House of Commons Hansard #173 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to present the motion?

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue for outlining some very good points regarding the report of the standing committee on post-secondary education and the government response.

I wanted to touch on a brief issue. I know that in Quebec this is also a very important issue as it pertains to funding for first nations post-secondary educational institutions. Certainly this report and the government's response basically said it is a provincial responsibility.

Yet, we know the importance of first nations post-secondary educational institutions. We know that there are 64 currently in this country. Some of them are affiliated with other colleges and universities. One or two of them are stand alone. We know how important it is that the funding is in place so that the curriculum is culturally relevant, that it is within an important social context, and that it recognizes some of the challenges that the students have in terms of leaving their communities and the kind of isolation that they have from their own communities.

Could the member specifically talk about the shortcomings and the government's response to funding for first nations post-secondary educational institutions?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question. I can almost say that the answer is “nothing”. Almost. Currently, in Quebec, when a person from an aboriginal community wishes to pursue post-secondary studies, it is a problem. In a nutshell, this is how the system works in Quebec: we have primary and secondary education, and then something special that we call CEGEP, the college of general and professional instruction, and then university. However, once people complete their fifth year of secondary school, there is nothing to help them move on to CEGEP or university.

Not only is there no support, but people have to apply to the federal government for a scholarship. That means that all aboriginals from Abitibi-Témiscamingue and northern Quebec have to go outside, and that is why we are asking for an aboriginal campus or university centre to train the leaders of tomorrow in the region.

For now, nobody is giving us any answers, we keep getting their voicemail and nobody knows what is going on. It is clear that first nations need help overcoming this obstacle. They need leaders. The future of first nations depends on first nations people having role models when it comes to post-secondary education.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's statements about post-secondary education. I certainly applaud his efforts in bettering the lives of aboriginal people all across Canada.

One of the statements he made and previous speakers have made is in reference to the $308 million that is available for post-secondary education. I think it is important to point out to the House that in addition to those funds, budget 2007 also more than doubles the funding for the aboriginal skills and employment partnership.

I think we all agree that there is more to education than simply college and university, and many people have found meaningful employment in some of these initiatives.

I point out just a few of them: the aboriginal mine works project; the people, land and opportunities project; the Northwest Territories oil and gas aboriginal skills and employment partnership development; and many others that I could list.

The member, near the beginning of his speech, mentioned something to the effect that the Indian Act was a retrograde piece of legislation. He went on to say that the Indian Act needed to be changed.

As a lawyer who probably has a much deeper knowledge of the act than I do, I was wondering if he would make any suggestion as to where the government would begin in replacing the Indian Act. What kind of process would he envision in that matter?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, you will have to cut me off, because I could talk on about how to replace the Indian Act for 30 or 45 minutes.

One thing is crucial. The Indian Act could not possibly be replaced without consultation. I know this does not please my hon. colleague who asked me the question, but real consultation with first nations people is needed to see how they envision the abolition of that act. We cannot and must not impose any amendments to the Indian Act without first ensuring real consultation. That will take some time.

For this, first nations people must be educated. Major investments are needed in post-secondary education, including college and university, as well as at the post-graduate level.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier we heard the parliamentary secretary talk about the fact that some of the opposition members were looking at the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and were not particularly supportive of it.

One of the statements that the parliamentary secretary made was the fact that a repeal of section 67 would actually improve educational opportunities on reserve. Yet we know about the 2% funding cap and the very serious issues that are facing first nations on reserve around funding that is available for things. Could the member comment on a simple repeal of section 67 and its impact on educational opportunities?

We know for example that the United Nations has issued a report that said a simple repeal of 67 without adequate remedy would actually not improve the human rights situations on reserve. Could the member comment on that in terms of the educational aspect?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have much to say on this matter. It is true that Bill C-44, which we are currently studying in committee, contains only nine operative words. Those nine words, however, will have serious repercussions on first nations people. Once the Canadian Human Rights Act applies in a community, this means that, immediately, anywhere in Canada, legal action can be taken against a band council or against the department any time there is no water, no hospital nearby or if people are not receiving the same level of care as anywhere else in Canada.

Earlier, in my response to another colleague, I said that real consultation is absolutely essential. The government must go to first nations communities to hear how first nations people want to repeal this retrograde legislation. Everyone wants to repeal it. We must find the mechanisms to ensure that this is done in full respect of the wishes of first nations people.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for this motion because it is very important that we speak to this issue.

I represent the Churchill riding where there are 33 first nations. I am a first nations person myself. I am Cree from Norway House Cree Nation, which is in the Churchill riding, and on my mother's side I am from the Treaty 9 area in a community called Muskrat Dam. As a first nations individual and member of Parliament representing a riding which has a large first nations population, this is an issue which of course is very dear to my heart.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nunavut.

I would like to begin this debate by speaking about the context. From my perspective and the perspective of people in my riding, the context is very important when we speak about first nations education.

Today we have heard the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River articulate very well the historical context and the culture of poverty. This is often mistaken for aboriginal culture and people have often utilized it to advance agendas which are not fair. Not only are they not fair, but they are not practical and do not respect the honour of the Crown nor the relationship that should be in place, a conciliatory relationship of respect and dignity between first nations and Canada.

I would like to elaborate on the culture of poverty somewhat because it is really important for Canadians to understand that it has been a matter of systematic and systemic policies and legislation in this country which have contributed to the culture of poverty.

I am a direct descendant of a signatory. My great grandfather was a chief who signed the addendum to Treaty 9. I received an email today from a person who is from my riding and a direct descendant of one of the chiefs who signed Treaty 5. It is part of our history. It is part of our oral history and the history of our communities and cultures. We are very politicized within our first nations history as well.

People have to understand that just as Canada has its written history, we have our own history as well. Within Canadian post-secondary institutions that history has been finally deemed, in the last 15 years, as valid. Although we as first nations people have respected it and know it is true, that shared history is very important. That is what is really important about first nations education and how we move forward.

The government's response to first nations education is very disappointing because, as we heard today, what is the cost of doing nothing? If we look at first nations history in terms of policy and legislation, it does not even have to come from within the first nations perspective in terms of our own oral history.

However, throughout history we have seen that there has been a systematic attempt to put barriers in place in lieu of the successes of first nations people in this country. It is that dynamic that I believe contributes to these types of responses today.

As I said, I am from Manitoba. It seems that the parliamentary secretary is not familiar with first nations education. He misrepresents the picture of first nations education in Manitoba. I am very proud to say that in 1971 our leadership wrote a book called “Wahbung: Our Tomorrows”. It addressed first nations education. It became the basis for the education framework agreement which was signed in 1991.

My Liberal colleague mentioned Saskatchewan. In Manitoba we too have had control of first nations education at the community level, and we are talking about K to 12. First nations education was understood to be a treaty right and it was understood in terms of the context of lifelong learning, which includes post-secondary. We have had that for over 30 years. In 1971 we articulated that in written form. It has been part of how we understand our lives. As we need to make transitions into different systems, we have done so with clarity.

The B.C. model, which is indeed a fantastic model for B.C., is not suitable for Manitoba. It is an absolute misrepresentation to say that Manitoba does not have that type of framework. We have had an education framework agreement. We have had a framework agreement at the self-government and education sectoral table. The government walked away from negotiations. It is appalling that there has been an absolute misrepresentation of what first nations people want, what first nations people have accomplished so far. It is negligent to insist upon that type of representation.

In Manitoba it is absolutely critical and not only for the sake of integrity, but also there is the cost of doing nothing. Each year in Manitoba we have to defer 1,000 students who are seeking to go to post-secondary institutions. We would have to have 2,000 students in post-secondary education to close the gap between the average Canadian in Manitoba and first nations in Manitoba. The member opposite mentioned vocational trades and the efforts the government has made on HRSD, but in Manitoba, we would need 2,300 additional spots for first nations students in vocational trades and colleges to close the gap.

In Manitoba we have an enormous population and the quickest growing population. It is absolutely critical that we start to address these issues in a way that will have a profound effect not only for first nations youth and for first nations communities, but for Canada.

The government in response to this report said:

--it is troubling that the percentage of Aboriginal youth that enter post secondary studies is significantly lower than that of non Aboriginal youth. This gap exists for a myriad of reasons, and a link must be drawn to other socio economic factors that affect some Aboriginal communities like poverty, housing issues, and unemployment--

I would argue that is quite common. The government went on to say:

The most serious problem creating this gap is that not enough Aboriginal youth are completing high school--

My problem with that statement is that socio-economic factors, such as poverty, housing and unemployment, are significant issues. We have to deal with them. We have to address these issues. The approach has to be holistic in terms of building a bright future. This is what first nations have wanted. This is what first nations in my riding have been saying for over 30 years. The cost of doing nothing is despair. It is inhumane.

I was in a community in my riding, Shamattawa, where a child had taken his own life. There is no reason on God's green earth that children in Canada should be faced with such despair. How we address this issue is that first nations education and post-secondary education has to meet the standards. We should look at post-secondary education as being an answer to closing the gap for aboriginal people in Canada.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Churchill made a very eloquent presentation. I would like the member's opinion on a question that I raised before. We have seen that the funding for first nations post-secondary educational institutes, specifically ones run by first nations, is absent from the government's response. It basically says that post-secondary education funding is a provincial responsibility, yet we know there are very good institutes including the First Nations Technical Institute, FNTI, which is on life support because of inadequate funding.

I wonder if the member could comment on the importance of first nations control of first nations education and post-secondary institutes in this country.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a critical point when we talk about first nations education. First nations control over first nations education is essential.

I would like to speak about a number of different things but I want to talk about the issue of self-determination. People understand inherently that in our language we interpret self-determination as what makes us human. Self-determination in Canada has to be understood not within the context of becoming non-Indian, non-first nations or non-aboriginal. It has to be understood within the context of being aboriginal within Canada. Study after study, report after report, individual after individual, community after community have demonstrated that culturally appropriate teaching models, education models and institutes which are designed and run by first nations are critical to the success of first nations education.