Sure. Thank you.
Honourable committee members, good afternoon. Kwe natuptut. We're honoured to be here on the traditional lands of the Algonquin people.
My name is Paul Prosper. I am chief of Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation. I am here on behalf of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs, which exists as an institution of governance for all 13 Mi'kmaw bands in Nova Scotia. On behalf of the assembly, I have also held the justice portfolio, during which time I have worked on a number of child welfare-related issues.
The Mi'kmaw traditional territory is called Mi'kma'ki, which encapsulates roughly five of the Atlantic provinces. We have a long, rich history. We have a creation story and numerous legends. Our traditional governance structure is the Sante’ Mawio’mi, the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. As Mi'kmaq, we have outstanding and existing aboriginal and treaty rights. They have been recognized by the highest courts in this country. Throughout our long, rich history, which stems from the treaty periods to scalping proclamations to pre- and post-Confederation legislation, including the Indian Act, through to residential schools and to subsequent policies of the federal government through such things as centralization, we are still here. We still thrive within Mi'kma'ki, at times despite the failed good intentions of the federal government.
Before the arrival of Europeans, we existed as independent nations governed by our own customs, values and traditions. We operated through kisult or Niskam, our Creator, who provided us with how to live through original instructions as human beings. We have an inherent right to self-government. This is independent of any legislative enactment. This is also embedded within the constitutional framework of this country through section 35.
With respect to Bill C-92, the assembly supports the provisions within this bill that recognize the inherent right to self-government. However, we'd like to underscore some fundamental changes that are needed. These are most predominantly funding and transition-related issues, which my counterparts will get into further.
I'll share a bit about our experience within Nova Scotia. Back in 2014, the Province of Nova Scotia reviewed their Children and Family Services Act. There was a major overhaul of that act. We played an important role within that process with the provincial government. This led to roughly 25 amendments to the Children and Family Services Act that dealt with Mi'kmaw people in Nova Scotia. The act previously had no mention of Mi'kmaw people. We developed an interim approach and a long-term approach. The interim approach was to gain some recognition through the provincial act. The long-term approach was for a Mi'kmaw law over Mi'kmaw children, certainly consistent with this bill.
Through those amendments that we achieved in 2017, we have had positive outcomes. For example, there are fewer foster care placements and more within the area of customary care. We have recognized family group conferencing, which exists as a preventative measure through Mi'kmaw traditions, allowing us to take into account an existing situation before it gets to the point of no return. Saying this, however, we are cognizant of the fact that we certainly don't want this federal bill to interfere with the substantive gains we have made provincially.
With respect to my experience, I would just make a note about connection and the role of community. As leaders and chiefs, we often get tired of watching children, families and communities get torn apart by a system that doesn't work.
Certainly in my role, we recognize the need to have basic building blocks, including identity, culture, language and traditions, related to the spirit and well-being of our peoples and of nations. There's a need for connecting and belonging, which is a basic right for community members to live in health and in safe environments. We recognize that the solutions to the problems we have with child welfare must come from within. To resolve these issues they must come from our respective communities.
A certain environment has to exist, because we all know too well that at times provincial laws and policies don't reflect the realities within our communities. We recognize that self-government can provide a mechanism that offers traditional and practical ways to care for children and families, and certainly there are a number of examples in that regard.
As a quick note on funding and transition, we recognize that legislation in and of itself does not really create the change that is needed. There have to be additional approaches involving education, capacity building, governance, infrastructure, stable funding and building relationships within an overall strategic justice initiative.
With that, I'd like to conclude and offer comments from my colleagues here.