Evidence of meeting #139 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was students.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Lorne Keeper  Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre
Shirley Fontaine  Associate Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre
Donald Shackel  Assistant Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre
Norm Odjick  Director General, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council
Yves Robillard  Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.
Keith Matthew  President and Director, Southern British Columbia, Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers
Kelly Shopland  Director of Aboriginal Education, North Island College
Daniel Millette  Director, Planning and Readiness, First Nations Land Management Resource Centre

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Good morning, everybody.

Welcome to the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. We are hearing from representatives about the issue of building capacity in communities for first nations peoples.

Before we get started, we always—in a process of reconciliation on which Canada has begun the path—recognize that here in Ottawa, we are on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

We are in the hearings phase of the report, so each group will have an opportunity to present for up to 10 minutes. I will give you signals as we get close and they will become more frequent as we get there, so just keep an eye on where we are. I will try to indicate how close we are to the end of your presentation time. After all presentations are done, we will go on to a series of questions from the MPs. Everyone has questions, so I encourage you to keep your interactions fairly short and direct because we would like to see a significant report on this issue.

Let's get started.

We have the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre in front of us. The team is here. It is nice to see Manitoba so prompt and handsome. I shouldn't say that—you're not handsome. I don't know if that's any better. That was a joke. Let's put that in the record.

Welcome, everybody.

You can get started, and then hopefully the other group will join us during that time. Any way you want to break it up, it's up to you.

8:45 a.m.

Lorne Keeper Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

Good morning. On behalf of the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, I am very glad to be here with my colleagues, Donald Shackel and Shirley Fontaine.

Historically, Manitoba first nations started local control back in 1970. “Wahbung: Our Tomorrows” has been our leading light. Long before the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre was formed, our first nations leaders and people spoke to the need to develop an education system that would support the retention of our ways of knowing, primarily through the teachings of our ancestral languages and cultures. To be effective, education must be nurtured in relevancy, commitment, motivation and identifiable purpose. The process must be part of the community activities and community progress. The beauty of our first nations education system was that it was failure-proof.

The Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre is the largest first nations education service delivery organization in Canada. At present, we have over 250 service delivery staff and over 340 staff employed in 10 first nations schools, which are part of our newly created Manitoba First Nations School System. There are about 51 schools in Manitoba. We currently provide accredited training for over 300 first nations professional staff in various education fields, including school psychologists, speech and language therapists, and practitioners in a variety of other clinical fields.

As I mentioned, our philosophy is based on “Wahbung: Our Tomorrows”, a collective thought and approach. Our work is grassroots and community-driven. We work with first nations communities throughout Manitoba. Our big focus is on community-based programming and a capacity-building approach, so that we can build our own....

8:50 a.m.

Shirley Fontaine Associate Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

Thank you all.

I'll take over at this point. My name is Shirley Fontaine. I'm the Associate Executive Director for MFNERC.

I'm glad to be here this morning on the unceded Algonquin territory. Thank you for letting us speak to you.

I wanted to speak about our mandate. Our mandate is lifelong learning. It's not just capacity-building and the training of adults. We are also responsible for looking after the early learning pieces of education and also K-to-12 education. For us, lifelong learning is very important. It's something that starts in the womb and continues throughout a person's lifetime. It's very important for us because it's part of our philosophy of the importance of lifelong learning.

We have a lot of unique programs in Canada. Our programs are very successful, and we respond to community-identified needs. Right now, we are working with the new federal program on early learning and child care for ages zero to six. We are helping first nations develop their own strategies at the local level and also at the regional level. That's something we'll be working on over the next two years.

Our goal is to establish a stand-alone first nations organization to look after early learning and child care in Manitoba. We will be providing supports for head start programs, day cares, curriculum and resource materials, curriculum development, and training and capacity-building for early childhood educators. A lot of what we want to focus on is traditional methods of raising our children. For kindergarten to grade 12, we offer a wide range of academic support services for first nations students.

Most of our staff in Manitoba are first nations people. Over 70% of our staff are actually first nations professionals. We have some of the largest numbers of Ph.D.s and master's degrees. We have one of the highest capacities of any first nations organization in Canada. We have really high retention rates. Over 40% of our staff have been with us for over five years, and many of our original employees, from when we first established the organization, remain with us today.

We also have something we call the Manitoba First Nations School System. We support the administrators of the 10 member schools. We provide services in instructional leadership; professional development, which is training; crisis response planning; and other essential areas where we focus on effective education for effective schools for our students.

We are in our second year of operation. We have documented increases in student attendance and retention rates. This is mainly attributed to our culture-based, land-based and language-based programming.

While we have been able to retain more staff, we still face challenges in terms of recruitment for our northern and isolated first nations schools—and that's across Canada. It's difficult to attract people to work in the isolated communities.

We also have something that's unique in Canada. We have our own virtual collegiate that offers services to high school students. Students don't have to leave their communities to get the credits they need to enter university and college. The types of courses we offer include science, math and languages. Those are the prerequisites required for university programming.

I'll give it to Don.

8:55 a.m.

Dr. Donald Shackel Assistant Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

Thank you.

Good morning. My name is Dr. Don Shackel. I'm the Assistant Director of Special eEucation at MFNERC.

The area of first nation capacity that I will speak to this morning relates to first nation children with special needs living in first nations communities in Manitoba.

Until recently, first nations students with disabilities had to leave their community in order to access services, or remain in their community without any services at all, or often be placed in the care of CFS to receive those services. Manitoba has the highest rate of childhood apprehension, with the majority of those children being first nation.

As an ally, I've worked in first nation communities for almost three decades now. It would not be uncommon for me to run into a deaf student in one of our communities who had absolutely no access to learn American Sign Language.

To better meet the needs of the lives of these children, the education directors and the chiefs of Manitoba mandated MFNERC to move forward on two strategic initiatives, which are different and unique from any other region in Canada. First, our leaders directed us to move away from a case-by-case service delivery model and create a collective system of community-based clinical services under first nation jurisdiction.

I'm thrilled to let you know and to report today that over 3,000 Manitoba first nation children are now receiving services in their home communities from a range of full-time, salaried clinicians, including speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, nurses, mental health specialists, school psychologists, reading specialists, deaf and hard-of-hearing instructors, and American Sign Language instructors. Many of them are listening today in the schools where they're working.

The second mandate given by our leaders was to immediately begin training first nation community members so that our specialized services can relate to the language and culture of the students we're working with. We train first nation resource teachers, rehabilitation/education assistants, school psychologists, first nations speech language pathologists—who are bilingual in both their first language and English—occupational therapists, physiotherapists and first nation reading specialists. I'm so pleased and very proud to report today that we have over 300 first nation community members in these programs.

As our community members begin to graduate, we're seeing over 95% success rate. How do we accomplish that? We believe that the success rate on our credit, certificate, diploma, post-bac and master's level training programs relates to the following factors.

Number one is targeted recruitment and retention strategy. We have five-year and 10-year strategic plans. We have first nation-led partnerships with various Canadian and American universities. We have adequate targeted financial resources for travel for our community members to come out. It's important to note that most of our trainees are women and are working full time.

We have a cohort model with first nation peer supports. We have flexible and student-centred programming. We leverage interdepartmental funding from FNIHB and INAC, and we have a laddering approach. Most importantly, we treat people in our training programs like family.

I'm so pleased to report on that success.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you very much.

Norm, you have my apologies. I scooped you in with Manitoba. It's always an opportunity to do that.

8:55 a.m.

Norm Odjick Director General, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council

Maybe they'll adopt me.

8:55 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you for coming out.

Norm Odjick is the Director General of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council.

Please go ahead whenever you're ready.

8:55 a.m.

Director General, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council

Norm Odjick

Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning, members of the committee.

First of all, I would like to acknowledge our local MP, Mr. William Amos. I'm glad to see you on this committee. Will has helped us out a lot with our first nation and other nations, so thank you.

To Mr. Vandal, who recently toured some Anishinaabe communities, thank you for taking the time to do that.

It is a pleasure to be here today speaking about these important issues. I am Anishinaabe from the community of Kitigan Zibi and director of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council. I have over 17 years of experience in upper management at both the community and tribal council level. During this time, I have directly experienced the challenges related to the retention of their staff and the building of their capacity. If you'll allow me, I'd also like to speak about the challenges of recruiting staff, which I feel is related to retention. I'll conclude by stating some of the initiatives that have been put in place by myself and the directors of the communities and tribal councils of Quebec.

In today's labour market, the recruitment and retention of qualified staff are quite challenging, and in first nations communities and organizations I believe this is amplified. My community is about an hour and a half from here and it's not an isolated community. It's very well developed. However, we have had difficulty recruiting for professional positions within my organization and the community. I have some recent examples. It took my organization about 16 months to recruit a new civil engineer when the former one retired. For my community of Kitigan Zibi, it took over two years to find a director of finance. In a smaller community that is isolated, the challenge to recruit is much tougher.

Today's employees tend to be more interested in a gig rather than a career. I have heard it referred to as the “quit economy.” In addition to a high starting salary and attractive benefits, they are looking for a work-life balance and possibilities to move quickly up the ladder. In our communities, it's rare that we can offer career advancement since there are so few rungs on the ladder. Due to being short-staffed, employees have to wear many different hats and often take on duties that are in addition to their job description. As such, it's hard to offer them work-life balance, as they're covering for employees we cannot afford to hire. When you factor in circumstances such as housing shortages, it can be very difficult to be competitive.

For certain positions, it is easier to recruit and retain employees generally. Clerical positions, receptionists and similar positions are still filled by employees who intend to stay until they retire, but in professional positions and those that are highly sought after, it's much more challenging to recruit and retain. At the upper administrative levels, such as the director general, the turnover can be astounding. Twice yearly, we have Quebec regional meetings of the DGs and at every meeting it is practically guaranteed that there will be a lot of new faces around the table. Although there are roughly only 30 communities that participate in these meetings, we've often had as many as six new DGs within a six-month span. That's not good for stability and development of the community.

Looking at the capacity side, oftentimes there are employees hired who do not have training in the field that you are hiring them in. Many of our students end up in general arts or social science programs for a variety of reasons. It's not a slight against these programs, as I believe that all education is worthwhile, and I myself have a bachelor's degree in social science, but what often happens is that the pool of candidates with post-secondary education is limited. Therefore, many times employees learn on the job and hopefully there is someone there to mentor them. Of course, there are professional positions where this is not possible, such as engineering, architecture, and so on, but in many communities, people are not working in the fields in which they studied. With recruitment challenges, this is reality and we have to put in place solid capacity-building programs.

I don't want to just come here and complain. I want to offer the solutions we have been working towards and offer suggestions.

Suggestion one is for the government to commit to the post-secondary program and unequivocally state that the program will continue to exist. For the past 15 years, we've heard rumours that the current post-secondary funding program will be abolished in favour of a loans-and-bursary system. I wholeheartedly believe this would be a mistake. Yes, I know there are problems with the policies and procedures affecting how the program is delivered, but we should be studying how to improve upon it rather than abolish it. I fear that if the program is abolished, many students will never go to post-secondary studies and the capacity issues within our communities will increase.

The reason it is important to state that you are committed to the program is that there are organizations interested in creating scholarships to encourage students to study in specific fields. However, we don't enact these scholarships, because we don't want to endanger the program.

In addition to my functions at the tribal council, I'm president of the native benefits plan, the largest self-directed first nations pension plan in the country. We've wanted to put into place scholarships that will encourage students to enter into the fields of actuarial studies, finance and investment. However, it was suggested that we hold off in case it harms the post-secondary funding program. This program does produce results and it needs to be preserved and enhanced.

Suggestion two is to enhance the tribal council funding program. I was very disappointed, concerned and even somewhat angered to learn of the huge injection of funds into the First Nations Financial Management Board, not because it went to them specifically, but because I insist that part of the funds to this organization would have better served the first nations by going to the tribal council funding program.

Part of our mandate is to assist with the capacity-building of the communities and provide them with advisory services to increase their capacity. The tribal council program funding was frozen in 1996 and then gutted in 2013, and it has severely limited our ability to assist our communities. The government committed to lifting the 2% cap on funding for community programs, but the tribal council has not received any indexation since 1996, let alone 2%. Our purchasing power is diminished on an annual basis, yet we are asked and expected to do more and more. Our communities need more support, but it’s a real struggle to give them what they need.

Meanwhile the FNFMB was granted $50 million over five years in the 2018 budget, and they will receive $11 million per year afterwards. The tribal council funding program has existed for many years and we accomplished a lot, but we cannot be an afterthought while investments are made into other governmental entities.

Suggestion three is to look at the investments made into the employee benefits program and see if the funding is adequate. If we want to recruit and retain qualified employees, we have to have competitive employee benefit packages.

In Quebec, we are lucky to have a defined benefits pension plan that is comparable to the federal government’s. However, the funding has been capped for at least 10 years now, and the number of positions that are funded is limited. There is only one other province in all of Canada that has a defined benefits plan, and that has to hamper the recruiting and retention efforts in other provinces.

Part of the equation of retention is attractive benefits, and a solid pension plan is one of the cornerstones. If you want to look at a model as to how this can work, I strongly suggest you look at what we have been able to develop with the native benefits plan.

Suggestion four is to look for opportunities where there is a shared need and benefit from the economy of scale.

Years ago, I applied for funds under the professional and institutional development program in order to set up a Dropbox that would contain administrative tools to be shared among the communities in Quebec. We collected job descriptions, employee contract samples, supplier contract samples, policies, etc., and uploaded them into English and French folders.

This year I applied for funding for new employee contracts and policies developed for drugs, alcohol and cannabis in the workplace and human rights accommodations. We're also developing investigation guidelines for employers, including checklists and templates for the various investigations they are expected to do, such as misconduct, harassment and violence in the workplace.

Again, these will all be uploaded into the Dropbox for us to share, and I think it would be beneficial if all regions had something similar that they could collaborate on. I think it’s important that the professional and institutional development program has some funds set aside for the development of regional tools.

Suggestion five is the creation of a mentorship/coaching program at the director general level. As I mentioned, the turnover at the DG level is extremely high due to a number of factors, including stress, capacity and number of responsibilities. We jokingly refer to the position as “the ejector seat”. Since we know there is a high turnover rate at that level, the program needs to be addressed. I think that at the tribal council level, if we had one resource per tribal council, that would be sufficient to assist the DGs, who would become more skilled, supported, less overwhelmed and more likely to remain in their position.

Suggestion number six is to encourage the development of distance learning programs for the communities. As I stated, I have a bachelor's degree in social science and a DEC, but I also went on to complete a master's certificate program with l’École nationale d’administration publique while I was working full time, and a lot of my peers did, as well. That helped us to enhance our skills.

I hope this gives you a better idea of the challenges we face in our communities, and I hope my suggestions prove useful.

Meegwetch.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

The third group is actually not attending today, so that completes our presentations. It will give us more opportunity to ask questions and dive in a bit.

We'll start off with seven minutes, and our first questioner is MP Yves Robillard.

9:05 a.m.

Yves Robillard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'd like to thank the witnesses for their presentations.

I'd like to begin with Mr. Odjick.

My first question is about the human resources management services your council offers. In the past, the committee has heard about how difficult it is for indigenous communities to retain workers, especially skilled ones. Can you describe those challenges and the way your council helps the communities?

9:10 a.m.

Director General, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council

Norm Odjick

We provide communities with human resources support. It's important to understand that retaining director generals and other senior managers is difficult mainly because of the stress they face and their responsibilities. I don't think they are adequately supported. When it comes to other employees, the problem has more to do with the fact that young people have different options.

That's why I said that we have to offer employees competitive salaries and benefits, as well as a work-life balance, but that's difficult to do when everyone has to take on additional tasks. We help them by providing advice. Every year, I deliver training to employees as a way to support them. There is no question that retaining workers will be a challenge in the future, especially millennials.

9:10 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

In one of your earlier comments, you said it was important that federal funding flow through the tribal councils so that all communities can benefit, regardless of their situation. Can you describe the specific role of tribal councils in community capacity building?

9:10 a.m.

Director General, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council

Norm Odjick

It's still a matter of economies of scale. It makes no sense that each community should have to apply for funding to offer training. When the tribal council provides the training, it's a huge help to communities.

The same applies to human resources experts. The communities experience high turnover in those positions. These are people who need to have a good grasp of the legislation, labour standards and all the rest. We are there to help the communities. Before disciplining an employee or letting them go, the community calls me to make sure it's following proper procedure. We are like a team of experts they can turn to because it's impossible to have experts in each community.

9:10 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

Thank you, Mr. Odjick.

Now I'd like to turn to Mr. Keeper.

In July 2017, you established the Manitoba First Nations School System, the first of its kind to be funded in the same way as provincial systems across the country.

Can you tell us more about your funding structure and the way in which this new level of autonomy benefits you?

9:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

Lorne Keeper

I just heard the last part of your question. Was it on finance and funding?

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

He wanted to know how you structure finance.

9:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

Lorne Keeper

Of course, we're funded through the federal government. Presently, our annual budget is about $138 million, I believe, including the 10 schools that we manage. We receive our funding through the federal government for the operations.

When we look at our organization, essentially, we're a large school board that provides service delivery to all the first nation schools. In effect, that's how we manage our system. The 10 schools themselves receive approximately $17,000 to $18,000 per head. Regarding the value of the school system, I don't quite understand...the total amount for the system. We have a large operating budget for our organization.

9:15 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

In your brief to the committee, you point out that you still face challenges attracting and retaining school personnel. Do you think the new approach to first nations education funding will help with that?

9:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

Lorne Keeper

I believe the work we're doing is going to have a great impact for our system. Historically, when we look at schools that are just stand-alone institutions, we see it's very difficult for them to operate and attract teachers who are going to stay.

We always talk about the power of the collective, and that's what we stress in the mandate of our resource centre. We want communities to work together rather than work alone. There are some large first nation communities, such as Opaskwayak, which is The Pas, Manitoba, or Peguis, which is about 100 miles north of Winnipeg. They're large enough systems to be stand-alone, but there are so many communities that require support. That's what we're here for.

9:15 a.m.

Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Lib.

Yves Robillard

Thank you very much.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Questioning now moves to MP Kevin Waugh.

February 26th, 2019 / 9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Thank you, all four of you, for coming in this morning.

I'm particularly interested in the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, because it is the first of its kind in this country. I'm a former school trustee from Saskatchewan, and there were a lot of discrepancies between on-reserve funding and urban or off-reserve funding.

Ms. Fontaine, do you want to speak to this? I see that you're now at $17,000 or $18,000 per student. You were probably at $10,000 or $11,000 a few years ago, so that's a big gap. Can you speak to that? Go ahead.

9:15 a.m.

Associate Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

Shirley Fontaine

Thank you.

With the Manitoba First Nations School System, we were able to negotiate a much better financial arrangement. We're actually closer to $20,000 for this coming year. That allows us to provide better salaries for the staff working in our schools, so we have an easier time recruiting for the southern first nations. We still have a problem with recruiting for the northern, isolated first nations, but those are issues that we are working on right now.

We have a new campaign we call Teach for First Nations, and we're trying to promote the benefits of working with our school system and working in first nations schools in Manitoba. We have also provided more language- and culture-based programs for the students. We see higher attendance rates among the students, and because we're able to assist them by offering more high school programming, we expect to see more high school graduates in the near future. We also expect to see an easier transition to universities and colleges for our students.

We expect to see a large improvement, not just in attendance rates but also in the success rates of our students. We're in the second year of operations, so we'll have our second graduating glass this coming June.

We expect to see great things in terms of having more resources not only for salaries of teachers but also for library books. A lot of the students told us they had no library books in the past. Now we have more money so we can provide better technology and better technological assistance for the students. They now have access to laptops and technology-based learning. The new funding model has allowed us to address a lot of the challenges and issues that our communities faced before.

The 10 first nations that are part of our system have expressed how pleased they are that we are helping them to manage and administer their schools, because they see a better future for all the students in our schools.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

The Auditor General was concerned that the department did not track graduation rates, that the department did not track literacy from kindergarten to grade 3, and that the department had no idea about special needs students. How is your division tracking all of those?