Interventions in Committee
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View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the INAN committee. We're studying fires and emergency management in indigenous communities.
I first want to recognize that we're on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. We've started a process across the country of truth and reconciliation as one small piece of recognizing our history and an important step forward in the process of truth and reconciliation.
You are the second-last panel, so very close to the very best. We'll give you 10 minutes to present for each one of you, and then we go into a series of questions from the MPs.
I'd like to start with Chief Randall Phillips, please.
Randall Phillips
View Randall Phillips Profile
Randall Phillips
2018-02-08 15:33
Welcome, Madam Chair, and welcome, committee members.
[Member spoke in Oneida]
My name is Randall Phillips, and I am currently the elected chief at the Oneida Nation of the Thames. It is an Oneida community. It is located about 25 kilometres southwest of London, Ontario. It's a unique community in itself in that we established our community around 1830. We were at a forced relocation from our homelands in the United States, and we ended up in what we called our traditional beaver hunting grounds. With respect to the Algonquins of this territory, we also have a shared interest in this land.
First of all, thank you very much for inviting me to this. Unfortunately, I am the recipient of this invitation because of certain tragedies that happened in our communities and to our people.
I want to let you know that, as of December last year.... I know that even that was announced by the Prime Minister on the news in terms of the disaster that took the lives of one of our men and four of our children, but that was not the only fire disaster that has happened in our community within the last 10 years.
We have had other losses, too. One young lady who was very instrumental within our community in terms of gathering herbs and passing that message on—very much what we might call a healer—perished in a fire. She couldn't get out. She had a wheelchair ramp, so there were mobility issues. We had another fire in approximately 2011, and the same thing happened. We are not immune in terms of this disaster, that's for sure.
We are the fifth-largest community in Ontario in terms of population, not in size, but in population. Our community currently has over 500 houses, and approximately 35% of those houses are in need of repair. Approximately 10% of those houses are in need of destruction. We have approximately 40 houses like that, so 8%, that should be demolished right now. They're uninhabitable, but we have an overcrowding issue at our community, just like a lot of communities.
We tend to, as Iroquoian people and Haudenosaunee people, stick together, and we also share our same houses. We have that problem. We can see a disaster with respect to the Antone family, in terms of how that happened. We were lucky that three other young people plus the mother were gone, so that could have been even worse.
That's the sort of situation we find ourselves in. There are social and economic conditions that add to this, and we can't just simply look at a fire management program or a fire suppression program and try to address this. I understand the need for incrementalism, and I also understand the need to move on issues where we can move on them.
For our community, and certainly for myself as the leader and chief, I've had some issues with our fire protection for a long time, not from the people who provide the service, not from our volunteers, but in terms of our capacity, in terms of trying to do what we can do. Again, as a larger community, we have access to equipment that other communities don't have. We have access to the nearby city of London, which also provided some training to us as well. Other communities don't have that either.
The one thing they have that we don't have is a base in terms of our firefighters and our professionals who do this work. They're volunteers. If any of you have been on the road in terms of this kind of volunteer work, you will know very quickly that your first disaster, the first limb that you see severed, or your first horrific sight is going to change your perspective on whether you think that's a profession for you or not. Unfortunately, our first responders in our communities have to see that. Not only do they have to see that, they have to see that knowing they know who that person is.
We look at that. I look at our own current staff and the struggles that they go through, and I'm sure my colleagues to the left of me will tell you the same thing with regard to their staffing.
In terms of aftercare, I don't know what the word is in the fire profession, but certainly we need to take care of our staff. If we're going to have them perform at their their peak whenever we need them, then we need to take care of them. I don't see any systems that allow us to do that properly.
When it comes to our staffing, it's the old adage of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. We have one full-time fire staff on duty, and that is the fire chief. That's a nine-to-five job, an administrative job. We're looking at that. We certainly all need access to this whole notion of staff capacity, complement of equipment, and constant training. Certainly we need more resources from our community to do that.
Again, our community is one of the largest ones, as is my sister community to the left of me. The current funding formula from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs stops at a population threshold of 1,200 people. We have 6,000 so we have to find other monies for all these public services, and we try. We have the equipment, but we don't have the men.
That's just one side, so you might have questions on that. I'm trying to speed up, Madam Chair.
The other issue I wanted to talk to you about as well is our capacity in terms of that equipment. Right now, our community is serviced through our own aquifer. However, there is limited access to that water. Four-inch-diameter pipes were installed throughout our community. Anybody in the profession can confirm that's not adequate pressure. This was one of the problems in the last fire: we didn't have enough pressure. We need infrastructure development and investment to change the rest of those four-inch pipes to six-inch pipes. We need more hydrants in our community. Again, we're one of the biggest ones.
We have an awful lot of roads to maintain, and we're going to continue to grow. If I can take one step back with regard to our firefighters, we've been working on a program with an outside agency to get them trained to deal with roof-mounted solar panel fires. We know they're dangerous and need to be dealt with in a special way, so we're providing that training to our firefighters. We're one of the first first nations communities to provide that training, because we have those facilities in our community. They will be gone once the city of London and the other municipalities around us find out they have that training; then we're back to square one.
Those are two of the things we need. One of the keys here is there needs to be a look at our housing programs. Again, this can't be done in isolation. The tragedies that occurred in our community were preventable, but the structures were old and very susceptible to fire. We really didn't have a chance. When we put in housing standards they have to be appropriate. The housing standards for a first nations national housing program will not meet the needs of southern Ontario. They will be different from northern Ontario so we have to look at that. The fire standards of how many officers, how many this and how many that, might be nice for some kind of budgeting process, but they need to meet the reality of what's going on in the community.
We try our best to support everybody we can, but we certainly need your help. Our firefighters and our emergency services can't do it alone. Oneida is the fifth-largest community in Ontario, and we have all these services. Other people in other communities rely on us as well, because that's what we're supposed to do with our brothers and sisters. We're supposed to help them.
It's very difficult to try to provide that help when we just simply don't have the capacity.
I wanted to say thank you very much for listening to that story, and I appreciate the invite. Yaw?’ko
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you, Chief.
Now we move on to our next presenters, the Mohawk Council.
Go ahead.
Kellyann Meloche
View Kellyann Meloche Profile
Kellyann Meloche
2018-02-08 15:43
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.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you.
We're now onto our questions and answers.
We're going to start with MP Salma Zahid.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair, and thanks to all the witnesses for coming and providing us this important information in regard to completion of our study.
My first question would be to Chief Phillips. We have heard testimonies from the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, and from some of the witnesses last year, about the lack of education and awareness campaigns on how community leaders and members can prepare for fire emergencies. How do you think we can address those gaps?
Randall Phillips
View Randall Phillips Profile
Randall Phillips
2018-02-08 15:54
I just want to let you know that it comes back to this idea of providing some educational resources for us; and they exist, if you know what I mean. We can link with the Canadian firefighters association or pretty well anybody in the province, and link with those types of things, and bring that to our communities. We've tried here at Oneida. We've already gone through a public education program. Since this disaster we've also gone from house to house and we've also installed all brand-new carbon monoxide detectors as well.
We're trying to educate the community on a regular basis but I guess it comes down, again, to staffing, and the materials that exist. We keep doing that but that's where we would need help. I think my colleague talked about this notion of a coordinator, a crisis or emergency management coordinator who would easily be able to do those types of things when it comes to fire and other safety issues around the house as well.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
You mentioned materials, and the staff. In regard to materials, what do you think the gap is with regard to getting the appropriate materials to provide to the community members?
Randall Phillips
View Randall Phillips Profile
Randall Phillips
2018-02-08 15:55
I don't think there has been any specific conscious gap. It has just been the relationship that we've had with communities over the years and years, and it just doesn't exist. Now with this idea of reconciliation, people are finding out more, but more and more what we've had are individuals from the communities who have started to link within fire professions, and they've started to bring these things home.
It's our firefighters who understand the need for this. They're making the connections. There's no formal connection out there. They're just going ahead and saying, here, we need this; or they say that they went to another body and met a colleague who did this.
This is what my colleague was talking about, a more formalized approach in terms of finding out what resources are there and being able to share them and bring them to our community. I want to be skeptical...I think Kellyann said it clearly. We're still all people. We don't need a specific Haudenosaunee.... This is a fire. We all know what a fire is, so there's lot of common ground that we have in terms of that understanding.
The idea that it needs to be translated into specific cultural ways is not always the key. Give us information first and foremost in terms of what to do if there's a fire. Are we doing the proper things? Are you doing the proper things in your home? Are you doing the proper things in the earth? That's how it can start. The cultural aspect will come in from the individual families making sure that those things are done within the home.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
The Nishnawbe Aski Nation told us that their schools do not do fire drills, and that even a number of homes in their community are without smoke detectors.
Ms. Meloche, are these issues a common experience from what you have seen working in many communities? What would you recommend as a way to address them, and what steps do your communities take to ensure that youth engagement and education is there with regard to safety and emergency preparedness?
Kellyann Meloche
View Kellyann Meloche Profile
Kellyann Meloche
2018-02-08 15:57
For sure, I have seen it in other communities. I have seen even the lack of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, completing drills from the schools. And this is the law, I believe, that you have to do at least two drills in schools with children.
I don't understand. What ends up happening is that they believe it will not happen here, it can't happen here; and this is not just within indigenous communities.
When I go there I even ask them about a winter snowstorm, or a major power failure, or what if their telecommunication goes down? What about all those possibilities? Do you practise those drills? They say that they didn't think about it.
Sometimes I say, as an emergency manager, that I'm coming there giving them solutions to problems they didn't even know existed. And this is the truth. We have to identify these things, and knock on doors and tell people about the resources that are available, and here's the reason why. We tell them why they have to do fire drills, and why we need to test their plan, and why they need to actually start that truck and get it rolling, and see how long it takes to get them to the school. They need to see how long it takes that truck to go to the pond, fill up with water, and get to the airport and put out that plane on fire. Let's see how long it takes. You're supposed to do it within eight minutes. If it takes you 27, that's too long.
Just putting it out there, giving a reality check, is important.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
With regard to the seniors at these reserves, do you have complete data about the number of seniors there and what their needs are, in case of evacuation and how their needs will be met?
Arnold Lazare
View Arnold Lazare Profile
Arnold Lazare
2018-02-08 15:59
My name is Arnold Lazare. I'm the director of public safety for the Mohawk Council. I'm also the president of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada.
The sad reality is we don't have statistics. In 2007 HRDC stopped collecting statistics. As part of the indigenous fire marshal program, we're looking to reimplement the statistics-gathering on which communities have fire departments, whether their fire departments are operating. If the community does not have a fire department, we're looking at how we can implement a fire prevention program.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
We're done that round, and we're moving on to MP Cathy McLeod.
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