Evidence of meeting #23 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 environmental.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Angus Toulouse  Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario
  • Grant Trump  President and Chief Executive Officer, Environmental Careers Organization of Canada

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Colleagues, I'll call this 23rd meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to order.

This is a continuation of our study on land use and sustainable economic development.

Colleagues, today we have two witnesses before us. Representing the Chiefs of Ontario, we have Chief Toulouse. We also have, representing the Environmental Careers Organization of Canada, Grant Trump.

I should tell colleagues that Mr. Trump's time is going to be a little bit truncated. He has a flight to catch, so he'll be excusing himself as is necessary.

Chief Toulouse, I believe you have an opening statement. We'll hear from you and then we'll hear from Mr. Trump and then we'll begin the questioning round, starting with a seven-minute round.

Chief, please, we'll turn it over to you. Thank you so much for coming.

3:30 p.m.

Chief Angus Toulouse Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario

Meegwetch.

[Witness speaks in his native language]

Good afternoon, committee members.

Thank you for inviting me to provide you with evidence again on this important topic of study.

As was indicated, my name is Angus Toulouse, and I'm the regional chief for the Chiefs of Ontario. As you may know, our organization, the Chiefs of Ontario, is a political forum and a secretariat for collective decision-making, action, and advocacy for 133 first nation communities located within the boundaries of the province of Ontario.

We're guided by our chiefs in assembly, who represent the Anishinabek, the Mushkegowuk, the Ogemawahj, and the Lenape peoples in protecting and exercising their inherent and treaty rights.

I'll begin by speaking about indigenous land use and sustainable economic development issues for first nations generally, but I also want to focus on addressing the recommendation delivered by the House of Commons finance committee in December to privatize reserve lands as a way to reduce poverty amongst first nations.

What first nations have said all along is that we need to see the fulfillment of all of the treaty obligations first. Treaties are more than just historical documents or agreements. They were made to establish the relationship by which first nations would coexist and to grant rights and permissions to the settlers.

Both the written and oral aspects of treaties determined how the lands and resources were to be shared. From treaties and the Constitution, the crown owes first nations the protection of our rights and lands, including rights to cultural protection, education, health care, natural resources, and self-government.

The crown has made practically no progress in fulfilling these obligations. In addition, first nations are currently owed a huge debt from the Canadian successor state because of these unfulfilled treaties and in compensation for the exploitation of our traditional lands. Without first addressing this situation—these unfulfilled obligations and debts—and committing the necessary resources to achieve resolution, the current situation of dependency and poverty will remain, no matter which common law property regime is in place.

Any developments contemplated on our lands require our free, prior, and informed consent. Treaty violations concerning resources often occur with the full knowledge and approval of the Canadian and provincial governments through legislation and regulatory regimes.

First nations most often experience unwillingness on the part of government and industry to engage in true resource-sharing, which leads to conflict situations--as an example, Wahgoshig First Nation just this past month. And Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug—we know what they've gone through, and what the Matawa first nations in the Ring of Fire are going through now—and Iskatewizaagegan First Nation on the western boundaries of Ontario near Manitoba have witnessed this first hand.

First nations are generally concerned about federal plans to privatize our lands. As I'm sure you're aware, we wonder why the federal government is expending all of this effort on the issue instead of focusing on the fulfilment of obligations long overdue and ensuring that basic human rights are met. These human rights include potable water, housing, health, education, control of resources, as well as cultural and other collectively held human rights.

We've had and we continue to have our historic relationship with the lands and waters, but before continuing further on the topic of imposed notions of land ownership, I think it necessary to explain briefly where we're coming from as the original peoples of this land, how our relationship with this earth managed to thrive for centuries.

The land is the source of our identity as individuals and as peoples. Two years ago our chiefs in assembly adopted the “We Are The Land” declaration and the water declaration to articulate our relationship to the land and waters. The “We Are the Land” declaration states that we have heard the voices of our youth, our women and men, of our spiritual advisors, and of our elders, and they have told us we are the land. What we do to the land we do to ourselves and to our future generations. We were placed here on Turtle Island to be a part of creation. We were given our instructions, our jurisdiction, our laws by the Creator. We draw from the sacred law, traditional law, customary laws. We need to protect the lands, the waters, and all living things for future generations.

The treaties were made to share with the newcomers and are not giving up anything. Surrender was not included in the treaties. We have a responsibility to respect and actively protect the lands and waters for our present well-being and for our future generations. Without our lands, our very existence as indigenous peoples is not possible. This relationship with the lands and waters is what underlies the sustainable approach to economic development.

And what does sustainability mean to us? Sustainability to us must take into account our unique situation and our special and historical connection to the land, in addition to our collectively held human rights connected to the said land. The consequences of failing to consistently safeguard our environment to the highest degree are dire and immediate. Indigenous people are often the first to experience the severe impacts of climate change and environmental racism. First nations will not cast aside opportunities to grow our economies. However, these opportunities must stem from an approach that enshrines respect for Mother Earth and the well-being of current and future generations.

Often we see that economic capitalist systems conflict with our indigenous values. As previously mentioned, our cultures are based on a spiritual connection to the land. The commodification of land was at one time foreign to our way of thinking and certainly goes against our traditional way of thinking.

This brings me to the key point that needs to be understood in any discussion of indigenous lands. The beliefs and value system underpinning the current Canadian economic model are not necessarily shared by the indigenous peoples in this country. The system is based on private property ownership, the buying and selling of lands among individuals and corporations. Lands being held collectively for the benefit of a collective is an alien idea in this world view. This detachment from the land is an alien idea to the indigenous world view. Essentially, this is the core of the first nations' land ownership and designation conflict: the privatization of reserve lands with regard to a fee simple regime on reserve lands would increase investor confidence, making the value of the property comparable to similar developments off reserve, and ultimately enhance economic growth in first nation communities. We believe that sustainable economic development can occur without succumbing to the damaging and unnecessary western concept of a fee simple approach to the land.

First nations economic development appears to have two options at this point in time. One option is to continue to develop the land base as a collective. The other option risks losing use of the land by adopting a fee simple approach. The Assembly of First Nations chiefs in assembly passed Resolution number 44/2010 - “First Nations’ Rejection of a 'Property Ownership Act'”. Concerns identified included enabling the potential transfer of first nation lands to those who are not first nations, the erosion of collective rights, the imposition of a foreign conception of land value, and the negation of the constitutionally protected land rights and those that form through treaty.

Further, a first nations property ownership act would create yet another level of jurisdiction over our lands. Reserve populations are comprised of families sharing a common heritage and together suffering the effects of forced assimilation and colonization. Without a land base in common, the process of rebuilding our nations and decolonizing will not be possible. There are numerous legal questions that arise with respect to the privatization of reserve lands. Since these lands are protected mostly by treaty, with associated rights attached to the land, if the land is sold off or mortgaged to an outside party, will those rights continue to apply, and what would the tax implications be?

The federal government has constitutional responsibility under section 91.24 of the British North America Act, which protects the collective titles to the land held by first nations. Therefore the privatization of reserve land would require constitutional amendment. It is also unclear how section 35 rights would be protected under a proposal to privatize our lands. Has an analysis on these potential impacts been completed?

Still more concerning is envisioning how privatization would assist remote communities. Since those lands in the far north tend to lack significant market value and are only of interest to resource extraction companies, how would their problems of poverty and other attendant social ills be helped?

We're concerned that the push to privatize what little land we hold in common is a veiled attempt to continue with the colonizing goal of assimilation under the guise of economic opportunity. Concerns have also been raised that this endeavour is really a way for the government to avoid its obligation to compensate first nations. Instead first nations would be granted the privilege of borrowing against the little bit of land yet to be stolen. This would lead to first nations not only being poverty-stricken but also debt-ridden. Self-sufficiency and other issues need to first be addressed; otherwise indigenous peoples will face assimilation into dominant society.

By way of conclusion, our land is not a commodity. It is sacred. It is something we received from our ancestors and it will go to our future generations. First nations in Ontario believe that reaffirming the treaty relationship should be the foundation from which to address the issue of land use and sustainable economic development. First nations in Ontario have already made clear their priorities and recommendations to Canada in their statement read to Prime Minister Harper during the first nations and crown gathering.

I will reiterate here some of what our nations told the Prime Minister. We have inherent rights and responsibilities that exist in the spirit and intent of the treaties, and these provide for the sustained existence of our nations. When the spirit and intent of the treaties are fully implemented, indigenous peoples will not be faced with the social and economic challenges we see today.

Prior to contact, sovereign indigenous nations—

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Chief, sorry to interrupt, but we are considerably over time from the ten-minute allocation.

3:40 p.m.

Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario

Chief Angus Toulouse

I only have another 40 more words, Chris.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Wonderful. I heard the word “conclusion” and then it went on some additional period of time.

3:40 p.m.

Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario

Chief Angus Toulouse

Let me start the conclusion again, if you don't mind.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Sure, okay.

3:40 p.m.

Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario

Chief Angus Toulouse

Okay, since you interrupted me, I just wanted to reiterate what we told the Prime Minister just for the benefit of everybody here, if that's okay with you.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

If you've only got 40 words to finish—

3:40 p.m.

Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario

Chief Angus Toulouse

You're wasting three or four minutes just interrupting me. I could probably have been done already.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Chief. The last 40 words would be great.

3:40 p.m.

Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario

Chief Angus Toulouse

That's all I was going to say, Mr. Chairman.

We told the Prime Minister that we have inherent rights and responsibilities that are existing in the spirit and intent of the treaties, and these provide for the sustained existence of our nations. When the spirit and intent of the treaties are fully implemented, indigenous peoples will not be faced with the social and economic challenges we see today. Prior to contact, sovereign indigenous nations prospered in the sharing of lands, air, waters, and fire in a way that respected their collective responsibility to protect Mother Earth.

So we ask that Canada honour the true spirit and intent existing in the treaties, resolve matters of jurisdiction, realize treaty implementation, and exercise the principles established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as key vehicles for conducting and maintaining relationships with indigenous nations.

Meegwetch.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you.

We'll now turn it over to you, Mr. Trump, for ten minutes. Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Grant Trump President and Chief Executive Officer, Environmental Careers Organization of Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair, committee members, and Chief.

It's my pleasure to be here today to talk to you about our favourite project, BEAHR—“building environmental aboriginal human resources”. What I'd like to talk to you about today is the success we've had in including aboriginal people as part of the environmental workforce and potential activities for capacity-building in the future and how these might fit in with the role of this committee.

First of all, ECO Canada is a sector council. We're part of the sector council program the Government of Canada began back in 1992. Our mission is to ensure an adequate supply of people with the appropriate skills and knowledge to meet the environmental human resource needs of the public and private sectors. We have both a qualitative and a quantitative aspect to our mission, which is to ensure that we have enough people and that they have the appropriate skills and knowledge to do the work.

We are an industry-initiated and industry-led group that is a partnership of industry, governments—federal, provincial, municipal, aboriginal—and the academic community across the country. We have about 175,000 members across this country. And indeed, we represent environmental employment in terms of the quality of the people required to do environmental work in Canada.

In 2001 we formed a partnership with the Aboriginal Human Resource Council to develop the BEAHR program. This gave us the authority, then, to look at those particular activities as we moved forward. We identified, as far back as 1997, in an aboriginal training survey we did, that approximately 80% of employers were willing to hire aboriginal environmental practitioners, but 50% of them indicated that they lacked candidates for those positions. Further, 64% said that the people who applied did not have the appropriate skills and knowledge.

That led us then to ask how we could set up a program, in partnership with the aboriginal community, to build that capacity, based on western scientific knowledge and the inclusion of traditional ecological knowledge, and begin to work together.

What we did then was begin to set up these BEAHR training programs in partnership with HRSDC. We were guided by an international steering committee that included the largest aboriginal training centre in the United States, because they've done a tremendous job in this activity. They have some 1600 young aboriginal people in undergraduate programs in environmental science and environmental engineering. Last year, this program graduated more environmental scientists and engineers than all universities in the United States combined. It's very significant.

As a result of that program, and after pulling together some 84 environmental employers and some 77 aboriginal organizations, we went to focus groups. We developed from that six training programs. These training programs were based on the national occupational standards for environmental employment, which are indeed the national standards used for employment across Canada. The programs were developed in such a way that there was detailed documentation of the curriculum for both the instructional staff and the students to ensure that delivery could be done across Canada and that the graduates would all have similar capacity, skills, and knowledge once they completed the program.

The BEAHR training program, of course, is designed for work in the environment sector, which we know is cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary. Because of that cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary nature, we know that individuals work in a variety of sectors of the Canadian economy, from mining to natural gas extraction to a variety of other sectors, including things such as pipelines.

The BEAHR training programs are a series of culturally relevant, skills-based, environmental training programs for aboriginal learners: first nations, Métis, and Inuit. They are designed to be short-term, employment-focused, community-based, inclusive of elder participation to bring the traditional ecological knowledge, national in scope, blended with local knowledge, and of course tied to employment.

The prerequisite for these programs is either grade 8 or grade 10, which is typical of some of the education levels found within the community. We developed six workforce training programs, an environmental monitor coordinator, an environmental site assessment assistant, a local environmental coordinator, a contaminated sites remediation coordinator, a solid waste coordinator, and a land-use planning coordinator, as well as two technical training programs, a certificate in applied environmental techniques, and a certificate in environmental planning and administration. These programs ladder to a college diploma, so we're looking at lifelong learning as part of the entire process.

We do not deliver the programming; the programming is delivered by the existing infrastructure of the public sector trainers--that is, college, university, technical institutions, and CEGEPs across the country--or by indigenous groups or by companies or qualified trainers. We have 34 licensed trainers across the country right now, and the program can be delivered in any part of Canada.

To date, we have 1,131 students registered in the program, and we've graduated 895 students, for a graduation rate of 79%, which is quite significant, considering most of these programs are delivered within the community. There is a 71% employment rate at the end of the educational process, with 75% who have been employed by the community, in order to build capacity within the community. It's a 74% success rate if you include those students who went on to further education.

We have offered this program 97 times in Canada to date. We've offered it in all Canadian provinces and territories with the exception of P.E.I., and with the most abundant being offered in northern Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon.

As part of the ECO Canada strategy, we also made a commitment to those young aboriginal Canadians who have made a commitment to us by completing post-secondary education. We have committed 10% of all of our national environmental youth corps funds, and we have placed 67 young aboriginal graduates in long-term employment; further, in a partnership with the Province of Alberta, we have funded a plus-30 internship for aboriginal adults to make that transition into environmental employment.

The second project that we just got involved with some 22 months ago is called the Contaminates Remediation Training Organization of Canada. It's a partnership with HRSDC under the ASEP program and 19 industry aboriginal and academic partners from across the country. The program is appropriately called “Caring for the Land”. It's to enhance the employability of aboriginal Candidates through participation in skills development through meaningful training.

In a very short period of time—22 months and 19 months of training—we have done 45 training programs through 32 industry, aboriginal, and educational partners. Our goal was to do 400 interventions with aboriginal people. To date, we have done 2,483 interventions. Our goal was to assess 700 aboriginal people. We have assessed 1,106 aboriginal people. Our goal was to train 600 people. We have trained 785 people.

The vast majority of the training just ended in January 2012—last month. So far, since February 9, we had committed to 400 employed. We are now at 423. With the training just ending and the majority of this training being in the north—as you can well imagine, this is winter, and therefore not a lot of environmental work is being done outside—we anticipate that the employment rate by March will be about 500, and by May and June it will be approximately 600 employed aboriginal people as a result of this program.

Working with aboriginal communities to develop pathways for meaningful, long-term, environment-related employment is critical to the future of Canada. It is the primary goal of the BEAHR training program.

Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Mr. Trump.

We're going to now begin the questioning.

Colleagues, I'm going to be maintaining the time allotments pretty strenuously, simply because we want to ensure that people do have an opportunity to question Mr. Trump for the duration of his stay. We do know that he has to slip out, but we'll make sure, colleagues, that you get those questions in early, because he will be leaving us early.

Ms. Duncan, we'll begin with you.