Good morning everyone and welcome to meeting No. 36 of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
We are gathered here today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe nation.
My name is Marc Garneau. I'd like to welcome our witnesses who have joined us this afternoon as we study Bill . We have with us Dr. Marie Wilson, former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, appearing in person. We have Zebedee Nungak, also appearing in person.
We also have with us, by videoconference, Marjolaine Tshernish, general manager of the Institut Tshakapesh.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I'd like to outline a few rules to follow.
Members or witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services in English, French and Inuktitut are available for today's meeting. Please be patient with the interpretation; it takes a little while to get the translation done.
For those on video conference, the interpretation button is found at the bottom of your screen. It's a small globe, and you can listen in either floor, English, French or Inuktitut. If interpretation is lost, please inform me immediately, and we will ensure interpretation is properly restored before we continue.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are not speaking, your microphone should be on mute. When speaking—and this is very important—please speak slowly and clearly; this is for the benefit of the interpreters.
I remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
Each witness will now be invited to make an opening statement of five minutes, which will then be followed by questions from the members of the committee.
We'll begin with Dr. Wilson. I'd like to invite you, Doctor, to begin with your opening statement.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Greetings to everyone. I'm really glad to be here on Algonquin territory. I'm here visiting from the Northwest Territories, from Treaty No. 8 territory. It's nice to be in a room with my member of Parliament and one of our fellow northerners, Member Idlout, as well.
As mentioned, I was one of the commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What that means for today is that I was also one of the authors of the call to action that informs this particular legislative proposal.
As you know, we criss-crossed the country for six and a half years, listening to a very mixed legacy of painful achievements and devastating losses, including—as we all know by now—the loss of life itself in the thousands and still counting.
Our multivolume final reports and various summaries reflect all that we heard, and our 10 principles of reconciliation and our 94 calls to action charted a pathway forward for Canada, addressing action areas for all levels of government and all sectors of society. Among those was a call for a national council for reconciliation.
The significance of that, as we repeatedly heard from friends and colleagues both in Canada and internationally who had been involved in commissions and inquiries before, is that there's a need for an ongoing oversight mechanism; otherwise, things get forgotten and left on dusty shelves. There's a need for follow-up, not as a way to hold up continuing shame, but on the contrary to be able to track and monitor progress and hopefully improvement so that we can get all the full benefits of our work and the work of survivors for lasting impact to the benefit of all.
Today I want to make reference in passing to our call to action. Given time, I want to mostly point out areas where I hope you'll be open to hearing some suggestions for improvement of what is before you in your proposed legislation.
In 2015—on the fifth anniversary, at that point, of our report from the TRC—we expressed great frustration and concern about the slowness of the fulfillment of the calls to action. We specifically singled out the national council for reconciliation. The reason for that today is to say, “Finally, here we are.” I hope you'll hear what I'm saying as potential areas for improvement and not as anything I hope would ever be used as reasons for further delay.
I want to make observations in three specific areas.
The first is reconciliation as a shared purpose. I'll just say, for the analysts and others, that there is a longer form of this paper that I will provide for your purposes, but I'm just headlining here and hoping I'm not being too negative in the process.
The Bill summary says the purpose of the proposed legislation “is to advance efforts for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.” I think the purpose statement itself can and should be much stronger, not just “to advance efforts for reconciliation” but to ensure reconciliation, and not just “with Indigenous Peoples”, but between and among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. As we said throughout our reports and repeatedly ever since, reconciliation is about the establishment and maintenance of respectful relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
Bill recognizes the need for an establishment of “an independent, non-political, permanent...organization”. I would offer that that language, too, could be even more precise to ensure that the non-political meaning is both independence from government and also non-partisan in spirit. That would be to protect its longevity, no matter which political party prevails in government over the years ahead.
The draft also uses the term “Indigenous-led”. Our TRC call to action does not use that terminology. Again, we specifically insisted, over the course of the commission and repeatedly since, that reconciliation is not an indigenous issue; it's a Canadian one. The very fact that we have this deliberation before a committee that is narrowly cast as “indigenous and northern affairs” underscores how easily reconciliation gets recast as an indigenous problem.
That's why we commissioners were very deliberate and precise in our wording in describing the oversight body with “membership jointly appointed by the Government of Canada and national Aboriginal organizations”—using the terminology of the day—“and consisting of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members.
The Bill proposal as worded, including its model for appointment rather than a collaborative approach, creates a silo approach that potentially divides the council internally before it ever begins. I have comparative examples that I can offer if time allows in the discussion.
The second point I want to address is accountability to Parliament. This is all about public awareness and accountability for improvement.
The section about reporting to Parliament that we had in our call to action is entirely missing from the Bill draft. Parliament is where the laws were passed to enact residential schools. The House of Commons is where national political leaders stood in front of national indigenous leaders to apologize for the fallout of those schools and to promise to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation. Parliament is where all Canadians have an elected representative to hear regular progress reports on whether we are actually living up to these latest promises made on behalf of the people of Canada.
I want to stress that this public accountability also provides transparency for prioritizing what we need to do next to celebrate where things are getting better and to fuel our encouragement as a country to keep at it and to keep trying.
On the point of financial resources, I won't say a lot. I'll just say this: Regarding financial resources, the draft is simply too generic on that point, with a generalized reference to a further call to action 55. In my experience, an intention without certainty of resources focuses all early efforts simply on trying to find the means to function.
I want to conclude by reminding you of three of the TRC principles of reconciliation that are especially relevant to my points today and to your deliberations.
Number 6 is this:
All Canadians, as Treaty peoples, share responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships.
Number 9 states:
Reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust-building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources.
Number 10 is this:
Reconciliation requires sustained public education and dialogue, including youth engagement, about the history and legacy of residential schools, Treaties, and Indigenous rights, as well as the historical and contemporary contributions of Indigenous peoples to Canadian society.
I believe there's great urgency to these calls to action. Since we've already agreed, all parties across the House, that this is a priority, in recent elections recommitments were also made on the issue of reconciliation. I hope that with a few amendments to strengthen the purpose and potential of this legislative proposal, all parliamentarians will move quickly to get the national council for reconciliation enacted and fairly resourced as soon as possible. We've called it a vital tool for our country to reap the benefits of ongoing education, introspection, course correction, and celebration. It's an honest mirror, hopefully, that will help us all become the world leader we claim we wish to be in matters of good and respectful relations between indigenous and non-indigenous citizens.
Mahsi cho, qujannamiik, merci beaucoup, and meegwetch.
Thank you very much.
[Witness spoke in Inuktitut as follows:
ᓯᕗᓪᓕᕐᒥ ᓇᒻᒥᓂᖅ ᐅᖃᐅᓯᕋ ᐊᑐᕐᓗᒍ ᐅᖃᕆᐊᓐᖓᓚᖓᒐᒪ, ᒪᓐᓇ ᐅᖃᐅᓯᕗᑦ ᒐᕙᒪᒃᑯᑦ ᐱᓂᐊᕐᓂᖏᓐᓄᑦ ᐱᓇᓱᐊᕐᓂᖏᓐᓄᓪᓗ ᓂᐸᖅᑎᑕᐅᒐᓱᐊᖅᓯᒪᔫᒐᓗᐊᖅ ᐃᓕᓐᓂᐊᕐᓂᖅ ᖃᓪᓗᓈᑎᑐᐃᓐᓇᖅ ᐱᔾᔪᑎᒋᓗᐊᖅᓱᒍ ᓂᐸᖅᓯᒪᓐᖏᒻᒪᑦ ᐅᖄᕈᓐᓇᖏᓐᓈᕋᒃᑯ, ᑖᓐᓇ ᐱᔪᕆᒪᐅᑎᐊᓗᒐ.
[Inuktitut text interpreted as follows:]
First of all, thank you.
I will be speaking my own language. The federal government tried to erase our language.
I didn't realize that there's a very constricted time limit in these presentations and I had prepared an eight-page summary of what I wanted to say to the committee members; however, with the time constraints, I will read only one of those pages to give the sense of where I'm coming from on the definition and issue of reconciliation, which I equate very strongly with decolonization.
The word “reconciliation” has been in national circulation since 2008, when Canada's government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine the matter of Indian residential schools. This commission produced a report containing 94 calls to action designed to facilitate “reconciliation” between Canada's colonial governments and the indigenous peoples.
However, the word “reconciliation” is a misnomer and totally off the mark of truth. Here is why: Reconciliation assumes that sometime long ago there existed a utopian state of “conciliation” between colonial governments and indigenous peoples. This implies relations among equals, with neither side being superior or inferior to the other. “Reconciliation” suggests that a mutually beneficial balance, which once ruled the relationships between colonial authorities and indigenous parties, can be rediscovered. As we all know, there has never been any such thing.
Ever since immigrants from across the ocean set foot on the territories that eventually became Canada, these immigrants have been superior to all indigenous peoples who had occupied these territories prior to their arrival. This superiority is arrogantly deliberate and is so hardened that it continues to be ruling over life right to the present day.
From first contact, indigenous peoples have been treated as inferior beings who don't own any lands or resources. The hallmarks of colonial history are a narrative without a single trace of anything resembling equal-to-equal respect by colonial powers toward the indigenous peoples whose territories they stole, conquered or simply took over.
Kings of England issued royal charters and proclamations that arbitrarily dictated the status of indigenous ancestral lands without the consent of the indigenous groups affected. In these, there is nothing positive to reconcile. The colonial format has absolutely nothing for indigenous inhabitants of the country they “founded” in 1867.
The single mention of original inhabitants in the BNA Act was a one-liner assigning responsibility for “Indians, and Lands reserved for Indians” to the new federal authority. Canada's so-called founders were not educated enough to know about and acknowledge the existence of the Métis or the Inuit.
There's nothing to reconcile to. No state of Utopia that we can simply return to has ever existed.
Let's go back to the word “reconciliation”. The meaning of this word is listed in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as the “action of reconciling; an instance or occasion of friendly relations being restored.” Friendly relations must have first existed before their restoration can be pursued. To seek reconciliation of something that never was is impossible.
We can, however, pursue a real objective called “decolonization”. Governments in Canada have plenty to make up for: their bullheaded, coercive policies in attempting to erase indigenous languages, cultures and identities. Think of these two words: “cultural genocide”. Within these words are lost identities, lost languages, lost family ties and cohesion, lost sense of belonging, lost innocence and lost lives. Repairing all of this will take plenty of time and resources...to right these profound wrongs.
[Witness spoke in Inuktitut as follows:]
[Inuktitut text interpreted as follows:]
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.
I am ready to share my 21 pages of writings on this issue, which I have delivered on CBC North radio in English and Inuktitut over the years, in order to enlighten people like you, who are designing activities and actions toward the goal of positively processing this something called “reconciliation”.
[Witness spoke in Innu as follows:
Kuei! Kuei! Tshipushukatitunau kassinu etashiek!
[Innu text interpreted as follows:]
Hello. Greetings to you all.
Thank you for this invitation to contribute to the process that confirms the great importance of dialogue prior to implementing major projects for the benefit of the greatest number, including members of the First Nations of Quebec.
I am an Innu from the community of Mani-Utenam on the north shore of the province of Quebec. I am the general manager of the Institut Tshakapesh, an organization that has been in existence for almost 45 years.
Giving an Indigenous nation the right to speak is an appropriate and respectful way of recognizing it as a nation. In the case of Bill , this means recognition of its mother tongue and the language spoken in its region, its contextual environment, its geographic context, and its specific needs.
Often, the Innu nation of Quebec, which has French as its second language spoken, does not recognize itself in the way relations between the federal government and anglophone Indigenous people. It sometimes feels excluded from the major discussions. As a result, we feel powerless to act within those discussions. Today, I want to thank you for inviting us.
This linguistic specificity must now be taken into consideration. It may have very significant consequences for our communities, in particular socioeconomic consequences.
Since we live in eastern Canada and our spoken language, other than our mother tongue, is French, it is important that we be taken into account in allocating certain seats reserved for Indigenous people in Canada. It is important to allow members of First Nations who use French to have a place in major political discussions. As well, the documentation has to exist in that language so that these nations are able to speak freely in the official language in which they are fluent.
I also wanted to remind you that when Bill concerning Indigenous languages was announced, the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council participated in drafting it.
I note that there was no joint drafting in the case of Bill . An interim committee was appointed by the ministers. I do not doubt the quality of the work done, but I must point out that we received no information in the regions. When Bill was drafted, we received information in the regions. We were informed even before the bill was announced and throughout the process until it was passed.
In this case, however, were it not for the member for Manicouagan, Marilène Gill, I would not have been made aware of the existence of Bill C‑29.
Obviously, we are pleased with the initiative that establishes a national council for reconciliation, which responds to calls to action 53 to 55 issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
I particularly want to make recommendations relating to the composition of the board of directors, specifically for adding another organization. There are the transitional committee and the office of the , but it would be wise to add the Assembly of First Nations or another organization so that more people would be able to choose the directors.
The francophone region of Quebec should also be represented on the board of directors so that we are able to receive information in our region.
It is also important that one third of the Indigenous directors be candidates who acknowledge the existence of systemic racism. This is very important going forward, for the work of the National Council for Reconciliation.
We must make sure there is equitable representation of men and women on the board of directors and that it includes elders and former residential school students or children of residential school survivors. It is important that this sensitivity be reflected in the work of the National Council for Reconciliation.
We must also make sure that the directors do not have a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest with the National Council for Reconciliation.
When the National Council for Reconciliation is created, it will be important to make sure that it has all the resources at the start that it needs in order to fully do its work, to perform its mandate. Even today, we are not hearing anything about the members of the transitional committee created last year. That is probably because they do not have the resources they need to perform their mandate. They are invisible. So it is important for the National Council for Reconciliation to be operational quickly, for it to be visible and accessible, and for it to be possible to see the work it is doing.
I would like to make one comment on accountability. I have seen that all levels of government, that is, the federal government, the provinces and the First Nations, had to provide data, at its request, to the National Council of Reconciliation so it could submit reports on the progress being made towards reconciliation. It is therefore essential that the Council have access to that data, which it be from the provincial or federal government or from the First Nations band councils. The data in question in the bill is under federal or provincial jurisdiction, or under the jurisdiction of a First Nations nation or band council.
I don't know whether I have any time left.
[Witness spoke in Innu as follows:
Nin u katshishkutamuan, anite ka manenimanit nete katshishkutamuanit.
Anutshish kashikat eshikimutshishikua nitshishpeuatshishunan. Ne ne neme ka nekatshikuiat,natshishk, nimashinataukunan, nimashinataukunan ka tutakuiak nete animishun a taiat mak ne ushtapinitshishuiat ne kassinu tshekuan e ishinakuat.
Shash nishtinuepupunnua eshpish nin tshishpeuataman tshetshi takut mininiun eshakamitshishikua. Ne anite nuitshi-atussetshishun kie nuitshi-atussemauat kassinu nuitsheuakana. Kie minat nuitenan mishta-mitshetuau nuitenan, anutshish kashikatshi tshuitamatunan minuat nimashinaikanan nitutetan, minuat kaimishit nitshishkuanan, nitutenan tshetshi nitshishkatshiat. Nuash nitatanan tshishe-utshimauat, mishta-mitshet, mishta-mitshetua tshitaimitunan, mashinaikanan nititshitashaianan. Kassinu anite e uitamatat, nitipenitamunan,nitaimunan. Ne nitissenitamunan nitassinan. Ninan ka ka ka ishi-aimiaiat, ka itashpishuiat nitipatshimunan, nutim, nutim ne. Tshipa ui peikua nishtuapatakanu. Ekuen ni mishta-kashekan innu ume nin tsha. Innu nanitam nen ka ushinak, ka papit ekuen ne ekuen ne uet taiat ute ni ninan, ka mishikaieku ka itat, eshe ute tshitanau nitassinan. Kie apitin ne, mishta-apitina ne aimuna ,uetinimuni tsha mishta apitinia.
Kie ma tshetshi uinan auen ate ninan, atiku, atiku ishinikatanu tsha. Ekuen tshe ui tutamak, eku muku tshiam ekuen pimitakanu. Apu takut nishtutatun,
muk u tshiam aiminanun tsha, muku tshi aiminanun. Ninan tsha muku tshiam ni uatenan, tshetshi nikanitenan, tshetshi uauitakan tshetshi auen minu-inniut, nenu tshetshi kau minu-pinitunan mak tshetshi kau ueshtapinitakan. Ne ne eishinakuniti nikan tshetshi tshishpeutakan ne tshipa ishinakuanu tshetshi uauitak nenu ne niuauitenanua tsha nipi tsha. Nitshishenimanan nenu apu tshissenitak eshpish pukatat kie nenu upukutaunua kie utaimunuaua nanitam tshika ui nikanishtenu, metuat tshika ui teuat anite tshetshi atat anite nikan tshiminitakanitshi tshekuan. Ekuan ne ninan ua issishiueiat tsha tsha minuanu tutak ne ua tshimanan nenu tshishe-innua nenu anat tshetshi tshiminitshi, tshetshi uitamuti, mak tshetshi akanishau-iminit, tshetshi mishkutui-imminiti kie innu-aiminitshi tshetshi miniat.
Pate ne ne mashinaikan ka takuat les nations unies. Ne nitapashtanan ne ki uitakanu nete mishta apashtat aimun ua tshishpeuatet a, eukuen tshipa ishinakuannu tshetshi minat tshishe-innua tshetshi aiminitshi miam ume nin e itueian anutshish. Ekuen ne nin tshe ui iteut nitshishenimanan. Ekuen ne peiku tshekuan tshipa ui tutenan tsha. Kie ishinakuannu nutim ne, ne ua tshiminan tsha. Tshetshi nutim auenua utinimuat utaimunnu. Ate ne ishinakuan man tsha nimishta-ishpitenunan ute ninan innuat, muku ne ishpanu nete ninan mitshiteu nititanan. Nete ishpinitanun nete kassinu tshekuan nete nitimit ekuan ne ninan ekuta nete nimishta-ishpitenitenan. Nititanan u ninan ute nina ni mishtukushiu-imminan. Nemiu ne e nanatuapataman, apu tshishpeuataman mishtukushiu-aimun muku ni issishuen tsha, tshipa ishinakuan tshetshi kassinu katshitinitamat, tshetshi katshinitamat e mishtakushiushtet. Ekuen ne muku tshiam ua ishi nanatuenitaman tsha. Ishkueuat mishta-apitishut, ishkuaut tsha, tshipa ishinakuanu tshetshi takunit utupunau anitshenat ishkueut ne ne ua tshimitan minat tshekuan tsha.
Mishta apitin uesh u anutshish nanatuapamanut ka nipianit, ka uinianit tsha. Eshku en takuen, apu punipin nenu tshipa ui tsha teu kue uinua. Kie kuish e iminanit ne ne ne nanikutinit tsha tshuishamauat auenitshenat. aputshissenimekuat auenitshen tshissinenimatauat tshe issishuet ninan u innuat. Ninan apu tshi issisheiat innuat nanan tshe ka tukushinit a. Ek ume anutshish nin kashikat, apu shut anite nui natshik anite tshishe-utshimasset kie mak anite kutuka, kie mak anite e utenau nitshissenitenan nen. Mishkuat ma uin, tshipa ui, tshipa ui shutshishimikuan a tshetshi eka anite minanit shutshishiunnu a, ninan u ishinakuen, nina u ishinakuannu tshetshi minan shutshishiun a. Mak patetatatunu, kutuasht ka iteshtet ne nikan ka tat mekuen nen ne Trudeau. Ekuen ne e ishinakuninit tshetshi tshiuenamuat aimunnu mak ishinakunipin, ka pitshitinak ka ishimit tshi tutamak ne ninan ekuan ne ishinakuat tshetshi itetan tsha, tshin ne tshitan anite apu tshikut tshi issishuet neme utat, tshinuau tshinua ishinakuan tshetshi miniat kau aimun. Ekuan ne
[Innu text interpreted as follows:]
I am a former residential school student. I defend myself every day.
Everything that happened in the past has made us internalize the anger for too long. Personally, I have always sought peace with our colleagues.
Once again, we have said it often and we say it again, we have made reports, we have consulted lawyers, we have even met with the government. We have called you over and over. We have told you: our rights, our languages, our knowledge, our land, our religions, our traditions, our histories, everything, must be recognized! Everything must be recognized. I am an Innu. An Innu is someone who is always laughing.
When you arrived, we told you that you were on our land. The words spoken are important. Take the example of the caribou. We have to protect our rights, our elders, their knowledge, everything they know, their languages, in concrete ways. We have to put them first at all times. The organization that is to be created should emphasis language, culture, elders. The report written by the United Nations said that the culture had to be defended. That is also what our elders say. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada calls for that respect.
We ourselves are really in the east, but the decisions are often made in the west and the documents should really be sent to us in French. Women are important too, and room must be made for Innu women. We must not forget the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The government has to listen to us. It must be made to listen. We should have that power. Prime Minister Trudeau is the one responsible for this.
It is up to you to give us back our voice.
Thank you to all the witnesses today for your testimony and your contribution to this bill and for trying to make it as strong and good a bill as possible.
I have a few questions for Ms. Wilson first, please.
I appreciate many of the things you said and many of the areas that you struck on. I'm only going to get to a few of them. If it sounds like I'm hurrying, it's because I am because I want to get to a number of them.
You talked about the calls to action, and the call to action 56 explicitly states that the should answer to the National Council for Reconciliation's annual report that gets presented ultimately to Parliament through the , but the legislation actually passes that responsibility to the minister, not the Prime Minister.
Would you agree that should be amended back to ensuring that the responds and reports to that?
Thank you to the presenters today. Those were very interesting presentations. It's too bad we don't have more time for everybody to really talk about everything they've put together.
Mr. Chair, I'm assuming that we have confirmation that everybody will be providing their speaking notes to us for review.
I have a question for Marie Wilson, who's from the Northwest Territories. It's good to see that we have representation from the north here. It's not something we always get with our witnesses.
I'm really glad you talked about this whole issue being a Canadian issue versus an indigenous issue. It's so important, I think, to have a non-political oversight body. This may be one body. We may need more. We may need another body—for UNDRIP, for example. This is something that is important. The makeup of the directors on it is also important. We heard some comments to that effect today.
I think you know very clearly that the north was really affected. Out of the 139 recognized residential schools, 32 were in the north, in the Northwest Territories or Yukon or Nunavut. On a per capita basis, the impact was significantly higher in our region. Given this, and given the level of the discussion on how directors should be selected or who should be a director and the number of people who are talking about wanting seats as directors from the national indigenous organizations, I want to ask you if you could speak to the importance of having voices from the territorial north appropriately included in the board and the work of the national council for reconciliation.
Thank you, Mr. McLeod, for the question.
I think it's a hugely important question, the makeup, and I commented on the issue of “indigenous-led” because I think it easily slides into something being a formulaic answer rather than a really well-thought-out answer.
The reason I questioned the use of that term.... I know it's a term that's almost automatically used without a shared sense of what it actually does mean. What does it mean? Does it mean numbers of people? Does it mean world view? Does it mean lived experiences? Does it mean per capita impact, as you've just suggested? Does it mean residential school survivors? Does it mean awareness of the history and the current critical needs, and representation being based on that? Does it mean commitment to shared principles of reconciliation?
Selecting a powerful council doesn't necessarily define around indigenous or non-indigenous or first nations or Inuit or anything in a quantifiable quota way, but rather to those issues of where we know there's a real need and representation. We know that whenever we go on a per capita basis on any national committees, the north is always under-represented. That's why you're able to make the comment you just made about having the north here. If you go on a per capita basis by population, the north will always be under-represented. If you go on criteria that talk about per capita impact of residential schools and the legacy, you'd have the highest single representation because of having the longest-running schools over a multi-generational time frame.
I think the question first of all is about how big a committee has to be to be functional, but it's also about how it structures itself so that you have a proper and informed voice and the proper matrix of skills you will need to be an effective national council. I think those are really critical issues.
If you're asking if I have a specific formula around that, no, I do not, but I think a vague one like that leaves itself open to just the usual political response of “one from here and one from here”—you know, like that. It doesn't always add up to the powerful mix you need.
I would also like to thank all the witnesses.
Thank you, Ms. Wilson and Mr. Nungak.
[Member spoke in Innu as follows:]
Tshinashkumitinau, Innushkueu Tshernish mak innu-utshimau Pietacho.
[Innu text translated as follows:]
Thank you, Ms. Tshernish and Chief Pietacho.
Thank you for your testimony. I would like to hear from both of you. I have only six minutes, and you have seen how short that is, so I would like to leave room for you.
I don't know whether you consulted each other, but you talked about some similar things, in particular representativeness. You both talked about elders. When we look at the composition of the board of directors, in section 12 of Bill , it says that it must include "youth, women, men and gender-diverse persons", but it does not mention either survivors, whom Ms. Wilson spoke about, or elders. Having been in contact with the Innu nation, I think I know, and you will tell me if I am mistaken, how important elders are. I would like to know your views on that.
In addition, you also spoke about language. My colleagues may say that it is not surprising for a member from Quebec to talk about language, but it surprised me that you both raised that issue in your testimony. You said that because the first language of the Innu nation was Innu and French is its second language, that kept you away from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and at the same time from information. I think that is what you meant.
Next, I would also like to talk about women. You spoke about women, so if you would like to complete your remarks, I will give you the remaining time. If that is not sufficient, of course, but you can always send us notes. It will be our duty and our pleasure to read them, to inform our work.
Innushkueu Tshernish, I would invite you to answer first, if you wish. Then, utshimau Piétacho, you can follow.
: Kuei, kuei
. Thank you, tshinashkumitin
, Mrs. Gill.
It talks about representation from a region in the composition of the board of directors and it compares regions in terms of the abuse that one or another of them suffered or in terms of which of them had the most residential schools in its territory. That is part of history. As members of the First Nations, we have all experienced it. I have never heard a community or a nation use this representativeness when it speaks, because that history was experienced by everyone in the First Nations in Canada. I say that because I was struck by the remarks made by one of the members earlier.
I am going to tell you something that is important to me. You may not know it, but some residential school survivors define themselves as survivors, while others prefer to define themselves as former residential school students. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission enabled those survivors or former students to speak, to disclose what was deepest within them. It was difficult, because it brought wounds to the surface.
It is important that this sensitivity and this reality be part of the discussions around the table. In my region, I observe that there has not yet been a dialogue between the former residential school students and their child or children. I am myself the child of a former student, and I have not yet had the opportunity to have a conversation with my mother about the residential school.
[Witness spoke in Innu as follows:
Ekuen tshinashkumitin Marilène.
[Innu text interpreted as follows:]
Thank you, Marilène.
It is very difficult for me to express my emotions in my second language, because it would be intense in my language.
Having grown up in the 1950s and 1960s, I was part of the second wave, if we can put it that way. Children were taken while they were playing and having fun, and they went away to an unknown place.
I just want to remind you that I am a survivor, a former residential school student, and maybe an elder soon. I am very interested in there being people to represent us at the national level. As you know, we have our own language and we have the second language. We also have elders. One of our elders is over 91 years old. She saw most of her 18 children, if not all her children, taken away to the residential school. I just want to remind you that the elders are important to us. This is crucial. As well, regarding women, we often talk about intergenerational consequences. The disappearances and murders are part of the sadness felt in our communities, in our nations.
I don't want to speak for too long, but we would be grateful if you make sure there is better representation. Also, things have to be done. There must not be just discussions, as is still the case.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut as follows:
ᖁᔭᓐᓇᒦᒃ, ᐋ, ᓯᕗᓪᓕᕐᒥ ᐃᓘᓐᓇᓯ ᐊᒃᓱᐊᓗᒃ ᖁᔭᓕᕙᑦᓯ, ᐋ, ᐅᕙᑦᑎᓐᓄᑦ ᐅᓂᒃᑳᕋᑦᓯ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐅᖓᓯᒃᑐᒦᓐᖓᑦᓱᓯ ᑕᒪᐅᖓ ᑎᑭᒃᑲᑦᓯ, ᐋ, ᑕᒪᓐᓇ ᐅᓂᒃᑳᕈᑎᒋᔭᑦᓯ ᐱᒻᒪᕆᐊᓘᒻᒪᑕ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᓰᑉ ᔮᓐ ᓵᕐᕈᓪᔅ, ᐋ, ᐹᒃᑳᑦᓲ, ᒪᒥᐊᓇᖅ ᐊᑎᖓ ᐅᖃᑦᓯᐊᖏᓐᓇᒃᑯ, ᑐᓴᖅᐸᒋᑦ, ᐋᒻ, ᓇᓪᓕᒋᕙᒋᑦ ᐅᐱᒋᕙᒋᑦ, ᒪᒥᐊᓇᖅ ᐊᐱᕆᔾᔮᖏᓐᓇᒃᑭᑦ ᐱᕕᑭᑦᑑᓗᐊᕋᒪ, ᑖᒃᑯᐊ ᐊᐱᕆᓂᐊᖅᑕᒃᑲᓕ ᔨᐱᑎᒃᑯᑦ ᒧᐊᕇᒃᑯᑦ ᑭᐅᔪᓐᓇᖅᐸᑕ ᓯᕗᕐᓕᕐᒥᒃ ᐆᒥᖓ, ᐋ, ᑖᓐᓇ, ᑖᓐᓇ, ᑎᒥᐅᓂᐊᖅᑐᖅ, ᐊ, ᓴᓐᖏᓂᖃᕆᐊᖃᕐᓂᐊᕈᓂ ᖃᐅᔨᓴᖃᑕᐅᖃᑕᐅᒍᓐ-ᓇᕆᐊᖃᖅᐸᑕᖃᐃ, ᐋ, ᓄᓇᖃᖅᑳᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅᑎᒍᑦ ᐱᔪᓐᓇᐅᑎᕗᑦ ᓴᐳᔾᔭᐅᑦᓯᐊᕋᓗᐊᕐᒪᖓᑦᑕ. ᖃᐅᔨᓴᖅᑕᐅᔪᓐᓇᕋᓗᐊᖅ ᐃᓛ, ᖃᐅᔨᓴᖃᑕᖃᑕᐅ-ᔪᓐᓇᕋᔭᖅᑕᒃᑲ ᑖᒃᑯᐊ, ᐋ, ᑎᒥᐅᔪᑦ, ᐋ, ᐱᔪᓐᓇᐅ-ᑎᕗᑦ ᓴᐳᔾᔭᐅᓯᐊᕋᓗᐊᕐᒪᖓᑦ, ᔨᐱᑏ ᓯᕗᓪᓕᐅᒍ-ᕕᖃᐃ.
[Inuktitut text interpreted as follows:]
Thank you, everyone. I thank each and every one of you for your testimonies. You came from far away to speak here, because what you have to say is very important.
Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho, I hear you and I love you.
I will go straight to my question, since my time is limited.
First, I want to pose a question to Mr. Nungak.
If we're going to have a strong national council for reconciliation, will our rights as indigenous people be taken into consideration and addressed...for their importance? Can a study be done to see whether our organizations are supported in this bill?
No, sorry; I can't hear you.
It's a basic question. I feel that Bill doesn't talk enough about allowing the national reconciliation council to monitor whether indigenous rights are being protected. I wonder if you agree that perhaps this council should also ensure indigenous rights are indeed being protected. Is there room for that kind of monitoring to happen in this reconciliation council?
[Witness spoke in Inuktitut as follows:
ᓯᕗᓪᓕᒥᒃ ᑐᓴᕐᓂᕆᕕᔾᔪᐊᑕᕋ ᐅᕙᓂ ᐱᖁᔭᓕᐅᖅᑏᑦ ᑲᑎᒪᕕᖓᓐᓂ ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ ᐅᖄᔭᐅᓂᖓ ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑑᕐᓂᕗᑦ ᐱᐅᒋᕕᔾᔪᐊᑕᕋ ᑕᒪᓐᓇ ᐱᖁᔭᓕᐅᖅᑏᑦ ᐅᖃᐅᓯᑦᑎᓐᓂᒃ ᑐᓵᓘᕆᐊᖃᕐᒪᑕ.
[Inuktitut text interpreted as follows:]
First of all, when you are meeting in this meeting, I am so happy and really proud to hear my language being spoken here because you have to hear our language too.
I'll try to answer that question by talking about two things.
One is the matter of the extinguishment and surrender of indigenous rights, which was a condition of our signing the James Bay agreement in 1975. The Cree of James Bay and the Inuit of northern Quebec were absolutely helpless about that precondition. We had nowhere to go. We could not go to the Supreme Court to prevent this terrible extinguishment and surrender. This totally destroyed the harmony amongst the Inuit of northern Quebec. The Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec used that as a sledgehammer, as a precondition for any benefits for the Cree and Inuit to be put in a formal agreement.
About 15 years after that, the Government of Canada hired a judge named Hamilton to study it and look for alternatives to extinguishment and surrender. The search was not serious enough to find a solution. Something like a national council for reconciliation could have done nothing but be helpful to finding a solution suitable not just for the indigenous parties but for governments in Canada. It is a difficult, terrible condition that we've had to live with since.
That's one example of something that can be examined in a serious search for a solution.
The second example is that I took part in the first ministers conferences of the 1980s, where the main goal of indigenous parties in that process was begging Canada's provinces, territories and the Government of Canada for the recognition of an inherent right to self-determination. We couldn't breach the fortresses of colonialism on that question. The last first ministers conference in 1987 ended with abject failure to find anything of the sort, although the governments were willing to recognize a contingent right, which means that by their good mercies and with their being the source of it, a right may be recognized.
We were pursuing a right that pre-existed the formation of Canada. That ended in failure. Then, 31 years later, on Valentine's Day—February 14, 2018—I woke up to watch on television the of Canada stand up in Parliament and recognize the indigenous peoples' inherent right to self-government.
I don't know what happened between the failure of 1987 and the 's statement affirming such a right in 2018. I think less time would have elapsed if something like a national council of reconciliation addressed important issues like that to find solutions for them, instead of waiting for the Prime Minister to get up on the right side of his bed that morning and recognize the right.
That's my point.
Thank you very much, Ms. Idlout. We have gone over time.
That brings this panel to a close.
I would like to thank again our witnesses today, Dr. Marie Wilson, former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and Mr. Zebedee Nungak.
I'd like to thank Marjolaine Tshernish, general manager of the Institut Tshakapesh and, lastly, Chief Jean‑Charles Piétacho.
Thank you for opening your hearts to us and expressing your feelings about Bill , which is under consideration. We appreciate it very much.
We will suspend for a moment as we prepare for our next panel.
Now, members, we're going to resume very quickly, because our witnesses are ready. I'm sorry to rush things a bit, but we have to get on with our program.
I would like to first of all welcome the witnesses who will be appearing on the second panel.
We have Melissa Mbarki.
She is a policy analyst and outreach co‑ordinator for the Indigenous Policy Program at the Macdonald‑Laurier Institute.
We have Chief Willie Sellars, Williams Lake First Nation, by video conference. We also have Okalik Eegeesiak, as an individual, also by video conference.
Welcome to our three witnesses today. In case you weren't watching the first hour, you will each be given time to make a five-minute opening statement, after which we will go to questions.
Without further ado, I invite Melissa Mbarki to start us off with a five-minute opening statement.
I don't see Ms. Mbarki. Is she with the group?
Thank you for allowing me to be here today to speak.
I grew up on the Muskowekwan First Nation located in Saskatchewan. The residential school on my reserve was operating from 1889 to 1997. The public school in the nearest town was a place for learning for the reserve children, the residential school children, and the farm and town children.
My home was about four kilometres from the residential school. I could see the lights from my deck at night. Many children ran away from this school and encountered a really rough terrain in my backyard. Sloughs, mud, uneven ice in the winter, and a dumpsite made it a dangerous path for children to take who ran away. We lost some of our community members in this area due to the conditions in the winter.
My earliest memories were of police searching this area if the staff at the residential school couldn't find a missing child or missing children who had run away. The residential school children made friends with the reserve kids, and many of the older kids in my community actually housed these children for as long as they could.
The children did not want to be there. Many of them did not return; many of them committed suicide while they were on visits with their family. My brother lost his friend in grade 1, and I lost one of mine in grade 4.
The children who left the residential school did so with little education; many left with a grade 6 or grade 7 education. Many ended up in the child and family services system and many committed suicide or passed in tragic accidents. Most ended up with drug and alcohol addictions and are homeless or working in the sex trade today.
Talking about residential schools is not a comfortable conversation, but we must talk about the devastating impacts these schools had on indigenous families and communities. We must come up with solutions to the social and economic issues we face today.
It's been 25 years since the residential school closed on my reserve. We have no supports in place for anyone who attended this school. We don't have elder resources, timely mental health supports, or even addiction and health services. The nearest place to access these services is either 45 minutes or an hour and a half away from my community.
I don't think the committee will ever be non-partisan, so let's make sure that we include people from all different viewpoints and include people of all ages, because the general public seems to think residential schools were a hundred years ago. In actuality, the youngest residential school survivor in my community turned 33 this year, so this was in our lifetime, my lifetime.
Oftentimes I find that people are quite surprised at how young I am when I speak on panels or I write about residential schools. I write about the impacts that this had on my community, but we need people who can speak for reserves. Like myself, community members will tell you what is needed. I feel like our voices are overshadowed by politics, and in the spirit of reconciliation, I hope that we can bridge the gaps among all levels of government. This is the only way we will move forward.
We don't have time when people are dying on reserves from suicides and addictions. We don't have time when mass murders are happening on our reserves, and we don't have time when my family, my nieces, still live on the reserve. We don't have time.
What I want is this: We need accountability from every level of government. When funding announcements are made, we need to make sure these funds get to the communities that need them and we need to see the outcome of what this money did. We don't currently have that, and that is very frustrating, especially from my viewpoint, when I don't see things happening as quickly as they should be.
Another thing that we need to address is poverty. We must allow our communities to prosper. When I looked at the sections in the TRC report, I saw that number 92 mentioned building relationships and having “access to jobs”, but what about the funding? How do we get these jobs? How do we get access to training? Those are the questions I am asking today.
I thank you all for being here today to listen and to hear my story, which is not very well heard out in the general public. Lots of people don't know about the impact that intergenerational trauma had on me and my family and my community.
Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your story.
We look across this country at first nation communities, first nation reserves, and it doesn't matter how successful these communities are: We continue to see the same trends in trying to narrow that socio-economic or social gap in our way of life and the health and wellness of our communities.
I grew up my entire life on the Sugar Cane reserve, which is the Williams Lake First Nation, located just outside the city of Williams Lake. Surrounding Williams Lake are 14 different first nation communities, which range from the Secwepemc to the Tsilhqot'in to the Xat'sull. Heading further out west, we have the Nuxalk, and the Stl'atl'imx to the south.
A lot of the first nations from this region attended the St. Joseph's Mission residential school, which is located six kilometres from the community core of WLFN or Sugar Cane reserve. It's where my dad went to school. We are a generation removed from residential schools in our community, but we're still seeing the trauma—the direct trauma and the intergenerational trauma—filter through in our way of life. It's really impacting our balance as a community and as a people.
The reconciliation discussion is continuing to happen across this country, and the wrongs and the legacy of residential schools are coming to the forefront of discussions. It's really helping the healing journey of our communities and our provinces and, at the end of the day, our country. However, there is still so much work to do to narrow that gap.
I don't want to be talking about when reconciliation is going to be achieved with local politicians and thinking that there's a price tag attached to it. It's potentially generations from now that reconciliation is going to be achieved, because of how much education is needed around this topic of discussion.
We have an ongoing investigation over at St. Joseph's. We announced 93 anomalies last January. We're going to be doing a similar announcement for phase two of the investigation of the GPR work—the ground-penetrating radar work—and the research that we've been doing over the last couple of years.
This is a trigger not only for this region but for this country, every single time it happens. These triggers are happening almost on a monthly basis because of the number of schools in Canada and the history and wrongs of those schools.
I look into my community and at how successful we've been over the last two years, five years, 10 years. We are an economic powerhouse in this city of Williams Lake in the Cariboo Chilcotin region. We have numerous revenue streams. We reinvest our revenue back into the community. We have over 90 staff, 50% of whom are funded through that own-source revenue. We have programs and services. We have practically nil unemployment.
We look at all the benefits of being WLFN, and all the success we've seen and all the opportunities we have. However, we still have the same trauma in our community that everyone else does. We had three overdoses this year, and two suicides. For a small community like mine, with an on-reserve membership of 300 and an overall membership pushing 800, that is a big number.
How are we going to find this balance as indigenous people? The education component is a big part of that. Also, this language, ceremony, culture revitalization discussion needs to have continued investment, not only through time but also through money. That's exactly where our focus is going. Having the partnership and the support of the provincial and federal governments is also going to be a big part of that discussion.
Continuing to educate the local municipality, which is one of our neighbouring municipalities at the city of Williams Lake, is also a massive part of that discussion. Having the pressure from other government entities for them to continue to stand beside us and hold us up and educate themselves is also going to be paramount, and seeing the curve of health and wellness in our communities.
There is a lot of work to do around reconciliation, but at the same time we also have to acknowledge all the work that has been done to date and how the focus has continued to stay on it.
Let's continue to have this discussion and continue to push it so people will catch up and people will take that initiative and run with it, just as there are numerous examples of across this country, but again this should be a reminder of how much work we still need to do.
Kukwstsétsemc, and all my relations thank you.Thank you.
[Witness spoke in Inuktitut as follows:
ᖁᔭᓐᓇᒦᒃ ᐃᑦᓯᕙᐅᑖᖅ, ᐅᑲᓕᖅ ᐃᔨᑦᓯᐊᖑᔪᖓ, ᐃᖃᓗᓐᓂᒃ, ᐃᖃᓗᓐᓃᑦᑐᖓ, ᐋᒻ, ᓯᕗᓪᓕᖅᐹᒥᖃᐃ ᐃᓕᓴᕆᒍᒪᔮᒃᑲ, ᐋ, ᓗᐊᕆ ᐃᑦᓚᐅᑦ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᔨᐱᑎ ᓄᓐᖓᖅ ᐅᖃᖅᑎᐅᖅᑲᐅᒻᒥᔫᒃ ᐃᓄᓐᓃᖔᖅᑐᑎᒃ, ᑕᐃᒫᑦᓴᐃᓐᓇᖅ, ᐋᒻ, ᔨᐱᑎᐅᑉ ᐅᖃᐅᓯᕆᖅᑲᐅᔭᖓ ᑐᓴᕐᓂᖅᑐᒋᐊᓪᓚᐅᒻᒪᑦ ᐃᓄᑦᑎᑑᖅᑎᓪᓗᑕ, ᐱᒻᒪᕆᐊᓘᒻᒪᑦ, ᐊᑯᓂᓗ ᖃᐅᔨᒪᓪᓗᒍᓗ, ᐋᒻ, ᐅᐱᒋᓪᓗᒍᑦᑕᐅᖅ.
[Inuktitut text interpreted as follows:]
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Okalik Eegeesiak, and I am from Iqaluit. I am in Iqaluit.
First of all, I want to acknowledge member Lori Idlout and Zebedee Nungak, who was a witness. It was really good to hear Zebedee Nungak's appreciation of his language being used in this meeting. I have known Mr. Nungak for a long time and I'm proud of him.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to the committee on the next steps towards reconciliation. My background includes being past chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, an international Inuit body that represents, promotes and advocates for Inuit. I was also the national president of ITK before ITK was known as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, when it was Inuit Tapirisat of Canada. I've also been regional president for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association here in the Baffin region.
I'd like to remind the committee and Canadians that reconciliation does not start on the day this commission is created; it started, I think, at first contact, and we have had a lot of work to do since then and we still do now.
ICC, ITK and the regions have done a lot of work—years and years of work—doing reports, making recommendations to different governments and calling for things like community-based, Inuit-led, Inuit-managed policies, programs and services so that we could start to heal from the trauma we've experienced by being led in a culturally sensitive way in Inuktitut. Let's build on the work that Inuit organizations and indigenous organizations have done already for a much stronger national council on reconciliation.
Will a reconciliation commission mean more, better and faster reconciliACTION, as that promotion campaign effectively states? How slow or fast will it be? As you know, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report and its recommendations a few years ago. As with everything else, we know that everything takes time; a lot of things take time, and the government is slo-mo, slo-mo, slo-mo. As you can appreciate, sometimes we get tired of waiting and get very impatient and frustrated.
Reconciliation must come from a balanced approach, mindset and foundation, with mutual respect and equitable resources. ICC, ITK and the RIAs have always said that: not equal but equitable resources. It must come from indigenous services and programs delivered from an indigenous perspective and approach, such as education delivered in indigenous languages and our culture being taught in schools. It must come from respecting, protecting and promoting indigenous rights, including elder rights and the rights we have negotiated for in land claims agreements.
Zebedee spoke a bit about land claims agreements and some of the sacrifices or compromises the Inuit have experienced in negotiating and signing these agreements. Now we have issues and problems getting governments to meet their obligations in these agreements. If you want reconciliation, get the governments to meet these obligations. We have negotiated for increased resources to teach our language in the schools, as well as our culture, with a solid foundation of Inuit elders and culture.
For this commission, is it enough to monitor in order to effect change? Is it enough to evaluate in order to encourage change? Will the commission research with an investigative purpose? I heard the comments earlier about some of the leading phrases in the draft not being as strong as they could be, so this is where some of my questions are coming from.
Going back to the numerous reports indigenous peoples have helped develop or released, what does “reporting” really mean? We have all experienced frustrations with important and critical reports being shelved. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples is one good example, along with their good recommendations. Then there is the TRC and how slow that has been. How slow will that be?
If you look at my opening statement or Chief Willie Sellars' opening statement, he said his community has close to 0% unemployment. My community has 95% unemployment. This variation across the country and different reserves is definitely an issue we need to address. There is absolutely no way forward in my community unless we get jobs, end poverty and bring services into my community. It could even be health services, which could employ nurses and a technician. This is something my community needs. We have to look at the overall picture of what economic reconciliation looks like for each community, because it's going to look different for everyone.
I work in the oil and gas sector. I have been working in this industry for 15 years. It's been an industry that has kept me out of poverty. If I had stayed in my community, I would still be living in poverty. We have to look at ways of not hindering development and self-sovereignty and not hindering communities from accessing some very beneficial employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. That's what I'm continually seeing. This sector employs quite a number of indigenous people, and a lot of people are against it. I think indigenous people have a right to prosper however they want. This is something we should be looking at, going forward.
I don't think one committee can possibly take on all of our challenges. My suggestion for this would be to separate this committee. Have an economic side to it, an education and language side to it, and a social side to it that could implement healing or addiction centres. I don't think one committee can possibly handle all of this and give accountability numbers and so forth. You definitely have to bring other players into the picture. I don't think one committee can actually handle all of this.
The most challenging thing in Indian country is that all of our communities are on different parts of their journey to healing.
When I look at WLFN and this big, bright light shining that we are an Indian country and that we've been able to spread our positivity throughout the region and get more and more allies to come online with us, I know it has been through a lot of hard work by our team.
We're a bit of an anomaly in this region, given the capacity that we have in-house to make the vision of council happen. We are a bit of an anomaly in our location in how we've been able to find that consistency in our leadership to continue to realize that vision of healing.
Again, I look at economics through reconciliation and our aspirations to get to be a self-governing community. That has been through the treaty process, but we've also taken these incremental steps to self-government. We are under the first nations land management regime. We are governing over our reserve lands. We have a financial administration law, so these sectoral forms of self-government have allowed us to move at the speed of business and become this machine that works efficiently and is able to make decisions, because the capacity that we have on board helps us negotiate these deals and these agreements and start these other businesses that we've been able to see a lot of success and prosperity with.
Where we're really struggling is with that educational component to our healing, creating allies surrounding us and having people jump on board and stand beside us and hold us up.
We've just seen a massive turnover at the local municipal government in our neighbouring community of Williams Lake. The mayor and four council positions were turned over in the latest municipal election. A big part of that, I think, is because people want to see change. There's this new era of change that I think is rippling out across this country, and there is no way to say that all of our first nation communities are in the same box. We have over 200 first nation communities in British Columbia alone, all different, but where we're seeing the consistencies is in our aspirations to be successful, our aspirations to become healthy, not only on the mental health side but also on that cultural, ceremonial and language side.
Of course, our aspirations are to make sure that we are also contributing to the overall vision of this country, which is everybody working together, and, by working together and acknowledging who the first nations people are in this territory that you're working in and learning the history of, educating yourself on why our communities are the way they are and the history of residential schools, and really holding up what reconciliation means.
We could really go on and on as we go down this big path—
I want to start off with Chief Sellars.
Chief Sellars, you said that despite the economic success of your communities, you're still experiencing trauma, suicides, addiction. As someone who is from a Mi'kmaq community of 5,000 and has also seen successful Mi'kmaq communities, I've witnessed the same challenges.
There are those who would frame reconciliation as an economics thing and say that if they had enough opportunity, if they had enough money, somehow the harms caused through intergenerational trauma or through the loss of culture, through the loss of language, would not be as important. Do you agree that reconciliation requires addressing the harm created as well as creating pathways to prosperity?
I have been in this politics game for some time now. I got elected in my early twenties. I sat on council for 10 years before becoming the chief in 2018 and I was acclaimed just this past summer, so I'm relatively young in this game. I have been able to learn and have my boots on the ground throughout this process. I just continue to think that as hard as it is to have a discussion around residential schools and the history of this country in regard to first nations peoples, it's a discussion we need to continue to have no matter how hard it is.
I sat in this Cultivating Safe Spaces training the other day with a young lady from the Syilx nation, Elaine Alec. One of the comments she made really resonated with me. She said that we're getting conditioned to continue to hear those stories about residential schools—a lot of us, anyway—and to hear these horrific stories about the St. Joseph's Mission. We're going through this investigation now. Now I'm conditioned not to react to them. I'm conditioned, it seems, not to cry or show emotion, but I'll be watching a commercial on TV and something will remind me of a story that I heard, positive or negative, and I'll break down and I'll start crying. I think about the hockey rink, for example, and I break down, and it was triggered because the only stories that I ever heard about the St. Joseph's Mission from my dad were about the hockey rink.
In dealing with these different triggers, they vary for people across this country and across our first nations communities, and there's again no one-size-fits-all solution to all these things. What we need to do is to continue to educate the non-indigenous people of this country and keep the discussion at the forefront so that people will continue to be empowered to bring this up and share their stories so that they can heal themselves.
We want to break that generational gap that we're seeing in all of our communities. We want to break that cycle. I'd like to think the cycle is being broken with my three kids and my kid who is going to be born any day. We're due on Saturday. They are going to grow up in an era when their dad was there every single day of their lives, their mom was there every single day of their lives. That luxury is not the same and is not consistent across our communities.
How do we break that gap? How do we break that cycle? Education is going to be the biggest part of that, in my opinion, so that when I talk to the City of Williams Lake's mayor, he understands the history of first nations people and why it is so important for him to stand beside us and hold us up, not only in projects on the ground for economic reconciliation, but also in participating in the ceremonies and the events we're having in the community to show and prove that he's a leader and he's standing beside us and he's being that example.
My community is actually an hour and a half from the nearest city. It's two and a half hours if we go north. It's very hard for community members to access even something as simple as a blood test. They have to drive for this. It is not easy for them to get out of the community to access things.
One of the things that we really learned during COVID was that we had very limited access to health services. We didn't even have access to isolation units. We couldn't take those who had COVID out of the family home so that they could isolate while they were sick. They infected an entire family. If you look at family structure on the reserve, you see that two or three different families could be living in one home. That really impacted us.
I think that's one of the things that we do have to bridge sooner rather than later, because if there is another pandemic, we're going to go through the same thing with the military coming out to help. We have to start looking at solutions to different situations like health.
Another thing is mental health services. Once again, they're two hours away. This shouldn't be happening. I'm in a community with four others around it, so it would be really easy to bring in one service that could be accessed by four communities. It doesn't necessarily mean that one community is going to get a health centre. We can all access and share these types of services, even mental health services. I think that's where bridging the gap comes into play, even with economic reconciliation. If we bring in jobs and a certain company, it encompasses the surrounding communities. It's not just available for one like mine; it could be shared. I think these are things that we definitely have to start thinking about.
In fact, I'd like to thank the witnesses, Ms. Mbarki, Ms. Eegeesiak and Chief Sellars. I'd also like to congratulate Chief Sellars on the impending birth.
I'd like each of them to tell us about the improvements they'd like made to the bill.
Of course, we want concrete measures. We know there's a lot of work to do, and we want it to be done quickly.
Ms. Mbarki and Chief Sellars, as young Indigenous people, what do you want to see in the bill?
Ms. Mbarki, I'll ask you to answer my question first. Ms. Eegeesiak and Chief Sellars can answer it next.
Yes. The concept of the bill and overseeing this reconciliation discussion is a great one, in theory, for sure. It is definitely needed.
I'm just honestly trying to wrap my head around what we've heard from the other speakers and what I brought up as well, which is that all of the communities are just so different in where they're at.
In our community of Williams Lake, for example, we did $20 million in development over the past two years in this region. If you compare that to one of our neighbouring communities in the same region, we're way further advanced. It's mainly based on location. We've really struggled in holding up our culture and how much we've been able to retain, because more was lost than, let's say, in a rural community three or four hours from the city of Williams Lake.
Our priorities are just a little bit different. We've been able to progress and we're further along. We're the tip of the spear for communities to follow and see the example that we've set, but again, there's just no “one size fits all” in this discussion. We need to realize that as we're developing this committee and passing this bill. We have to acknowledge that all these communities are different.
There's a further, in-depth sub-education that needs to happen throughout the process, so that we're understanding how we can help these individual communities and these separate nations for the overall picture of what a healthy Canada looks like.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut as follows:
ᐄ, ᑭᐅᑦᓯᐊᖅᐳᑎᑦ, ᐅᓇ, ᐋ, ᐱᖃᑖ, ᐋ, ᑐᑭᓯᑎᑦᑲᓐᓂᐊᓂᓚᐅᕐᓗᑎᑦ, ᐋ, ᐅᓪᓗᒥ, ᐋᒻ, ᒪᓕᒐᓕᐅᕐᕕᔾᔪᐊᕐᒥᓂᓛᒃ, ᐋ, ᐊᖏᔪᒥᒃ, ᐋ, ᐊᑐᖅᑲᐅᒐᑦᑕ ᑖᒃᑯᐊ ᐊᕕᑦᑐᖅᓯᒪᔪᑎᒍᑦ ᑕᒪᑦᑕ, ᐋ, ᐊᖏᖅᑲᐅᒐᑦᑕ ᑖᓐᓇ, ᐋ, ᒪᓕᒐᓕᐅᖅᑎᖅᔪᐊ ᓕᐊ ᑲᔮᓐ, ᐋ, ᐊᖏᖃᑎᒌᑦᑐᒪᒻᒪᖔᑦᑕ, ᐋ, ᓴᖅᑮᖅ-ᑲᐅᒻᒪᑦ ᑖᓐᓇ, ᐋ, ᐊᖏᖃᑎᒌᑦᓯᒪᓐᓇᔭᕐᒪᖔᑦᑕ ᑕᒃᑯᐊ ᐃᓕᓐᓂᐊᕆᐊᕐᕕᐅᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᐃᑦ, ᐋ ᓄᖑᓴᐃᒐᓱᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᓂᖏᓐᓂᒡᒎᖅ ᑕᒪᑦᑕᑦᓯᐊᖅ ᐊᖏᖅᑲᐅᒐᑦᑕ ᑖᓐᓇ ᐊᖏᔪᐊᓘᖅᑲᐅᒻᒪᑦ, ᑖᓐᓇ ᑲᔪᓯᐊᓂᒃᓯᒪᑎᓪᓗᒍ ᖃᓄᒡᓕ, ᐋᒻ, ᐱᒋᐊᒃᑲᓐᓂᕆ-ᐊᖃᖅᐱᑕ ᐅᖓᑖᒍᑦ ᑖᓐᓇ, ᐋ, ᐃᓕᑕᕆᔭᐅᓂ-ᕌᓪᓚᓚᐅᖅᑎᒡᓗᒍ ᑖᒃᑯᐊ ᖃᓄᖅ ᑲᔪᓯᑎᑕᐅᒋᐊᒃ-ᑲᓐᓂᕈᓐᓇᖅᐸ ᓴᐃᒻᒪᖅᓴᖃᑎᒌᓐᓂᕐᒧᑦ.
[Inuktitut text interpreted as follows:]
Thank you for answering my question.
For my next question, I just want to share with you that in the House today there was a historic moment when in our parties all supported 's motion to acknowledge that what happened in residential schools were acts of genocide. This was a very big thing to us.
In light of this, what do you think the next step should be to proceed towards reconciliation?
When I was born, the government first recognized me as E7-1865. Residential schools were created to take the Indian out of the child. Yes, it was absolute genocide, with the different types of abuses that indigenous peoples have experienced and continue to experience.
We kind of live in a police state as well right now. If my statistics are right or my recollection is right, for every 100,000 Canadians in the south, there are two police. Up here, for every 1,000 Canadians, there are two police officers, so it's kind of a police state. Coming from a colonial approach, yes, I agree. I congratulate the NDP for getting a motion in place that was supported by all parties.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut as follows:
ᖁᔭᓐᓇᒦᒃ, ᑖᓐᓇ ᐱᕕᖃᕐᓂᕋ ᖁᔭᓕᒍᒪᑐᐃᓐ-ᓇᖅᐳᖓ ᐃᓘᓐᓇᓯ ᑕᒪᒃᑯᐊ ᑎᒥᐅᔪᖅ ᓴᓐᖏ-ᓂᕐᒥᒃ ᑕᑯᔪᒥᓇᕐᓂᐊᕐᒪᑦ ᐊᑑᑎᖃᕈᒥᓇᕐᓂᐊᕐᒪᑦ, ᑕᒪᒃᑯᐊ ᐊᐱᖅᑯᑎᖃᒑᕋᒐᒪ, ᐋ, ᓄᓇᖃᖅᑳᖅᓯᒪ-ᔫᑎᓪᓗᖓ ᐃᓅᑎᒡᓗᖓ, ᐋ, ᐊᑐᖅᓯᒪᒡᓚᕆᒃᑲ-ᒪᐃᓛᒃ ᑖᒃᑯᐊ ᐱᔪᓐᓇᐅᑎᒃᑲ ᓴᐳᔾᔭᐅᑦᓯᐊᕌᓂᑦᓯᐊ-ᖃᑦᑕᖏᒻᒪᑕ ᓲᖃᐃᒻᒪ ᑖᒃᑯᐊ ᐃᒃᐱᒋᓗᐊᕐᓂᑯᒧᑦ, ᐋ, ᐊᐱᖅᓱᐃᓐᓇᕋᓱᖃᑦᑕᖅᐳᖓ ᖃᓄᖅ, ᐋ, ᐊᑑᑎᖃᒃᑲᓐᓂᐹᓪᓕᑎᑦᓯᕈᓐᓇᕐᒪᖔᑦᑕ ᓄᓇᖃᖅ-ᑳᖅᓯᒪᔪᑎᒍᑦ ᐱᔪᓐᓇᐅᑎᕗᑦ ᓴᐳᔾᔭᐅᑲᓐᓂᖁᓪᓗᒋᑦ, ᖁᔭᓐᓇᒦᑐᐃᓐᓚᓕᖅᐳᖓ.
[Inuktitut text interpreted as follows:]
While I have this opportunity, I want to thank each and every one of you, because we would like to see more empowerment to bodies that are addressing the issues faced in past residential schools and past attempts to commit genocide of indigenous peoples. I just want to say now that I would like to see our rights as indigenous peoples supported and recognized.
Thank you very much, Ms. Idlout.
That brings our panel to a close. I would like to thank our three witnesses this afternoon for their very strong testimonies.
Ms. Melissa Mbarki, Chief Willie Sellars and Ms. Eegeesiak, thank you very much for the giving of your time today. I'm sorry we started a little bit late, but you contributed in an important way to our deliberations as a committee on Bill . We very much appreciate it.
Committee members, just as a reminder, on Monday we'll also be hearing from the transitional committee. As well, any proposed amendments to Bill have to be in by noon on Tuesday.
Thank you very much, everyone.
With that, this meeting is adjourned.