Evidence of meeting #32 for Status of Women 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

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the 32nd meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. We are continuing our study on improving economic prospects for Canadian girls.

Welcome to our two witnesses. Representing the Native Women's Association of Canada, we have with us Ms. Claudette Dumont-Smith, Executive Director. For the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, we have Ms. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director.

As an exception for today only, our meeting will be only one hour long since two witnesses have cancelled. No one from the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador was available. The representative from the Bent Arrow Traditional Health Healing Society was also unavailable. Life is full of unforeseen circumstances.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Chair, I would like to make a quick comment. A pattern seems to be developing. Two weeks ago, a number of people received invitations and now we learn that some of them are not coming. So I would like to make a request. I would like us to ask them to send an email explaining why they cannot come to testify. We could add those emails to our notes.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Okay, Ms. Ashton.

Is the committee in agreement with proceeding in that way?

3:35 p.m.

members

Agreed.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

So we will take care of that by next week. Thank you for your comment.

Do you have anything to add, Ms. Young?

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

I would like to support that, but I would also offer to these groups that they can, of course, also table written submissions. Just because they're not able to come, that doesn't mean they can't submit something, right?

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Our committee clerk will do what she can to obtain briefs from those people. We will include the briefs in our study.

Thank you for your comments.

I will now turn the floor over to our witnesses. We will start with the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Ms. Dumont-Smith, you have 10 minutes. Ms. Blackstock will also have 10 minutes for her testimony. Then we will have time for questions.

3:35 p.m.

Claudette Dumont-Smith Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Merci, bonjour, kwe. Hello, good afternoon, nidijinikàz Claudette Dumont-Smith. I'm Algonquin from the Kitigan Zibi community, located just 90 miles across the river, directly north. So you are in Algonquin territory. I guess I don't have to acknowledge my people for being on my land.

I'd first like to apologize for not being able to come on Monday when we were first scheduled to appear, but we are very short-staffed and there are just so many things happening. But I'm here now, so I guess that's the good news.

I'd like to begin by thanking you for inviting the Native Women's Association of Canada to come and speak to this committee on matters that are crucial to Canada's aboriginal women, their children, their families, and their communities.

The Native Women's Association of Canada is a nationally representative political organization comprising 13 provincial and territorial member associations, known as PTMAs, from right across Canada. Each is striving to improve the social, economic, health, and political well-being of first nations and Métis women of Canada.

Forums like this one today help us to discuss the role that aboriginal women and girls can play in economic development, which is a major area to address if conditions of aboriginal women and girls are to change for the better.

At NWAC we recognize that positive action and concrete measures must be implemented by governments to ensure that women, as well as aboriginal people with disabilities and single mothers, are able to access a wide range of educational and employment opportunities so that they too can benefit from the economic security and prosperity that we have here in Canada.

Violence against women and girls is a major concern and a key priority for our organization. We're always trying to reduce violence directed towards aboriginal women and girls. In particular, aboriginal women and girls in remote communities often experience higher rates of violence and unemployment, lower quality of life, and less access to health care, social services, and other supports. Providing economic opportunities can help to alleviate this situation.

NWAC continues to raise attention to these issues with government in order to promote economic and social development, including better living conditions, to directly benefit the aboriginal women who live there.

In a meeting with Minister Duncan in February 2011, the president of NWAC, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, informed him of our organization's activities in the area of economic development. In 2009 NWAC carried out an aboriginal-specific, gender-based analysis of the federal framework for aboriginal development and found that the framework was gender-blind. It had a heavy focus on sectors where male employment and ownership were strong. It overlooked the importance of the creative economy in building sustainable jobs for aboriginal girls and women. There was no recognition that the usual barriers and obstacles to economic development in aboriginal communities are even more pronounced for aboriginal women and girls, and the guiding principles of the framework failed to take into account the different socio-economic conditions affecting aboriginal women. Moreover, it did not recognize the traditional economic roles that aboriginal women had in the past.

In the same year NWAC developed an aboriginal women's comprehensive economic empowerment development plan. And in March 2010, NWAC invited and led a working session with various federal departments to increase aboriginal women's participation through the federal framework for economic development.

Economic security remains a challenge for many of our women. Accordingly, it remains a top priority for NWAC and we will continue to work to advance aboriginal women's economic security and prosperity.

Recently, budget 2012 announced the investments that Canada will continue to make in aboriginal economic development and small and medium sized businesses. Aboriginal women have a strong role to play in building a strong Canadian economy. Economic security and prosperity for aboriginal women and their families is an essential step for improving the lives of aboriginal people and their communities.

The opportunities for economic development and business growth have never been greater than right now. We must support aboriginal women's participation in both the labour market as well as economic development initiatives across the country as an important part of rebuilding our nations within the larger Canadian economy.

With more than 400,000 aboriginal youth projected to enter the labour market by 2020, aboriginal participation in the labour market will continue to be important. More than half of these youth are girls. We must support them in the contributions they can make.

Corporate Canada is working with aboriginal business and communities, and over $315 billion in potential resource development has been identified in or near aboriginal communities. These investments must benefit our women in order to change the future of our communities as a whole. By building on our women's strengths, we can continue to improve the quality of life and the self-sufficiency of our families and communities.

We need to identify concrete measures and targeted investments to support women in order to ensure that aboriginal peoples benefit as a whole. We have also taken other important steps to modernize and improve federal support for aboriginal economic development. We must ensure that the level of education that an aboriginal woman obtains translates into the income she receives. Economic security and prosperity for aboriginal women must be the goal.

It is clear that partnerships continue to grow between Canada's business community and aboriginal peoples. We just need to make sure that these benefit all people. Together we must ensure that no one is left behind. By supporting aboriginal women and youth, this will be the key to Canada's future economic prosperity.

Over the past several years, NWAC has put forward the following recommendations at the federal, provincial, or territorial levels to improve the economic outcomes of aboriginal women and girls in Canada. I'm presenting them again today. The government should develop microfinancing and business development solutions to support the development of communities and women's and girls' participation in sustainable business. Community and economic development requires long-term strategies—

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Ms. Dumont-Smith, my apologies, but I have to interrupt you for a few moments. The interpreter is telling me that he would like you to speak a little more slowly, if possible.

3:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Claudette Dumont-Smith

Okay. I have almost finished.

Community and economic development requires long-term strategies to increase economic, human, and cultural capital. Therefore, governments must increase investment and access to training and development programs and services in both traditional and non-traditional fields. Governments and business must commit to the engagement and active participation of aboriginal women and girls in leadership and decision-making roles, and in the promotion of economic development to achieve sustainable economic outcomes for all members of aboriginal communities. Government should conduct a cultural and gender-based analysis of community assets and developmental funding at the federal level to evaluate access and outcomes of funding; implement equitable and/or increase funding opportunities for aboriginal women in programs like the aboriginal business development program and aboriginal procurement strategy; and measure gender equity in a consistent manner and analyze data disaggregated by age and gender using a gender analysis method.

Regrettably at this time, NWAC cannot pursue further activity in the area of economic development because of a lack of resources, financial as well as personnel, at the national as well as regional levels.

Thank you. Migwech. Merci.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you.

Ms. Blackstock, you have 10 minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Dr. Cindy Blackstock Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Thank you, Madam Chair, and members of the committee.

A recognition of the Algonquin Nation and of all Canadians.... Of all Canadians when they sing “O, Canada, we stand on guard for thee”, they're called back to the central values of our nation, the principles of justice, of fairness, of freedom, and of equality. And they are called there particularly when they go home at night and see the eyes of their own children, knowing that if there ever is a generation that deserves the full enjoyment of those values, it's a country's children.

Economic development theory and practice has told us that a thriving nation can be measured if there's a thriving generation of children, that as a government, the most important economic stimulus that you can provide is investing a dollar in a child. As the World Health Organization has said time and time again, for every dollar invested in a child, a government can expect to save $7 down the line. This $7 can be available for things such as building roads, for health care, for an aging generation, for pensions, for all caring Canadians and citizens to ensure mental health practices. All of those things can be in place. Fail to spend the dollar on the child, look at the child as a way to save money, and you'll still spend those remaining dollars but you'll spend it on prisons, mental health care, and welfare payments.

Just a number of weeks ago, I was reading a report and there's a phrase in there that says:

Let someone hazard a guess as to what year or what century real progress will be made in the equality of [First nations] children.

It was written in 1967. I was three years old.

Successive governments have known about the inequalities of first nations children on reserve in education, child welfare, and other services. Some investments have been made but they fall far short of equality. As the Auditor General found in 2004, and again in 2011, in education, the investments are short. Your own first nations panel on elementary and secondary education found that investments are immediately required to bring first nations students up to the same standard that all other Canadian children enjoy. The Auditor General in 2008, and again in 2011, and the Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2009 found that these same inequalities echo across child welfare.

So how does this inequality happen? Well, as you know, parliamentarians, provincial and territorial laws, child welfare, education, and health all apply on reserves but the federal government is to fund them. As the Auditor General has repeatedly found, the federal government does so to a lesser level than all other Canadians enjoy. This happens across multiple experiences in childhood, and it weighs on the hopes and dreams and potential of a whole generation of first nations children.

The good news is that there's something we can do about it; we need not leave things the way they are. You have the power amongst you to make a strong departure from the parliamentarians who have preceded you and decide that racial discrimination against children is not a legitimate fiscal restraint measure; to decide that there's no room within the Canadian consciousness for a child to be left on the sidelines because of their race; to know that every child should grow up in this country having the same opportunity to start the race on the same values; to know that the Government of Canada as represented by all parties is prepared to truly put children first.

Some people might wonder why these inequalities have gone on for so long. I think it's because in a busy legislative office it's sometimes easy to forget whom it impacts. I'd like to share with you a story of Shannen Koostachin. Shannen Koostachin was born in the year of 2000 in the Attawapiskat First Nation. She was an excited little girl, like any other kindergarten kid, and wanted to go to school. But the only school in her community was closed because it sat on top of 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Over three ministers of Indian Affairs across two political parties promised Shannen and her friends a school and didn't deliver. Instead they went to portable trailers set beside the toxic waste dump, separated from it by only a chain link fence. The trailers deteriorated so much that there often wasn't heat in the portables, and mice would eat their sandwiches. There's no money for a library, no money for computers, no money for proper teachers, and no funding for a science lab.

When grade eight came, she believed in the goodness of each and every one of you. She thought the reason you didn't provide her and other first nations children with a proper school and equitable funding for education wasn't that you were bad people. It must be, she thought, because you didn't know how bad it was, that when you heard the statistics about the underfunding of first nations education, you would think it's almost beyond belief in a wealthy country like ours.

So, she organized non-aboriginal and first nations children to send you letters to say this is what it's like: “We're worried about not growing up and getting a proper education, because we want to get jobs, we want to make a contribution to our families and our communities. We know if we don't get that education, we're really going to suffer.” Some of those letters from Canada's children to parliamentarians are in the Our Dreams Matter Too report that's before you.

Shannen was true to her word. She did everything she could to fight for proper education for first nations children, including meeting with the Minister of Indian Affairs and asking for a new school. As many of you know, that request was declined on the basis of there apparently not being enough funding in the Government of Canada to provide a school at that time.

Shannen Koostachin went on to speak to anyone who would listen. She was one of 45 children in the world to be nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize given out by the Nobel laureates. She should be one of our true Canadian heroes. But sadly, it wasn't too long after her 15th birthday, living hundreds of miles away from her family so she could get the quality of education all of you received, that she died in a car accident, never having been treated equally by the Government of Canada. She would have graduated this year.

I will be giving an address at the University of Northern British Columbia, where I'll be receiving an honorary doctorate in law degree. I will dedicate it to Shannen Koostachin for the graduation she was never able to attend. Shannen had wanted to grow up to be a lawyer.

What about child welfare? There are more first nations kids in child welfare today than there were at the height of residential schools. They are driven there by poverty, poor housing, and substance misuse, all factors that we could do something about. As the Auditor General has found, there is underfunding of child welfare services on reserve. Has the federal government made some investments? Yes, but they're at a standard we read about in the Sims report. If investments continue at this very slow pace, it's not unreasonable to think that it will be another 45 years before we will be re-reading this report and wondering why equality didn't happen in child welfare.

Instead, in 2007, along with the Assembly of First Nations, we filed an action in the Federal Court against the Government of Canada alleging that the Government of Canada was racially discriminating against children by underfunding child services on reserve. I tell many people that the day I filed that complaint against the Government of Canada was one of the saddest of my life. I could not believe that in a country that I loved so much this was even necessary.

Over the next five years, the Government of Canada tried to derail a hearing on the merits—not on the facts, not on the substantive question of whether racial discrimination was happening. I think you can agree with me that if confronted with that allegation, if the Canadian government as a whole were innocent, then it should put its cards face-up on the table and let's have the debate. Instead it is pursuing a bunch of legal loopholes. One is that you can't compare, it says, federal services to provincial services. I'm very grateful to say that just a couple of weeks ago, the Federal Court rejected that argument and ordered a full hearing on the facts at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don't even think that a hearing is necessary. It would not be necessary if all parliamentarians across all parties decided that today was the day that first nations children would get a chance, that today was the day that first nations children would no longer stand at the sidelines of the country getting less because of who they are, that today was the day we recognized the 700% return of investing a dollar in a child and receiving seven dollars down the line.

There are other questions about best practices and research. The good news is that we know what many of these are, but without the financial dollars to put them in place, they're nothing but spirits in the wind.

As we know from Shannen's experience, there are thousands of Shannens out there right now. Do any of us around this table want to see another graduation day go by where a child who should really be there is somewhere in the spirit world looking down and hoping that we'll do the right thing?

Thank you very much.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you, Ms. Blackstock.

We now move to the question period. We will start with Ms. Truppe. You have seven minutes.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe London North Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would like to thank you both for being here today. I know you're really busy. We appreciate hearing from you, and I appreciate Shannen's story.

As you know, the focus of our committee's study is the prospects for Canadian girls with regard to economic prosperity, economic participation, and economic leadership, and what changes can be made by Status of Women to its approach to improving them.

Claudette, you mentioned that there would be approximately 400,000 aboriginal youth entering the labour market by 2020 and that about half of them would be girls. Can you tell us what, in your experience, you think the focus of Status of Women should be when trying to directly improve the economic participation, prosperity, and leadership of aboriginal girls in Canada?

3:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Claudette Dumont-Smith

I think there's not enough focus on girls. There is focus on women—though not enough as well—but there should be added focus on reaching the girls from maybe the age of 12 onwards to inform them about the opportunities that exist for them and where they can go to receive information. I think there's no link between information at the federal level and the communities, especially the more northern communities.

NWAC has a very important role to play. Although NWAC is situated at the national level, we have, as I mentioned, our provincial-territorial member organizations at the regional level, who in turn have memberships from the community level. It would be a perfect conduit to get that kind of information from NWAC to the PTMAs and down to the local level. I think there's a gap in the information reaching them, and there's no special focus on them either. That's the reason why many of them don't achieve their full potential.