Evidence of meeting #144 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 communities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Darcy M. Bear  Whitecap Dakota First Nation
Ray Morrison  Chair of the Board of Trustees, Saskatoon Public Schools
James Morris  Executive Director, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority
Janet Gordon  Chief Operating Officer, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority

9:05 a.m.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation

Chief Darcy M. Bear

I have yet to see the housing crisis resolved. It's unresolved, I would say. Even in my community, we have a waiting list. I have about 100 of my members who are waiting for houses.

We also have a lot of employees, and even our employees want to reside in our community. We have the only provincial housing project on reserve in Saskatchewan because we have a land tenure system. We have legally surveyed lots, so we have a partnership with Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to create some affordable housing for employees. We have about 34 units for employees, but we have about another 90 employees who would like to reside in our community.

Housing has always been a challenge, and I think it will continue to be a challenge. Even this year alone, CMHC is reducing its budget by 20% to 30%, and that's going to impact all of our communities across Canada. There has been a lack of investment in housing, and I think that needs to be addressed.

The other thing is that there has not been one subdivision development in Saskatchewan for the last decade. I talked to the regional director general, and there are never any resources for subdivision development. Right now we need to build another subdivision, but again, there are no resources for planning and design.

If you could solve that problem for us, that would be great, because it's certainly a challenge that is going to come down to resources.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

It is certainly not easy. My congratulations for the efforts you are making.

I may ask more questions a little later, if we have any time left.

Thank you.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We now move to MP Kevin Waugh.

April 9th, 2019 / 9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Thank you to both of you for getting up at early dawn in Saskatoon.

By way of full disclosure, I was on the board when this agreement was made between Whitecap and Saskatoon Public Schools. It was a great agreement, but as usual when you're dealing with the federal government and provincial bodies, there was a lot of apprehension. Maybe just talk about that.

At the time the minister was John Duncan. It took several years to get this agreement. What were the obstacles to this agreement? When you're dealing with schools on reserve, as you know, Darcy, everybody wants to keep their money, to keep their education and to keep their culture. This one was a unique situation between you and Saskatoon Public Schools. Maybe just talk about that, if you don't mind.

9:05 a.m.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation

Chief Darcy M. Bear

I think there is definitely a concern on the part of the provincial government and the Saskatoon Public Schools division. There is a concern about what this agreement is going to mean to the amount of resources that the Saskatoon Public Schools division receives from the province. Is Whitecap going to be tapping into that? We had indicated that would not be the case. What we were looking at doing was making sure that we paid our way and that, if there were a tuition rate for our grade 5 to 12 students to attend the Saskatoon Public Schools division schools, it would be there and that any resources we require for our grades pre-K to 4 in Whitecap would be there.

We would look at an actual agreement, not an MOU, but an alliance agreement and would make sure that Whitecap still had some independence concerning controls, so we created the joint governance committee and joint operations committee. Again, because we said that we would allow the provincial Education Act to apply to Whitecap lands, if Whitecap went down the path of self-government and eventually created a Whitecap education act, its education act would meet or exceed the provincial act and the Saskatoon Public Schools division would follow that. That was agreed upon.

For the agreement to go forward, we also had to look at Whitecap becoming part of ward 7 so that the Saskatoon Public Schools division could administer our on-reserve school pre-K to 4, but, again, Whitecap still has a hand in regard to the governance committee and operations committee, so our community still has a say.

We also get to vote in the elections for the ward 7 trustee in Saskatoon. Again, we had to allow for the early learning centre, and we met with the provincial minister responsible back then, Minister Don Morgan. We also had to have the provincial child care regulations apply to Whitecap lands for that to happen.

There were some concessions made, but we never gave up any jurisdiction. At the end of the day, it's about our children and the best education they could receive going forward. We want them to stay in school and finish their education, get their grade 12. In Saskatchewan alone, through boomers retiring, there are going to be another 86,000 jobs opening up here.

We have a young indigenous population, but we need to continue to work together to find ways to improve our education systems and not be afraid to partner. We partner with one of the largest school divisions in the province, and yet today, for example, the federal government just announced that there will be $1,500 per student for language and culture. They're saying that will apply only to on reserve, so they're saying that's only good for the grades pre-K to 4. Our grades 5 to 8 who go to the Chief Whitecap School operated by Saskatoon Public Schools get zero, yet we have a language and cultural programs being delivered there.

These children wake up every morning in Whitecap. We strategically made a decision to invest in a grade 5-to-8 school 20 minutes away, so the funding should flow with those children, but the bureaucrats don't see that. They don't look at our agreement as a regional education authority, because it's better than the regional education authority.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Yes.

9:10 a.m.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation

Chief Darcy M. Bear

All of the capacity is there already, yet all the regional education authorities that Indigenous Services Canada is promoting are struggling to find capacity.

How are we going to accredit our teachers when we don't want to use the provincial accreditation and all that? We're not saying that. We're saying that we want the best teachers. We're fine with provincial accreditation and making sure that teachers who are coming out to our community have all of the accreditation they need and that they're the best there for our children.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

You're going to take my seven minutes up before I get to my second question.

We heard from Manitoba that they're getting between $18,000 and $20,000 per student on reserve. What are you getting? I know that Saskatoon Public Schools provincially, Ray, is nowhere close to $18,000 per student. It was probably $9,000 or $10,00 when I left, if they were lucky.

What are you getting, Darcy, from K to 4 on reserve from the federal government per student?

9:10 a.m.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation

Chief Darcy M. Bear

I believe it's not as good as what Manitoba is getting, so thanks for that. It's about $14,000 to $16,000 per student.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

I heard Punnichy is getting $6,000. We have seen—and I have talked to so many people in my province—that it varies. The federal government right now is picking winners and losers. The winners right now appear to be Manitoba, and they are short-changed in my province, and I've talked to many school divisions on reserve. They're nowhere close to $18,000 per student.

Ray, when we did the agreement, the number one issue was graduation rates, and it still is. I am so proud of your coming forth today with the data comparing 2014 and 2017.

Maybe talk about the capacity that your school division had to help out Whitecap. That's why the agreement has been so successful to date.

9:10 a.m.

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Saskatoon Public Schools

Ray Morrison

I will do my best, Kevin.

Just as a side note, we're getting less per student today than when you were on the board, so maybe you should come back. I'm not sure....

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

You're right.

9:10 a.m.

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Saskatoon Public Schools

Ray Morrison

You know, with regard to Saskatoon Public Schools' student success rates, the provincial benchmark is graduation from grade 12 within three years, but we tend to take a little broader look at that. We're trying to look at success in the community post-high school, whether it's in the workforce, on to post-secondary education or whatever it is. We've been focused on that, I think, for a number of years now. We've put a significant amount of time, effort and resources into the indigenous file in particular because we have a significant indigenous student population. We are starting to see better success in graduation rates simply by focusing on—I don't want to say their needs—asking those students what it would take to make them graduate or to help them be successful as they move through elementary school and on through high school.

We're a part of several programs—Following Their Voices and others—where we get that student input and actually talk to them about what they need and what we can do to help them be successful in school. It's starting to pay dividends. We're starting to see our on-time graduation rate, which is three years from grade 10 to grade 12, increase over the past three or four years. As we look at those students who take four or five years to graduate, the numbers have increased dramatically. We're starting to see significant success, over time, in graduation rates. It's being driven by paying attention to those students who need, and to what it is that they need to be successful in school.

The education system, certainly, as you know, has been around since the post-industrial revolution, and we still sort kids by age, which sometimes doesn't work. We're trying to take a little more of a holistic view as to what those students need to be successful. We're starting to see those dividends pay off.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Good for you.

That's it, seven minutes.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Okay—a little bit over.

We now go to MP Rachel Blaney.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Thank you so much for being here today. I really enjoyed your presentation.

One thing I found most interesting was that you talked about having language classes and cultural activities being open to all children. I remember when my kids were in school. Whenever they would go to learn their language, they were always taken off by themselves with the other kids from the reserve to go learn the language, and then they were sent back to the class. That always frustrated me because I think that one thing that we need to see is our young people proud, sharing their culture and sharing their language.

I'm just wondering if you could speak about what benefits you are seeing from allowing the indigenous community to flourish, but also of engaging the other communities to engage with that positive aspect.

9:15 a.m.

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Saskatoon Public Schools

Ray Morrison

I'll maybe speak to that from two perspectives. First is the work that's going on at Chief Whitecap School. Second, we have another school, Confederation Park School, that has a Cree immersion program.

Chief Whitecap School, as Chief Bear said, is in a community in the south end of Saskatoon. It is a very diverse, multicultural community. As we moved into this, we consulted with the community. We would get them together for meetings to talk about programming, what we were thinking about and how they would respond. To the surprise of some people, we found that the community was genuinely interested in learning about the history and culture of Whitecap. Because many of the students in that community come from other countries and other cultures, they are very much open to learning about this culture and the history of Canada, and to engaging in other languages and learning other traditions.

In our Cree immersion program, we found the same. That program is open to all students. There are a significant number of students from all kinds of backgrounds who are in that program, wanting to learn Cree.

What we've found is that, over time, we're building stronger, more open, more understanding communities, as well as students. If you walk into the classroom, those students—this may come across as flippant, but please don't take it that way—really don't care who's who in the room. They are all there to get educated. They all know each other. They all spend time with each other in school and outside of school. From what we've seen, it's been very beneficial.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Perfect.

9:20 a.m.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation

Chief Darcy M. Bear

Yes, it's been a positive experience for our students from our community. Like I said, there's also a cultural room there, and even a lot of new Canadians are going in and smudging as well with our students. It's very open.

9:20 a.m.

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Saskatoon Public Schools

9:20 a.m.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation

Chief Darcy M. Bear

Our elders are there every day, and for the students coming from Whitecap it makes them feel at home. As you walk up, the Whitecap flag is flying outside the school as well. On the architectural side of things, a lot of the elements—even the landscaping, with trees and things that grew in Whitecap and all that—just make them feel at home. It's been a positive experience.

For language and culture, as I mentioned earlier, it would be great to see the funding that's been identified at $1,500 per student flow with these children in Chief Whitecap School, because the school division is putting on the programming but the funding's not flowing with it. That's unfortunate.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Yes, I think that's a really important point.

I was asked earlier about attracting and retaining good teachers and health care professionals on reserve. Of course, we've heard from multiple witnesses that the challenge is that you have unstable contracts, lower-paying jobs, and that it's really hard to recruit and retain them. It's this cycle that I see happening in so many communities across Canada of how do you build your economy and that strength if you keep having a changeover in staff and doing all that work?

Based on what you said, Chief Bear, you have seen the unemployment rate go down dramatically within your community. Could you speak to that and how working in this partnership has really been able to push those things forward^

9:20 a.m.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation

Chief Darcy M. Bear

I think, when you're talking about the economy, you basically have to look at the Indian Act. The Indian Act was never created for us to be part of the economy.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

That's right.

9:20 a.m.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation

Chief Darcy M. Bear

It was created to keep us out of sight and out of mind. They put us on these small little tracts of land called reservations. I was raised by my grandparents. My grandfather, as a young man, if he wanted to leave Whitecap to get supplies, had to get a pass. If he wanted to sell his livestock, he had to get a permit from the Indian agent. If he wanted to sell a crop, he had to get a permit from the Indian agent. So, here we were, living in a so-called free country under dictatorship rule, which was the Indian agent. We didn't have the same opportunities as other jurisdictions.

Every other jurisdiction surrounding Whitecap or any of our first nation communities in Canada had the opportunity to invest in infrastructure, develop its economy and create jobs, opportunities and even hope. Then you add insult to injury with residential schools where they wanted to take the Indian out of the Indian, and they started moving all the youth. Parents didn't even see their children for 10 months of the year. Sadly, sometimes some of those children passed away during the school year and the parents weren't told about it until the end of the school year. So, the parenting skills.... You know, you talk about the residential schools taking away culture, language, pride, identity and even the ability to parent. My mother went to a residential school and, hence, she never did raise me. I was raised by my grandparents. So, it's been difficult.

That said, when we first started looking at economic development, we started saying that, as indigenous people, we need to take our rightful place and be a part of the economy. How can we get there? The Indian Act is very restrictive. If we want to, say, lease a piece of our land, we would have to do a land designation, a land surrender, and then have the minister sign off on the lease. That takes three years. By that time, the window of opportunity is gone; the business is going to move away.

When 14 first nations, including Muskoday from Saskatchewan, were lobbying the federal government to create the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management, which was a government-to-government agreement, and to enable the first nations to self-govern their lands, once we heard about that we embraced it. We took that forward to our community, and back in 2004, we ratified our land code. Now we self-govern our lands. We eliminated 25% of the Indian Act.

That first nation land management initiative enabled our community to not just self-govern our lands, but to also do the land planning, zoning, and development standards, getting our lands ready for economic development and then opening our doors. Our first business was Dakota Dunes Golf Links, which opened back in 2005. The course itself was recognized by Golf Digest as one of the best new golf courses in Canada, ranked number 16 in the country and number one in Saskatchewan.

Then from there there was a casino in Saskatoon that was going to be built, but the citizens had a plebiscite. Whitecap was plan B, and it became plan A. Again, because we had our land code in place, we didn't have to go through that process, that three-year window. We actually gave Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority a lease immediately. We can move at the speed of business, and that's very important. Now, of course, we also have a store, and we are in the first phase of our business park. We have a hotel under construction right now to add to the resort area. Then we're also bringing a Nordic spa to Saskatchewan. We'll start that project later this year, and we'll be opening up next year.

So, there are 225 more jobs coming, and there are 600 now. That was all driven by saying, “We want to be part of the economy. We need solutions, and we're not afraid to partner. We're not afraid to work alone.” I think it's important to have allies out there. When you start looking at the opportunities.... We've always had a strong focus on education since I was elected back in 1994—this is my 25th year as chief—but just approaching the Saskatoon Public Schools and saying this is what we want to do.... Now we have it to an actual formal agreement and a real strong relationship. We're hopeful that, again, Indigenous Services Canada can look at our agreement and say, “This is beyond a regional education authority”, because that's one of the things that it keeps throwing back at us: “Well, you don't qualify for this funding because you're not a regional education authority. You don't qualify for this because you're not a regional education authority.” We're saying, “We have all the capacities and more of a regional educational authority, so when are you going to wake up?” That's one of the challenges that we're having with the bureaucrats.