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

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

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

November 15th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

[Witness speaks in his native language]

If I am not mistaken, your organization is made up primarily of aboriginal people who live in cities or off reserve. You are very likely aware of the advantages of living outside the community, off reserve, but also of the disadvantages, particularly the dilution of the connection with the land and the traditional practices of communities.

What does your organization do to ensure this traditional knowledge is passed down, and to preserve the relationship with members of the home community?

12:30 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

Thank you for your question.

Actually, it's quite the opposite. I grew up in a traditional aboriginal family and I never lived on reserve. I grew up with my grandparents, who taught me the ways, and my great-grandparents. My first hunting trip was at four years old. We've always practised our traditions off reserve. It's unfortunate because my brothers and sisters on reserve were prohibited by law to practise. They're just starting to get back into it now.

For those of us who have never been on reserve, we haven't lost those traditions and cultures. My grandfather spoke Mi'kmaq and I heard it growing up. He actually spoke three languages: Gaelic, English, and Mi'kmaq. I grew up hearing the language. Unfortunately, once he passed on, it wasn't used anymore.

I have never lost my traditions. They were instilled in me at a very young age. Most of our off-reserve aboriginal peoples have always come together to practise these rights.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

It is important to understand that in cities, having a connection with traditional territories can be more difficult. Does your organization work to ensure the eventual return of your members, and the resumption of traditional practices on forest land?

12:35 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

Even in the urban centres our organizations do have powwows; they do practise their traditions. Every year one of our organizations in P.E.I. has a powwow at Panmure Island.

Our people still travel the powwow routes. Now that they're becoming more prevalent on reserve, they do go to these things. We have elders in our urban centres who provide us with our teachings and our culture.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

I would like to ask another, more specific question.

What adjustments have been necessary or what changes have been made in your organization since the McIvor decision?

12:35 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

The changes for us, of course, are that some of our people who were not eligible for status are going to gain status. Unfortunately, not all of our people will, as I said, but at this point there are a lot of happy individuals out there.

I do get the odd e-mail and phone call that they're getting their status. I had one woman we've known for years who called my parents. She cried on the phone for 30 minutes because she finally got her status under our PTO. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Qalipu Band, which is an off-reserve band, got band status, and we'll have over 28,000 members registered now.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Do you keep statistics on the education of your 28,000 members? If so, are they similar to those of communities, or are they different?

12:35 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

Unfortunately, CAP does not receive the same capacity as our other national organizations. Of the $8 billion that is spent yearly in Canada on aboriginal issues, for every $8 spent on reserve only $1 is spent off reserve. We work hard with Stats Canada to try to capture the statistics. Unfortunately, we haven't quite been able to get them. We know for a fact, based on some of the statistics that have been captured, that most of our aboriginal children are not finishing school. They're apt to end up in jail before graduation. The statistics are much the same.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

You have 30 seconds.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

You spoke about the gun registry. What are you doing to return to hunting and trapping practices that do not include guns? After all, there were no guns 500 years ago.

12:35 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

Maybe just slow down a bit.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

You'll have to ask the question again. The interpreter missed the question.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

You raised the issue of the gun registry. What do you think of traditional hunting and trapping methods that did not include guns, given that they did not exist 500 years ago?

12:35 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

According to current case law, even though back when the treaties were negotiated we were using spears or bows and arrows, just like other people our traditions evolve and our way of doing things changes. We have the right to hunt with a long rifle. I am a long-gun owner. I have been around rifles since I was young and I was taught the proper way to handle them. My first hunting trip was when I was four. My son's first hunting trip was around the same age. We harvest for food only, not for sport. What this has done to a lot of our aboriginal peoples is not right: if we didn't register our guns, we were technically in breach of the law. The unfortunate aspect of this whole situation is that there was no proper consultation with aboriginal peoples.

I'll speak for the off-reserve, in particular. I was the chief and president at the time of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council. There was no consultation with us on this registry. I believe the courts have been clear: if you're going to do something that's going to affect an aboriginal and treaty right, you have an obligation to do proper consultation. That was not done with us.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Mr. Clarke.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I'd like to thank Chief Lavallée and Vice-Chief Dorey for coming in today.

Congratulations on four years of working on the issues that are facing first nations or aboriginals off reserve.

I come from northern Saskatchewan, and I see a large portion of the population leaving the reserve. I have a lot of family who live in the urban and the rural areas. It's just in northern Saskatchewan. North Saskatchewan has about 74 first nations communities. We look at the communities in the north and there's a great deal of Métis as well.

I hear what you're saying in regard to the long-gun registry. A lot of individuals go out and they're not able to gather during their regular times.

You talked about education, and it's very important. Can you tell me how CAP and the federal government are working together right now, specifically for youth and education? One of the main points we have to look at is economic development. Can you elaborate on that economic development? What goes into education and youth is all intertwined—if you don't have a job there's no future.

12:40 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

Currently we are working on an economic development strategy that will go forward to the minister. We're in the third stage of it right now. We're in the process of looking to set up an economic development corporation. We also have the new ASETS program, which is provided under Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. We have partners across Canada.

From HRSDC we also have what we call ASEP, which allows us to set up special partnerships. Right now we sit on several sector councils across Canada. It also allows us to build partnerships with industry. We sit on the tourism sector council board of directors. We sit on the food processing council and on others, as I've stated. We're looking to tie it all together. We're looking at a whole-of-government approach to this: education, economic development, and training.

Through the ASETS program, we're attempting to address the post-secondary education problem, because for the most part, we do not receive educational dollars, because we're off reserve and therefore fall under provincial jurisdiction. This makes it difficult for us to develop a long-term strategy on education. We're hoping that at some point we can do that. In the meantime, we work with what we have. As I said, ASETS allows us to fund the last year of post-secondary university, because by that point, once they graduate, students are deemed to be job ready. By building partnerships with private industry and the different sectors we are approaching it from different angles. By working on economic development, by setting up an economic development corporation, we're hoping that we will eventually have places where our students, our young people who graduate, will be able to go to get a foot in the door and get some life experience to launch them into the working economy.

We're trying to take every little piece we get and multiply it to make it meaningful for addressing some of the issues we're facing. One of the greatest things we're looking toward is having our economic development corporation set up, because it will eventually--it won't happen overnight--give us a sense of independence. We'll be able to look at financing ourselves. We are very proud people. We've always said that we don't want a handout; we want a hand up. We want to be independent of funding. We want to be able to track our own path and be responsible for our own future.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

You have two minutes left.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Okay.

You mentioned the Indian Act. How do you really feel about it? I'm talking specifically about MRP.

12:45 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

I have a hard time, being a modern woman in a modern day, when I hear of women who have no place to go to escape violence and of children who are sometimes left to sleep in a car overnight to escape being beaten. I have a real hard time when a woman and child are left with nothing.

I know what that feels like. I've experienced it. It's not a good feeling. I was one of the lucky ones. I had a family that took me in. A lot of those women don't have families to take them in. That's why, to me, the MRP is a Charter issue for women, and even men, because now it's happening to men. People don't talk as much about it, but even our men are experiencing violence in the communities, and it's from women. This is what a couple of dysfunctional generations have brought us to. They need to have the right to have protection under the law.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you.

We'll have Ms. Bennett.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Thank you very much.

Given that education is everything—that finishing high school and going on to post-secondary is the key to success—and the reality that off-reserve is a provincial-territorial jurisdiction...how can you help, or what are the...? Is there a best practice across the country? Are there places you're looking at that are doing this better in terms of wrapping around these kids and making sure they're successful? What are some of the elements of an education strategy?

12:45 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

At this point, we haven't had the opportunity to go out and visit any of the best practices. We've heard of them anecdotally.

I can only go back to my home province. We were getting a small $15,000 grant from the provincial government. We took that small $15,000 and broke it into categories. It was based on income. Only those under the poverty line could apply for assistance. But that little bit of assistance could send a child to school, with school books and in a warm coat, boots, and mittens, and buy some school supplies. Other than that, they'd have none. In some cases, for the ones who were in high school, we were able to offer some small bursaries to assist them in purchasing school supplies. We have non-profit social housing that's able to offer their families low-income housing based on income.

So it was through all these pieces. I'm sure Dwight can speak to the same, about some of the wonderful things they have done in his home province of Nova Scotia.

Other than that, we've had very little interaction with provincial governments on education. They absolutely refuse to deal with us because we're not, as far as they're concerned, real Indians. They only really deal with the reserves, unfortunately.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Obviously, all school systems want as many kids as possible to be successful. When there seem to be certain groups that are less successful, as you described, there need to be strategies. Does the name change of the department make you optimistic the federal government will help in ensuring that all indigenous students are successful?

12:50 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Betty Ann Lavallée

I'm optimistic. l'm always optimistic—I have to be in my job.

I foresee in the future—it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen next week or next month, but I foresee things slowly starting to change for the positive. I believe the change from Indian and Northern Affairs to Aboriginal Peoples is a beginning. The apology was a beginning. Good things don't happen overnight. Good things come to those who wait.