Thank you for the introduction. Thank you to everyone here, and I acknowledge the land that we're on. I'm just going to head right into it.
I want to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs for the time to speak to you on the talent and retention and recruitment of first nations employees in various fields of delivery of essential services on reserve, including first nations education and graduation rates for elementary to secondary schools.
It is my understanding that this will include a section on community capacity-building initiatives. Therefore, I would like to begin my presentation with the definition of capacity-building. Capacity-building is the process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve and retain the skills and knowledge, tools and equipment and other resources needed to do their jobs competently or to a greater capacity, larger scale, larger audience, or larger impact.
Capacity-building and capacity development are often used interchangeably. The term “community capacity-building” emerged in the lexicon of international development during the 1990s, and the term is included in the programs of most international organizations that work in development, such as the World Bank, the UN and various other non-governmental organizations.
Today, community capacity-building often refers to strengthening the skills, competencies and abilities of people and communities so that they can achieve their goals and potentially overcome the causes of their exclusion and suffering. Now, when we look at the words, “potentially overcome the causes of their exclusion and suffering”, we need to look through the lens of how we have been trying to build capacity to help our citizens and communities achieve their goal—the goal of inclusion, and overcoming the effects of colonial policies and legislation.
That lens, that approach, has been through the delivery of unilaterally-developed government programs that do not take into account the history, the geography and the existing capacity in the community. We are already doing a disservice to the first nations. We make the assumption that there is no capacity, so the government must build it for them. I have told many colleagues, time and time again, “Please don't come and build my capacity. Come and enhance it.” The inference is that if you need to build my capacity, I don't have any. It's very insulting.
Capacity enhancement means a person increasing their own ability to achieve their own objectives effectively and efficiently. We need to start looking at how we enhance existing capacity, because it's there. The population is there, the desire to learn is there, the desire to change one's life is there. It's in our blood memory. We want to move forward and have a hand in how we plan the future.
When we talk about the provisions of the essential services on reserve, we are talking about our health care, our education, child and family services, social assistance, housing, policing, etc. Yet, the lack of legal framework governing essential services on reserve leaves first nations vulnerable to arbitrary and sudden changes in policies.
The one piece of legislation governing the lives of first nations citizens both on and off reserve, the Indian Act, remains silent about social assistance, child welfare, child care, health, education, policing and emergency services, and other key services for individuals and their well-being in communities. Non-first nation people receive these services from the provinces and territories. Provincial legislation sets out in great detail the level of service citizens may expect, ensuring the level of accountability and program design and delivery.
First nations have been going without properly funded essential services for decades, and when Canada saw the impact of these hardships on our first nations citizens, it immediately began to negotiate cost-sharing agreements with the provinces and territories without consultation with their treaty partners. Monies for child and family infrastructure, emergency management services, etc. all flow to the provinces, and there are no plans developed with first nations to enhance capacity at the community level.
Moreover, there are no accountability measures in place to ensure that those dollars go to communities. For example, as a temporary measure, Ottawa decided to provide social assistance on reserve at rates and standards comparable to those provided in the provinces on nothing more than a mere policy manual. These comparable rates were not and are not reflected in the cost of living in remote and isolated communities.
Fast-forward 70 years, and we are still working with income assistance policy manuals that actually work against communities and not for them. This approach becomes the norm for all essential services on reserve, and this approach is highly problematic.
Regulation by policy manual allows unelected bureaucrats to determine the policy and dictate what the most vulnerable citizens are entitled to from the federal government. Every day federal government officials are making decisions regarding the eligibility of first nations for crucial public services. Every day Canada is creating programs that first nations must compete for by proposal submission. Not every first nation has proposal-writing experts at hand, so far too often, they are unable to access these resources and unable to attract and retain the people they need to provide the services. In many cases, the federal officials have considerable discretion in decision-making, relying only on intergovernmental policies or program guidelines that were not created by first nations. We never have the conversation about whether borrowing social policy designed by provincial lawmakers for different citizens in different circumstances adequately accommodates conditions of first nations living on reserve and respects their rights to self-government.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Women's Council have gone on record to state that the application of provincial child welfare laws is inappropriate and is contributing to the record numbers of first nations children taken into permanent care. How is the federal government monitoring how government staff implement policies that allow for the enhancement of capacity in our first nations communities?
Over the last two decades, at least five auditor general reports have suggested that government staff do not know and are not tracking whether essential services on reserve are actually comparable to provincial or territorial programs. This observation is corroborated by several human rights complaints lodged by first nations in the last five years, alleging programs on reserve, including the areas of child welfare, education and policing, are significantly if not consciously underfunded and not comparable to provincial or territorial services.
We in first nations country are aware that the application of policy varies from region to region. We talk of the variations in section 95 housing policies, income assistance, health and education, etc. This federal government just announced a $4.7 billion budget to address indigenous issues, without any legislative framework. The failure to adhere to the rule of law affects policy outcomes. First nations people in Canada remain at the bottom of almost every socio-economic statistic and well-being indicator.
As the Office of the Auditor General of Canada found in its 2018 spring reports, Indigenous Services Canada has had an abysmal failure in collecting or making use of socio-economic data necessary for setting realistic benchmarks, establishing funding formulas or setting priorities for closing the gap in funding to first nations. The analysis being done is currently so askew that the department was reporting an increase in high school graduation rates on reserve when in fact that number has been declining steadily for a decade. Our populations are booming, and oh, we have 10 graduates this year but there were 30 people born in that same year. Thirty people should have graduated, but we can only fund 10 people.
The Auditor General has linked the lack of a legislative framework and appropriate funding mechanisms for programs on reserve to this problem, noting that these gaps severely limit the delivery of public services to first nations communities and hinder improvement in living conditions on reserve. The UN special rapporteur on indigenous people has called this a human rights issue of crisis proportions.
First nations citizens in this country ought to be entitled to some basic measure of accountability from the federal government when it comes to key programs that affect some of the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens of this country, but that is a problem as well, because everything is a program.
Programs have end dates. Programs do not have to be renewed. The possibility of the closure of a program is ever present, like first nations policing, which is not deemed an essential service in Canada. It is threatened with closure every time the agreement with the federal government hits its expiry date. It is very hard to attract and retain qualified and interested staff when everyone knows there's a possibility they will not have a job come March 31.
In the absence of safeguards, checks and balances of a legislated and regulatory process, our first nations citizens are susceptible and vulnerable to administrative decisions made by federal employees and government officials. They lose quality staffing, they lose quality programming created by the community, and they lose momentum when they make changes.
We come up with new programs and announce new dollars, but until the funding is secure, stable and addresses inflation and population size and is embedded into the legislative framework, it will be hard to retain staffing and enhance capacity at the community level to create long-lasting changes in the socio-economic status of our communities.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee on this very important matter. I look forward to further discussions. If you require any additional information, please contact my staff. We will provide some written comments for you.