House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to share my time with the member for Winnipeg North.

I would like to thank the member for Manicouagan for putting this motion on the order paper. It gives me an opportunity to talk about the aboriginal people in my riding. I also want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Eva Ottawa, Christian Awashish and David Boivin, chiefs and grand chief of the Attikamek community, for their dynamism and their involvement in their respective communities. Manawan, to which my colleague referred, is third-biggest reserve of the Attikamek community in this region.

Today, I want to draw the attention of my colleagues to the Attikamek nation, which has lived in Mauricie for centuries and, in many regards, is ignored by the governments in place. This population, which is primarily concentrated in the areas surrounding the Gouin reservoir, a few hundred kilometres west of La Tuque, Quebec, is facing growth problems not only linked to population growth, but also to geographical isolation, the non-recognition of its ancestral land, and the numerous economic difficulties affecting the entire community.

The Attikamek were not included in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and are still waiting for concrete solutions from the government concerning the recognition of their ancestral land. The Attikamek do not receive any royalties from Hydro-Québec for the use of their land. This is also true of the Mauricie forest, which has been shamefully exploited by a number of Canadian and Anglo-American companies since Canada was conquered by the British.

Canada got rich at the expense of the Attikamek nation and to date has not been able or willing to recognize the ancestral rights of this nation, which enabled us to develop the industrialized Canada that we know today. Our lack of vision in the area of forestry development is being felt today in the closure of pulp and paper and softwood lumber mills, and the aboriginal people are the principal victims of our historical mistakes. We have neglected the first nations, we have overexploited the forest and we persist on this path of ignorance.

Today, I call on the government, which has turned a blind eye to the needs of the first nations, to ensure that any potential solutions to our growth problems include, as a matter of course, the Attikamek and the other first nations peoples of Canada. A percentage of the federal budget should be allocated to the educational, economic and social development of these nations. Every action we take and the grants allocated by the federal government to Canadian communities should mandatorily include a percentage earmarked for the Indian nations. We should make a joint effort to improve the standard of living of the Attikamek. We must strive to increase the number of graduates in these communities. We must increase the standards of social services for remote populations. The health of this nation is a measure of our commitment to future generations and an acknowledgment of their historical contribution to our collective wealth.

How is it that in the 21st century we have to call out to the government when it comes to the health and education needs of the Attikamek? Must we accept the social problems and the growing crime problem in these communities as inevitable facts? A great Canadian, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, predicted that the 20th century would belong to Canada. There is no doubt that in one century we have become one of the most democratic and prosperous nations on the planet. But there is still a shadow on our image: our silence in the face of the injustices experienced by the Attikamek and other first nations is an embarrassment. The silence of this government is an embarrassment. But looking beyond our historical mistakes, we have the economic capacity to change the course of events.

There are glaring education problems among the Attikamek. They have to find solutions that will enable them to look to the future with serenity. The first injustice in the aboriginal education system stems from underfunding for infrastructure. We would never accept the dilapidated state of the school equipment the Attikamek have if these were communities in the south. In the community of Wemotaci, for example, the building of a school that is needed because of population growth is in jeopardy because there are insufficient funds. The project is constantly being postponed and changed, given the reduction in funding available for building schools in aboriginal communities.

We have to consider updating all of the education infrastructure in Attikamek communities so that the schools are able to play their role in modern society and in societies where technological knowledge has become essential. The same is true of the human resources needed to serve both the regular school population and those with special needs. In January, the chiefs of the Attikamek communities reminded the government, in a media release, of its obligations to the aboriginal nations in relation to education. The difficulties these communities are experiencing in relation to education are mostly connected with the economic underdevelopment that has existed for decades.

As well, the chronic underfunding of resources for students in aboriginal communities shows that the aboriginal school system is a system designed for second-class citizens. Education funding in Canada off reserves cannot be compared with funding on reserves. Everywhere in Canada, students in the cities and towns of this country receive more in education grants than any aboriginal person. The federal government absolutely has to accept the principle of equal education funding for all citizens of Canada.

Growth in education budgets in Canada exceeds 6% in all communities except among aboriginal people. The latest report produced by the Assembly of First Nations and the government on education in aboriginal communities describes an education system that encourages academic failure rather than success. The government complains about money invested in the first nations but never realizes that the first investment has to be in education. Updating schools and school structures in aboriginal communities calls for a phenomenal amount of catching up, which has to take into account the underfunding that has taken place for nearly a century.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her excellent speech. We appreciate the latest recommendations of the Liberals regarding first nations education. However, we are also aware that they were in office for a long period of time during which they could have implemented many of the policies they are now proposing. The fact is that they chose not to move forward on this issue during that period.

Why did the Liberals wait until the Conservatives took office to decide that first nations education is a priority, considering they had 12 years to take action?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

February 16th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning, Carolyn Bennett pointed out that, during its last term, the Liberal government finalized the Kelowna accord, which is about education for all aboriginal communities. However, the current government ignored this agreement and completely forgot about it. Therefore, it is not because the Liberals did not do anything. They worked hard on this issue, but the Conservatives ignored this accord, which was so important for aboriginal communities.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to bring to the attention of the Chair the fact that the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain used the name of a member of the House. I simply wanted to point this out.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Pardon me, I did not hear that, but the hon. member is correct.

The hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, as someone who has had a great deal of experience with first nations education on both coasts of Canada, I can tell members that our government has spent $1.5 billion on education over the last year for 118,000 first nation students. Therefore, I hope the member opposite will agree that the answer is not more money.

The answer is to make structural changes to remove the impediments to providing adequate education to first nations from coast to coast to coast. Money is not the answer. The answer is in working with our first nation partners to provide a structure that will remove those impediments so we can deliver the education those students need.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very familiar with the Wemotaci reserve. I met the chief on two occasions, and we ate together. When a band council receives a budget, it is an overall budget. The band council must meet all the needs with the budget that it gets. It can allocate 2% of it to education. In fact, it is almost as if the band council were a municipal, provincial and federal government at the same time. It must pay money in all sorts of areas. Therefore, it is wrong to say there is enough funding for education, because education accounts for only 2%, compared to 6% in the rest of the country.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to provide some comments on the opposition motion today. It is a motion from which I would think every member would recognize the valuable lessons to be learned. If we do not take the actions necessary to provide good quality education for all people in Canada, focusing attention especially on first nations, at the end of the day we will be denying opportunities for future generations of children.

The member made reference to the issue not just being about money. I agree in principle with that statement: It is not just about money, but one that will take a great deal of leadership. That is why many of my colleagues within the Liberal Party talk a great deal about the Kelowna accord, because that accord was not just an idea of someone in the backroom. It was the result of an accumulation of hundreds and thousands of people, I would suggest to you, who ultimately came together to try to resolve an issue that has been outstanding for many years.

A number of people took great pride in the achievement of the Kelowna accord, from first nations to people who just watched it on the news, to politicians such as me. I know of this accord first hand, beause I have heard former Prime Minister Paul Martin speak on numerous occasions about the Kelowna accord, which would have gone a long way to resolving many of the issues of today.

The Kelowna accord was not hatched overnight. Whether as a result of work by Prime Minister Chrétien to Prime Minister Paul Martin, to ministers who had this particular file, and most importantly to the first nations' leadership, who recognized the need to come up with of comprehensive plan to deal with the issues, those leaders and stakeholders recognized that while money was critically important, we needed to establish and have a plan in place that would make a difference.

When I represented Winnipeg North for many years as a provincial politician, I would drive to work in the morning down Burrows Avenue, turn right on Salter and drive straight up to the Manitoba legislature. I have witnessed firsthand a lot of sadness over the years about the children of the community who have fallen through the cracks. Many of those cracks were a result of government inaction.

We need to see stronger leadership at all levels. I am not just talking about the federal level but also about the provincial level and, to a certain degree, the municipal level, and certainly our chiefs and other stakeholders.

We need to recognize that the people who cannot defend themselves, the ones who are need of advocacy, are the ones from birth up to the age of 15 or 16 years old, as they try to get some sort of public education. The continued number of dropouts in the portion of the province I represent, and the entire province, I would suggest, has been very discouraging.

Nonetheless, there have been wonderful gains made and some great stories that could be told. I could talk, for example, about the Children of the Earth, a school located in Winnipeg North that recognizes the cultural needs of first nations, of aboriginal people. A number of years ago I had the opportunity to tour that particular school. It has amazing graduation rates of 82%. It is a school that today provides good quality education for, I believe, over 230 people residing in Winnipeg. That is a result of the initiatives it has taken and the leadership it has demonstrated in trying to make difference.

We can take it from there to other non-profit groups out there who also want to be able to contribute to ensuring that all young people are afforded the opportunity to have good quality education. My hat goes off to them.

However, the reserves have been neglected to a great extent. We need to do a lot more in supporting the leadership there. That is why I would have encouraged the government to continue with the Kelowna accord. While it would not have resolved all of the problems, it did get us going in the right direction and showed that the national government truly cared and wanted to make a difference. It set the framework for our being able to move forward. I think there is still phenomenal goodwill among many chiefs and their councils who want to work with the government in improving the quality of education on reserves as much as possible. In good part, the government has turned a deaf ear to that. There has not been an overall comprehensive plan coming from the government to try to deal with this issue. I think that will be at great cost. The longer the government sits back and does nothing, the greater the numbers of children, in the hundreds if not thousands, who will be without the type of public education they need to be able to prosper and do that much better in society as a whole. That is quite unfortunate.

Whether it is the province of Manitoba or other jurisdictions, we will find there is quite a discrepancy. In certain areas we will find a higher number of children participating in public education and getting relatively decent marks. It really does vary by province. In certain areas, there are serious deficiencies. Unless we address those deficiencies, it will get worse.

It does not necessarily mean that Ottawa has to be the leader. There are many people within our first nations who are prepared to come to the table and demonstrate the leadership on reserve. When that happens, the government has to be more open-minded in meeting those needs. When I say “open-minded”, in good part I mean ensuring that the resources will be there. It is very difficult for students to learn without the proper facilities. It is very difficult for students to learn if they are hungry throughout the day at school. I have heard many professionals and stakeholders say that one cannot learn on an empty stomach, yet we expect hundreds if not thousands of children across Canada to do just that.

That is why I believe the federal government is missing the boat by not having a more all encompassing approach to ensuring that all children in Canada have good quality public education, because education often equates to opportunities. I believe we have to ensure that all children have opportunities, and all of their education is being challenged.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, National Defence; the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Infrastructure; the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Environment.

Questions and comments. The hon. Minister of State for Finance.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Minister of State (Finance)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my hon. friend's speech on this important subject.

I have the privilege of representing five first nations reserves in my riding of Macleod. Some of them are forward-thinking and very aggressive in their business planning and business models. There are great opportunities for them when we talk about education.

One of my first nations has developed a carpentry shop on reserve. Our government has funded skills training for on-reserve education, providing skills for young people so they can become involved in the work force. The carpentry shop, for example, not only provides training on physical work and buildings but also on the tendering process for the necessary items for contractors. Another first nations reserve has a welding shop.

Could my hon. colleague tell us what budget allocated even one cent for the Kelowna accord, because I never read that budget? Could the hon. member please tell me which budget that was in?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the sad thing is that the minister just admitted that he has never even read the Kelowna accord. If he does not have a copy I am sure we could arrange to get him a copy. One has to be concerned that the minister did not even read the Kelowna accord. I wonder if the Prime Minister even read the Kelowna accord. That is what happens when members get outside the glass bubble, because sometimes they make mistakes.

The member made reference to the reserves that he represents. There are many children from many different reserves in Manitoba who live in Winnipeg North. There are numerous success stories. We should not try to say it is all doom and gloom.

We understand the importance of quality education and want to make sure that all children are provided with it.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the point about opportunity raised by my colleague across the floor.

Just some 120 short days ago the Province of Ontario was described in the English-speaking world, not just in Canada or the United States or North America but in the English speaking world, as having the best educational test scores globally. That is after considerable investment has been made over almost eight years by a government that has profoundly invested in education in contradistinction to the federal government here.

I want to ask my colleague an important question about opportunity. We are studying right now at the natural resources committee the massive mining and resource opportunities in and around aboriginal communities. We are hearing that these opportunities are not going to be available for so many young aboriginal people.

Could the member expand on the importance of education in actually achieving these opportunities?

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the provincial government in Ontario places importance on education and equates it with opportunities. We need to see the same leadership from the national government in dealing with some of the educational challenges in our remote areas and reserves. If we can make that connection, then we will have more people of aboriginal ancestry as leaders in many different sectors, whether mining, tourism or other industries. The list is endless. It is about leadership and knowing that the answer to many of the problems that we have today regarding first nations issues can be equated with education.

I hope that the government will revisit the Kelowna accord. I can tell the members opposite that the money was in fact there: the government of the day actually had surpluses of billions of dollars. The money was there for the Kelowna accord.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

I am really very happy to have the opportunity to speak to this motion, which my excellent colleague from Manicouagan has had the courage to introduce in the House today. I would like to thank him for that.

I also thank him for his dignity and moral strength. He is doing exceptional work. Often, when I spend time with him, I realize what a force of nature he is. And when he gets together with my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona, we suddenly find ourselves in the presence of a revolutionary force. To them both: nia :wen.

The subject before us today is a painful and shameful one. Talking about the living conditions of aboriginal people without starting to hurl insults at a lot of people calls for effort. As well, spending an entire day contemplating my share of guilt in the slow destruction of an entire civilization, because that is what we are really talking about, is difficult, very difficult.

Here is a list of the other emotions I have felt today: guilt, sorrow, shame, and, at times, rage. The way that aboriginal people are treated in this country is dishonourable. I am not saying “bad”, I am saying “dishonourable”. We are forced to admit to ourselves the extent to which we deceive ourselves. In this country, which is so proud of itself, which spends its time announcing its greatness of spirit and its greatness in general from the rooftops, there is apartheid. We quite simply accept that aboriginal children do not have access to the same hopes as other children. We resign ourselves to the fact that the lot of aboriginal children is inequality, poverty and cultural assimilation. Would we accept this for our own children?

The mere fact that we have to discuss an initiative like Shannen's dream is appalling. Aboriginal children do not have access to the same Canada as other children have. It seems very clear to me that aboriginal people do not live in the same Canada as we live in. They are alienated in their own country, the country that belongs to them even more than to us.

Need I say that I am outraged? More than just outraged, I am humiliated. The fate of the aboriginal nations is emblematic of what is wrong with Canada. It is a defect, and everyone knows that we do everything we can to conceal it from the outside world. I am ashamed. What we are debating tonight is the worst stain that has ever sullied Canada’s name. No one anywhere in this country can escape it: it is congenital.

As a Quebecker, I am particularly sensitive to the leftover colonialism in Canadian society. Quebec had to fight hard to extract itself from the damaging influence of its history. In the wake of the conquest, the defeated nation lost its way in darkness. It took over 200 years for us to pick ourselves up and regain our self-esteem. I refer to the history of Quebec because there is a clear parallel between the first nations and Quebeckers. New France, defeated militarily, was destined to disappear completely and become British. The Canadians who had built it became, unceremoniously, British subjects. To add insult to injury, they were made to think of themselves as a underclass. They were no longer Canadians, they were French-Canadians. The British, however, were simply Canadians.

The aboriginal nations, which signed land treaties that were never even remotely respected, quickly understood by means of silence and isolation, that they were being relegated to the dustbin of history. And by that, I mean the sad story of reserves and the forced assimilation of aboriginal nations. For the aboriginal people, it was very clear that Canada was largely built on trickery. And still today, this trickery continues unopposed.

The Romanians, who also have a history of upheaval and whose country was under foreign control for some time, have a good expression, “kiss the hand you cannot bite”.

You may say that modern Canada has nothing to do with the Ottoman administration of the 19th century. But is that really true?

Canada is a land conquered by force and trickery. The Indian Act is a colonial document imposed by a conqueror. It is we who are responsible for the inequality aboriginal people face. The day will come when we will have to sit down with the aboriginal people as equals and listen to what they are trying to tell us. In the meantime, we cover our ears, look elsewhere, and merely confirm our guilt. It is our fault. I refuse to praise a colonial system that, like a diabolical machine, creates and perpetuates the problem.

What I mean in drawing this parallel is that Quebec needed all its strength and a stable, prosperous government to establish itself as a modern society. What chance do the aboriginal nations have, deprived of their natural resources and reduced to political trusteeship, when they have to ask everything of the department that is in charge of them? We know where that leads: no books in the schools—and Attawapiskat. The Indian Act is not the most intelligent document I have laid eyes on.

What link is there between the Constitution and Shannen's dream? There is a direct link. Constitutional apartheid is the reason why there are no books in aboriginal schools. When you take everything away from someone you cannot seriously expect there to be miraculous economic spinoffs. Enough is enough. Where would Canada be without its natural and human resources? Where would Quebec be without its great rivers and its hydroelectricity?

Neither one would have the standard of living it has now. But are these truly our resources or have we simply taken them from the aboriginal nations? The Supreme Court will decide that, someday. While we wait for that, aboriginal children must continue to dream about the possibility of a dream. While we wait for that, there must be initiatives like Shannen's dream to remind us that some children do not have access to the education that is their inalienable right.

What have you given back to the civilization that welcomed you and gave you a country? The question itself has become a platitude, as is the answer. Nothing, except humiliation, poverty, contempt and racism. When did you last hear someone speak an aboriginal language? It took every effort to have French, the 14th most commonly spoken language in the world, accepted in this country. What chance can these minuscule aboriginal languages have? We are throwing a cultural treasure overboard, one that is more important than all the grand shows put on for Canada Day.

Protecting aboriginal languages should be a priority. We should at least have a plan. Instead, to strengthen Canadian culture, we print posters of flags that end up in the garbage and we celebrate British royalty with great pomp and circumstance. One need not have tremendous insight to conclude that essentially, we do not care the slightest bit about the disappearance of the millennium-old civilization in this country.

Quebeckers in particular should be sensitive to the threat. Loss of language is something that normally resonates for us. But in many people’s minds, aboriginal languages are antiques that are good only for family outings to the museum. We have to fight against this negligence and these prejudices.

The aboriginal part of our culture is systematically excised from public awareness. Where will you go in Quebec if you want to learn an aboriginal language? To which university? There are no post-secondary programs in an aboriginal language, not as a second language, let alone as a first language; not in Mohawk, not in Algonquin, not in Atikamekw, not in Innu. Nothing at all. Aboriginal means “from that land”. If we do not promote these languages in Canada, who will do it, and where?

In my riding, Louis-Saint-Laurent, there is a project underway to revitalize the Huron language. This is an initiative that I support and encourage. In order for the Huron nation to truly prosper, it must get its language back; that seems logical to me. To free itself from the yoke of history, it must have its own words and its own language. Quebec has learned this.

Wendake is a very prosperous urban community. The people who live there have access to institutions in Quebec City. Unfortunately, its residents have never had access to education in their own language, and the result is that they have suffered irreparable harm. Thanks to the efforts of extraordinary people in Wendake, the Huron language will be revived.

But the remote reserves do not have books in the schools, and teaching takes place in unsanitary facilities. Why, still today, do aboriginal schools not have enough books and resources to pass the language on to the children? We are talking about human rights here, but we have become completely insensitive.

We delude ourselves when we sing aloud about how Canada is the most beautiful and greatest country in the world. Those ditties, all of that, are hollow. The problem is not going to be solved by encouraging everybody to hang the maple leaf on the garden shed. The maple leaf flag, which had its anniversary yesterday, does not represent aboriginal people. Canada does not exist for them; it exists only for us. The aboriginal people do not live in the same country as we do. They live in a kind of legal grey area: a constitutional limbo.

Can we really ignore our sense of morality? Apparently we can; we have become expert at it, since this has lasted 150 years now. How many times have I heard people say the Indians have everything they need. That is racism and resentment. Where is the awareness campaign that might combat these hateful prejudices? Where is the reconciliation effort? Nowhere. Are we going to continue down this path even longer? It would seem we are. Achieving Shannen's dream would itself be a step in the right direction. Failing to achieve it would be to condemn us all. The aboriginal nations’ affliction is all Canadians’ affliction. If we do not save everyone, we save no one.

The aboriginal population of Canada is now growing faster than all other ethnic groups. I see historical justice in this. The aboriginal people may end up becoming a majority in their own country again; we will have been merely an episode in history. We will be asking them to fund our schools, and we will see how they reply.

Opposition Motion—Education for First Nation Children
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my friend, the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, for expressing her feelings so well regarding an issue that affects aboriginal children across Canada, and particularly for urging us to make Shannen's dream become reality. What changes should be made to Canada's policies so that the change everyone is hoping for can take place?