I call this meeting to order with the acknowledgement that in Ottawa we are meeting on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people. Here in Hamilton, we have the Anishinabe and Haudenosaunee. It's often said that we are also on the territory of the Neutrals. That's an incorrect term, as is Attawandaron. It's a descriptive term for the way they speak their language. The name of that nation was Chonnonton.
Having said that, the committee is meeting to consider the supplementary estimates (A), 2021-22.
To ensure an orderly meeting, participants, please make sure that you have the language selected via the interpretation globe at the bottom of your screen. You can change languages back and forth when speaking, but select one to hear the translation.
With us today, virtually, for the first hour are the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett; and the Minister of Northern Affairs, Dan Vandal. They're accompanied by the following senior officials: Paula Isaak, associate deputy minister; Serge Beaudoin, assistant deputy minister; Martin Reiher, assistant deputy minister; Chantal Marin-Comeau, director general; and Annie Boudreau, chief of finances, and also the results and delivery officer.
Is that the whole list? That's quite a long group. I think so, though we're awaiting Deputy Minister Quan-Watson.
With that, let me welcome everybody.
I open up the floor, Minister Bennett, for your opening remarks.
: Kwe kwe
I am speaking to you today from the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. I also wish to honour the waters they paddled and their moccasins which walked these lands.
I am joining you along with my colleague, the , and we are supported by our deputy minister, Daniel Watson, and his team.
While I am appearing today on my department’s 2021-2022 supplementary estimates (A), it is also at a difficult time for indigenous communities, and all Canadians.
We are all deeply heartbroken at the discovery of the unmarked remains of children at the former Kamloops residential school. This has shocked and disturbed the nation. For indigenous people across the country, these findings are deeply painful and traumatizing, but for them not as surprising, as this was forecast. These have been the stories and the “knowings” for a very long time. For six years the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard these hard truths, along with many others, during their national and regional reconciliation gatherings. These revelations have reopened many wounds and renewed a necessary conversation on the role of residential schools, those responsible, and how as a country we can move forward together.
We are working with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and our partners, such as the B.C. First Nations Health Authority, to provide the resources and the supports needed, as determined by the community. I have spoken with Kúkpi7 Casimir, most recently on Monday night, and her leadership and strength have been exemplary. We have offered support for healing, mental health supports, security and whatever she needs to support her community now, as well as support for research, archaeological expertise and commemoration going forward.
In memory of all of the children who went missing, and in support of their grieving families and communities, we provided $33.8 million through budget 2019 to implement TRC calls to action 72 to 76.
To support implementing calls to action 72 and 73, we have funded the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to develop and maintain the national residential school student death register and establish an online registry of residential school cemeteries.
In keeping with the principles laid out in call to action 76, after the passage of budget 2019 we engaged with communities to ensure that any program to deliver the funds to support calls to action 74 and 75 was designed in a way to meet their needs, be flexible enough to support community-led approaches and respect community protocols.
Based on what we heard, we are currently providing funding, on an urgent basis, to support indigenous-led, community-based, survivor-centric and culturally sensitive investigations of these burial sites. We are actively reaching out to indigenous communities to work with them on how they can access the $27 million of funding being delivered to support them in finding their lost children. Communities know what they need. Our government will be there to support their way forward.
In discussing the supplementary estimates (A), we know that the money is there to heal past wrongs, support self-determination and advance reconciliation with first nations, Inuit and Métis people. They reflect a net increase of $997 million, which includes the $136.4 million in new funding and $868.2 million in re-profiled funding. The re-profiled funding in these estimates will preserve funding for the ongoing implementation of the Federal Indian Day Schools Settlement Agreement and the sixties scoop settlement. As of May 31, 2021, of more than 113,000 claims received under the Federal Indian Day Schools Settlement Agreement, over 75,000 survivors have received payment of individual compensation. While COVID-19 has delayed the implementation of the Sixties Scoop Settlement Agreement, approximately 15,000 interim payments of $21,000 have been paid. These supplementary estimates will preserve the funding to complete the individual compensation, which should be determined later in the fiscal year.
These supplementary estimates also include funding to support Inuit housing, Tŝilhqot’in community priorities through their pathway agreement, implementation of the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement and many other important measures to support reconciliation.
We have provided you with a comprehensive deck on the supplementary estimates (A). I look forward to providing further details through your questions.
Meegwetch. Nakurmiik. Marsi. Thank you.
Tansi. Boozhoo. Good morning and hello.
First I want to acknowledge that I'm speaking to you from my office here in Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, in the city of Winnipeg, the homeland of the Métis nation and Treaty 1 territory.
This committee meeting comes at a time when our nation is grieving. The remains of the 215 children buried at the Kamloops Indian residential school sent shockwaves through our country. It has reignited a very important conversation and brought it back to the national consciousness.
I want to be very clear, reconciliation and the lives and well-being of indigenous peoples never stray from my mind. This is my focus and motivation as a minister and member of Parliament.
I am a proud citizen of the Métis Nation. I am honoured to live in and represent the constituency of Saint Boniface–Saint Vital. Louis Riel, who was born in Saint-Boniface and was laid to rest there, was never granted the same privilege that I am being granted. Louis Riel was democratically elected as a member of Parliament for the constituency of Provencher, not on one or two occasions but on three occasions, yet he was never allowed to rightfully take his seat in the House.
The opportunities that I have been granted are some that my ancestors would never have believed possible. I work every day with this knowledge; it drives and motivates my work.
As Minister of Northern Affairs, I strive to listen to northerners to ensure that their needs and priorities drive my department's work. A year and a half ago, when I was appointed minister, I stated that decisions for the north would no longer be made in Ottawa boardrooms. My team and I remain committed to that vision. We work for the north and with the north. That's why the Arctic and northern policy framework is so important to our combined work together.
The investments my department is seeking through supplementary estimates (A) are driven by this approach, focusing on the responses to COVID-19, as well as housing and infrastructure needs. The pandemic has highlighted what people have known for far too long, which is that indigenous peoples and northern communities have been underserved. Further, we have recently been reminded of the consequences of colonialism for indigenous peoples and communities.
We know that in Canada's north, food prices can be significantly higher than in the rest of Canada. Additional factors, such as geographic isolation, make northerners particularly at risk for food insecurity. This vulnerability has only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, our government provided an additional $25 million to Nutrition North Canada to increase subsidy rates on nutritious food and essential hygiene items. Our government also introduced the harvesters support grant, which was co-developed with Inuit partners to help with costs related to hunting and harvesting, and to create greater access to traditional country foods. Building on this, and to address the ongoing concerns, the estimates in front of you provide $20 million in funding to maintain Nutrition North Canada measures introduced in April 2020.
These supplementary estimates also provide $50 million in 2021-22 for the Governments of Northwest Territories and Nunavut. There is $25 million each to respond to their short-term critical housing needs. I view these as down payments on the housing situation in the north. The need is clear and we are committed to closing the unacceptable gap that exists in the north. These amounts are intended to address immediate and pressing housing needs this year.
We recognize that more investment is required. From budget 2021, northerners will also benefit from the $2.5 billion in new funding through the national housing strategy, delivered by CMHC across Canada, and the $4.3 billion in new funding in distinctions-based indigenous infrastructure, which can include housing.
Mr. Chair, as I stated before, reconciliation is always at the forefront of my mind as minister. I'm working toward a renewed relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples, including through the Inuit-Crown partnership committee, that respects constitutionally guaranteed rights and is based on collaboration and co-operation.
I want to thank you again for this opportunity to meet with you virtually today.
I welcome your questions.
Thank you. Meegwetch.
: Kwe kwe
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that in Ottawa, I'm on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
First and foremost, I do want to say a few words for the communities, families and friends impacted by the tragic news of the children whose remains were recently found at the former Kamloops residential school located on the traditional territory of the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc people.
I'd like to thank the members for their continued advocacy and echoing indigenous voices here in Parliament.
While this discovery has shocked and disturbed the nation, for indigenous peoples across the country, these findings are deeply painful, traumatizing and triggering, although they are not surprising, particularly for the indigenous peoples who have known this truth for far too long.
Our thoughts remain with the families and communities impacted not only by this discovery but by the residential school system. It is essential that we respect and continue to respect the privacy, space and mourning period of those communities that are collecting their thoughts and putting together their protocols as to how to honour these children.
We recognize that there is a continuing need for psychological wellness services associated with childhood and intergenerational trauma. We will continue to work with our partners and the communities, first and foremost to ensure adequate access to appropriate services.
The survivors and the families affected by the indigenous residential schools system have access, among other things, to the national Indian residential schools crisis line if they need it. The Indian residential schools resolution health support program also offers access to elders, to traditional healers and to other appropriate forms of cultural and emotional support, as well as to professional mental health counselling.
In addition, all indigenous peoples can access the hope for wellness help line, online or by phone, to get help. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are offering additional support so that indigenous communities can adapt and broaden mental health services.
We also recently announced $597.6 million over three years for a mental health and wellness strategy based, of course, on the distinct characteristics of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis Nation. The strategy includes continuing support for former residential schools students and their families. It will be based on existing competencies and will help to fill gaps and respond to the existing, emerging and future needs of indigenous communities.
I'm here today to answer your questions on the supplementary estimates (A) for 2021-22 and to provide you with an update on continuing efforts to confront the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. I will also answer any other questions that the committee chooses.
For this year, the total authority will be $18.9 billion, which reflects a net increase of $5.4 billion. This includes support for initiatives such as funding for COVID-19 responses, including, notably, $760.7 million for the indigenous community support fund that has been so welcomed, $64 million for the continuation of public health responses in indigenous communities and $332.8 million for indigenous communities affected by disruptions to their revenue due to COVID-19, which we announced, made official and launched yesterday.
The net increase for the supplementary estimates (A) also includes $1.2 billion for out-of-court settlements to advance Canada's overall commitment to reconciliation by paving the way to a more respectful and constructive relationship with indigenous peoples.
It also includes $1.1 billion for child and family services to support a proactive agreement on a non-compliance motion before the CHRT. The funding is crucial. Since the CHRT issued its first order for Canada to cease its discriminatory practices in 2016, we have been working with first nations leaders and partners to implement the tribunal's orders, and we are in compliance. The $1.1 billion will go to communities that are engaged in activities that prevent the apprehension of kids and contribute to the transformation of the system that has been so broken.
Let me be clear once again. We share the same goal: First nations children historically harmed by the child welfare system will receive fair, just and equitable compensation. The government is not questioning or challenging the notion that compensation should be awarded to first nations children who were harmed by the historical discrimination and underfunding of the child welfare system. The question is not whether we compensate; it is a question of doing so in a way that is fair, equitable and inclusive of those directly impacted.
To this end, we have already consented to certification of the consolidated class action filed in the Federal Court by the Assembly of First Nations and Councillor Xavier Moushoom regarding the same children who were harmed by the system, as contemplated by the CHRT. Furthermore, we are currently in mediation with the partners, but as is set out in the mediation agreement, those discussions will remain confidential out of respect.
We remain committed to providing first nations children access to the necessary supports and services in partnership with indigenous peoples. To that effect, it's important to note that 820,000 claims under Jordan's principle have been processed since 2016, which represents close to $2 billion in funding.
Most notably, in January 2020, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families came into force. It is key to this conversation in transforming the relationship, responding to the calls to action and setting a new way forward. Indigenous governments and communities have always had the inherent right to decide things that people like me take for granted; that is, what is best for their children, their families and their communities. The act provides a path for them to fully exercise and lift up that jurisdiction.
As a result of this work led by indigenous communities, two indigenous laws have now come into force under the federal law, the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations law in Ontario and the Cowessess First Nation Miyo Pimatisowin Act in Saskatchewan. In each of these communities, children will have greater opportunity to grow up and thrive immersed in their culture and surrounded by loved ones.
I will now move on to an update on COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, and still today, Indigenous Services Canada has been aware of the particular vulnerability of indigenous communities to the virus.
From the outset, we knew that immediate, decisive measures were necessary to protect the communities as best we could. Our absolute priority was the safety, health and well-being of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis.
However, without the dedication and determination of all of the leaders of those communities, none of that would have been possible. I want to thank them for their continuous work over the last year, in particular in encouraging the members of their communities to get vaccinated.
With respect to vaccine roll-out, as of June 7, 687 indigenous communities had campaigns underway. In total, that corresponds to 540,581 doses administered, including first and second doses.
This means that 41% of eligible people aged 12 and over in the communities or living in the territories have received two doses of the vaccine. This is crucial in the communities where the population is predominantly young.
In addition, 80% of people have received a first dose, and if we consider those aged 12 and over, we are talking about 72%. So this is tremendous progress.
With respect to the number of cases, as of June 9, in First Nations communities, we are aware of 761 active cases, which is, fortunately, a decline from the previous week. That brings us now to just about 30,568 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 29,459 people have recovered, and, tragically, 348 others have died.
I see that perhaps that you're flagging me, Bob, or do I have a couple of minutes?
That's absolutely not what I said.
First nations lead. They make the decisions and the federal government will be there. This isn't equivocation. This is how the relationship is built.
Obviously, the last two weeks have focused people's minds on this, but this is something that indigenous communities have known for decades. In the case of Kamloops, they've been working on it, as Minister Bennett said, for over two decades.
We'll continue with communities. Some communities have reached out, MP Viersen, and they want to accelerate their searches. Other communities have said they are not ready. At the same time, they're always worried about being left behind and not having a financial commitment.
If ever you have the honour of your party coming into power, I hope you will undertake to fund those adequately, as well as you, yourself, complete the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action as they regard the federal government. This is something that all stripes and parties need to be dedicated to.
Despite the great actions of some of your members who are sitting on this committee today, I haven't seen that as a group in your party.
Yes, and thanks for that comment, MP Battiste. Those names were in the TRC report, but I thought, given the context, they should be read into the record of the House of Commons so that they will always be remembered. I think there are more names to come, and that's, I think, what's gripped the entire country, including your community, and really triggered a number of people. Some of the most poignant testimony I've heard has been from those people who are not prepared to speak about these things. They haven't cried since they were 15. It's a recurring theme that I've heard when communities reach out and say they are not ready for this, but will we be there when they are? The answer is yes, and for those who are ready and who want to accelerate things, we will be there.
What we haven't gauged completely,...although my team that's here today is reaching out to communities to get a sense of what mental health needs are. Obviously, there are the mental health needs that I highlighted in my introduction, and obviously a phone line, as important as it is, is not sufficient. This is magnified as well by what we've seen through COVID, which is an increased stress on indigenous communities' mental health.
One of the budget items that was announced in budget 2021 was over $500 million for mental health supports. We don't do very well as a government or as a country in talking about mental health. Some of us who are probably best to speak about it don't, and those who are not so good do, and I'm the latter, but that is my job. I think it is important to recognize that everyone in the country is hurting, and even long after some of the news stories have died down, people will remain hurt and triggered, along with feeling the effects of intergenerational trauma.
For the immediacy of the communities in question, we've deployed additional mental health supports and perimeter security, as you can imagine. We're also working with FNHA. As you know, it's first in class in B.C. and is doing some great work with health resources in communities.
The mental health support is yet to be fully understood and engaged as it relates to the particular events that have happened in the last two weeks, but we're getting a sense of that, and it is very important and again, magnified by COVID.
As you said, this is the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada plainly shows that there could be more than 3,000 or 4,000 persons who have disappeared. It could be considerably more, as Senator Sinclair recently said.
We will be here for the communities.
As I said in English, not all communities are ready. There are elders who have not yet shed tears since they were 15 years old, who are still going through their healing process. There are communities that want to speed things up, and for them, we will be there with financial support, obviously, among other things.
I can't subtract the role of the government of Quebec from the equation. I recently spoke with the minister, Mr. Lafrenière, with whom we have an excellent working relationship to support the communities, but we will not do anything without the consent of the communities. That being said, this statement is not an excuse to take our time. We will be there, with respect and with the informed consent of the community.