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David V. Wright
View David V. Wright Profile
David V. Wright
2019-05-16 10:07
Good morning, distinguished members of the committee.
My name is David Wright and I am presenting this morning on behalf of the Gwich'in Tribal Council.
Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan sends her regrets but sincerely thanks you for the invitation and welcomes this opportunity to provide input on Bill C-88. I should add that I also regret being unable to attend in person. If there are any technical difficulties during my submission, feel free to stop me while we sort those out.
By way of background, I was formerly in-house legal counsel with the Gwich'in Tribal Council and am currently assisting on this particular matter. I intend to be very brief with my remarks, recognizing the time constraints, but I welcome any questions you may have as we proceed.
I'll begin with a few short contextual, informational points about the Gwich'in before moving on to three succinct points about Bill C-88.
As many of you would know, the Gwich'in are North America's northernmost first nations people. Since time immemorial, the Gwich'in have occupied traditional territories across what is today Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska. In 1921, the chiefs and headmen of Gwich'in, Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic—what was formerly known as Arctic Red River—signed Treaty 11 with representatives of the Crown. In 1992, the Gwich'in signed the Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement with Canada and the Government of Northwest Territories.
The Gwich'in Tribal Council, which I'll refer to today as the GTC, was established in 1992 to represent the Gwich'in in regard to implementation of the land claim agreement and protection of Gwich'in rights and interests in the Mackenzie Delta region and beyond. Since signing the land claim agreement, the GTC and the four community-level land claim organizations—typically referred to as designated Gwich'in organizations or DGOs—have been working extremely hard to implement the land claim.
Similar to the Tlicho and the Sahtu, the Gwich'in have a treaty right to co-management. This includes requirements in chapter 24 of the land claim that establish the Gwich'in Land and Water Board.
With respect to Bill C-88 specifically, the GTC is present today to voice its support for swift passage of this bill. I'll make three specific points, all in relation to part 1 of the bill, which is the part dealing with the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
The first point is that passage of Bill C-88 in a timely manner has great importance in terms of Crown-indigenous relations and reconciliation. Your review of Bill C-88 is taking place within this broader context of implementation of land claim agreements.
Your review of Bill C-88 and its implementation context is part of what has not been a smooth or straightforward journey for any of the treaty parties. Canada has lost the trust of indigenous groups at many turns. There are, of course, numerous examples of this, unfortunately, but certainly a clear case in point is the problematic changes that Bill C-15 attempted to bring in. I am speaking, of course, about the creation of the super-board and the associated elimination of the land and water boards of the Gwich'in, Tlicho and Sahtu.
As you know, the current government committed to eliminating these problematic Bill C-15 changes. This is an extremely important commitment made by Canada to the indigenous communities of the Northwest Territories. It represents an important step towards restoring trust. Indeed, the consultation process on Bill C-88 has actually helped restore some of the trust between Canada and the GTC. That trust would be eroded by any further delay, or at worst, failure to pass this bill in a timely manner.
As an aside, a significant amount of consultation on this bill has already taken place, as I am sure representatives from Canada will tell you this morning. Away from that government-to-government negotiation, the GTC and the board of directors of the GTC have been working hard to review and deliberate on the changes proposed in this bill.
The second point is that while the GTC will leave it to the Tlicho this afternoon to discuss the litigation and the court injunction barring implementation of the super-board, the GTC reiterates that it was very pleased with the result obtained by the Tlicho in court. The GTC sees passage of Bill C-88 as a critical next step.
If Bill C-88 is not passed, not only will Canada not have fulfilled its commitment to Northwest Territories indigenous communities, but these communities will be forced back into time-consuming, expensive, acrimonious litigation, all adversely affecting that treaty relationship and the broader reconciliation project. Further, this would generate regulatory uncertainty that benefits no one, as the architecture for project reviews in the Mackenzie Valley would then remain fluid.
Bill C-88 is a step toward certainty in the Mackenzie Valley, and that is a step that should be taken at this time in the view of the GTC.
Third, and finally, for members of the committee interested in reforms that are not included in Bill C-88 in its present form, the GTC would respectfully submit that now is not the time to pursue such changes. Rather, now is the time to pass the important changes in Bill C-88, particularly part 1, so that the Northwest Territories modern treaty partners can move forward beyond the threat of the super-board and the toxicity of litigation.
However, members of the committee will, no doubt, be heartened to recall that an opportunity for further review of the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is in the offing. As I believe you've heard from members of this committee, and other witnesses, further review of the MVRMA is coming as part of the five-year post-devolution review of the legislation, and a previously announced broader review of the legislation.
For example, if members are interested in including explicit reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that could be part of this forthcoming review. Similarly, the review will likely take place at a time when there's finally certainty with respect to changes that may come through the proposed impact assessment act, for the regime in southern Canada. For example, changes with respect to timelines, factors to consider in an assessment and decision-making parameters could all be part of that later review.
As such, it will make sense to revisit the MVRMA at a later time, to ensure, perhaps, proper alignment between northern and southern project assessment regimes.
All this is to say that there is this release valve, or parking lot, if you will, that exists right now for ideas that go beyond the current version of Bill C-88. Discussion about potential inclusion of those ideas in the bill is, respectfully, inappropriate at this time and would be better directed towards this future process, which we expect will be a process in which indigenous communities will fully collaborate.
Those are the prepared submissions of the GTC today, but I'm more than happy to discuss any of this during the question and answer period. I would note that if any questions are particularly technical or political in nature, I may refrain from answering, but will respond at a later time, after we are able to discuss with the GTC leadership and technical staff.
Thank you.
[Witness spoke in Dene as follows:]
Mahsi cho.
[Dene text translated as follows:]
Thank you.
View Robert-Falcon Ouellette Profile
Lib. (MB)
[Member spoke in Cree as follows:]
[Cree text translated as follows:]
Madam Chair, to all my relations, I say hello. I am very proud to be here.
[English]
I just have a few questions actually.
Monsieur Watson, you mentioned you see things differently and you also mentioned they see their future differently, see themselves differently. Who are you referring to “they” exactly?
View Robert-Falcon Ouellette Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you very much.
[Member spoke in Cree as follows:]
[Cree text translated as follows:]
Madam Chair, to all my relations, I say hello. I am very proud to be here.
[English]
Thank you very much, Josh, Jocelyn and Pamela.
Josh, with the number of children you saw in care, were they all receiving the appropriate services? Do we need to try something different?
Jerry Daniels
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Jerry Daniels
2019-05-14 11:39
Good morning. Thank you, members of the committee, for allowing me some time to speak on a very important matter that affects our children, our families, our communities and the nation.
My name is Jerry Daniels. I'm the grand chief for the Southern Chiefs' Organization: 34 first nations in southern Manitoba, primarily the Anishinabe and Dakota peoples; 90,000 citizens in total.
[Witness spoke in Ojibwe as follows:]
Ogimaamakwad ndizhinikaaz Binesii ndoodem.
[Ojibwe text translated as follows:]
Leading cloud is my name, Thunderbird is my clan.
[English]
My relatives, I am happy to come and join you and to speak about a legislative act that I know is being discussed in great detail about how it can impact the quality of life of our children, how it can create opportunity. We're talking about a system that has had very detrimental effects on many of our children and our families, and has caused great harm over a great number of years. Some have even characterized it as a continuation of the residential school era.
First nations have the inherent right to self-determination and self-government. We have laws, customs and have entered into treaty. First nations have our own ways of caring for our children. What I will share with you as well is that I'm actually a member of the people who have gone through the CFS system. As a young person I was in group homes and I struggled as a young person. My family moved around a lot and I ended up there. However, in my experience I was able to meet many elders and many good people who were a part of the system and helped me to become who I am and helped me to establish some values. In fact, the first sweat lodge that I went to was through the CFS system. It was at the Selkirk Healing Centre in Manitoba.
First nations have our own ways of keeping our families and communities strong and intact. However, our laws, institutions and system have been impacted by the Canadian legal system, specifically the CFS Act.
We have been focused on supporting community-driven solutions. Since I've been in office, which is a little over two years, I have tried to focus on what's working in Manitoba. My focus shifted to the Sandy Bay First Nation where we've seen changes in the number of children who were in care. They brought down the number of children by using more practical techniques in working with families. They worked with families and with the extended family and they found other means to ensure the best interests of the child...which didn't result in the apprehension or the break-up of the family. That's where I'd like to focus, and I think that's where the priorities need to be when we think of CFS.
We have a CFS liaison at the Southern Chiefs' Organization. We are actually the primary authority for CFS in southern Manitoba. We make the board appointments to the southern authority, which is the regulatory body for all of the agencies in southern Manitoba. We have been collaborating with them over the last couple of years very intensely to ensure that the regulations are reflecting community needs and that they're supportive of what needs to happen on the ground.
We have a lot of challenges, but I don't think the challenges are insurmountable. I think we're quite capable of ensuring that families are reunited and that the best interests of the child are established, as well as the cultural values and traditions of our people, which enable our children to have a strong foundation in their identity.
I want to talk about how we really need federal intervention when it comes to CFS. We've had a great deal of trouble working with the province on finding common ground when it comes to the customary care. The Southern Chiefs' Organization supported it. I steer, with the province...and we work with them and we agreed in principle what customary care would be, which is community laws, community direction.
That would drive priorities and regulations and how children would be supported or how we would deal with a situation that isn't in the interests of the child.
It has been our focus over the last couple of years. What we are starting to see is that there is a change from where we had thought it would be—where the customary care would be really done with the community and the family—to now almost like an agency-driven personal care plan, which you can already do through the current legislation.
When I look at the proposed legislation when we're talking about substantive equality and the best interests of the child, I think that these are good things. I don't think that we're ever going to get it totally right. I think that the practicality of any legislation on the ground is subject to the people who are implementing it and subject to the interpretation of those people in the communities and throughout the region.
People in the communities care. They're not there to kidnap our children. They're there to protect our children and to do the best job that they can. I truly believe that. I don't think that people in CFS agencies, the workers, are there to do anything other than that, so if they are given the ability to direct funding towards helping families and ensuring there is a plan and that families are supported, you're going to see better outcomes.
That is why I support Bill C-92. It is really about being able to give first nations the jurisdiction, to not allow interference in that jurisdiction and to support it. Like others who are here and who have just presented at this committee, and like others, I'm sure, who have been here, I have concerns about funding: that it may not be enough for the governance side, that it may not be enough for the service delivery side.
My hope is that the substantive equality provision will reflect that and that it will translate into enough funding so that we get it right. The fact that Manitoba has such a high number of children.... It is ground zero for CFS. We have to be given an opportunity to take direct control of CFS, and it needs to be funded properly. We are prepared to do that. We've been doing that. We've been working with CFS directors. We've been connecting them with our community leadership. We've been including our women and our grandmothers in the process. That is the approach that we're taking, so it's my hope that people continue to work to move the agenda forward, to focus on supporting families and the community. If we can allow for them to take the lead on this, I think you're going to see child and family services, child welfare, delivered much more effectively in the community and supported much more effectively.
It's time for government, really, to get out of the way and to allow for that. They're going to make mistakes the same way government has been making mistakes for the last hundred years, and they're going to continue to make mistakes. However, we learn and we adjust, and we continue to build off knowledge from those situations.
That's our argument. We do not think that Bill C-92 is going to be the end-all for CFS. We think that it's going to be an interim measure. Like any other act that is passed through this Parliament, it's going to have to be changed and adjusted through the experience that's lived on the ground.
That's what I'm here to communicate to you. I hope that this bill is moved forward so that we can get on with supporting the development of laws at a community and regional level, and focus on what substantive equality really means and how that's actually going to look through the comprehensive negotiated agreements that are going to have to take place after the bill is passed. Those are going to include community members. They're going to include people in the community. They're going to include regional bodies.
That is going to be the final agreement in the interim, once again. It's an agreement, but it's still a wait and see, because you have to see the impacts. The quality of life of those people who are ending up in jails, who are ending up on the street, is going to improve, because you're going to have a community-driven strategy. That is the most important part of this bill.
Meegwetch.
Lyle Thomas
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Lyle Thomas
2019-05-14 12:33
Thank you. Good morning.
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
[English]
I'm a member of the Neskonlith Indian Band, but I reside with my wife, who is from the Kamloops Secwépemc. We have five children and one grandson. I work for the Secwépemc Child and Family Services Agency. My title with the agency is “cultural worker”. We are caregivers for the agency, and currently we have two little girls who are part of our family.
I'm honoured and thankful that, on behalf of the agency, I can share a small part of the thoughts on the new Bill C-92. However, before I get started, I'd like to recognize that these proceedings are taking place on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. I would like to thank them for allowing me the chance to share what my feelings and thoughts are for the children and families who we serve.
After reading Bill C-92, the first thing that I thought was this: How does it affect the families and the culture of those families as a whole? Yes, Bill C-92 focuses on the child or children who have a chance to be placed with extended family or with members within their community. However, what is most important is how it keeps the family connected.
For children, their main want is to be with their parents. With these thoughts and feeling of reconnecting, this needs to go beyond the children and should involve their parents. It should allow them to grow together and to learn and reconnect. This love will always be between a child and a parent as a group, and they will find their roots in remembering who they are.
It is exciting to see that the government, with the introduction of Bill C-92, is recognizing how important it is for individuals to be grounded and to have a place and a sense of identity. However, there are also times to remember that these children may be in a different nation or territory learning their ways and traditions. There may be something from the past of the parents that has made them move to another nation, that has made them move away to protect the children they love from their own nation, their own reserve, their own people. For the interests of the children, they may be placed with caregivers from those host nations who treat and love that child like their own. They have a connection with the family, but most of all, they teach the child in their home with the same values, the same love and the same respect that all nations have.
Bill C-92 may be as strong as the language in the assurances in the old law that families will be afforded the opportunity to remain connected throughout any interaction with child and welfare services.
I'd like to thank you for allowing me a brief time to speak. Now I'd like to pass it on to my colleague.
Bernie Charlie
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Bernie Charlie
2019-05-14 12:36
Good morning.
[Witness spoke in Wet'suwet'en as follows:]
Hadih so’endzin? Siy Bernie Charlie sjutnee.
[Wet'suwet'en text translated as follows:]
Hello how are you? My name is Bernie Charlie.
[English]
I introduced myself to you in my Carrier language.
My name is Bernie Charlie. I am a proud Carrier matriarch in training. I am the youngest child of nine of my mother, Dil-za Dza-kiy, Violet Charlie, who holds this hereditary chief name that she acquired through the traditional governance system of my people called the bah'lats also known commonly as the potlatch.
I want to acknowledge my late father, Ben Charlie Sr., who has crossed over to the spirit world to watch over us with our ancestors.
In our bah'lats, we have four clans: the Jihl tse yu, which is the frog clan; Likh ji bu, the bear clan; Gilhanten, the caribou clan; and.... Sorry, I can't read my own typing.
Anyway, I sit with the Likh ji bu, the bear clan of my people, and my late father belonged to Gilhanten, the caribou clan. In our bah'lats, children are born into the clan of their mothers. Before contact, it was the matriarchs, the mothers, the grandmothers and the extended family who were the decision-makers for the people in relation to the political, social and economic governance of the communities. The bah'lats are still very much alive in our nation. My community of origin, which is the Lake Babine nation, is statistically the third largest band in B.C.
I want to acknowledge the unceded ancestral homelands of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, where I have the privilege to work, to live and to play. I am very fortunate that I have a surrogate family in this beautiful territory of the Secwépemc people. I have an entire network of surrogate parents and extended family who I find comfort in when I need support in my life.
I am the mother of two beautiful children and a surrogate mother to several others who refer to me as a guide, a mentor and a protector for them. I am also a kyé7e, a grandmother to one beautiful biological baby girl and to several others who refer to me as their grandmother in our cultural customs.
As the youngest child in the family of my siblings, my siblings would say that I was the spoiled one. However, I do recall that the multiple cousins who lived with us through many of my formative years were often fed first, given new linen and often bought new clothes as opposed to the recycled clothes that I recall I was able to choose from first. I did not realize at that time that they were foster children and that they were given to our family because they were abused or neglected in their own homes down the street on our reserve.
My recollections of my childhood include living in a government-subsidized, four-bedroom CMHC house that was filled to the brim with multiple generations, including my aged deaf and blind xpé7e, my grandfather, my parents, my siblings and my cousins. At one point in time, there were 13 people living in our four-bedroom home. My parents ensured that we were always fed, that we were clean, and that we were sent to the local Catholic school for our education. When my older siblings completed elementary school, they were sent away to the Catholic boarding high school, which was almost 300 kilometres away from us.
I needed to share with you this small bit of my history and how it relates to this pre-study on Bill C-92.
My work on the front lines as a resource social worker with Secwépemc Child and Family Services Agency has given me some excellent first-hand experience in sharing some of what I have learned. I take a completely relational approach from the perspective of a C6 delegated social worker, which simply means that I have the authority and the obligation to remove a child from an unsafe environment.
I made some notes of potential considerations, and I will just review them according to how they appear in the document.
In regard to the principle of the best interests of the child, historically children were raised in communal family systems where the extended family group all assumed the responsibility of caring for children: parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and others in the community.
Currently, under the provincial legislation, the focus is primarily on the individual child. This has been the practice in child welfare. Due to the high numbers of indigenous children in care, it is proven that this process is not working.
In moving forward, the focus needs to be on the family unit: the family and the extended family that cares for and provides for children. What is best for families and communities will always be best for children.
With regard to the best interests of the indigenous child, may I suggest the wording in subclause 10(1) read, “The best interests of the family must be the primary consideration”.
Another theme is capacity, building the foundation for children to be home and stay home in times of crisis, investing in rebuilding what was lost. This lends itself to communities coming back to life and caring for families naturally.
Among other factors to be considered, with regard to the child's cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, or lack thereof, segments of the urban population, specifically in B.C., have seen that due to multiple factors such as—
Judy Wilson
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Judy Wilson
2019-05-14 12:45
Thank you.
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
[English]
I'm acknowledging and honouring the unceded lands and the peoples of the Algonquin territory, where these proceedings are taking place.
I'm from the Secwépemc Nation, one of the largest nations in the interior of British Columbia. I am a member of executive of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. We've been working towards the implementation, exercise and recognition of our inherent title and treaty rights. The union has been involved in advocacy work and efforts with the provincial government and the federal government to recognize and affirm our inherent jurisdiction over our children, for many decades.
It's important that the work of advancing the policy and legislation for our children is a priority of our B.C. first nations, and for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. I'm also a member of the First Nations Leadership Council in B.C. We're made up of the First Nations Summit, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. Our three organizations work together, and bring respective political mandates to build a strong collective and unified voice in British Columbia. One of those issues has always been the children and youth.
It started in 2002, with the Tsawwassen Accord—it will all be in our brief we submitted to you—and also in the leadership accord developed in 2005. We've been working toward these outcomes and changes for our children. Bill C-92 does offer practical and meaningful progress that aligns with our work here in B.C.
It is the utmost importance in critical timing this legislation is presenting. Even though we've done some provincial changes to the legislation out here, with respect to children and family, we find that we're still stuck in a lot of the old models. The only thing we were able to do was delegated agencies for many years. Really, the delegated agencies were supposed to be a transition to full jurisdiction for our nations.
We have been stuck in that process. We need to carry on with that work, into the affirmation and recognition of our inherent title rights, especially with our children. We have to change, because indigenous children across Canada are overrepresented in the system. The first contact with the settlers and colonial laws impacted our families, and broke down our families, through residential schools. It's documented in all the different commissions and hearings that have happened in Canada.
We need to make that change. Our families are fractured, and we need to bring them back together, for that meaningful change in the lives of the children—to be able to bring them home.
In our community, we recently brought 20 children home, but it was a lot of effort and fight to do that. We held an honouring and recognition for our children. Our nation also held one, about a month ago, in Vancouver, where many families were reunited with their children. That's only the start of the work. There needs to be a lot more work in bringing up our children, and truly connecting them with who they are, in their lands, their families and their communities. We have to have that meaningful change for our children and families.
One of the core purposes of this legislation must be to implement the United Nations declaration. It's truly a framework for reconciliation, and it was recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yet, the provisions in the bill, under clause 8, do not reference the United Nations declaration as the context for the reconciliation in child welfare. It's only referenced in the preamble, but not in the critically important and substantive clause 8, on purpose and principles. That needs to change in this legislation.
I also emphasize this because the United Nations declaration reflects the minimum standards of the survival and dignity of our indigenous people. It sets out the minimum standards of human rights. It's an important provision that needs to be emphasized in the implementation of Bill C-92, once it becomes legislation. Article 22 focuses on the importance of respecting the rights of girls and women and ensuring they do not experience discrimination. For this reason, I urge you to consider an amendment to clause 8 of Bill C-92, adding paragraph (c), as follows, “To implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a progressive framework for the resolution of human rights issues impacting children, youth, and families.”
One of the other things I wanted to note is that this is a historic and transformational moment for Canada and for indigenous people across Canada. We cannot let this moment pass. If we went back in time to the residential school policy legislation changes, for example, had we made that change, how many families would not have had to go through that whole residential school experience? We're saying that with this child and family legislation, we have an opportunity to make these changes, stop the number of children going into care and reunify them with their community and their family.
There must be that meaningful change, because there are more children in care now through this child welfare system than at the height of the residential schools. It's continuing to grow. Former minister Philpott mentioned that this was a humanitarian crisis, which it very much is, so we can't sit by idly and let this go. We have to keep pressing forward on these changes that are to come. We've been doing it in the courts. We've been doing it in other avenues, but now we have the opportunity through legislation.
It's been about four years now since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report urging Canada to deal with the residential schools and the child welfare system, and to support languages. We're on that threshold, and we need to be able to carry on with this work and not let another year pass by.
Bill C-92 provides a means by which we can begin to action some of these calls. I think the core...the families, the communities and our legal systems are really important. Since the time it was established, that colonial law, as I mentioned, severed that connection. It was meant to assimilate our people into the system, and the result was the removal of our children and the disruption of our family systems.
The other part of this is the funding piece. Bill C-92 must include the funding. We can't rely just on the coordination agreements that dictate the resources for this rebuilding. Because of the colonial impact, it's important that Canada also attach the funding to this process so that we don't have to rely on, as Bernie mentioned earlier, the western view of the best interests of the child. It's really important to rely on the collective interests of not just the child, but the families as well. They were trying to stop the transmission of our culture, our ceremonies, our language and our laws, but in a reverse way we can turn that around so that we're empowering the children, the families and the communities for healing and for rebuilding. It's really important to rebuild our families, our communities, our nations.
Our Secwépemc Nation is doing a lot of that work in our child and family jurisdiction. It's called Stsmémelt. We've been working with the Secwépemc Child and Family Services and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council in rebuilding that. It's a lot of work, and it does need to be resourced.
This approach didn't survive, because our people had resilience and have survived it. I stand before you today despite the damage that the colonial laws caused. We're going to continue to rebuild our people and our children, our families. Canada has an obligation to right these wrongs that impacted so many of our families and children across Canada. We really need to bring our children home so they can be raised in our communities by our own people and know that they can connect with their communities and their language and their laws.
I wanted to touch on one other area. I acknowledge and support a lot of the nations that have issues with this legislation, because each nation has a right to self-determination under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, article 3. If they wish to enact their own laws, they just need the recognition, whether it's their treaty recognition or their inherent recognition; they have the free choice to do that themselves. This legislation must find a way to respect that, or again, it will be a colonial path, and we don't want to go down that path.
We want to be able to respect those nations that make their own decisions for their nations and do not rely on Canada's laws to do that. It's their choice if they don't want to recognize the bill. We have a mandate here in B.C. Our chiefs have already identified the mandate to work with this bill, Bill C-92. It's federal legislation. It provides affirmation to our inherent children's rights that exist and does not rely on these colonial laws.
We will submit our brief. Again, thank you for the time to discuss these issues with you. I look forward to the questions you may have.
Cheryl Casimer
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Cheryl Casimer
2019-05-09 8:36
[Witness spoke in Ktunaxa]
[English]
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for providing me an opportunity to share some thoughts on the bill with you. I'd like to start off by acknowledging the unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples and thanking them for allowing us to do this important work.
I'm a member of the political executive with the First Nations Summit in British Columbia. We represent those first nations involved in and supportive of treaty negotiations with Canada and British Columbia. I'm also a member of the First Nations Leadership Council, which is a political collaboration among the First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and the BC Assembly of First Nations.
The bill before you for study is one of the most single important pieces of legislation for first nations people in a generation.
For the 204 first nations communities and tribal councils in British Columbia, and for our nations that are actively working to put in place our child and family laws and policies within our systems of government, this legislation is long overdue.
We have been working with Canada and British Columbia to prepare for implementation of first nations jurisdiction. We confirmed in 2015 that we would pursue legislative, policy and practice reform to achieve this objective. We know that the task of reform is daunting, but it is one of the most important tasks we will have.
Bill C-92 must be understood within the context of the status quo for first nations children. The reality is that there are approximately 5,000 first nations children in care in British Columbia and approximately 40,000 in Canada. This is more children than there were in the residential schools at the height of their operations.
We collectively face a humanitarian and national human rights crisis. I acknowledge the work of former minister Jane Philpott, who called a national emergency meeting in January 2018 to find a means to address this national crisis in partnership with first nations and address the issue around first nations children, family and communities.
We see Bill C-92 as a significant and important first federal step in the legislative reform necessary to support first nations in exercising their jurisdiction over child welfare. While there are opportunities to strengthen Bill C-92, the bill has many positive features.
First nations in B.C. want to take this next step of work, and Bill C-92 provides the necessary support for us to do so and to give proper footing to this work for the implementation stages. It will finally enable Canada to work with first nations in a meaningful way, based on the recognition and respect of our rights, to transform child welfare and restore indigenous systems and approaches to supporting children and families.
There are at least six major aspects of this bill that will build upon our work and take it to that next level: one, priority for prevention approaches; two, provisions on substantive equality; three, best interests of the child provisions; four, priority for placement of children with family and community; five, principles for service delivery; and, six, process rights. Yet, there will be a critical need to make sure that these concepts work on the ground, and that implementation of the legislation is effective in shifting away from the overrepresentation of first nations children in child welfare systems and toward prevention and the reunification of families.
Having said that, I would like to now focus on a number of key recommendations that we believe would strengthen the bill.
We recommend that Bill C-92 include a role for an independent children's advocate or commissioner at the federal level to support the implementation of the concepts and the rights in Bill C-92, and to monitor implementation and assist children, youth and families in navigating the systems that will be impacted by this law.
Second, we understand that there is a review period of five years to evaluate the effectiveness of the bill. We believe this time frame may be too long for the first such review. As such, we believe that the bill should be reviewed after three years and should make sure the special first review covers issues raised by many before this committee and in public comment on the bill, including the addressing of funding; jurisdiction; better outcomes for children and youth; reunification of families; and respect for women and girls, and elimination of discrimination on the basis of gender.
We'd also like to add a reference to the United Nations declaration in the purpose. I urge you to add a specific reference to the United Nations declaration in the purpose section of Bill C-92, as was done in Bill C-91 regarding indigenous languages, so that the United Nations declaration can form and provide necessary context for this work at all levels. We are proposing an amendment to consider a provision (c) to state: to implement the United Nations declaration as a progressive framework for the resolution of human rights issues impacting children, youth and families.
Next we'd like to address the issue of funding. We believe that we need to have statutory funding issues addressed in the bill as well. We're not sure about the mandate of the committee to recommend changes in that regard, but I do emphasize that funding is critically important to reform child welfare and to support first nations child and family services.
Next, in relation to the “stronger ties” rule, we draw your attention to the fact that some of the provisions of the bill may cause confusion with regard to our first nations laws and practices.
The provisions on stronger ties in clause 24 provide that when a conflict between two nations' rules appears to present a conflict over which first nations system applies to the decision for a specific child or family, the test in the bill is that the governing law will be that of the “community” with “stronger ties”. This kind of rule may be valuable, but it needs to be qualified to permit the first nations laws to sort out how conflicts will be handled as well. Our inter-tribal systems have worked this out for generations and the either-or nature of this may undermine some of our laws and practices.
For this reason, I believe there should be a section added to clause 24 which provides that “the rules for resolving conflicts between laws may also be resolved through agreements between Indigenous governing bodies or according to Indigenous laws applicable to children and families”.
I thank you for the opportunity to appear and provide feedback on this important and momentous bill, and I urge you to work with resolve to complete this task as a priority and to see this bill through to completion. It is long overdue and most urgently needed.
Thank you.
Katherine Whitecloud
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Katherine Whitecloud
2019-05-09 9:56
Good morning, Madam Chair, and thank you very much.
[Witness spoke in Lakota]
[English]
My relatives, it's with a glad heart that I shake your hands for the opportunity to be here in front of you. I used my language to announce to my ancestors that I am here speaking on behalf of our children, from our people and our community.
Although I would love to speak about all of the technical aspects of this bill, my learned colleagues who presented before me have done so, as have my relatives from Saskatchewan spoken to the technical aspects. I'm going to talk about and share with you the realities and what needs to be done, and what works for our people with regard to our families and our children.
Terminology is so very important, and in our culture and in our ways, we do not have a term for “child welfare”. We only have a term for our children, which is wakanyeja, our “sacred ones”. Our life is to wrap around our sacred ones as the gifts they are.
The history of child welfare is extensive. Successive governments have studied and reviewed and made recommendations for addressing the state of child welfare and therefore the state of our people and our nations. We can talk about the litany of reviews and recommendations. However, my purpose in being here today is to share with you how and what we, as [Witness spoke in Lakota], have committed to do to bring about family wholeness and family well-being, and in so doing, community well-being and a thriving nation.
We all are aware of the residential school effects. Our people have felt it. My family has felt it. My parents lived it. Our people have lived the sixties scoop, where whole families were decimated because of child welfare and the loss of family. I attended a funeral just before I left to come here of a girl who grew up through the sixties scoop. Her younger sister knew nothing about who her relatives are. It brought tears to her eyes when I addressed her as my relative and about how important she was to our family and how important all of us are for each other.
Many of our relatives, through the sixties scoop and the residential schools, and through the child welfare system, especially our women and young girls, have been taken advantage of and been decimated through missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The report that is going to be presented to you shortly, also, will be coming down.
There is a direct correlation between all of those past government policy impacts—residential schools, sixties scoop, child welfare—and other government policies that removed our children from our communities and our families. It is especially the women and the girls who have been directly impacted. They have suffered, and are missing and have been murdered because of their experiences and their parental experiences through all of those policies that I mentioned.
Our people are unique. We are distinct. We have a language and a culture that is like no other. Our traditions are strong. Our spiritual life is powerful and guides us in every moment of our lives. This is the reason that I used my language to begin my presentation and to share the resurgence of our ancestral knowledge of our knowing—the knowing that runs in our blood and our veins, the knowing and understanding that our grandparents and our ancestors watch over us and guide us and that their teachings and all of their knowledge run in our veins. It's powerful, and it's alive.
We are fully cognizant that for our people to flourish, we must be whole and healthy in body and spirit. We must take care of ourselves and we must take care of each other. We must protect and care for our sacred ones, our sacred wakanyeja, our children.
We who have accepted the gift and responsibility of parenthood, just as all or most of you have, who have lived and thrived with the sacred knowledge of our ancestors through our language, must do this. No one can do this for us. This is to bring wholeness and well-being to our families. This is to mend the broken hoop of our families. This is to reconnect to the land, to our place, to our homes. This is to make our families and homes whole again, with our wakanyeja at the centre of all that we do. This is to fulfill our roles and responsibilities as [Witness spoke in Lakota], and to fulfill our purpose in life.
Others of our people have articulated succinctly and with great passion the history of devastation inflicted on our people, on our lands and our ways of life. The most heinous have been the atrocities inflicted on our most vulnerable, our innocent and sacred children.
Our children are the ones who have suffered beyond suffering. When you have stripped a mother and a father, or a grandmother or a grandfather of their purpose in life—their purpose for being—you've inflicted the greatest harm known to man.
It is within this context that Bill C-92 is viewed. Can we trust you? Can we trust your word? Can we trust the honour of your word, the honour of your purpose and the honour of your people that you represent and speak on behalf of? That is the state of the relationship between you and our people, our families and our children.
There are gaps within Bill C-92 that have been identified and brought forward. Colleagues who presented this morning have spoken to the needed changes. Those who have written the words and those who continue to argue for paramountcy inscribing this legal document must remember that our children are witnesses to the outcome. Our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, our aunts, our uncles and our siblings are silent witnesses to the outcome. They've not had the opportunity to express to you how they see their families being whole again. Those who are affected the most have no say and no input to the life decisions you are going to make.
That document you are working on is fragile. It can be destroyed, just as families have been destroyed through the loss of their children. Our children are our flesh and blood. They are our future. They are our lifeblood. They are our destiny. They are our ancestors. Only we, [Witness spoke in Lakota], have the responsibility for our children.
History shows that all of the efforts to help our children have failed. Our children are a gift and a responsibility provided to us by our maker. Each child is brought to us as unique human being, to teach us, to connect us to our ancestors and to our future, to provide that path for greater things to come, to carry our history and to make history. We honour our child; we uplift our child. We love and cherish, and we are all equal in purpose and design.
Sadly, our children are caught in a political firestorm. They are right in the middle of it. The reality of a child's spirit and well-being is left out of the jockeying of positions for who is going to win a legal or political battle. Our children are trapped. Not one can speak for themselves, except for our colleague and our brother who presented this morning as an adult.
A system that doesn't understand our culture, doesn't speak our language and doesn't understand our traditions and protocols cannot understand the needs of our child. That's the process we are trapped in. We know what the solution is. Our plan and intent is to transition to supports for family well-being built on our original child caring, child rearing, nurturance of the individual spirit and family-centred way of life. They will be built on understanding our kinship relationships and will re-establish the undefeatable foundation of families rooted in our language and culture and, in doing so, reconnect to our knowing the ancestral knowledge that has sustained us since time began: the power of respect, kindness, truth, honesty, integrity, sharing, helping, giving and love.
What are commonly referred to as preventative services—what we know as expressing kindness, as caring and love and providing supports to our kinship systems—means providing mentoring, guidance and support for the healing of families. It means taking responsibility for our families through our children, through our heads of families, through our family leadership, through our grandmothers and our aunties. It means committing to family and to coming together as a family. It means giving life to our laws and rules that are inherent within our language. Within our languages, our kinship system, our rules of conduct and our role in life, we are blessed with this gift of our language. It is our lifeline.
I have the utmost faith that we can and will accomplish what our children and our people have given us direction to do, that our children will come home, that our families will be whole and our people will survive. Our young people are committed and our relatives are committed and our leadership—the leaders of our families—are committed. We have no other option.
I have five pages, MaryAnn.
We will accomplish this with honour and integrity. We have given our word. We love our children and our relatives. No one can do this other than ourselves. No one understands our language but us. No one represents our children but us, our tiyóspaye.
In my childhood it was looked upon as bringing dishonour to our family and extended family, our tiyóspaye, if children were apprehended. If that blue government car came in your yard, people would hide, ashamed. Grandmothers wouldn't allow that to happen. That blue car is in our yard every day now, but it's driven by our own people. That practice has to stop, and we'll not allow it to continue. This is work we have to do in our homes and our communities for our people.
The legislative process we are engaged in right now has no understanding of this, the heart of our people and the legacy of our ancestors that we carry. This is where the answers lie.
Our youth are connecting to this. Our young girls are seeking out isnati, our coming of age. [Inaudible—Editor] are also seeking their coming of age. Our young men will understand their role as protectors, gatherers and providers and about their responsibilities in life. Our children will be honoured and uplifted, and our families and homes will be whole. They have to be.
Perry Bellegarde
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Perry Bellegarde
2019-05-09 10:36
Thank you, Madam Chair.
[Witness spoke in Ukrainian]
[English]
That's little bit of Ukrainski. I know your background.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
[English]
That's “I'm happy to be here” in Cree.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
[English]
I'm thanking you all, as relatives and friends, and I'm thanking you for acknowledging the Algonquin territory here.
This morning, I also welcome the good thoughts, mind and brain of my colleague, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. She is a well-known person across Canada and an expert in child welfare, amongst other things.
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada provided many concrete proposals for moving forward on the reconciliation and human rights of first nations. The TRC acknowledged in the first five calls to action that the matter before you today, child welfare, has to be addressed.
The TRC specifically identified the need for federal legislation to launch the change needed to end the crisis of over-apprehension of first nations children. The TRC also said that meeting the minimum human rights standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is foundational to reconciliation.
This approach informed the resolutions adopted by the Assembly of First Nations, which led to our involvement in this initiative. The reason is compelling. We have many resolutions from our chiefs in assembly. Nobody can question the mandate or ask why the AFN is doing this. You don't get a hundred per cent of everything all the time. I don't think any of your parties do. I don't think Canadians do, on any issue, and neither does the AFN, but we have a mandate and we have direction as per our process. That's why we're doing this.
When rights have been violated and children's lives have been harmed, we say that, over time in these systems, the respect for the basic human rights of children, families, communities and nations is only the proper framework.
Why is Bill C-92 important? Bill C-92 must be understood within the context of the status quo today for first nations children. I know it sounds repetitive—you've heard many witnesses—but we're going to keep saying it until people get it. There are 40,000 children in care right across Canada. Some of the provinces are worse than others.
You have two systems. There are on-reserve child and family services agencies, but now there are the provincial systems as well that need to be addressed. That's what this is trying to look at.
When we say that there are 40,000 first nations children in care in Canada, we know that there are more children in care than were in the residential schools at the height of their operations. That's a very astounding stat and figure and number. It's a human rights crisis in Canada. So we say that it's a humanitarian crisis and a national human rights crisis. It's not a challenge that will be met by federal, provincial and territorial governments continuing to impose their assumed jurisdiction over our children while ignoring the inherent rights of first nations people.
The status quo has been a clear and unconscionable failure. It has huge consequences for generations of children, families and communities. Bill C-92 marks a significant shift from the legal status quo regarding first nations jurisdiction. The bill includes several provisions that affirm the inherent aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, including self-determination and the inherent right of self-government in relation to children and families. Many first nations are ready to operate under their own laws, and they have been pushing for this for decades.
I always say this: Occupy the field. You have federal laws. You have provincial and territorial laws, but you also can have—and should have—first nations laws in different sectors. Occupy the field and assert that jurisdiction as part of that inherent right.
Splatsin First Nation and Kukpi7 Christian—he's going to be here later on today—is a case in point. Kukpi7 Christian and the tribal council are ready, as are many others across Canada. We are being held back by the lack of legislation supporting and recognizing full first nations authority and jurisdiction over child and family services.
In addition to the jurisdiction and law-making affirmations in the legislation, operational principles were added to ensure that critical problems in child welfare can be addressed immediately.
Principles such as the priority on prevention and the placement of children are designed to recalibrate the child welfare system on the first day after royal assent. Prioritizing prevention over apprehension, along with the importance of culturally relevant placements, are immediate improvements available to first nations even before first nations pass their own laws.
Bill C-92 also advances substantive legal recognition of the human rights of first nations peoples by affirming collective rights, critical rights of individual children and youth, and the rights of their families and caregivers.
Bill C-92 is a good step forward. It's a step forward for first nations, and there is a pressing urgency to complete the work and see the bill passed. It's very important work of this committee. Roll it all up. You have to get it into votes and then over to the Senate. That's another avenue to look at. June is coming and there's a sense of urgency for friends and relatives.
We say that no one piece of legislation is going to reverse all the problems, but this legislation is a step forward.
It's a step forward. No single legislative instrument will be enough on its own. Starting with a national framework while regional and first nations-level innovations continue is a good first step. There's flexibility. This legislation will complement and not detract from existing self-government agreements.
The impact of the child welfare system is felt every day in first nations communities and families. You've heard constantly—and it's true—that there is no greater gift from the Creator than our children. They deserve to grow and develop within their families, with full knowledge of their culture, languages, customs and traditions, and with the love and support of their first nations.
We require a system that affirms our identity and our family systems, where we no longer are required to push and plead for support and recognition from provincial governments: governments that have merely taken their cues from the Indian Act and consequently have imposed harsh policies on us that have failed our children.
Bill C-92 recognizes and affirms what we firmly believe that we have always had: a right to raise and take care of our children according to our own practices and values and to transmit our languages and cultures across the generations and into the future.
Clause 18 of the bill is critical for us. There must be a rights-based approach that affirms our inherent rights, including self-government for child and family services. It's time that Canada shifted the system to do what should have been done years ago.
Bill C-92 is an important step forward because it affirms our jurisdiction and creates space for first nations laws and practices regarding our families. It is rights-respecting legislation within the context of implementing the UN declaration, which is the minimum standard for the survival and dignity of indigenous peoples. It sets out key principles that will prevent children from being removed from their homes unnecessarily, promotes children staying in their communities and ensures that the principle of the best interests of the child is understood and applied with a first nations lens for our children and families.
We know that Bill C-92 is not perfect.
I made my little line here: Perfection in any bill or law can be seen and viewed as an enemy of good. Begin and build perfection over time, because there are reviews, but at least start. Start. Get it passed.
This can be strengthened and we have recommendations to strengthen it. There are four areas.
Number one is funding, a very important piece. Funding should be clarified through three amendments: (a) the language on funding in the preamble needs to be more precise to affirm that Canada acknowledges the call for funding and accepts the call for funding; (b) a funding provision in the body of the bill is needed; and, (c) clause 20 of the bill on coordination agreements needs to be more precise about the fiscal arrangement needed to support first nations governments and coordinate services across systems on the reserve and off the reserve. There has to be coordination.
That's one piece on the funding.
Number two, the UN declaration reference in the preamble is important but must also be included in the purpose section, clause 8, to include advancing the UN declaration as a key purpose of the legislation. This provision must be done in the same manner as was done in Bill C-91, the indigenous languages bill. The UN declaration is a framework and has many important provisions for children and families, like clause 8, on preventing forced removal of children from one culture to another.
Number three, the best interests of the child sections should be amended to clarify that first nations governing bodies that pass laws prescribing the factors for determining the best interests of the children will add to the factors in the bill, creating recognition and support for our ways of caring for our children and families. This is important, because for some of our people we do not remove a child. We remove the person harming the child and keep the family intact. We believe that this is in the best interests of the child. Our laws must be affirmed and our practices supported to preserve family unity.
The fourth one, Jordan's principle, should be given explicit reference in relation to substantive equality for children to ensure that this useful legal tool is confirmed in Bill C-92, building upon the resolutions of Parliament that have adopted Jordan's principle. This can be added to the preamble and to all sections referencing “substantive equality”, including subclause 9(3).
I say all of this foremost in the interests of first nations children and families.
Madam Chair, these are the formal amendments that I have just read. I want to formally table these amendments to the committee. It will help in your report writing. They're all here.
That's it.
Arlen Dumas
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Arlen Dumas
2019-05-09 11:36
Excellent. Thank you very much.
I am Grand Chief Arlen Dumas from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Thanks for the opportunity to speak on this very important issue.
As our moderator said, Manitoba is ground zero for child welfare apprehensions. That validates statements made by representatives of the government who have said that it is a humanitarian crisis.
First, I want to acknowledge the land we're on, with our relatives here, and bring greetings from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. I want to also acknowledge the work of the chiefs and members of the women's council, who have carried the brunt of the work for the past few years, at the behest of the chiefs. I also want to commend Manitoba for the great work it has done in child welfare for the last 40 years, to figure out innovative ways to collaborate with our partners. When you have willing partners, you're able to do tremendous things.
However, today I'm bringing forward the message that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs cannot support this legislation as is, and that if we continue to work down this path, it is going to do nothing but cause further complications. It will open doors for conflict. It will do away with the past 40 years of good work and collaboration we've attempted to do. Fundamentally, the problem is our province.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs—our region—was never consulted to work on this legislation. We took the initiative well over a year ago to do some groundwork, build upon the successes of our past and come up with a tangible solution and concrete plan, with our own legislation to deal with the intricate nature of our province and our history. The department invested in that past practice—that good work—and we had begun quite an extensive engagement, working with our whole region to come up with a concept that would better serve everybody. That is called the bringing our children home act, which is Manitoba-made.
Therefore, it was quite a surprise when Bill C-92 was presented to us. It was almost a slap in the face, because we had invested so much of our time in bringing forward a solution that everybody could build upon.
I've heard the aspirations of previous presenters, but the reality of our lives, in our communities, is that if you don't nail things down properly, you'll have an interim agreement for 40 to 50 years. We took the initiative, as Manitoba, to bring forward a solution that everybody could build upon.
There was no consultation. This will interfere with our operations in our communities and our nations. It will bring forward more division. It will create, as I said earlier, more conflict with our partners in our region. Therefore, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will not be able to support Bill C-92.
Another part of the problem with this bill is that it's pan-indigenous in nature. All of you whom I've spoken with before come from various parts of the country where you have unique agreements and relationships with your communities. This legislation will impact those individual agreements. There's actually quite a concern that you will be doing away with very important work that has been done in other regions, simply because you will be pulling the province into more of a role than they need to have. It's very problematic.
The whole issue we have in Manitoba is the province. To assume that, over time, we will have a wonderful working relationship with the very entities that are actually kidnapping our kids is wrong. We can't even get the Province of Manitoba to sign on to a carbon tax, let alone make a meaningful agreement with first nations communities or their first nations partners.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is the political apparatus for our region. There are other entities that the assembly has mandated to play specific roles in regard to working with our partners, but we represent the will of the chiefs, and the will of the chiefs is that we want to secure our own future, with our own processes and our own practices.
We've established our credibility over the past 40 years, and that is the direction we're going. We won't be able to support Bill C-92, as it comes with a myriad of issues and actually will exacerbate the problems that currently exist, as well as the fact that there are no fiscal guarantees in this legislation. It will continue to perpetuate the conflicts and the jurisdictional fumbling that happens. Therefore, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will not be supportive of Bill C-92.
I plead with you now that we rethink this legislation and that we bring our minds together in the best way. If we don't, I guarantee we will have conflict because we will be forced to kick the provinces out of our communities. The instruments that we've attempted to work with over the past 40 years will bring conflict to our communities. They will further kidnap our children. They will further displace people from their homes and their identities, and we will all be hard done by if we allow this to go through. That's the message I'm bringing today.
If there are any technical issues, I'm happy to provide you with whatever technical expertise you want. As I said, we have a wealth of skilled people who've brought forward our bringing our children home act, and who have engaged our communities to bring forward a true representation of what we want and need to do in Manitoba. This pan-indigenous approach won't work.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
[English]
I know time is precious.
Thank you very much.
Alyssa Flaherty-Spence
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Alyssa Flaherty-Spence
2019-05-09 11:44
[Witness spoke in Inuktitut]
[English]
Good morning. Thank you for having me here. My name is Alyssa Flaherty-Spence. I'm the President of what was previously known as Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre, now Inuuqatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth and Families. We created this new name to reflect our community.
Thank you for having us here, members and Madam Chair. At Inuuqatigiit, we serve Inuit children, youth and families in the city of Ottawa. Our objective and mandate, in partnership with parents and the community, is to foster strong Inuit children, youth and families by providing a learning environment that will enhance the children's overall development through foster parenting, support and education, while encouraging Inuit to be proud of their Inuit culture and language.
We were established in 2005 by parents and children enrolled in the head start program in Ottawa. Today we are a multi-service Inuit organization that provides cultural, educational, recreational and social support services to children, youth and families of Ottawa's growing Inuit community. By providing equitable access to services and family support networks, Inuuqatigiit encourages Inuit children, youth and families in Ottawa to be strong, healthy and proud community members with knowledge of their cultural connection to the local Inuit community. We do this work through strong, culturally based programming and individualized services for children, youth and families, all with a view to improving their ability to live good lives. Inuit principles form the basis of all our programs and advocacy work.
Whom do we serve? As many of you may know, there is a large Inuit population in Ottawa, and they have come here for many different reasons—professional and specialist medical services and appointments, education, work, serving detention times and the needs of Nunavut children related to foster parenting, adoption and group homes. Overall, this bill will affect our Inuit community here in Ottawa and across southern Canada, because we are a service delivery agent for Inuit children, youth and families, with a focus on assisting in areas concerned with child and family services.
How will this bill affect children and youth in Ottawa? Inter-jurisdictional consequences and realities come into play here. As I mentioned, a lot of Inuit children are coming to Ottawa from Nunavut. Currently we have a large number of Inuit in Ottawa who need access to essential services simply because they are not provided in their homeland in Nunavut. This issue gives rise to inter-jurisdictional concerns that need to be addressed in this legislation. A large number of Inuit children need to access basic services here in Ottawa, and many have to avail themselves of child and family services in Ontario.
The second aspect of this legislation is data disaggregation and collection, specifically in paragraph 28(a), as Natan Obed, my colleague from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, mentioned the other day. Currently we have incomplete data for Inuit children and youth in care in Ontario and in southern Canada generally. However, because we are an ongoing, on-the-ground agency focused on community partnerships, we have relationships with people like CAS, but this is not the case for all agencies and we can be taken as an exception.
Where are our children? This is what we need to know with this data collection. Inuuqatigiit knows that we have a large population of Inuit accessing services like CAS here in Ottawa, because we are on the ground assisting families day to day. However, we still need this data collection and we have Inuit-specific data needs.
We need provinces and territories to have exact numbers to ensure Inuit children are being serviced outside Inuit Nunangat in a way that is accessible, equitable and culturally appropriate for Inuit.
On Inuit-specific data—my colleague to my left mentioned this—we have a pan-indigenous approach right now under paragraph 28(a). Inuuqatigiit is successful because we provide Inuit culturally based programming and services for Inuit children and families, and we take pride in this. We need active and ongoing Inuit-specific data and reports to understand where the needs are for Inuit children, youth and families and to provide equitable, accessible and culturally appropriate services.
One part I will commend you for is paragraphs 9(2)(a) to (e), connection to culture and continuity. This section is vital to the well-being of Inuit children as they are involved with child and family services. Many children we service need this cultural continuity more, given the distance and isolation from their homelands in Inuit Nunangat. Homesickness and being away from their communities in Inuit Nunangat can have harsh consequences and can cause more harm than anything. Inuit are coming to Ontario and other provinces from their homelands, and this can have a strong influence on their livelihood.
Last, but certainly not least, are the funding gaps that are not within this legislation. As we are children and youth service providers, we are currently doing this work, as is, without resources. Children, youth and family agencies look to this type of legislation and wonder what this type of legislation is going to do that we aren't already doing. Inuuqatigiit and community-based organizations do this work but with little to no resources. It would be disrespectful to Inuit children, youth and families in Ottawa and within Inuit Nunangat if I did not make this a priority and speak to you about it. I'm asking for funding to be incorporated into this legislation. I'm hoping you strongly consider this and, if so, in a distinctive and equitable way for Inuit.
I will now pass the mike on to my colleague and executive director, Karen Baker-Anderson, who has been involved in the community for many, many years.
Wayne Christian
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Wayne Christian
2019-05-09 12:38
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
[English]
Hello, everyone. My Indian name is Big Voice that Speaks the Truth. I'm the chief of the people of the Splatsin Shuswap nation.
I acknowledge the ancestors of this territory, their present-day descendants and this very important issue we're talking about. I'm a father of five, a grandfather of 28 and a great-grandfather of one. I'm a former child in care from the sixties scoop. My mother was a survivor of residential school.
As I speak today, I'm honouring my past and my deceased brother, Adelard, who took his life. We came back to our community in 1977, and my mom passed shortly after him, two years later.
I became involved in this issue at age 23. I've been involved in this for 42 years in the capacity of chief and councillor for my community for 23 years and working in the healing and addictions field, helping our people for close to 20 years. That's the perspective I'm going to present to you, members of Parliament.
We all know why we're here in terms of how Canada's legislation and legislative genocide, as I call it, has created the situation we are in today. Our response to this, I think, is important, because in 1980 when I was elected chief, a young mother came to me and asked for help for her four boys who were going to be removed by the province. We asked our elders this question, “What did we do before they imposed white law on us? How did we look after ourselves?” They told us we had our own Indian court. We had our own jails. We had our own laws. We had our own systems to look after ourselves.
Knowing that, we put in place community-based legislation in over one year, working with a very young lawyer called Louise Mandell. You may know of her. She's quite well known in terms of aboriginal title and rights across the country. She worked with us for a whole year to design that process and put that law into place.
Since 1980, we've been operating under our own jurisdiction and our law that's based on our inherent right. The relationship we've had with the provincial government has been an interesting one, because they, as you know, claim alleged jurisdiction over our children but they don't have jurisdiction.
We had to mount a political campaign called the “Indian Child Caravan” in 1980, and the then deputy premier and the minister of children and family, Grace McCarthy, came to an agreement with our community to recognize our jurisdiction and return the children. We jointly planned for each child and we would seek resources from the federal government. Since 1980, that's what we've been doing.
It's really important to understand that the basis of our jurisdiction is notwithstanding residency. It's not just on reserve; it's everywhere. Wherever one of our children is in need of protection, we go. We've been to the United States, in Dallas, Texas, and in Georgia. We've been right across Canada. We've been to all the cities in British Columbia, Vancouver and the major cities. You need to have a good understanding.
Bill C-92 that has been proposed opens the door for that space of inherent jurisdiction. We've been doing this and we have some experience in this field. You've heard a lot of presentations around different aspects of what takes place. We've been doing this for 40 years, and I think it's important that people understand that. It has not gone without its struggles, because the provincial government started to try to enforce the fact that they had jurisdiction for children not in our communities.
We tabled a writ, a constitutional challenge, in 2015, challenging the provincial government's assertion of jurisdiction. We went into a negotiation with British Columbia and got an abeyance order, and we established a memorandum of understanding with British Columbia to say we would talk about the issue of jurisdiction, establish a jurisdictional process, an operational process, as well as look at a transition from where things are to where they need to go. We did that as a community, but also established that as the Shuswap Nation.
You have a written submission that explains who we are as a nation. There are 32 communities, 17 Indian Act bands, a population of about 15,000 and a territory of 180,000 square kilometres. We're bigger than 168 countries in the world in terms of our land mass.
I think you really need to understand that, in the context of Bill C-92, there are some specific fundamental issues that have to be addressed.
First is the issue of changing funding to a fiscal relationship, because we really believe it's about a nation-to-nation process with Canada. You've heard other chiefs talk about that. Stop calling it funding and move it to a fiscal relationship and, within that, move it out of the preamble of the legislation and right into the main body of the legislation. It's an easy fix. I think it's possible.
In the preamble, we also talk about UNDRIP. I think that needs to move out of the preamble and into the body of the legislation.
The issue of Jordan's principle is cited in paragraph 9(3)(e). We find this very interesting, simply because in our jurisdiction, for approximately 40 years, we've had situations where children are physically disabled and their parents can't look after them. In the system, they would have just been lost or they would have died, quite honestly.
In terms of what we've been able to do with children who have come into our care, we have a young girl who's now 25 years of age and is alive because we intervened and took care of her for all of her life. I think that's really an important part. That's what jurisdiction is about, having the resources and making those decisions for that child.
I think Jordan's principle is really important as to how it's addressed. It has to be addressed in terms of how jurisdiction flows from the community up, not into the community but from the community up into the process. I think that's important.
Those kinds of things are important in terms of the process.
Amend subclause 10(1) on “best interests”. The provision needs to include family, communities and cultural continuity as primary considerations in the application of this bill. That's really important. I think the issue of best interests has to be defined by the community and by the nation, not by Canada or British Columbia.
On paragraph 13(b) and the definition's inclusion of “care provider” having “party status”, we disagree with that completely. Care providers only become care providers because they have a contractual arrangement to look after the children. They shouldn't have legal standing in those processes and in those decisions around our children.
On the issue of “stronger ties”, that needs to be amended so that it's nation to nation—indigenous nation to indigenous nation working with each other to have a really clear idea of where that child belongs, so that whether it's with the Secwepemc, the Sq'ewlets, or the Tsilhqot'in—whoever—we have that ability ourselves. We have historical treaties with the nations around us, around what are called kwséltkten, our relatives. I think it's really important.
The last comment on the legislation is really that the five-year period is too long. It should go to a yearly review, because I think we really need to get on the ground with this stuff right away. In speaking about these issues, my experience is that in a community-based process, you can correct problems.
This was a big issue that we had with Grace McCarthy. She kept asking me, as chief, in 1980, “Can you look after your children?” What I said to her was this: “Look, when you make a mistake in your system, you can't correct it. It takes a long time to correct it.” That's what's going on right here today. Here it is, 40 years later, and the system is still the same. It has not been corrected.
We can change rules and regulations and adjust to the system on the ground. For Canada and British Columbia, in your laws, you can't, and I think that's the problem with the system. I appreciate each and every one of you. You're lawmakers. You make laws for Canada. Our laws come from our oral history and our interaction with the land. We've been on the land for 10,000 years, so it informs what we do. In our oral history, we have numerous stories that talk about children. Simply put, what they say in those stories is that the person who pays the ultimate price is usually the child. These are oral histories that go back a long way. We have to pay attention to that.
With this legislation as it goes, you will have an opportunity to change lives for literally thousands of children. I'm speaking here as a former child in care, as a father and as a grandfather. I speak on behalf of my mother and brother. Like my brother's death in 1977, there have been thousands of deaths in the system since then. Like my mother, there are a lot of mothers who have no voice in the system. You heard about them today. They're taking the children away from the mothers right in the hospitals. That is ridiculous. It has to stop.
Is Canada going to grow up? Seriously, we have to have this legislation so that it creates a space for recognition of our laws and our jurisdiction. Simply put, it's the right of self-determination. Communities can decide if they're in or they're out. It's up to them. That's what's critical to this piece of legislation.
I'm getting the high sign.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Chief Wayne Christian: Thank you very much for listening. A written presentation has been submitted.
Katherine Hensel
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Katherine Hensel
2019-05-09 12:48
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thanks to the minister.
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
[English]
I also am Secwepemc. I am a mother of four and a litigator. Roughly 60% to 80% of my practice is in indigenous child welfare on behalf of indigenous agencies, nations, communities, grandparents, parents and occasionally other agencies.
My initial and very brief comments are that of course I endorse and am subject to the comments of our national kukpi7, Wayne Christian, and I unreservedly agree with all of them. I would note for the committee's benefit, and it's likely not news to you, that Bill C-92 does not grant anything to indigenous people. It merely constrains and compels provincial and federal systems and governments. Our jurisdiction, insofar as it exists...our laws are inherent, and, as has been noted to you by chiefs and other technicians who have appeared before you, are not subject to federal or provincial oversight. It has been open to any indigenous nation and community in Canada to exercise jurisdiction at all times—but for the act of suppression and lack of resources and the negation of that jurisdiction, or the attempt at negation of that jurisdiction, by provincial and federal Crown agencies and governments.
That said, with regard to this bill, while there is room for improvement, as you see reflected in the submission by Kukpi7 Christian and others, it comes at a time when, as you have heard from other witnesses, the situation on the ground is so critical that the legislation must occur in a timely way for a number of reasons that the committee is well aware of. While it was always open to any nation or community to exercise jurisdiction, the room and the resources were simply not there to permit them to do so. Jurisdiction has been continuously asserted since time immemorial, but no one other than Spallumcheen and Kukpi7 Christian's communities have been able to exercise it successfully and exclusively.
I have only one other comment with respect to Kukpi7 Christian's comments, and that is with respect to care providers. I would just qualify that where kohkom, or kikia7as—grandmothers—are care providers, they also, under many indigenous systems of law, may have standing, so they should not automatically be precluded from having standing under the bill. That's my one qualification of my unreserved endorsement of Kukpi7 Christian's comments.
Thank you. Kukwstsétsemc.
Theresa Stevens
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Theresa Stevens
2019-05-09 12:59
Good afternoon, committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to present on this critically important issue to the future of our children.
[Witness spoke in Ojibwe]
[English]
I'm Theresa Stevens, Executive Director of the Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario. ANCFSAO was incorporated in 1994 as an organization, though our agencies have been designated since 1987. In one configuration or another our agencies have been providing prevention services in one capacity or another since the 1970s. We're a provincial indigenous organization. We've been mandated to build a better life for all indigenous children through the promotion of culturally based services for our children, families and communities. We represent 13 of the 14 indigenous child well-being agencies in Ontario and our agencies serve 90% of all first nations in Ontario.
We are the technical voice of indigenous child welfare, so we are the child welfare practitioners on the ground, and we're a reference group for governments and service collaterals to consult with about indigenous child well-being. We're a membership-based organization and our job is to provide resources to our member agencies to provide quality services to our members through education and training, policy development and analysis, and research and advocacy.
Our membership was engaged by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada on the legislation in August 2018. During that engagement several themes did arise. First of all, as technical experts, we did share with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada the importance of cultural congruence and enhancement of cultural identities. We were consistent in stating that this was critical to any potential legislation to do with indigenous child welfare. We also were consistent in stating that federal legislation must recognize the cultural diversity of all of our first nations, and that cultural systems needed to be in place to form the foundation of any child welfare practice.
We were also concerned about the engagement process. We wanted to ensure that it's understood that our participation in the process could not be misconstrued as consultation as per the Crown's obligations. Then we also made recommendations around socio-economic conditions. We stated that we felt unless the legislation addressed the underlying socio-economic conditions of what brings children into care in the first place, it wouldn't go far enough. We noted the need to reduce overrepresentation and the issues of why children come into care, such as poverty, unemployment, poor housing, food instability, domestic violence and addictions.
We also did make a recommendation about funding, and that it needs to be needs-based funding and based on actual costs, while accounting for remoteness and case complexity.
Then in relation to these four themes, we also had four principles. We thought it was important the legislation reflect flexibility, as well as family, community and nation preservation and prevention, which we feel is central to indigenous child welfare practice. Then there was first nations jurisdiction and sovereignty, as well as that quality care must be based on best practice.
Just to reiterate, we receive our mandate from our first nations. Our agencies are formed by a group of first nations coming together and, through a resolution, identifying us as their service provider to protect their children on their behalf. As such, we take our direction from the leadership of our first nations and fall in line with the direction they provide to us on how they want to proceed with the federal legislation.
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