I call to order this meeting of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee.
We always begin with the acknowledgement of the traditional territories. In Ottawa, that would be the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. Where I'm sitting, it would be Anishinabe, Haudenosaunee and Chonnonton, or neutral first nations.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and the motion adopted on October 27, 2020, the committee is continuing its study of food security in northern communities.
I would like to briefly mention the technical issues. You may speak and listen in the official language of your choice. At the bottom of the screen, using the little globe, select the language you wish to speak and listen to. That could be floor, English or French.
When speaking, ensure that your video is turned on. Please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute. Once again, it's important that we conduct this carefully, because the meetings to be officially considered have to be properly translated in both official languages.
With us today, by video conference for one hour, are the following three witnesses: National Chief Elmer St. Pierre from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples; Grand Chief Garrison Settee; and Lori Nikkel, the chief executive officer of Second Harvest.
Thank you all for taking the time to be with us. You have up to six minutes for your opening statement, and then we'll move to questions.
National Chief Elmer St. Pierre, please go ahead.
Thank you for the invitation to speak, Bob and the members of the committee.
As you're well aware, my name is Elmer St. Pierre, and I'm the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, CAP.
I'd like to acknowledge being on the traditional, unceded territory of the Mohawk people.
CAP has been a federal organization of the NIOs and represents off-reserve status and non-status Indians, Métis and southern Inuit. This year we celebrate our 50-year anniversary, and we're very proud that we were able to pass the 50 years the way the economy and everything has been going.
Food security was a top priority for CAP and the PTOs' COVID response. Problems with food security existed long before. Over the last year, CAP and the PTOs helped thousands of households across Canada to access food. We provided food hampers, transportation and access to traditional foods. We reached indigenous families in small towns and large cities, especially in the north.
We are thankful for the COVID response funding received, but COVID funding is temporary, and a gap will exist after it is gone. Even when food is available, families need incomes to buy it. One of our members is in Labrador, led by President Todd Russell. They face high food prices, a lack of jobs and a lack of incomes. They are denied the right to access food and resources on their own land—resources like fishing and hunting for food, forestry for heat and fuel. Food is the centre of cultural events and heritage. This is a matter of survival and culture. Only one of Labrador's communities, Black Tickle, is eligible for nutrition north. Many more need help but are denied.
The communities need basic amenities like water, heat, sewage systems and reliable roads. This is the kind of fight for basic equality and essential...that we have been dealing with for decades. CAP and our PTOs are not part of the talks around infrastructure and rights. Inclusion and rights can help build food security, jobs and economics.
The COVID funding example shows that we can offer solutions when we are included. Our communities need support for proper infrastructure. We need to consult with our communities, the same as you do with the AFN, MNC and ITK. Include us, and we can offer solutions. The Constitution does not specify organizations to consult, only that the government needs to consult Indians, Inuit and Métis. We can do that. The Daniels decision decided once and for all that our people are Indians under the Constitution. We are ready to solve these issues together.
At this time, I'd like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to everybody. I'm looking forward to questions.
Thank you to the esteemed members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs for inviting Second Harvest Canada to provide some remarks.
Second Harvest is by no means an expert in the complex and multi-faceted challenges of northern and indigenous food security. What we can tell you is that food security or food insecurity is an outcome of poverty, and food security will only be possible when there are systems and supports in place for people to be able to access the food, housing and other essentials they need, when they need them, without the need for charitable organizations like mine. In the interim, it's imperative we get healthy food to communities at no cost to them.
For those of you unfamiliar with Second Harvest, we're the largest food rescue charity in the country. We're unique in that we redistribute primarily perishable food, and we work at the intersection of hunger relief and environmental protection.
We do this because in Canada 58% of all the food produced is lost or wasted, including 11.2 million metric tonnes of surplus food that could easily be rescued and redistributed. That's enough food to feed every Canadian for five months.
At Second Harvest we create systems to redirect that food to charities, non-profits and northern and indigenous communities. We do this with technology as well as trucks, trains, boats and planes to ensure that this surplus food stays out of landfill where it releases greenhouse gases, like methane, and directly contributes to the climate crisis.
In Canada, there are over 60,000 charities, non-profits and indigenous organizations that use food in their programs. As we are all aware, northern and indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by food insecurity and by climate change.
We have heard that in Fort Smith people have used boats to hunt moose along Slave River for generations, but wet weather and a short spring created so much water higher up in the woods that moose were not walking along the river this fall, which impacted the hunt and the food supply.
Food insecurity is only going to get worse as many communities depend on ice roads for transporting crucial supplies. With the increasing incidence of winter road closures, and reduced load weight limits, there are higher costs for delivering food.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Second Harvest created the Food Rescue Canadian Alliance. This was a national collaboration of industry, government, NGOs and indigenous communities. Our mandate was simply to identify where there would be high volumes of surplus food across the supply chain, and to connect it with the communities that had an increased demand for food.
The indigenous working group came together in an effort to support non-indigenous food relief organizations like mine to distribute food and funds meaningfully to address the heightened food insecurity concerns of many, but especially indigenous, rural and remote communities.
Since then, Second Harvest has led several northern projects, including a grocery gift card program where we leverage funding from the Sprott Foundation to provide over $4.5 million in grocery gift cards with grocers like the Northern Store. The Sprott Foundation has provided over $21 million in COVID relief to food and housing causes.
We offer grants, up to $20,000, through the federal government's emergency food security fund. We ensured our application process was flexible and accessible to northern and indigenous communities, which resulted in the disbursement of about $2.7 million.
Additionally, through the federal government's surplus food rescue program, of which we are strong advocates, we were able to source, process and deliver about two million pounds of fresh, healthy, free food to communities that included fish, chicken, bison and frozen vegetables.
As the government subsidies conclude, we know how critical it is for us to continue to provide these services to communities. However, the logistical infrastructure necessary to get food to the many remote and isolated communities is prohibitively expensive, and a serious contributor to food insecurity.
In the Northwest Territories alone, we all know 33 communities cover one million square kilometres of land, which makes getting good healthy food at a decent price difficult to say the least.
For example, in Aklavik, we shipped a container of 20 skids of mostly meat to a community of about 590 people. The cost was over $85,000 for one shipment. Transporting perishable healthy food is especially complex and expensive.
However, we are committed to ensuring this surplus food will reach the communities that want the food. This is achievable with government support and philanthropic gifts for transportation like the one we received through the Slaight Family Foundation, in combination with amazing logistic partners, including Arctic Co-operatives Limited, Arctic Consultants and Uber Freight, along with essential collaboration with territorial and indigenous government representatives, communities and organizations.
Without a doubt, these challenges existed long before the pandemic, and although nutrition north has attempted to tackle rising food costs, statistics have continued to expose the food insecurity faced by communities, which is increasing in some communities by up to 80%.
We believe there is an opportunity for investment in an indigenous-led organization that can address and mobilize partners such as Second Harvest. There is also an opportunity to examine what strategies have worked, because as we all know, food insecurity is a serious public health issue, and one solution will not work in every community.
We also need audacious leadership and collaboration to support indigenous-led solutions to decrease and ultimately eradicate food insecurity and poverty in northern and indigenous communities.
I want to thank you for providing Second Harvest Canada an opportunity to speak. I would be happy to answer any questions.
It is indeed my honour to be before the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. My name is Garrison Settee. I'm Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. It's an organization of northern Manitoba chiefs. I bring greetings on behalf of the 26 first nations that I represent. Our territory covers two-thirds of the province of Manitoba. It's a very large territory.
We have presented numerous times in front the House of Commons committees on various issues that affect our member first nations. Today, we appear before this committee to present on food security generally—not specific to the COVID global pandemic that we currently face. However, we are open to questions about the impacts of the pandemic upon our first nations.
In May of 2012, we made a submission to the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food. I now take this opportunity to provide the context on the food security issues that we face in our north, in MKO first nations. We assert that the MKO first nations express the right to food as food sovereignty, which the MKO first nations and the United Nations both recognize as a concept that is distinctly different from the concept of food security.
Food sovereignty speaks to the rights of the MKO first nations to sustainably meet our food needs in accordance with our customary food preferences and harvesting practices from our traditional territories.
I just wanted to add, before this committee, that I'm cognizant always of the fact that prior to colonization we never had to worry about food sovereignty or food security because our cultures maintained and sustained us since time immemorial. However, today, as we examine the status and state of our first nations when it comes to food security, when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to food, that is food security, but that is not the reality in which we live. It is not.
Food insecurity presents a particular serious and growing challenge in Canada's indigenous communities. There's a lot of evidence that food insecurity among northern first nations is a growing problem. It has always been a problem, but it's a growing problem that requires urgent attention to address and mitigate the serious impacts. The health and well-being of our people are in jeopardy. They're being threatened because of food insecurity. We assert that food security is encompassed within our assertion of food sovereignty.
Food insecurity is particularly concerning as it pertains to remote, isolated communities. We have 15 communities that require a winter ice road. That's how they get their food and their supplies. That door is only open three months out of the year. With climate change, that is now being threatened. The ability to access food is limited. They have a two-month opportunity, providing that the climate is cold that the roads can be used.
There are a lot of problems associated with food access with our fly-in, remote communities in our north. Limited selection of perishable foods, high food prices, escalating transportation costs, the uncertainty of travel on winter ice roads, high poverty rates and the declining use of our traditional foods have impacted food security.
We engage with other first nations to come up with plans on how we can address this. For example, community-based food action is one possible response to tackle food insecurity, alongside business activities, government programs and social policy. We have to get to the root problem of food insecurity in first nations in northern Manitoba. There must be consideration given to the empowerment and the resourcing of the first nations governments we have in our north.
The unilateral inclusion of Indians by the Crown in the first Constitution of Canada places them as wards of the state, and created a system of dependency, which should not exist. We should be emancipated and be a sovereign people able to determine our own destiny when it comes to food sovereignty. We should be able to move within our sphere to address our needs according to our understanding, because we know our territory.
I want to remind the standing committee that many times in my discussions with governments I said many decisions are made on our behalf without our inclusion, and sometimes those decisions are detrimental to the well-being of our indigenous first nations. So we need to continue to engage with you so that we can make decisions that will help our people instead of bringing harm to them.
The will and actions of Canada are required to make the rightful empowerment and resourcing of first nations a reality as it relates to food security. There is a treaty history amongst our nations, our people and the government. The upholding of these treaties will change the status quo. It will alter the status quo of indigenous people when these treaties are honoured.
We own up to our responsibilities to care for our earth, and our ancestors were assured food security in days that have gone by. Today we can continue to perpetuate the needs of life to our future generations. First nations and Canada need to uphold the true spirit and intent of the treaties and share the empowerment in resourcing of our ways of life, including food sovereignty.
We came here to present that there's a difference between food security and food sovereignty. We must—
At the beginning of COVID, because of the limited supply of products for first nations, the community of Lac Brochet started to have a community fridge where it stored fish and game, so that people could come and just access that in the community.
That was a good way to start, because traditionally, that is how things were done. When you killed a moose, it was not your moose, it was the community's moose. The community returned to that practice, and it helped sustain it throughout that rough part of not having the stores stocked.
That is a good way of dealing with that. If we can have that continue, perpetuate that in a healthy way, and have it monitored, I think that is a way to go.
It provides therapy for young people, because when they do these things, it brings healing and calmness to their spirits and minds. That's why we have such a high rate of suicide, because they don't have access to the land. The land heals when we are allowed to exercise our rights. We're going to have fewer mental and emotional problems with our first nations, in a nutshell.
What's happening in the north with CAP.... We have what we call PTOs, which are members of CAP on our board of directors. We have three of them up in the northern area, and we try to reach out as much as we can.
A lot of it has to do with transportation. We try to get non-perishable goods because one of the big things in the northern area is your fruits and your vegetables.
As well, with regard to our grassroots people, we don't have the sources to be able hunt and fish and store away for the winter months because the federal government doesn't recognize us as people to be able to do that.
With the COVID-19 funding, we struggle, and we do our best. We have some great people who help. In areas that we can get to, we help out and make sure they get enough food that will last them for a month. Then if they need—well, I know they need—help later, we do it all over again.
Food security is a big problem, but there has to be a way of working it out. I've listened to Ms. Nikkel and the grand chief. It may be stretching it a little bit far, but maybe we should be looking at the army. They have helicopters. They have stuff sitting around not doing anything. Maybe we should look at, not employing them, but giving them a routine what-do-you-call-it, where they go out and recruit and load the helicopters up with food for all the communities.
Yes, we have our boys and women overseas, but, you know, we still have people here. Let's use their helicopters. Let that be part of their contribution to this pandemic. Let each one of us, as organizations, put in some money. Let's say for CAP, for instance, with our PTOs in the northern area. Let's throw in a couple of hundred thousand dollars and the same with the grand chief and maybe with Ms. Nikkel as well—and not just them but MNC, the Assembly of First Nations, and ITK. If everybody throws a big pot of money in there and says, “Okay, we're going to deliver this, and it's going to be the army that does the delivery....”
Now for the infrastructure, we may have to have the government go in and build helicopter pads or clear out a spot where these big helicopters can land.
I've been thinking about this for awhile since the northern people are having so much trouble. You know, it's an idea.
As MPs, you could maybe take that up the ladder and say, “Listen. This is what we're hearing. You know, these helicopters, they can fly anywhere in just about any kind of weather. Let's put them to use.”
I'm just going to start by saying that I am, again, not an expert in this at all. We work with partners and just listen to what they need.
Second Harvest is just opt in. We have food. Whoever wants it can have it, and it's perishable.
The indigenous working group was led by Joseph LeBlanc and Elisa Levi, who have worked in food systems in indigenous communities for many years. What kept popping up was this lack of centralization. Where is this one place, this indigenous-led place, where we could say, “Okay, do you have it covered? Where are all the places we can send it?” I'm not even sure if that's possible, but I know that that was a huge barrier in the beginning. We've created systems to ensure that we could get food places, but we're doing the best we can without actually knowing this centralized place to help us get food.
As soon as you said to bring in the military, I thought, “That's brilliant. Oh my gosh, of course,” because we have the food; it is really just the transportation and understanding where the needs are—and understanding also the complexity of the cold chain.
The whole thing is we're called in at the last minute of any consultation talks and we're not at the lead with the other NIOs. To say that we are one of the NIOs...they call us on at the last minute, and all of a sudden everything that's being talked about is going to hit the floor by the end of the evening, and we have a two-to-three-minute talk on anything and everything.
I'm glad that Bob included us in this, and I think there was one other under COVID that Bob invited us to and we were able to talk. With some of the big things that we were invited to it went like this: “Your mike shut off.” “Your video shut off.” “Sit in the corner and be quiet. You can all listen, and that's it.”
But things are slowly picking up, and, like I said, we have champions like Bob and , and yourself, Rachel, making sure that CAP has a voice. We can help out. A prime example is when Ms. Nikkel said, who would have thought of the army? Let's put them on a training base and ship food all over northern Ontario. Wherever we can't get by vehicle, and even with the ice roads, as bad as they are getting to be, the helicopters can fly. We have enough helicopters probably right across Canada so that they wouldn't have to fly.... I imagine in Manitoba, as a prime example—up in northern Ontario, the same thing—there must be helicopters close by. We just have to work together with Ms. Nikkel to be able to pick up the food—and the army can do that, too, because they have trucks—bring it to the helicopters, and say, “Okay, guys, you're heading up, you know, this way, and you're going up into northern Quebec, northern Manitoba.” They're there. We have army guys. I'm not saying they're sitting around doing nothing, but let's get them out there and train them.
I want to thank our guests for joining us today. Normally we get to fly you all into Ottawa and see you in person. I apologize for that not being the case today. Nonetheless, here we are.
Mr. Settee and Mr. St. Pierre, you mentioned a bunch of the things that are perhaps going in the wrong direction when it comes to food security.
We heard that there are more cattle in the Yukon than ever before. They're starting to grow their own grain and cereal crops there, as well. I understand that the Yukon's mountainous valleys grow things quite well compared to the Canadian Shield, so I don't expect to be grain farming in northern Manitoba anytime soon. Nonetheless, livestock and animals, the harvest of caribou and things like that, do happen in your community.
One thing that hasn't been mentioned is population growth. I've been to Iqaluit and visited with Inuit people. They tell me that population is another major food problem. Not only is food tough to get, but their population has gone, over the last 50 years, from about 14,000 Inuit to about 140,000 Inuit.
I'm wondering whether that is a similar scenario where you're from.
Hopefully I won't get interrupted again. Sorry about that folks. My Internet became unplugged.
Ms. Nikkel, first of all I just want to say thank you so much for all the work you're doing for Second Harvest. It's an amazing organization. You've definitely helped so many people across the country including in my riding of Cumberland—Colchester here in Nova Scotia. I was very glad to receive communications from you saying that you provided 2,789 kilograms of food, a donation value of $17,453 and $65,800 in federal funding to support the emergency food access needs for seven different non-profit and charitable organizations in my riding. I'm really grateful.
Also, I know that you are concerned about the surplus food rescue program, which has done so much good work. You would like to see the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada continue to invest in this program.
Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit for us, please?