First, thank you, Madam Chair and to the standing committee for inviting me.
To give you a background, I am Kellyann Meloche. I'm from the Mohawk community of Kahnawake. My Mohawk name is actually Tekaríwenhawi, which means she's coming with a message. It's quite appropriate, isn't it?
My background in emergency management is that I've been doing this for the last 24 years, working with the Mohawk Council in our community. Also I've spent 18 years as a firefighter and paramedic in our community, as well. I know the boots on the ground helps me be a better planner and manager. I also had the privilege in the last three years of working with the nine Cree communities in Quebec. I've also worked in 11 states in the United States, with first nations communities and tribal communities down there, as well, and got to know quite a lot. With that knowledge and with the experience, I'd like to give you some information here today.
Emergency preparedness has evolved within the world to that of a four-phase approach entitled emergency management. We started off with emergency preparedness, and then all of a sudden it went to emergency management and the four pillars.
As a Mohawk of Kahnawake, having worked with many indigenous communities in Canada and the United States, I've had the privilege of learning their programs, viewing their plans, meeting their committees, and providing guidance for improvement. Based on my experiences, I'd like to give you three simple proactive steps. Ask. Listen. Act. It's that easy, honestly.
Number one is ask. Each community is at a different level within emergency management. They have different resources, locations, threats, risk, etc. In terms of resources, I'm even talking human and equipment. Infrastructure is different. Although the community size can be different, the resource needs are the same. We all need fire protection. We all need first responders, whether you only have 10 houses or 2,000 houses.
There is no cookie-cutter solution. We need to understand that. We cannot just develop a template and provide this to the communities and say here, fill it out, here's your emergency plan. It's not going to work.
Outreach to each on their needs. What level are they? How much knowledge do they have regarding emergency management? Some are scared when they hear that I'm even going to their community to assist them with their emergency plan. It's flustering for them because they say, goodness, where's that plan at? Do you know where the emergency plan is? I need to find it. And then they dust it off the shelf, and they say, okay, here it is, here's a 200-page emergency preparedness plan, and the resources are not there anymore, the people aren't there anymore, phone numbers have changed, and their knowledge of emergency planning is minimal. They think that the answer is in this 200-page document, when the answer should be already up here. What do I need to do? Who do I call?
A simple assessment can be completed with each of these communities. The inventory has to be done. What are your human resources? What type of equipment do you currently have, and what is the knowledge that you have on the use of that equipment? It's okay to have a fire truck or a pumper truck or a ladder truck, but if you don't know how to use it and you don't have the training for it, it's useless.
Number two is listen. All too often, I've sat in presentations where we're told here's the solution, here's how we can help you, here's how to better your problems. This can be very frustrating. We live and work in our communities. We know the challenges that we face, and we also have some solutions. Working with us by listening and offering guidance is the best way. How did X and X community do this and succeed? What are the success stories, and how can we apply it in our communities?
Government, volunteer organizations, and emergency services, should participate in presentations on how to work with indigenous communities. How can you come and work with us? We'll be happy to tell you. Knock on our door and ask, how can we work with you, similar to this with the committee. Get to know the communities. Although INAC or DIAND have the responsibility for our communities, we are a people and we are your neighbours.
Standardized training given across Canada should be accessible, not something that was specifically developed for our communities.
The one thing that I noticed when I started out in emergency management is.... I took a specific course with INAC or with DIAND, I don't know what the name was then, but I took a course with them. Then I went to the Canadian Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior, when it was still open. It was a great place to learn. It was totally different, what I learned there. It was almost like I took the college course there and then I took the grade 2 course with INAC, and it didn't work. We need to have standardized training across Canada, for all the people here in Canada.
Next, a thorough gap and overlap analysis must be completed with indigenous community on emergency management response.... Where are the gaps falling? I feel that it's not only within the equipment resources, but also within the training for how to use those resources. I find it's a huge gap.
Number three is act. This seems to be the step that's always missing in operational plans. We need to act. Once you've asked the questions, once you've learned about the communities, it's time to act on the suggestions that they've given you. I have a few suggestions for you.
We need emergency operations centres. EOCs are the operational beehives of emergency response. If community EOCs are not available, have a regional one specifically for indigenous communities, staffed by those people from those surrounding communities. If we cannot afford to have individual emergency operations centres in each community, let's have a regional one, with people from those communities who can coordinate both.
Support organizations that have response experience to work with our communities. Partner with the likes of the Red Cross, with St. John Ambulance, with the Justice Institute of B.C., for example, and have local representatives. When I say local representatives, I mean indigenous representatives, trained as members of the Red Cross. We are also members of the Red Cross.
Develop a first nations coordinators association that would allow indigenous emergency managers to work together, share experiences, provide peer advice, and just help one another.
In Kahnawake, we've had a lot of emergencies, unfortunately, but we've got a lot of successes, and it's worked. We can share that information with others.
Next, within each provincial emergency operations centre, have a representative specifically for indigenous communities who is of indigenous descent. We understand our brothers and sisters. We know the needs of other communities. Although I'm from a different nation or community, I understand, when I go to my brother and sister community, where they're coming from.
Assign an indigenous member to act as liaison within the government. This would help build relationships and trust and share the knowledge. The person in this position would advise emergency management coordinators of external resources and the steps to be taken when an emergency occurs.
Now, if we have someone working with you from and representing the indigenous communities, we can ask those questions that are needed. I've heard so many stories of the evacuation taking so long, the Red Cross not getting there for weeks, whatever the examples are.... “Well, did you make the call?” or “Who were you waiting for? Did you need permission from somebody, is that what it was? Why were you waiting?”
Funding for emergency management is good. Allowing a full-time emergency management coordinator is great, but don't just leave them afterwards. Guidance and direction on steps to take, how to plan, and what that plan looks like elsewhere are key.
During an emergency, the focus should be on life, property, and environment, not on keeping track of financial transactions as requested by DIAND. Gaining knowledge on memorandums of understanding with surrounding communities, understanding that it can be done now, no permission should be needed to call upon external services.
Finally, before a disaster strikes, proper funding should be given to ensure homes are built to code, preferably by local contractors from those communities. Infrastructure, having hydrants—the insurance companies know if it's not built to code and there's no hydrants there, your rates go up, and you're paying a lot more for something that costs a lot less.
Any community taking on emergency management can find it overwhelming at first. Looking at the big picture, preparedness can be accomplished one step at a time, by working together.
Thank you very much.