Evidence of meeting #12 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aboriginal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Udloriak Hanson  Special Advisor to the President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
  • Jim Moore  Executive Director, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
  • Elizabeth Ford  Director, Department of Health and Environment, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
  • Betty Ann Lavallée  National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
  • Dwight Dorey  National Vice-Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

I call to order this 12th meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

This morning we have representatives from ITK. We'd like to welcome Ms. Hanson, Ms. Ford, and Mr. Moore. Thank you so much for coming to our committee today.

We want to give a full opportunity for robust discussion. What we'd like to do is have you launch with some comments this morning. We usually limit it to a 10-minute round, but if you have the need or the desire to go beyond that, we are here to listen to you. We don't want to limit that to the 10-minute round. I will not step in—that's what I'm saying. We will finish when you are finished, and then we will launch into our questions and take up the remainder of the first hour with questioning.

I'll turn it over to you and ask you to begin.

11:05 a.m.

Udloriak Hanson Special Advisor to the President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]

Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.

I have with me ITK's executive director, Jim Moore, as well as our director of social and health development, Elizabeth Ford.

I congratulate the committee for taking the initiative to invite Canada's aboriginal peoples' organizations to suggest issues that warrant your attention. I'll start with a little history: ITK is in its 40th anniversary. I recognize a few of you who came to our conference and some of our evening events. Thank you for that. It's nice to have representation from the Hill.

ITK was founded in 1971 by Inuit seeking to take political control of their land and resources. We have four regions: Nunavut, Nunavik in northern Quebec, Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador, and the Inuvialuit settlement region of the Northwest Territories. They all have settled, comprehensive, modern land claims agreements that provide us with a set of tools for developing our lands and deriving benefits from the development of resources.

Today our work centres on ensuring that Inuit interests are reflected in national policies affecting the Arctic and on spearheading initiatives that unite our four regions. One recent example is our national strategy on Inuit education, which we have left with the clerk for you to read.

That brings us to the topic of today's discussion. There are any number of research priorities involving Inuit and the Arctic that this committee could usefully pursue in coming months. They range from climate change to devolution of additional jurisdictional powers and revenues to Arctic regions.

In these circumstances, choices are not obvious. But my advice to you is to address squarely the core social problems confronting Inuit today. These social problems are not new. We have known for many years that Inuit lag far behind other Canadians in a series of indicators of basic well-being: educational achievement, life expectancy, access to adequate housing, and employment levels. The list is long.

Inuit also lead the nation with respect to many disturbing indicators of social distress: suicide, infectious and chronic disease, violent crime. That list is also long. They cannot be easily attributed to a single cause or to some level of personal blame. Yet in recent years it is possible to see some progress.

It is especially welcome for Inuit leaders of my generation to see so many young Inuit realizing impressive new educational achievements and acquiring breakthrough professional credentials. Canadians have certainly taken note of the great imagination and creativity shown by Inuit over the past 40 years in forcing the pace of new governance structures and power-sharing in Inuit Nunangat, the four regions that make up the Inuit homeland.

Even as your committee deliberates, Inuit representatives are engaged in complex negotiations and undertakings surrounding Inuit participation in major new natural resource development projects.

These are all important things. These are all things that give rise to optimism. But optimism should not cloud judgment. There is little reason to believe that a wait-and-see approach will work. Passivity will carry great risks for Inuit—not just at some statistical level but in our communities, in our families, and in our homes.

What can this committee do? I would urge you to commit yourselves to research on three major issues: Inuit education, Inuit health, and Inuit housing. These are the same topics ITK continues to flag in any number of public presentations and in correspondence with federal ministers regarding budget priorities. All three of these issues are important.

We have a wealth of studies indicating the high degree of overlap among them—overlap in terms of causes and effects and overlap in terms of how progress in one can reinforce progress in the others. We need to create a positive cycle of change.

Without exception, every provincial and territorial premier and national aboriginal leader is calling on Prime Minister Harper to hold a first ministers meeting on aboriginal education. This committee could very usefully deliberate on why such a meeting is urgently needed to turn around the low rates of high school graduation among aboriginal students.

I know we Inuit have many ideas on this. For example, as I demonstrated earlier, there is the new national strategy on Inuit education, how it can make best use of available resources and careful, targeted use of new investment, and the central importance of the Inuit language in our education and skills development systems.

Similarly, in studying Inuit health, a number of subtopics should have special prominence: the lack of appropriate mental health programs and services, including the lack of residential and non-residential treatment for those who are alcohol or drug dependent; and the sad, shameful reality that, as shown by the recent studies in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and elsewhere, a very high proportion of Inuit families go hungry or are poorly nourished in any given community across the Arctic. It takes no great insight to see the damage caused by these kinds of problems. A hungry child cannot easily succeed at school. An unsuccessful student cannot easily succeed in later life. A hungry adult cannot give children or aging parents the attention they deserve.

With respect to housing, the trends are not moving in the right direction. As recently as October 21, a report on housing was tabled in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly identifying a housing shortage of 3,580 units. It’s not a small number. For a jurisdiction with a small population, it is an extraordinary number.

The scale of the problem is not the only difficulty. Nunavut's housing minister reported to the legislative assembly that there will be no new money for housing from the federal government for the foreseeable future and that the current CMHC operating and maintenance funds for Nunavut will be cut steadily from $23.9 million this year to zero in 2037. Nunavut is but one example. The magnitude of the housing problems in Nunavut is replicated in every other Inuit region.

In closing, I will leave you with one more topic the committee might wish to consider in relation to Inuit and the Arctic. As mentioned earlier, ITK is now 40 years old. It's good to look back and to learn from looking back. In the spirit of ITK's 40th anniversary, this committee might wish to examine the question of what kind of relationship the Parliament and Government of Canada, indeed, the people of Canada, would like to build with the Inuit of Canada and the circumpolar world over the next 40 years. Equally importantly, how would you propose to build that relationship?

Parliament and Parliament committees have a role in the generation of new ideas and new ways of looking at things and new projects that respect our common values and appeal to our shared hopes. You are in the hope business as well as the reality check business, and rightly so. Considering where Inuit in relation to other Canadians should be in 40 years and how to get there would be a worthy project for you—and for us. In all these research proposals, you would have the full support and assistance of ITK.

Thank you for your attention.

Qujannamiik.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Ms. Hanson.

Mr. Bevington, for seven minutes.

November 15th, 2011 / 11:10 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Qujannamiik, for joining us today and giving us a very succinct presentation on the issues, Ms. Hanson. I look forward to the entire discussion here today.

Of course, you have identified a number of key areas that you've highlighted. When we see what is happening with many of the policies that affect the north.... For instance, you talk about hunger, and we've gone through an exercise where we've changed the food mail policy. What's the current thinking on the impacts of that food mail policy, after it's been in place for half a year now? What's the reaction?

11:10 a.m.

Special Advisor to the President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Udloriak Hanson

Thank you for your question.

Things up north move at a much different rate, as I'm sure you can appreciate, being a northerner yourself. It's such a new program. Six months might sound like a lot in the south; it is still a very short timeframe for the north. We have yet to see how that food mail program will play out, especially with regard to sea lift, because everything in our remote communities needs to be shipped up by barges. So until we see a full-year cycle, I think we would reserve our opinion on how well it is doing.

We were pleased to see that there were some minor tweaks done because of the outcry from the communities in terms of things here and there that needed to be fixed. That was helpful. But again, I think we need to see over the longer term how this program will pan out.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

It might be better for this committee to keep that in mind in a year or so, to take a look at that. I know how vital that program has been for people in that regard.

On the core social problems, the housing issue, how are we going to make progress on that? I know in the government throne speech this year they talked about clean energy for northern and aboriginal communities. I know the cost for utilities for housing in the north is prohibitive.

We've seen that the government is interested in talking about that area. Is that an area where we should be going?

11:15 a.m.

Special Advisor to the President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Udloriak Hanson

I think that would be an excellent area to look at. We're always looking for new money, new investment, in building homes, but the other part of the equation is the O and M, the repair and maintenance of the homes that are built. We have some startling facts on housing in that regard. Not only do we suffer from a housing crisis, but we also have 28% of our Inuit living in homes that need major repairs. There are a couple of sides of the equation that need to be looked at, so if the committee were to spend some time on that....

What is the real financial crunch for our Inuit regions? Is it the actual building of homes, or the maintenance, or both? Where should the most attention and investment be given? The obvious answer, of course, is building homes. As I mentioned in my presentation, 3,500 units in Nunavut alone are needed. There needs to be some look at how we can finance these core social infrastructure problems in the north.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Although we've seen some investment from this government over the past four or five years, it's really not on the scale that's required. Would that be a fair statement?

11:15 a.m.

Special Advisor to the President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Udloriak Hanson

Yes.

Jim would like to add some comments, if you don't mind.

11:15 a.m.

Jim Moore Executive Director, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

In fact, I was just going to make that point. We certainly give credit to the government for the money that is being spent on housing in the Arctic, but it's just not keeping pace with the need, in terms of both new housing and repair. It would certainly be helpful to Inuit if this committee could come to grips with what sort of blitz of incremental money would have to go in to at least get us to the point where construction and repair can keep pace with the need, because currently they're not.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Given the lack of mental health programs and the terrible statistics we have on suicide throughout the north, especially in Inuit communities, do you see that a focus as well on how to integrate mental health issues, social issues, and community issues into a strategy on suicide prevention would be something useful for the federal government to take on?

11:15 a.m.

Special Advisor to the President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Udloriak Hanson

It would be, most definitely. You are touching on something really important, which is that they are all interrelated; that we have such a need in the north for more mental wellness programs and services. It is a social determinant that has an effect on all the other social determinants as well.

We are moving in the right direction. We are doing some work in the regions. ITK is well positioned to take it to a national level. If this committee were to look at a study in that regard, in terms of how Inuit across the regions could benefit from an infusion of investment into mental wellness programs and what those would look like, we might be able to realize some economies of scale.

Maybe I'll have Elizabeth touch a little more on that.

11:20 a.m.

Elizabeth Ford Director, Department of Health and Environment, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Thank you.

That was a very good question, and as Udloriak said, they are all interrelated. We are working with our regions and others. We are working with Health Canada as well. The Inuit regions and ITK and Health Canada have developed a mental wellness action plan. That was approved a few years ago. We are in the process right now. We are trying to look at what may have moved forward since then, but, again, all of the issues are interrelated in how they impact each other.

There is a need for mental wellness programs as well as mental health services, counselling, and addictions treatment in our communities. There is a need for treatment centres for some regions on the land programs, so there is definitely a good process there to look at that.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Ms. Ford.

Mr. Rickford, go ahead, please, for seven minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.

I've had the opportunity to live in and visit a number of places across the region; I was a nurse in Cambridge Bay and Arviat. They were certainly some of the more special occasions in my life, spending more than a couple of months in each location as a nurse.

Subsequent to that, I had an opportunity to go out and do the public consultations for the northern nutrition program. I appreciate my colleague Mr. Bevington's inquiries, because I think we always understood that the sea lift was one of the key issues and that there would be a time lag before we could thoughtfully and comprehensively discuss this. For the benefit of the committee, I want to say that I'm looking forward to that review as well, having been involved in public consultations across several communities. We answered the tough questions for a number of people who may not have been our intended target benefactors for the program. We're looking forward to feedback from the new and most important constituents, and hopefully benefactors of that program, who are the people who have lived in those communities or in that area for time immemorial, as opposed to some of the folks who perhaps have not.

Ms. Hanson, I think what I would like to do, first of all, is let you know that some of my colleagues are going to address parts of the three major areas that you discussed. I will briefly deal with housing, and then I want to go to something that was in your speech and that this committee is occupying itself with on the short term, which is quite relevant to you.

I can appreciate the housing shortages that you mentioned. Beyond the $1.4 billion announcement in July between federal, provincial, and territorial governments, we appreciate that there is more work to be done; there will always be. Furthermore, I can assure you that the minister continues to advance this discussion with his cabinet colleagues in an effort to find further solutions to the issue on housing. Indeed, there are some renewed agreements for housing in the four different regions, some with a substantial increase, but clearly we need to look at possible solutions for an increase in that area.

That said, you mentioned the land claims agreements. I think we'll be looking at one piece of legislation coming forward soon in NuPPAA. You used an interesting word, calling them tools. This is a word that has come up more than frequently at this committee. We're looking at sustainable land use, which I think includes an appreciation for some of the environmental issues as well. Land development is at the core of this, and your regions pose not just a particular curiosity, but an interesting one as well because under the umbrella of “aboriginal”, we have on-reserve, traditional lands, Métis, and Congress of Aboriginal Peoples as subcategories there.

I want to hear from you, for four or five minutes, if you will, about these tools that you described briefly in your speech. What contributions do they make in terms of land use and land development to social and economic development for your region as a whole?