together with the report and discussions in the House, there is a greater awareness of what is required to have greater successes, a reconciled relationship where we respect each other as equals.
The very best we can say about the 150 years is maybe that indifference was the best policy. Other than that, it was worse than that, right? Indifference leads to other difficult situations if left as it is. This Prime Minister has given us a very good example of what the tone should be, and he said that the most important relationship for him, as Prime Minister, and for this country, is the one with indigenous peoples. That's a very good tone that he has set.
Now we need to start taking those commitments made by this government and begin acting on them. With some of these, the review of the National Energy Board, for example, and the recommendations from CEAA, and Fisheries and Oceans, all of these, when we are involved in a process, the message we get on our side is that our reviews and thoughts are important and valid.
I know that your communities were impacted in a big way as well.
Let me put it this way. When I talked to the deputy minister for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation British Columbia during the height of this and following, I said that we needed support in these communities. They were able to do what they could, but the province's authority stops right here at the reserve boundary, and in a lot of places and with all kinds of services.
What he told me that really struck me was that the non-aboriginal communities are provided with the resources to prepare emergency plans to provide them with the wherewithal to to respond to fires and disasters, but there's no support for first nation communities. How stark can that be? That's why we put this $200-million proposal together.
We need resources in our communities. We come as an afterthought in all of this. We will review that MOU with B.C., and B.C. has committed to doing it. INAC has committed to reviewing it, and we will work to attempt to find a better way to ensure that our communities are not left out of the picture. When the deputy minister confirmed that one point with me, I didn't realize how extensive the Government of British Columbia, and maybe even the national government....
I saw in the news a few days ago, a huge national commitment to infrastructure and funding for that. These are infrastructure issues that we have to deal with. We should ensure that all of our first nation communities, not just in British Columbia but right across the country, such as Manitoba with the flooding, or the Prairies with the fires—633 first nation communities—are in a place to be able to fend for themselves.
Yes, a coordinated approach is absolutely essential, working with your neighbouring communities, whether it's Kamloops or Williams Lake. They are essential. There are regional districts and regional councils as well. It's in our interest to work together in the face of disasters like this, because that fire shows no distinction to anybody.
Thank you. That's a very good question, Mr. Amos.
It's not just wildfire. Take my wife's community, for example, which is Musqueam. The City of Vancouver has developed around the territory of the peoples there. They have an agreement with the City of Vancouver for dealing with fires and other emergencies that may impact them, but say there's an earthquake—which is something that people say is imminent—and you have a tsunami, how are they going to respond? What preparedness plans do they have to deal with the peoples in that particular community? Is it the City of Vancouver's emergency plan that's going to kick in? Has anyone talked to the Musqueam people about what that plan looks like?
In a situation of wildfires, I don't think Musqueam's going to need any training with respect to wildfire management or response, but in my community in the central interior, the north, west and north of Prince George, the nearest town is 50 or 60 kilometres away. We have to do our own work. We can't expect, when there's a fire.... When you drive from my community or from the town to my community, just a small ways out of town is a sign saying, “This is the end of the fire protection zone.” That's it. Everybody over there, you're on your own, right?
We need to have the wherewithal to be able to respond with training, and I have to say that in my community we have a number of people who've stepped up, volunteered, and been trained. They've done a marvellous job. It's just that the supplies and equipment to respond—even to community emergency situations—need to be improved. It's old, decrepit equipment that could be upgraded. That's why I'm talking about the necessary infrastructure.
The call for $200 million over a period of four or five years is $50 million a year. That's for 203 first nations, so if you break it down, it might be $200,000 that could be used to help the communities be prepared, organized, and mindful.
As said, the first priority of every community is public safety. I completely agree with him. If you don't have public safety, there are many other things that will fall by the wayside.