I'd like to welcome everyone to this meeting of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. I will acknowledge, first of all, that it is taking place on the traditional lands of the Algonquin people.
Our business today will begin with the subcommittee on agenda and procedure, which met the other day. I believe all the material has been circulated to you.
Is it the pleasure of the committee to concur in the first report of the subcommittee?
A voice: Yes.
The Chair: Could I have a motion, then?
It is moved by Arnold Viersen that the first report of the subcommittee on agenda and procedure be adopted.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: Thank you very much.
It, of course, includes the study material, and so on. We can, perhaps, discuss that later on today.
Pursuant to the motion adopted earlier, the committee will now receive briefings by the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs and from the Department of Indigenous Services.
Each department has been given up to 10 minutes to make an opening statement, and then we'll proceed with questions and answers.
I invite the representatives to come forward now.
As mentioned earlier, we'll give each of our groups up to 10 minutes to make opening statements, and then we'll move to our committee members with questions and answers.
Perhaps we could start with the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I will try not to use all of the 10 minutes, so that more time may remain for questions.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee.
We meet today on the traditional lands of the Algonquin nation.
With me is Serge Beaudoin, Assistant Deputy Minister of Northern Affairs; Annie Boudreau, Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer; and my colleague Martin Reiher, Assistant Deputy Minister at the department.
As the committee begins its important work, we appreciate the opportunity to discuss the role of our department in promoting reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
To begin, I will describe some of my department's work and mention a few recent accomplishments.
Strengthening the relationship with indigenous peoples is central to the mandate of my department. ln pursuit of this goal we've significantly stepped up rights-based discussions with indigenous peoples. Five years ago, most of these discussions only occurred with communities in British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Atlantic Canada. Today, active discussions are under way with partners from every province and territory—more than 150 processes, more than 500 indigenous communities, and a total of almost 900,000 indigenous people.
lnforming each one of these processes is a fundamental shift in Canada's attitude toward the rights of indigenous peoples. For many years, Canada abided by the concept of extinguishment and sought to have indigenous peoples cede, release and surrender their rights. This is no longer the case. From a legal perspective, Canada no longer interprets section 35 of the Constitution as an empty box, but rather as a box full of rights. Furthermore, Canada now considers treaties as the foundation and starting point for the work that remains to be done.
An important recent example of this shift toward a recognition and implementation of rights approach is the adoption, in 2019, of a new policy for treaty negotiations jointly developed by Canada, British Columbia and the First Nations Summit that replaces the comprehensive land claims and inherent right policies in British Columbia.
The policy states explicitly that rights cannot be extinguished, that treaties and other agreements can evolve over time and that negotiation mandates will be built through dialogue and collaboration between the parties. These are all key components of a rights-based approach to negotiated agreements and underpin the government's efforts to advance reconciliation.
This shift can be seen at negotiation tables, leading to tangible and timely results. For instance, last summer, July 2019, Canada and the Heiltsuk Nation signed a reconciliation agreement to address community priorities of self-government, housing and infrastructure, economic development and language revitalization and preservation. The agreement is the culmination of a three-year Heiltsuk-driven process that began with the question, what would reconciliation with Canada look like for the Heiltsuk?
Another example is the joint historic reconciliation agreement that Canada and British Columbia signed to support Tsilhqot'in self-determination five years after the landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Tsilhqot'in Nation decision. lt is the first tripartite reconciliation agreement of its kind in the province. This agreement is a tangible expression of the UN Declaration on the Rights of lndigenous Peoples, which recognizes that every nation has unique and distinct paths to self-determination.
Along with rights-based discussions, this government now follows a collaborative approach to policy development. This marks a significant change from the unilateral, standardized approach followed for decades. I am pleased to say that the new approach inspired the development of the collaborative self-government fiscal policy.
Departmental officials worked directly with their counterparts from indigenous communities to co-develop this policy, which provides for the true costs of government. By following a similar approach, we hope to achieve the same success with the comprehensive land claims policy and the inherent right policy.
Co-development is also central to our approach to negotiating self-government agreements with indigenous governments. These agreements enable indigenous peoples to fully implement and exercise their rights.
A prime example is the Anishinabek sectoral education agreement completed in 2017. The agreement is the largest in history and involves some 23 first nations. Under that agreement the first nations now have jurisdiction over education from kindergarten through grade 12. Approximately 2,000 Anishinabek students now study a curriculum that promotes their language and culture.
Other recent self-government agreements of note include those with the Deline and the Cree Nation of the Eeyou Istchee.
Another indication of progress is the series of agreements-in-principle—the penultimate step before final agreements—completed in recent years. The largest of those, with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, involves some 37 communities in Ontario.
A number of innovations help to accelerate the negotiation process and to make it more efficient. The cabinet-approved process to convert agreements-in-principle to final agreements, for example, will save all parties considerable amounts of effort and money.
Another policy change promotes the financial well-being of indigenous governments in a different way. Previously, any revenues that indigenous governments generated on their own were deducted dollar for dollar from the fiscal transfers provided by Canada. This policy was a clear disincentive, because it discouraged indigenous communities from acting to realize their potential to generate revenues of their own. We implemented a moratorium on that old policy. This will incentivize entrepreneurship and foster a spirit of self-sufficiency.
The government has also moved to strengthen relationships with national indigenous organizations. Ensuring that these organizations have the stable, predictable and reasonable funding they need to adequately represent the interests of their constituents will promote reconciliation.
To ensure that key issues are regularly discussed at the highest levels, the Government of Canada established permanent bilateral mechanisms with first nations, Inuit and Metis leaders to identify each community's joint priorities and help the government and indigenous peoples work together to develop solutions.
In recent years, we have also completed political accords with the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
Canada also continues to make progress in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. Some of the credit for this goes to Parliament for enacting a number of bills that amend Canada's laws. This government also continues to make strategic investments that directly contribute to a better quality of life for indigenous people. Budget 2016, for instance, allocated five-year funding of $8.4 billion to first nations education, infrastructure, training and other programs.
Three additional accomplishments that I want to highlight are the actions to address historical wrongs, such as the sixties scoop and Indian day schools, the work to establish the National Council for Reconciliation, and the measures to resolve issues related to our border with the United States.
The mandate letter of the sets the stage for future progress. The letter calls on the minister to work toward developing legislation to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the end of the year, for example. The minister is also expected, in partnership with first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, to establish a national action plan in response to the calls for justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
In conclusion, there are many hopeful signs, but much more work remains to be done.
I encourage committee members to recognize that Canada's journey of reconciliation will be lengthy and sometimes difficult. We remain committed to the journey, however, because it will lead to a better place for all Canadians.
Good morning, Mr. Chair.
It is a pleasure to appear before this committee today.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that we are on the traditional and unceeded territory of the Algonquin people.
I am joined by Gail Mitchell, Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic Policy and Partnerships.
My goal is to give you a bit of background on Indigenous Services Canada, what we have accomplished so far, and what the road ahead looks like.
The department came into being on November 30, 2017. It brought together first nations and Inuit health services, formerly with Health Canada, with all the other services that were basically inside the old INAC. Those included education, essential social services, child and family services programs, housing, and infrastructure programs. The idea was to replace old colonial structures and to fast-track self-determination, to contribute to closing the socio-economic gaps, and to advance reconciliation.
The legislation that created this department came into force in July 2019, and clearly guides our work ahead, which is first to focus on improving the delivery of services and programs to indigenous communities across the country using a distinctions-based approach, with a particular focus on closing the socio-economic gap between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous Canadians.
Our second goal is to support indigenous peoples in delivering services and improving socio-economic conditions in their communities, because they are best placed to do so.
Indigenous Services Canada works in partnership with first nations, Inuit and Métis to improve access to high-quality services for indigenous peoples, and in doing so, improve the quality of life. The role of Indigenous Services Canada is to listen and support indigenous-led solutions and strategies. This is the only way that we can continue to build a new relationship grounded in the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, partnership and self-determination. As my colleague noted, our approach is changing from imposing to actually moving toward co-developing.
The ultimate goal is to support the self-determination of indigenous people so that Indigenous Services Canada would no longer need to exist.
The objective is for us to disappear.
To this end, the department is focused on five key priorities: children and families together; quality education; improving health outcomes; reliable infrastructure; and economic prosperity.
We have made good progress in all of those areas.
I will use some examples.
On the well-being of indigenous children and keeping children and families together, which is one of the most important priorities, we have passed, thanks to Parliament, the Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families. This legislation puts into law what indigenous peoples across the country have demanded, which is to have jurisdiction to develop and deliver child and family services, so that indigenous communities, organizations, and governments can decide themselves what is best for their children, families and communities. The goal, of course, is to drastically reduce the number of children in care.
We implemented Jordan's principle, which helps first nations children receive the assistance they need when they need it. Between 2016 and 2019, more than 508,000 products, services and supports, like tutoring, educational supports, speech therapy, medical equipment such as hearing aids, and mental health services, were approved under Jordan's principle. Probably half of that was last year, to show you how much it has grown.
We improved quality education for every first nations child by co-developing and implementing with first nations a new policy and funding approach for education on reserve that provides base funding comparable to provincial systems across the country. It also provides resources to support full-time kindergarten to four- and five-year-olds, as well as language and culture programs in first nations schools.
On improving health outcomes, Canada is working with first nations to advance indigenous-led approaches to mental wellness and to provide better access to effective, sustainable and culturally appropriate services.
There are now 63 community-led mental wellness teams serving 344 communities, up from 11 teams in 2015. In December, Minister announced $2.5 million to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations to develop an evidence-based suicide prevention strategy.
The goal is to support the development of other regional first nations strategies that would then inform a comprehensive national distinctions-based mental wellness approach.
On infrastructure, we are working to ensure that indigenous people in Canada have access to adequate, safe, healthy and affordable housing and clean drinking water. A joint working group, made up of the Assembly of First Nations and our department, with the support of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, is co-developing a 10-year national first nations housing and related infrastructure implementation plan. Together we have lifted, as you know, 88 long-term drinking water advisories. We are still planning to have them all lifted by March 2021. ln partnership with first nations communities, we are also working toward long-term solutions to improve on-reserve water and waste-water infrastructure and ensure that water facilities operate efficiently and are maintained.
On economic development, we know that closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians in socio-economic conditions could boost Canada's GDP significantly. We have numbers saying that it is $27.7 billion, according to the National Indigenous Economic Development Board. That is why, based on a recommendation co-developed with the Assembly of First Nations to provide sufficient, predictable and sustained funding for first nations, we are working on a 10-year transfer agreement so that first nations can count on predictable funding and have the freedom to design and deliver services based on their priorities. This past year, 85 first nations signed 10-year transfer agreements.
We are also working with all partners and stakeholders to have at least 5% of federal contracts awarded to businesses managed and led by indigenous people. We continue to capitalize aboriginal financial institutions, a key source of funding for indigenous entrepreneurs. Last year alone, these institutions provided $125 million in development loans to indigenous entrepreneurs, helping to establish 1,158 new businesses, 36% of which are owned by indigenous women.
For hundreds of years, indigenous peoples have been calling on the Canadian government to recognize and affirm their jurisdiction over their affairs, to have control over their land, housing, education, governance systems, and services.
There is still a lot to be done. And as we have seen in recent weeks, there will be stumbling blocks along the way, but the work will be worth it.
It is worth it for all of us.
This legislation was co-developed with first nations, Inuit and Métis organizations. It was not the intention at the time to come up with regulations the day the legislation started. The objective was to work with them on what regulations would make sense for them, as we have to understand that we're not looking for legislation that would provide a one-size-fits-all model for everybody. What we're looking for is more legislation that opens the discussion between the parties to engage at the local and regional levels on what solutions are best. We have to be careful in developing regulations that would impede the capacity of the local and regional levels to develop solutions they prefer.
What we are doing now is re-engaging with first nations, Inuit and Métis organizations. They have expressed, as you can imagine, a desire to have a distinction-based approach at national, regional and local levels. We're looking at different formulas and different processes to put in place that will also involve and engage the provinces and territories, because that's key. That's basically the next step.
In terms of how many have basically self-declared, we have some who have said they want to go ahead. We haven't necessarily seen a lot of legislation per se. Sometimes we have discussions with first nations who say they want to go ahead, but it will be five years from now when they really start. What we're seeing now is people thinking about what the next step is for them.
What we're trying to do, as much as possible, is engage with them early on and ask what they're looking for. You have to remember—and Daniel can probably confirm this—even self-governing first nations have jurisdiction in many areas don't necessarily pass laws in those areas. That's the case for the Nisga'a and for a lot of other first nations.
The act itself of going with the law is something that first nations sometimes will not necessarily do. With a lot of the people who say they're interested in legislation, suddenly the discussion becomes about their desire to have an agreement with the province on this, not necessarily legislation. Therefore, it's really too early to know, but what we are seeing is clearly an interest that is picking up across the country by first nations as well as Métis and Inuit. We've had some of them tell us they will send us something by that date, and we'll have to look at it.
As you know, when we have that draft legislation ready, it would be our duty to make that information public.
Thank you, invited guests, for coming to this meeting.
I want to ask two questions, one around education and one around reconciliation.
In Nova Scotia, the Mi'kmaq took control of their education system 20 years ago with Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, which we call MK for those who are not linguistically gifted. We saw a 30% graduation rate increase to where we are today at about 90%.
The evidence seems to be clear that first nations-led and first nations-governed education systems achieve better results for first nations students. I also understand that there are 23 Anishinabek nations who have signed a historic self-government agreement on education.
Can you provide an update on the implementation of the Anishinabek education agreement and how MK is viewed by the department? Also, how are you supporting additional first nations to take control of the education of their young people?
I have one question after that, Mr. Chair.
With regard to the Anishinabek one, we may want to send you detailed information because I'm not sure that I have all the details on the implementation of the self-government at this stage.
As for MK—because I'm not linguistically good; you heard my French already—we have a few of them in the country that are, for us—how can I say it?—guiding our actions. They're basically what inspires us in our day-to-day life and in our work. The other one, of course, is the First Nations Health Authority in B.C.
In some cases, it's the first nations under the 10-year grants who are taking control of their funding. MK, as you mentioned, in 20 years closed the gap, and in some aspects they're doing better than the general population in the Atlantic provinces. As you mentioned, even though some people sometimes contest it, that is because it's managed by first nations for first nations.
I met recently with the Cree of Quebec on other issues, and you can see the kind of progress that first nations are making when they actually make the decisions for themselves. That's why, for us, it's a model. That's why I said that the objective of my department is to become obsolete. I say to the staff on a regular basis that we are a species at risk that is looking for its own extinction. The way that it's going to happen cannot be directed from the centre. It's going to be different from place to place, but those are the models that inspire us.
NAN in the north of Ontario is an interesting one. We're doing some work in northern Ontario on health, on what we call “health transformation”. There's work being done in Quebec on health and social services. What we want everywhere, without imposing a model, is to say to the ones who want to take it up, “Let's do it.”
With regard to education, one thing that we've been doing is focusing on the funding formula because if you want to take over the education system, you need to make sure that you have a sufficient amount of money to manage it. We have been developing this formula, which was not easy, in co-development with first nations. It actually provides comparability with provinces, plus funding for some aspects that are not in the provincial formula. As soon as we have the funding formula, the funding, what we say to the first nation is, “Now do you want to take it and how?” MK becomes a model. It's not the only one. Some will say they're not ready to go that far. As you know, some nations would not necessarily work at this regional level, but others, of course, are looking at it.
We see it now becoming more and more evident. The First Nations Health Authority is inspiring people in northern Ontario and people in Quebec, but their solutions will probably be different at the end.
First nations are made up of 634 communities in Canada. I do not have the exact figures, but 98% of the money we invest in infrastructure is intended for reserves.
As for drinking water, Quebec is one of the best provinces for aboriginals. Quebec currently does not have a long-term drinking water advisory and has not had any in a long time.
We are now working hard to decrease the number of long-term and medium-term advisories, which are likely to become long-term advisories. Over the past two years, there have been 150 advisories, and we have set up projects to prevent the situation from deteriorating.
We are now putting in much more time to provide people with the training they need to take care of drinking water systems. For example, in Quebec, first nations have implemented an initiative called the “Eaulympiques”, which compensates people who take care of water processing and recognizes their work.
In Quebec, the gap between wages on and off reserve is smaller than in other provinces. We are figuring out how we can provide better funding for training. It should also be ensured that they have the necessary financial resources for long-term repairs.
Institutions are another key element to take into consideration. First nations are increasingly implementing water processing initiatives. In the Atlantic, for example, the authorities in charge of water have made proposals.
We are also considering the proposals of the First Nations Infrastructure Institute. We are looking into how we can create infrastructure that is not only based on a single community, but on intermediate parties, who are experts and aboriginals.
I have a couple of comments, and then some very basic questions.
To start, I'm pretty disappointed with the lack of mention of the Inuit and Métis in both of these presentations.
Eighty-five percent of my constituents are Inuk, and my colleague from the Bloc Québécois also has a lot of Inuit in her constituency. We continually see the lack of services for Inuit and Métis. It's hard to talk about things like training for maintaining water system infrastructure when that infrastructure isn't even there to begin with.
There is also a lot of inconsistency with the wording in the document. Sometimes it refers to “indigenous peoples”, and sometimes to “indigenous people”. Sometimes the word is capitalized; sometimes it's not. I would recommend going by the UN declaration and mimicking whatever wording is used there.
I would like to know from both departments how many individuals in each department are indigenous, and how many of those indigenous peoples are in actual leadership roles where decisions are being made.
Then in both departments, are there definitions for things like, what is reconciliation? What is reconciliation to the Department of Indigenous Services and Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs? How do both departments define a reserve, a first nation, an Inuit or Métis community?
I will leave it there for now.
First all, if we didn't reflect first nations, Inuit and Métis as much as you would have liked, I'm sorry. I must say, though, that if you look at the period since 2016, you see many initiatives that never existed before that are distinction-based, which before were only “first nations”. For example, we developed a first nation, Inuit and Métis housing strategy that for the first time included 10 years of funding for the Inuit organizations, as well as the Métis one.
The last budget also included a post-secondary education or PSE strategy that included specific funding dedicated to the Inuit as well as the Métis. We never had one that way before.
On Jordan's principle, we're working now with the Inuit with the child first initiative in the north. We also try to make sure that as much as possible the kids are getting services. This year we're starting and have already addressed 5,000 cases through this strategy.
We are thus really first nation-, Inuit- and Métis-focused, much more than we were before. That said, there's been traditionally a role for the federal government—this answers a bit your questions about reserves—that has been focused on first nations communities or first nations reserves.
The reason is that under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, the reserves are Indian land and are federal territory, basically. That's the way the lands that were provided to the first nations—or “Indians”, as it was written at the time.... It raised an issue of the fiduciary role and the responsibility that the federal government has.
There is also the fact that provinces, most of the time, don't fund infrastructure in those communities. Exceptionally they do, but most of the time they do not. The fed is directly there. That explains, or it's one of the reasons that a significant percentage of the budget would be dedicated to the first nations. It's not because we are not first nation-, Inuit- and Métis-focused per se. It's also because of this traditional, historic role that we have.
On the issue of the people in the department, as I mentioned before, 28% of my staff are indigenous. It's by far not enough. In terms of people in positions of authority, I don't know; I would need to find out. I need to also know exactly how I would define it. I can tell you, however, that we have among probably seven assistant deputy ministers three who are indigenous. At the director and DG level, we have some.
As I said before, however, it's actually more difficult at the executive level. I would be very frank with you: the most difficult issue is the language barrier. When you come to be in a position of managing people, the law says that you have to speak both official languages. This is an issue that we have. We're trying to make programs, as much as possible, for people to learn their French or English, but this is one of the challenges.
May I add to that, Mr. Chair, very quickly?
I take your point on the remarks.
There are a number of things that we're doing. Remembering that we are the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, there are a number of different angles. I will list a few that we're working on at the moment.
One important thing we're working on is devolution in Nunavut, which will have a significant impact on Inuit control of various conversations and regulatory decision-making in Nunavut through any one of a number of different structures.
We are in the process of resolving a number of the overlapping claims that come out of the Nunavut Final Agreement and that deal with other parts of overlaps into the Northwest Territories and Manitoba and other places.
The minister's mandate letter talks about responsibility for working on an Inuit Nunangat policy, which is something that the Prime Minister has tasked her with continuing to develop. That will obviously be of great significance to people not only in Nunavut but throughout the Arctic and the North.
The Arctic and northern policy framework document, while not specifically related to Inuit, will have a significant impact over time. A lot of work continues to be done on it, although the framework is out now. We think this is an important step.
Significant steps have been taken in nutrition north, which again is not specifically an Inuit program, but Natan Obed and others from ITK have had an awful lot to contribute to it. The harvesters grant that has been announced is a very important contribution to recognizing things that Inuit people have been saying for a considerable period of time and that we will do.
The final item that I would note, Mr. Chair, is the implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. It's obviously critical, and the department has significant responsibilities for it.
Mr. Watson, I'm glad you brought up the devolution agreement. I'm just looking at the minister's mandate letter to “Continue to work on the Nunavut Devolution Final Agreement”.
We all know it's been going on for the last 20 years. Some territories have had more success than others. Nunavut is still an outstanding...and it hasn't been finalized or, it sounds like, even come close.
That's my question: where are we? It's a policy that we've supported and we believe that it's key to the economic success of Nunavut and its people.
One reason it is current this week is the article titled, “No more protected areas until devolution, Nunavut premier tells Ottawa”, which states in part:
The Government of Nunavut won't support any new marine protected areas, or any other federal conservation areas in the territory, until after a devolution deal between Canada and Nunavut is completed, says Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq.
The reason this is a particularly sore spot for me, as a member of Parliament for northern B.C., is that we just saw a huge tract of land—700,000 hectares in northern B.C.—close with little to no consultation with the local indigenous and non-indigenous people in my area. We tried. We tried to have a seat at the table, to have some input. We said if they really wanted to see caribou populations increase, they needed to talk to us.
I understand. I can completely relate to the premier's concern about this, and that's my little statement there, you could say, but the question is, where is devolution at? If this is what's holding up so many things in Nunavut, where is devolution at, from your perspective today?
Thank you very much for being here and for your presentation. I'd just like start by telling you something, and then I want to ask you about it.
Maurina Beadle was a Mi'kmaq mother and a friend of mine from Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia. She's the woman who took Canada to court over Jordan's principle, and she won, in an effort to help her disabled son, Jeremy. Sadly, she died recently, but not before she made a huge impact on this country.
When Canada told her to place her young son Jeremy, who needed round-the-clock care, in an institution because of his high special needs while she recovered from a stroke, Maurina famously said, “No way!” Instead, she tried to get services through Jordan's principle, and her case landed in Federal Court, where a federal judge agreed that Canada had a duty to help pay for medical care for Jeremy at home.
The legal precedent foreshadowed the finding by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that sparked the delivery of over a quarter million in Jordan's principle services, and that was in 2016. She received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 in recognition of all of her work. I really miss her. She was an amazing woman.
I want to ask you about Jordan's principle. 's mandate letter includes a commitment to continue to fully implement Jordan's principle, and it was determined that we need a renewed approach. In 2016, the Government of Canada was told that the way it was looking after services for first nations children was discriminatory.
Can you tell the committee more about what the government is now doing to ensure the continued proper implementation of Jordan's principle?
We have put in place everything needed to make sure that we are able to respond quickly to any demands. As you know, in many cases we have 48 hours, for example, to respond. This means that the number of demands is skyrocketing, which is good. This proves there's a gap, and the gap needs to be addressed. We are probably now at more than $500 million this year on Jordan's principle. I suspect it's going to continue to grow.
I think that, for us, what is needed now is a discussion with first nations on how to do it in a sustainable way. I'm not talking about funding. I'm talking more about the way we do that, because at the moment we respond to demands. We don't anticipate the demand. If you have, for example, a problem at school, and kids need breakfast in the morning, it's not about program for providing breakfast, but a list of names for whom I have a decision to make to provide breakfast.
When we see those gaps now, more and more, I think that phase two would be engaging with first nations on a sustainable way of doing it and making sure that we're not just responding to the gaps, but actually addressing the gaps in terms of services. For me, that will be the most important thing with Jordan's principle over the next few years.
I would say that we're discovering it as we go, not because we didn't know when we saw it ramping up, but it continues to ramp up, and I think, like all partners, we'll discover at the end what exactly should be the way to address it.
Most of the demands now are community demands. They're group demands. They're not necessarily individual. We still have significant numbers of individuals, which is quite demanding, but more and more, what you see are communities or groups coming and saying that they need funding for mental health to address the needs of so many kids.
I thank the witnesses for joining us today.
My first question is for Mr. Watson.
It's about progress. You stated that five years ago there were only discussions going on in communities in three regions, and today there are active discussions. With respect to the boil water advisories, to take one example, if you use broad strokes we're about halfway there, as we know. Oftentimes, the first half an objective is the easier half of an objective—I'll use an analogy of a race—so perhaps the second half of the remaining objective will be more difficult.
My first question is—and I'll ask you both—what is your strategy for accomplishing the second, potentially more difficult, half of that very significant undertaking?
My second question is for Monsieur Tremblay. It is around power in indigenous communities. As we all know, many communities continue to rely on diesel-fuelled power as a primary energy source. We've heard from many communities that this is becoming increasingly challenging as the impacts of climate change affect their ability to access diesel, as well as the cost.
Can you update this committee on the work that your government is doing to support a transition to clean, renewable and reliable energy in the context of a climate change strategy and energy security in indigenous communities?
On the agreements, first of all, we've been able to convince people that there's something worth talking about. This was one of the major steps in what we call the right to recognition table, or RIRSD.
For 30 years, we said to people that if they wanted to talk about anything related to rights, they had to talk about everything. That was a comprehensive claims process. If they only wanted to talk about child and family services, we said they had to talk about policing, administration of justice and everything else, or that would be the end.
We're able to say now that if they want to talk about just two or three of these things, we will do that. One of the other things that was a significant change is we had said that once you lock it down, you never get to open it up again, period. A lot of first nations, Métis people and Inuit people found that very difficult. They wondered how they would know what might make sense in 70 years from now or a hundred years from now. Those changes have led to many people, who sat on the sidelines before, saying that they'd now like to talk to us about the things that they want to talk to us about in the knowledge it's not locked down forever.
I think it will fall upon us in government, in particular, to demonstrate that we actually reach agreements. I think that the way we implement our existing agreements will cause people to watch and see if this makes sense and once the federal government signs, they'll actually deliver on these things.
I think that we need to make sure that we just continue to demonstrate our willingness to have these conversations and, most importantly, to demonstrate that they can be real in the lives of communities because they have many things going on. A theoretical conversation doesn't accomplish anything. It's not going to be something they will invest a lot in. They want to see practical results.
Jordan's principle was first developed for first nations on-reserve, and the reason the federal government was asked to jump in was that we were seen as the responsible jurisdiction.
Normally, Jordan's principle applies to all jurisdictions. Jordan's principle says that whoever you are, when you get the call, you should act, and not question whether you have or don't have the jurisdiction. So it also applies to the provinces. You may want to remind them.
For Inuit, we're working with ITK on the child first initiative in the north. We're working with them on ways to address the needs of the Inuit kids in the north. It is not necessarily Jordan's principle, which is the way we apply it with first nations. It is an initiative that is more dedicated to the Inuit.
In some ways, Jordan's principle gives back authorities to the federal government, which I'm not sure is necessarily where we want to go in the long-term, because it implies that people should call the federal government when a decision has to be made. It's not necessarily totally aligned with self-government, so we need to make sure that when we implement Jordan's principle, we respect the fact that first nations, Inuit, and Métis want to make those decisions for themselves. That, for me, is the next step for Jordan's principle. It includes the Inuit, because they have, as you know, an agreement.
Thank you very much for the question. I suspect my colleague, Mr. Tremblay, particularly appreciates it being directed my way.
One thing that is very different now is that we sat down and talked with those indigenous governments that have been delivering the things we agreed upon for a considerable period of time. We actually looked at the demands that they had, the things that we had agreed to and the financing that was available. It was concluded that there was a significant gap.
These treaties and these agreements aren't things that we simply hand over to somebody else to go and they live on their own in their own life. These are agreements where we all agree that the best way for those citizens to move forward on the issues that are important to them and their community are managed by an indigenous government. We're all interested in that success, just as we are interested in the success of all Canadians. Making sure there was the right amount of funding to do those things and the right ability to have the choices to decide that we needed to invest a bit more here rather than somewhere else—recognizing that each community was a little bit different and the circumstances they faced would vary, not only from community to community, but over time in any given community—was one of the very important pieces.
Another piece that was important, as I mentioned in my remarks, was on the own-source revenue. It turns out that if you go as a government to those who you might raising revenue from and say that you're going to take some money from them, but it will actually achieve nothing at all other than the same amount of funding that was previously available, it doesn't make you very popular in that conversation. It doesn't really incent the desire to develop those revenues and to add to get better programs and services.
To me, that was another important part of that conversation. It incented those governments to actually look at opportunities to develop revenue and to bring those revenues into the services that they were providing and to improve them for everyone.
Before I was elected, I had 10 years of representing the hereditary chiefs in the Atlantic, the Mi'kmaw community. I'm not quite sure what the motion speaks to, but in terms of hereditary chiefs, there are a number in Canada that are still active.
One of the things, though, I would caution about.... I would like to see the text and have a thorough debate on what we're including in this, because we could have a deep dive into the history of hereditary chiefs, hereditary structures, and how colonization has changed that over the years, but I don't think we would be any closer to addressing the issue.
My discussions with the national chief and the regional chief from B.C., as well as some of the hereditary chiefs, were concerned with the frustration and the lack of implementation of treaty and inherent rights.
One of the things I've proposed is looking at a mechanism by which we can resolve that. We have a federal government that has an attorney general that represents their rights. We have a provincial government that has an attorney general that represents their rights. The indigenous people don't have that right now.
What has been called for by AFN and by treaty commissioners across Canada is a large look at what we can do to create a mechanism to create implementation and awareness of treaties and inherent rights.
This is something we have put in the treaty commission that we have already passed. I think that one of the things that would serve this committee well is, as part of that treaty commission discussion, to ensure that we are also calling hereditary chiefs and hearing from them on the basis of seeking solutions, rather than just looking at the history and creating more information about these groups.