Welcome to our guests. We'll do a proper official welcome in a minute, but I have some very quick technical things that I think we should get out of the way first.
I don't know where Mark is, but he should be coming soon. I want to welcome Geng Tan, Julie Dabrusin, and Robert Kitchen to the committee today and thank them for joining us.
I want to remind people that we have moved the meeting next Tuesday, because the commissioner is doing her reports relevant to the committee. I'll be leading that in the morning; hopefully, you can all join me. She has very good topic headings for the reports, which I think will be of great interest to us.
On that point, I think it's important that we have an opportunity to have the commissioner come in front of us. We didn't for her last reports, because we had a very aggressive schedule to try to get the report done before we broke for the summer. I want to make sure we have that chance.
Is there any disagreement to have the commissioner come before us as we're in that period of report writing? We're back in our ridings for a week, after next week, after our testimony is all heard. The analysts will be report writing. Then they will need a week for translation. I thought that the following week we would have the commissioner come. We will see what date she's available on one of those two days.
Do I have any disagreement that this is a good way to go forward for the committee? Do I need a motion, or can we just agree that she comes in that week? We'll work out with her what will work for her.
Okay? I think that would be great. So we've got that. That's good.
The meeting on Tuesday has been moved. We booked 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock, and we booked 3:30 to 5:30. I think the 11 to 1 slot wasn't going to work for some of you, but I think the 3:30 to 5:30 slot was available for everybody.
Just confirm that, please, and then we can make sure that we take the other booking off. You don't need to do it right now; I'll just reconfirm at the end of the meeting that we're good, and we'll pick that time that I'm looking for—I think 3:30 on October 3.
Did she give us a date...?
Oh, we may have a problem. But I'll talk to her and see what we can do.
I think that was the only technical detail I needed to make sure we got cleared before the weekend.
I'd like to formally introduce the guests with us today. We have Julian Smith, director of the Centre for Cultural Landscape at Willowbank; Chris Biebe, manager, heritage policy and government relations at the National Trust for Canada; and Karen Aird, president, and Madeleine Redfern, director, of Indigenous Heritage Circle.
Thanks to all of you for being here today.
We have Julian Smith's presentation already up here, so I thought we might start with that. If you're all right with that, we'll proceed.
I would just remind people that I use two cards. When you get to within a minute of your time, I'll hold up a yellow card—I just don't like to interrupt—and that way you'll get a sense of where you are with your time, because we don't have a clock behind us. When I hold up the red card, I don't mean for you to just stop what you're saying, but I do mean for you to wrap up your point because you've run out of time.
Thank you so much.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It's an honour to be here.
I'm going to start with some images. The reason I use images is that I sometimes have a hard time explaining how much the field of heritage conservation has changed in the time I've been involved with it, which is now about 50 years.
Here is a drawing of the 1950s. The modernist movement was in full swing. This is when I grew up. This is a modern building and a modern floor plan. But this also shows the hierarchies that existed between blue collar and white collar; between elementary school, high school, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.; the legal system, with yes-no answers to questions; and all kinds of hierarchies that existed. There were the ideas of the nuclear family, the suburb, the prohibition in the U.S. against racial intermarriage, concerns about gay and lesbian couples, and so on.
This next image illustrates the 1960s, when you began to get grassroots movements, both on the left.... I'm using the yellow for the environmental field. People began to protest the loss of wetlands, and the use of DDT. There was Rachel Carson on the heritage side. On the blue side there was Jane Jacobs and The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It was the beginning, again, of a grassroots cultural heritage protection movement. Both environmental heritage and cultural heritage were very grassroots. They didn't fit the system; there were outsiders. This was coming, as I say, from communities.
Next is the 1970s and 1980s. This brings the introduction of heritage legislation and environmental legislation in all the provinces. Those two fields, the environment field and the heritage field, became part of the system. With the laws in place, you began to have lawyers who specialized in environmental law and in heritage law. You began to have B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. programs in environment and in cultural heritage. There was the idea of joining the system and becoming part of these boxes, shown here.
The boxes really also represent the university and the academic system, which classifies knowledge into disciplines and categorizes books in libraries; and also the museum world, which is all about objects and classifying and putting them into systems.
Next comes development in the 1990s, the idea of cultural landscapes, which really was a concern to UNESCO with the World Heritage List. They didn't know how to deal with sites that were important, both from a natural heritage point of view and a cultural heritage point of view. Cultural landscape ideas were about the relationship of people and the natural environment and about human habitat and a more holistic way. They didn't fit the model very well. I think first nations communities began to be much more a part of the conversation about heritage generally, and for them, this nature-culture distinction had always been a problem.
The idea of cultural landscapes really pushed the boundaries and pushed us, as I show in this next image, to I would say the 21st century. I spend all day with 20- and 30-year-olds at Willowbank, where I teach and where I've been the executive director for the last 10 years. This image shows a program for young people interested in questions of human habitat.
I'm going to stop there. I'll leave that image up.
I have some observations. I would say that young people are interested in this kind of ecological and more holistic approach to human habitat. They want to get over the culture-nature distinction, which is so Eurocentric and which has been such a barrier to coming to terms with sustainability. They want planning, development, and design approaches that respect traditional knowledge and existing patterns, and within those, to figure out how you add contemporary layers and levels without simply erasing everything that's there and starting over again.
They want to shift from a utopian view of the world, which is always about monocultures, to a more organic way of development that is more about diversity. They want to knit back together working with hands and working with the mind and overcoming this distinction between design and build, between blue collar and white collar, between intellectual activity...and also between apprenticeship and academic ways of learning. Not only are these people interested in this, but they're demanding it, because they see an urgency to coming to terms with questions of sustainability.
In terms of my observations or offerings to the committee, I would say a couple of things. I want to make reference to Bill , which, in the slides, is back here. This is really a chance for Canada to catch up to where most other countries moved in the nineties, of saying, “We recognize built heritage as being fundamental.”
I would make two observations about it. One is that I would hope the emphasis, if there are tax credits, is on income-producing properties. Among the concerns that have been raised about somebody owning a beautiful historic home in Westmount or Rockcliffe or Shaughnessy or whatever is whether they should be getting a tax credit for work on that house. The idea that the U.S. adopted, that it should be for income-producing properties, has put the focus on tax credits for the rehabilitation of commercial buildings, of main streets in little towns, of urban neighbourhoods, abandoned industrial places. What the statistics show pretty clearly...and we recently completed a study for the UN Habitat Conference in Quito on the North American situation in terms of culture, heritage, and sustainability. Older districts with these older buildings have a richer texture to them. They provide 30% to 40% more employment per square metre of building, they have more minority owners, they have more women owners, they have more young people, they have more age diversity, they are more walkable neighbourhoods, and they have more public transit. These are areas that we need to understand and deal with, and there needs to be encouragement for doing so. It's in income-producing properties that you get the real swings in urban areas that are either going to allow places to continue to exist or not.
The other point I would make is that if you look at the American situation, since they've had so many years—and I'm sure you've heard the statistics about tax credits—you see that those tax credits generate so much other tax revenue. There are very few tax credit programs that have been so productive—seven to ten times the amount of private investment.
There are related things. Federal accommodation should happen in existing buildings, unless there aren't existing buildings available. Federal programs that support seniors housing and low-income housing should prefer existing buildings unless there are none available. This is something the U.S. has been doing for 40 years.
When I practised, very early in my career I was down in the U.S., in Massachusetts. If you wanted to do low-income housing, you had to look for old schools or old abandoned industrial buildings, because they tended to be in downtown areas with good public transit. When I came to Ontario, land value was a key component. In the first project we did, the developer moved the project at the last minute to a farmer's field, because it was cheap land and allowed them to meet the budget. These were low-income people out in the middle of nowhere without transportation.
With these other programs, the national building code needs to be adapted for existing buildings. There are many government initiatives. The environmental assessment process could knit together the culture and nature part of it, and it should be called a sustainability assessment. Unfortunately, when people think of the environment, they think of the natural environment and not the cultural part of it.
At the more general level, if we go to this other image, which is not just about historic buildings, I think we need to engage Canadians, particularly young Canadians, on the question of more sustainable human habitats.
This shows a start. ICOMOS advises UNESCO on cultural heritage, and IUCN on natural heritage. Parks Canada needs to engage in that nature-culture dialogue in a really important way, because Canada is looked at as being a potential leader in the world in this field, and yet we have national historic sites and we have national parks that tend to be two solitudes, as is the case in much of society.
That engagement has to be shared with the non-profit sector. The non-profit sector, when I was growing up, was almost irrelevant—sort of cookie sales, and hat held out to get donations. The non-profit sector has grown remarkably. I've worked part time in the academic sector, the public sector, and the private sector, and in my view the non-profit sector has become a much more important actor in this whole thing.
I think there should be consideration of an agency of the federal government that deals with urban and rural development, partly so that the federal government can connect to municipalities, to townships, to villages, to reserves, to places in which the innovation is happening. This has to be gathered on a national scale in order for Canada to contribute to the dialogue that's happening around the world, which is really a critical dialogue about sustainability. We have to integrate some of the programs with Canadian Heritage, Parks Canada, and Environment Canada so that we deal holistically with the heritage field and with the confluences that these pieces have together.
I'll stop there. I think it's an amazing time. I think we're in a period of transition. If you look at government departments, agencies, and programs, I think they reflect this image. I think we need to move to this one.
Thank you very much for this opportunity, and thank you for your interest in historic places. The heritage field is diverse, with different ownership circumstances, and the threats and potential solutions are various. I can see that you are grappling with the question of where the federal government can make the greatest difference.
This morning I want to hone in on two areas that haven't really been explored as much in these hearings. Those are commercial heritage properties and properties owned by charities and non-profits. To assist, I have provided a handout detailing some of the existing incentives, and I'll refer to that throughout my presentation.
There are 440,000 pre-1960 commercial buildings in Canada. If we assume that about 5% to 15% of these could potentially be of heritage interest, there would be 22,000 to 66,000 buildings in this class across Canada. This is a substantial group of community-defining buildings on Canada's main streets.
But why do they need incentives in the first place? What are the disincentives that hamper their survival? First let me run through a few of them. Return on investment: heritage rehabilitation is often considered risky because there are unknowns, unlike for construction on bare ground. Construction costs: while some heritage rehabilitation projects cost less, others cost more, and then these ambiguities serve to suppress demand. Then there's financing. The big banks for the most part do not want to be involved in “staged” investments and are not prepared for the risks that come with adapting older buildings. There's some discussion around rural areas, in that they will not invest in older buildings in smaller communities at all. The fourth reason is lack of ease of property development. Investors are often discouraged by real or perceived restrictions on altering heritage properties. Fifth, there is the current federal tax system itself, which presents problems, including the inability to get a clear explanation from tax officials about which types of rehabilitation work are immediately expensable in a given tax year and which must be capitalized. There are also new-construction biases within the GST rules themselves.
So are there good examples of places where incentives have tipped the balance away from these disincentives? As Julian and others have mentioned, in the United States there has been a booming and competitive industry over the past 40 years because of the establishment of federal tax credits there for the rehabilitation of heritage buildings at a 20% level. This program stimulates private investment in abandoned and underperforming properties. Over the years, $24 billion in credits have generated more than $28 billion in federal tax revenue, and leveraged $131 billion in private investment, an impressive number. This is a 5:1 ratio of private investment to tax credits, and it has created 2.5 million jobs and preserved 42,000 historic properties.
It's important to note that there has been tremendous rural impact from this program over the past 15 years. Over 40% of U.S. tax credit projects are located in communities with populations of less than 25,000.
If you refer to the chart I provided, the one with the five circles on it, you can see that the larger projects typically have a limited ratio of incentives available as a result of caps on programs. I've chosen the $2.2 million level for a commercial project because that was the average cost of the CHPIF, commercial heritage properties incentive fund, projects back in the mid-2000s.
By comparison, have a look at the pie on the right; with all three levels of government in the United States contributing, the picture is very different. Federal tax credits of 20% can be stacked with state credits for a combined 40% to 45%. You should note that 34 states out of the 50 have these stackable credits.
My consultation across the country has shown that it is on these larger projects, those of two and a half million dollars and things of that nature, that a tax credit is needed. For example, the Farnam Block on Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon was demolished in 2015. Repair costs were estimated at $700,000. The city was able to bring forward only $150,000, and the building came down. Or take something like the Calgary Brewing and Malting site, which is sort of like the Distillery District in Toronto in the making. It's languishing for lack of a substantial incentive to give it some velocity.
What can the federal government do? Essentially there are only two mechanisms for the federal government to intervene in the commercial property market, and those are income tax measures or grants and contributions. You've heard about the CHPIF fund and its success as a pilot program for a tax credit program. Analysis by Deloitte and Ernst & Young concluded that refundable tax credits would be more effective than would a grant program. A refundable tax credit offers a number of advantages to the private sector that a contribution program does not. It offers predictability and timeliness. Contribution programs often require more than double the time for approvals on the front end. It leverages existing familiarity with the tax system, creating investor confidence. It also offers flexibility: it works well for large or small projects.
Understandably, the potential cost of implementing a tax credit has been raised at this committee. Deloitte's analysis of the estimated cost of a historic rehabilitation tax credit in Canada found that, far from being a cost to government, these tax credits for commercial properties would create net revenue growth from corporate income tax, GST, and additional personal income tax stemming from new employment.
When we model for a universe of 22,000 commercial properties, we see that these tax credits cost $3.8 million in year two and $55 million in year five. However, these credits generate net revenue growth of $3.4 million in year two, rising to $14 million by year five. The modelling for a universe of 66,000 commercial properties follows a similar trajectory. For broader impact, the government could consider extending a rehabilitation tax credit to heritage homeowners, like that introduced by Bill .
Let's shift quickly to not-for-profit and residential buildings. Tens of thousands of heritage buildings in Canada would not benefit from a tax-based measure because they are not used for revenue-producing purposes. Such heritage buildings include places of worship, historic house museums, and former residential schools.
If you look at the other side of my handout, with the three circles on it, you'll see a sample of incentives from a number of cities. Let me remind you that each of these shows the best-case scenario for grants or tax breaks, but these are often limited by annual budgets for granting programs, such as in Nanaimo, where there is a limited amount every year, and in Halifax, where there is the same situation. We wanted to be fair, so we wanted to have the best possible scenario there.
At current levels, these incentives are not game-changing or behaviour-changing. We are hearing that they are helping already-willing owners but not pushing others. You will notice that the federal government is missing from this incentives picture, and there is no dedicated fund for places outside of the national cost-sharing program for historic places, as these are only for national historic sites, including heritage railway stations and lighthouses.
Competition for mainstream federal funding is fierce. For example, the Canada 150 community infrastructure program requires not-for-profits with modest heritage projects to compete with those with projects for arenas, pools, and sports fields. Earlier this year, FedDev's website reported 1,100 applications, requesting more than $260 million in funding, for their first intake—almost six times more than the available funding. It's a difficult environment for heritage places to get heard in.
Here are the two things the federal government can do to ameliorate the situation for non-profit buildings. The first is to create a source of federal matching funds to leverage investment by other governments. Corporations and individuals could actually help encourage this kind of philanthropy. Funding could be distributed using modern approaches like crowdfunding, which is currently being used successfully by places like National Trust for Canada under the banner of This Place Matters. Over the past three years, the trust's investment of $300,000 has leveraged over $1.1 million in donations for heritage sites. Similarly, Save America's Treasures was a decade-long program in the United States that invested $318 million in federal funds to leverage $400 million from private sources, resulting in the preservation of 1,200 important historic structures and 16,000 jobs. There are also Canadian precedents for using federal matching funds in this way, including the Department of Canadian Heritage's existing matching donations program, which is restricted to endowment matching and for which only arts organizations are eligible, or the government's response to Syrian refugees or disasters and crises.
The second thing the government could do is to provide steady increased funding for the national cost-sharing program for heritage places. I think this has been mentioned on other occasions. The available funding has ranged from zero dollars for some years to as little as $1 million for other years. The current $10 million per year for this year and next year is an important piece of the puzzle, but there are more than 700 properties eligible, and many have been underfunded for decades, so $10 million per year is really a drop in the bucket. The program is already heavily oversubscribed, as Parks Canada mentioned the other day. By contrast, the Canada cultural spaces fund recently received $84 million a year for two years, so there's an order of magnitude there.
In summary, we would recommend the following. First, we would recommend implementation of a federal heritage rehabilitation tax incentive, such as the measures recently proposed in Bill . That is a proven way to attract private and corporate investment to privately owned historic places and to give them vibrant new uses. Two, the government could consider extending a rehabilitation tax credit to heritage homeowners to get more impact. Three, federal investment in seed funding for creative financing mechanisms like crowdfunding could help many more charities and not-for-profits attract private donations and would save and renew some of the thousands of other heritage buildings that make up the fabric of our communities. Finally, an increase in federal cost-shared funding available for the national historic sites heritage places program would help turn the tide of neglect for these important national icons as well.
Thank you very much.
I'll go first. I'll talk briefly, and then Madeleine will. Thanks.
My name is Karen Aird. I just want to say tansi. Thank you for inviting us to be here today.
I'm here on behalf of the Indigenous Heritage Circle, which is an organization that Madeleine and I work with. It's a non-profit national organization. It's the only indigenous-led and -designed organization for heritage in Canada. We started it in 2013, and we incorporated in 2016. It's been on a volunteer basis. We've been working nationally to try to create recognition and inclusion for indigenous heritage at the national level. We've had round tables in Ottawa and in Vancouver, and we're really trying to create a space, an opportunity, for indigenous people to actually have their issues, their concerns, and recognition of their heritage included provincially and nationally. When I talk about indigenous heritage, I'm talking quite globally, because for every indigenous group it means many, many different things.
I know for my people—I'm from Saulteau First Nations—Mamahtawin represents a place that we sit that's sacred, and that's how we define indigenous heritage. But for many indigenous groups, it can mean intangible things like laws, stories, and oral histories. It can mean places that may have no physical objects but that are sacred, where people go for ceremonies. It can be artifacts that many of you see in museums. It can be even things like intellectual properties that are passed: our stories, our songs, our totem poles. Those are all just some of the many things that represent indigenous heritage.
Madeleine and I have been working nationally trying to get a voice and recognition for indigenous heritage, because often it's brought forward only during resource development. Often when they have to do environmental assessments, they will see the need to do what we call traditional use studies. Those traditional use studies do not address most of our concerns, and neither do they deal with protection or long-term preservation of our heritage.
We feel that in this time, this time of reconciliation, this time when we see a new change in government, there's a need for people to start thinking differently about heritage, and moving it beyond built heritage, and thinking about how indigenous people perceive it and how we want to protect it. We do have our own mechanisms. We do have our own methods and approaches to protecting and interpreting heritage, and we feel it's really time now for indigenous people to have a voice in this.
I'm going to leave it to Madeleine to talk some more about our work.
I was listening keenly to what Julian and Chris had to say. I absolutely do appreciate and respect their views, but the more I listened, it spoke to me about how indigenous heritage is simply not part of most of the conversations. It is very focused, as Karen said, on the built environment. I'm listening to the proposals for tax credits and the value of having systems that protect heritage sites, and while I understand and appreciate that it is important, it does not include our indigenous realities. It is not set up; we're almost having two different conversations, or a conversation that I can almost tell you, even if my Inuit national president was here, or the other indigenous leaders at the local, regional, or national level, they would be saying, this is not actually the conversation that we want to be having with respect to how we proceed in even having acknowledgement of what, as Karen explained, is heritage for us.
The systems that are in place are not set up for our communities to actually access. We do not meet the criteria. The tax credit system is beyond what we are able to access in being able to not only have our heritage sites recognized but protected in the way we want. As Karen indicated, it's often brought up in a developmental context, and even then it focuses usually only on archaeology. If there are some sort of traditional burial grounds or some sacred sites, they're to be preserved. But outside of that, everything that we know we need....
Julian was showing the slide of the 1950s. We're not on that slide; we're not in those boxes. It predates the 1950s. There's a mindset, and it's challenging to begin to expand: how do we have ourselves included? Not even in an existing system that we find ourselves that we don't fit in; how do we create a parallel system or integrate those systems that allow indigenous communities across this wonderful nation to be able to have the resources, outside of a development project, to actually begin to have national funds that allow us to begin to have our sites or our practices designated, recognized, and financially supported?
Those were the main sentiments I wanted to express after listening to Chris and Julian.
Is there anything you want to add, Karen?
I think the message, loud and clear, from the round table that Indigenous Heritage Circle facilitated was about the value and need to have an institution that is indigenous-led, where that trust can be built internally, which then allows our peoples and our communities across the country to figure out how to have those difficult conversations. How do we share our heritage with Parks Canada? How do we influence Parks Canada's approach and policy in such a way that we can begin to have our heritage included in those spaces?
We actually had a conversation with Parks Canada about how there are some difficult histories around even the creation of those parks. In most cases, even from my research and work with the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, we know that where we had sacred sites or places we were using or that had special value because of them being caribou calving grounds, all of a sudden based on that information—from area administrators, or RCMP officers, interestingly enough, and many times in the north, or anthropologists, or scientists—those became sites protected on a Canadian national level, and we were then actually prevented from accessing or using these sacred sites that were the basis of, in some cases, the creation of those parks.
That shows the need for and the value in having such an organization that can actually have, as I said earlier, the difficult internal conversations that then allow us to figure out how we even have those conversations with institutions like Parks Canada, Heritage Canada, or National Trust for Canada, because we also have to figure that out for ourselves.
I do want to add one thing if you don't mind, Chair. Protecting even the Hudson's Bay Company building in Winnipeg is incredibly important to indigenous people not just from a national standpoint or from Winnipeg's standpoint but because the history of that particular company involves almost every indigenous community across the country. We also have HBC buildings in our own rural and remote communities, but we want to see our history included in those stories, not just the perspective of the company or possibly, in some cases, their views of what their historical relationship was with us. Our views need to be included in that building story.
Is there anything you want to add, Karen?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you so much for being here.
Ms. Aird and Ms. Redfern, thank you so much for bringing your voices. Madeleine, you said we're having two different conversations, and I was thinking the exact same thing when you said that. Thank you for being the voice of your community.
Mr. Aldag said something that really struck home and that I've said before about the environment as a whole. He said this is a big challenge, but it's also a huge opportunity. So thank you for your testimony. I don't have any direct questions for you, but you opened my eyes with some of your comments, specifically when you said that the system is not set up for your communities and you're not part of the focus. Those are important comments, and I thank you.
Chris, you said that heritage rehab is “risky”. Certainly it's expensive, but I'm interested in your thoughts a little more on how it's risky. I'm interested in new build versus refurbishing heritage. The cost of a new building has probably doubled in the last 10 to 12 years, as compared with buying an existing home. Not that we're talking about homes, but please share your thoughts on new build as compared with refurbish, and whether that has balanced the scales a bit with the huge costs or there are corresponding huge increases to costs with refurbishing heritage.
I'm also interested in your thoughts on what I would call “façadism”. I'm not certain that's an actual term, but when we talk about heritage buildings, very many of the facades are being saved and the inside of the building is being gutted. One counsellor in Halifax called it the “Disneyfication” of heritage. I'm interested in your thoughts. My personal thought on that is it's not the best-case scenario, but it's much better than the worst-case scenario. I'm interested in your thoughts on those few topics there.
Also, I think it might have been you, Chris, who mentioned helping willing owners. The tax breaks or grants help willing owners, but they don't really push anybody to do anything they don't want to. I guess I'm trying to come full circle here and wondering if the changes in the economy as related to new build versus refurbish have maybe levelled that scale.
I'll try to do one minute, or maybe 30 seconds, per question.
We haven't seen a huge recalibration of the costs. The risk of heritage rehab is that in the mainstream construction industry, there isn't quite the same knowledge of how these old building systems worked. When they go into them, they're discovering that when they start pulling apart walls, they discover new things.
When you're building something from the bare ground up, you knock it down and you can create a very straightforward pro forma. You know exactly how much the steel beams cost and how much it's going to cost to put the panels on the outside, whereas with an older building, unless you're very knowledgeable, it can be a challenge.
Some of the differentials happen when there are aggressive new kinds of adaptive reuse being put into buildings. When you're taking a commercial building with big open floor plates and those services, and trying to make it into a residential building, then you have to put new things in and it becomes more complicated. If there's more of a gentle adaptation, then the costs are less. I'll have to look into that further, but from what we've seen, the costs haven't changed that much.
Facadism is an interesting point, because oftentimes the heritage designations we place on buildings are on the public value amenity, which is the facade that all the public can see. Why would I provide a grant or why would I designate the interior when that's the private space of the owner? I mean, I think it's kind cynical, in a way, to become fixated completely on the facade. Is it the best-case scenario? It's a waste of environmental materials to throw away the rest of the building, so there's a large conversation happening in the heritage conservation community about that one.
On helping willing owners, coming back to what Madeleine and Karen were saying, there's a whole conversation that needs to be happening around how we handle what we have, and making more with less, doing more with less things. I think there's the idea of adaptation, about adaptable places and looking at buildings that are adaptable and can change over time; about durability, about durable materials, because I think we build buildings that are somewhat disposable and get rid of them every few decades; about older buildings and their natural materials, so that there are no toxic elements in there that we're going to be leaving as a legacy to our grandchildren; and the idea of maintainability, about places that have the ability to be maintained over time.
I think it's part of a larger conversation about building a more sustainable world that isn't about creating things with solar panels on them, but just using things that we already have in a more informed and more holistic way.
Sorry, I was trying to rush through things there.
I can talk about it in terms of repatriation, in terms of preservation. Within most indigenous societies, when you talk about things that are shared or known, we have individuals who are knowledge keepers. They're people who are responsible for preserving objects, remains, our sacred bundles, and our pipes and for keeping our ceremonies. Generally, a lot of those people exist kind of underground, I would say. They're not known and you don't meet with them because they're not politically active. They might be politically active in some cases, but most of the time they sort of exist within the society.
We have traditional mechanisms. We have traditional methods for preserving remains and for caretaking objects. I know that, for the medicine bundles of the Blackfoot, for instance, that were in the Guggenheim museum, there were people whose role in the Blackfoot society was caretaking these objects. They're considered living entities often, these objects, so when we approach conservation and preservation, I really think we have to approach it with a very open mind and with a willingness to share and learn. I think that it's going to be uniquely different across the country, how every indigenous group wants to deal with preservation.
I know that the Royal BC Museum is in the process of doing some work around repatriation of language tapes, of oral histories, and of human remains. At most museums in B.C. and the universities that have human remains, those objects and those remains are going back to the indigenous caretakers at the indigenous communities, because we need to move away from this paternalistic attitude that people don't know what they're doing. When they come back, we have our ceremonies and we have our ways of caretaking these. Often they're reburied, but not always. Sometimes people will choose to let them remain within a repository.
That discussion really needs to happen. As I said, the round tables we had in Ottawa were sort of the beginning of these discussions. It was fascinating, because we had so many different groups that came, and they all expressed a need to really have a dialogue. I think there's a willingness to have this dialogue nationwide. I think people are ready for it, and even talking about preservation is going to be quite an interesting dialogue because you're going to see that it'll be different across the country. I know it'll be different for Madeleine's people as well as for mine. We're dealing with Site C in northern B.C., so we have a lot of human remains and objects that have been uncovered. We've chosen some of those to be stored in a repository down in Vancouver, in Burnaby and that area, and some we're trying to get back.
Ms. Redfern, I was very struck by your eloquent description of the polar bear hunt and the relationship between the polar bear hunt and the preservation of the culture. Some day I'll have enough money to do that myself.
Again, this is to the government members on this committee. Because polar bears are a very contentious issue under the Species at Risk Act and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, I think we should take the side of the Inuit on this particular one, unequivocally support the hunt as strongly as we can, and fight all those forces who would do their best to put this culture out of business, because that's what they would largely do. Here we have a success story. Let's continue it.
I'd like to quote from the testimony of Mr. Peter Williamson, who spoke at the indigenous affairs committee hearings on suicide rates. This is in relation to culture, land, and wildlife. He says:
I want to talk about a couple of issues I think will make a difference. One is I really started noticing a difference in how many young people committed suicide after their parents and their aunts and uncles and their grandparents could no longer afford to go hunting, because living the traditional lifestyle and being brought up in a community and in a family where the traditional lifestyle is the way you are brought up really does make a difference. We started losing that in the 1970s, and the 1980s too, but it started in the 1970s. Once that happened, more people did commit suicide.
There was what were called the seal wars at the time, when Greenpeace and other environmental activist organizations who wanted to raise money started to attack the sealing industry, which Inuit were a part of. They really relied on seal hunting to make a living.
He made the obvious connection between the pride of retaining a culture and providing for a family in a sustainable manner, but also, I think, the appalling connection between these rich outside groups who basically, even though they didn't say it, worked their hardest to destroy a culture.
Could you comment on this particular episode and how you see this playing out?