Evidence of meeting #143 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 indigenous.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Laurie Swami  President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization
Bob Watts  Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization
Chief Arlen Dumas  Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Philippe Méla

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Madam Chair, having reviewed the motion, I would suggest that the categories of witnesses are just a bit narrow. To that extent, I would like to suggest that Dr. Jamie Benidickson be invited. He wouldn't fall under any of these categories as a legal expert, but I think it's a relevant consideration.

I wonder if that would be a friendly suggestion to be—

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

[Inaudible—Editor] certainly recognizing two meetings and a couple of panels per meeting, but we're certainly willing to extend this study if we need some additional expertise. We can maybe consider that more fulsomely in committee, but I think bringing in experts is appropriate.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We have two friendly amendments to the motion—to invite provincial government officials and other experts or research. Does that seem fine? Okay.

All those in favour?

(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Chair, do I still have time left from my seven minutes?

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Yes. You have a minute and a half.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you.

Sorry, but I thought this was a very important issue. It really does tie in with what you're talking about, when people are purposeful about recognizing waste and what needs to be done.

Tell me a little bit about the communities that technically are appropriate. Is it where they can do deep, deep...? Can you talk a bit about the technical requirements that you need to look at?

9:10 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Laurie Swami

I'll step back a bit. To select a community, we have three criteria that we focus on. One is safety. I think this is where your question is coming to. We need to understand if the rock in the area, if you will, is suitable for siting a deep geologic repository. Part of the work we do is to understand the rock. Right now in one community, we're doing borehole drilling to try to better understand the conditions of the rock to make sure it is suitable. The willing host is clearly a critical step for us, but it also has to meet the safety tests. Those are the two criteria we're focused on right now. The third of the criteria is transportation of the used fuel from the existing interim storage locations to a final used-fuel repository.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

The questioning now moves to MP Rachel Blaney.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you for being here today. I have a couple of questions.

Mr. Watts, you talked about the elder advisory committee that you set up and that moved into a youth and elders advisory committee. I'm just curious; could you tell us a little bit about what the process was in recruiting those members and what their mandate is?

9:10 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

On the process originally of recruiting youth, the elders actually picked youth from their area to work mostly with them and to be mentored by those elders. Over time, we've changed that process. We've opened it up so that it's more of a nomination process now. Communities and organizations in the area nominate youth from their communities.

For both the elders and the youth, we're pretty clear that we're not expecting elders and youth to represent their community or to represent their organization. They're representing themselves. I mean, it's a tough political issue. Likewise, we don't expect them to represent the NWMO. They're there in an advisory capacity.

The youth are there to learn from the elders, but the elders are learning from the youth, too, because a lot of the youth who are part of this are in university and they're bringing other skills and knowledge to bear on this. There's some reciprocal learning that's going on between the elders and the youth, which is really interesting to see.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

That's good.

You also talked about “increasing access to traditional knowledge”. I hope I got that right. I'm curious about how that happens and how the traditional knowledge is stored. Is it accessible to the community? Is there a process? I just think of how much has been taken historically. It would be interesting to hear how your model is—I'm hoping—a little different.

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

One of the things we've made a commitment to, both in terms of policy and in terms of practice, is to honour the ownership of indigenous knowledge. To the extent that communities want to share that knowledge with us, we're pretty careful about how we use it and under what conditions we would share it outside of our organization.

Communities will have their own processes in terms of how they store that knowledge, how they share that knowledge with each other and under what conditions they'll share that with us. I think part of this goes back to the question that the CEO mentioned earlier on. A lot of this is about relationship building and trust building. I think that if we hadn't taken the time to build relationships and build trust, nobody would be sharing any knowledge with us.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

You also talked about the reconciliation ceremony and the policy. I'm curious, because you talked about a ceremony, and it sounds like there are multiple communities that you're working in. How did you do a ceremony? Was it in one particular region or was it something that brought in larger amounts of people? In the next part, you talked about the reconciliation policy. That includes a commitment to training and employment of indigenous peoples within the communities.

Could you talk first about the ceremony? Was it inclusive? Was it one particular region?

The next part is the policy. How are you doing the work to actually do outreach to those communities? You talked about the 18 positions. Are they in those indigenous communities? How does that work? Is it only in those indigenous communities? Are you looking for opportunities within the organization as well?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

Thank you for that question.

One of the things we've tried to do in terms of all of our policy development within the NWMO is to reach out and to receive input from the communities and organizations we're working with. That's part of our process, both in terms of the reconciliation statement and in terms of looking towards the reconciliation policy. We've had an aboriginal policy that's been in place almost since day one, which was informed, again, by outreach and small-c consultation with communities and organizations.

The ceremony itself was really put through by the council of elders. Our board of directors and senior management were all part of that. It was symbolic in a way, I think, of reconciliation. Our objective is to implement call to action number 92 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That's what the statement looked at and that's what this policy is going to look at. We're guided by that and guided by the input we're getting from the council of elders.

Later on this month, we're taking our first draft of the policy to the council of elders to get their input and to make sure we're on the right track in terms of that policy. Then we'll share it with the other communities and organizations that we're working with, with a view to have our policy in place sometime in the fall.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

I think this is probably my last question.

This is really a study that's about capacity-building in indigenous communities. I'm just curious. I'll open this up to anyone, but could you talk about the unique ability you're bringing to the table around capacity-building within the communities? Where are some of the gaps that you're maybe struggling with? Could you give a recommendation to the federal government on where there would be resources that would be better used or a program that's working that you would like to see increased?

9:15 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

There are a couple of things we've witnessed and learned over the time we've been doing this. One is to change the way we're doing funding arrangements. I think that originally our funding arrangements were fairly paternalistic and didn't recognize indigenous nations as being able to be transparent and accountable. We've changed the way we're doing business with indigenous communities, to the benefit of everybody. I think that's been really important.

We've made a commitment to be faster and more responsive to communities. We dragged out the contribution agreement processes, which drove everybody crazy, and I think governments do that as well. I know sometimes indigenous communities are signing—for example, signing the 2019-20 contribution agreement in February 2020. We were kind of the same way, and folks were out of pocket for having to work with us. We're trying to be more responsive, prompt and respectful of community processes.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We're moving on to MP Yves Robillard.

April 4th, 2019 / 9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for their presentation.

According to the NWMO reconciliation statement issued on July 18, 2018, “the NWMO will establish a Reconciliation Policy with an implementation strategy that will be measured annually and publicly reported to contribute to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.”

One challenge of reconciliation is to measure our progress. How do you plan to measure the impact of your reconciliation policies?

9:20 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

First and foremost, we're in the process of developing what a reconciliation assessment tool will look like, so that when we look at all of our policies across the organization, we can say, from a reconciliation lens, where we are at in terms of procurement, recruitment, human resources and a number of categories. First and foremost, this reconciliation lens is going to be really important.

We're guided in our work by a lot of folks who are used to project management, so we keep a lot of statistics already. We're pretty knowledgeable about the way we've been doing business, so to be able to use this lens against a new way of doing business, so that we can measure what the change has been, is part of our program.

Again, whether it goes to procurement, staffing or whatever category of work we're doing, we're going to have both a lens and a way of measuring that.

All of those things are in the process of being developed this year.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Your indigenous knowledge policy of October 2016 referred to the NWMO Council of Elders and Youth and its predecessor, the Elders Forum.

Can you elaborate on your consultation process with these councils? How did they promote the use of indigenous knowledge?

9:20 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

The consultation process was to work intensely with the Council of Elders and Youth and also to look out to other organizations and academic institutions that have done work in the application of indigenous knowledge and what that could mean from a policy point of view, as well as what it could mean practically.

We struggled through this. We had folks within the organization who were saying, “Okay, so we're going to apply indigenous knowledge. What does your book look like? Where's your textbook or handbook of what indigenous knowledge is?”

We have found that it's really a lot more iterative than that and that the application of indigenous knowledge is really about time and working with knowledge-keepers and elders in the community. What we have found is that folks aren't going to share knowledge unless they feel it's going to be honoured, respected and kept confidential to the things they want to have kept confidential, whether it be sacred places in the area we want to study or other knowledge they may want to keep just within the community. We need to be able to honour that.

However, it is a powerful thing to have geologists and knowledge-keepers walking side by side out on the land and sharing with each other that this is what the rocks are saying to an elder and this is what the rocks are saying to a geologist and combining that. That's the work we've been doing.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

In September 2018 and more recently, you held a workshop on the sharing of indigenous knowledge and western science. Can you tell us about the results of this workshop?

Are there other ways to use this type of workshop to help share knowledge regarding community capacity on the reserves?

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Bob Watts

The results of the workshop, I think, told us that we have more work to do. We focused on three particular areas where we thought there was some really good intersection between indigenous knowledge and western science: clay, rock and copper. We know there is a lot of indigenous knowledge right across the Americas in all three of those areas. We thought that was a good starting point in being able to share knowledge systems and what copper, rock and clay mean to different knowledge systems and to start the process of figuring out how we interweave, how we bring together, those knowledge systems into something that can inform each system and have a more powerful result.

We're in the early days of figuring some of those things out. We're doing the same thing with water to try to understand the role of water from an indigenous knowledge perspective and from a western science perspective.

We've been out into communities with a presentation of ours, “The Journey of Water”, which looks at water from both world views. We'll be doing the same thing with these other matters we have just started to study.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

That ends your time.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Thank you.