Evidence of meeting #23 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 inuit.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

George Hickes  Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut
Karen Kabloona  Associate Deputy Minister, Quality of Life, Department of Health, Government of Nunavut
James Arreak  Chief Executive Officer, Executive Services, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
Johannes Lampe  President, Nunatsiavut Government
Shuvinai Mike  Director of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, Department of Culture and Heritage, Government of Nunavut
Jeannie Arreak-Kullualik  Director, Department of Social and Cultural Development, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
Maatalii Okalik  President, National Inuit Youth Council
Alicia Aragutak  President, Qarjuit Youth Council
Louisa Yeates  Vice President, Qarjuit Youth Council
Nina Ford  Youth Representative, Youth Division, Nunatsiavut Government
Kimberly Masson  Executive Director, Embrace Life Council
Sheila Levy  Executive Director, Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line
David Lawson  President, Embrace Life Council
Paul Okalik  As an Individual
Toby Otak  As an Individual
Peter Williamson  As an Individual
Caroline Anawak  As an Individual
Adam Akpik  As an Individual
Jack I. Anawak  As an Individual
Louisa Willoughby  As an Individual
David Joanasie  As an Individual
Brian Tagalik  As an Individual
Emiliano Qirngnuq  As an Individual

8:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Welcome, everybody.

Before I officially start the meeting I would like to welcome Hunter Tootoo, the local member of Parliament, to welcome you to the room.

8:40 a.m.

Independent

Hunter Tootoo Independent Nunavut, NU

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Welcome, everybody.

I would especially like to welcome my colleagues from the standing committee to Iqaluit for this very important issue that we deal with here in Nunavut and across the north. I think it's an important issue that has been called a crisis here in Nunavut, and hopefully you will have some very good discussions and presentations here today, and I look forward to the report you come out with. Hopefully there will be some strong recommendations for the minister to come up with some programs and some funding to be able to help alleviate this issue we face here in Nunavut.

I look forward to presenting to you in Ottawa at a meeting there.

Welcome to Nunavut. I wish the weather were a little better but the hospitality is always warm here, so I hope you have a great visit, and thank you very much for coming.

September 23rd, 2016 / 8:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thanks very much for that welcome, Hunter, and with that we'll start the meeting.

I want to say welcome to everybody who is in the room this morning. Welcome to our witnesses. I'll get to a proper introduction in a moment. Welcome to the folks in the audience and the gallery. Welcome to our friends in the media.

With regard to the media, you can see the camera leaving now. When the gavel is struck, there won't be any broadcasting, for privacy concerns. When there is a break or after the proceedings, the media may be broadcasting at that time, but just know that they are not recording during the actual session, other than the notes that are being taken behind me.

We have French and English interpreters. We also have an Inuktitut interpreter. There are headsets. Please feel free to tune in to whichever language channel is your preference.

I also wanted to let folks in the room know we do have some mental health support in the room. Mental health nurse Mary Griffiths is here and has made herself available for the day if anyone would like to have a chat with her.

I'll spend a moment framing this. This is the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. We're here because we are conducting the first study we are undertaking as a committee in the current government, and that is the study of indigenous suicide. Of the many issues that have been before us, this is the one that has risen to the top with the most urgency to be dealt with first by us. That's a measure of the deep concern each of the committee members holds for this tragic epidemic we're facing in so many communities in Canada.

Although the committee members here represent three of the major parties, this really is a non-partisan committee. Committees are not part of government. They advise government; they stand separate from government.

The thing I would like to impress on people is that the members here represent eastern Canada, central Canada, western Canada, and northern Canada. We're carrying a very broad representation of Canadians. The words, stories, and suggestions we hear through this hearing will be folded into a report that will be completed sometime early in the new year, perhaps February or March.

They will be delivered to the Government of Canada and will indeed guide policy decisions and budgetary decisions, so there is real impact here. What we hear and what we learn from our witnesses today, and from the other communities we're visiting as part of the study, will have a real impact. We look forward to being a part of that. The committee members will be present as those changes get implemented, and will be keeping an eye on that as it happens.

As far as how the process goes today, we have four panels. This is the first of four during the day. The way it will work is our guests, who I will introduce in a moment, will have the floor for 10 minutes to give a presentation. Then that will be followed by a round of questions from the members of the committee.

Both during the presentation from the witness and during the question period from members, we do keep a close eye on time so we can have fairness and make sure we hear all of the panels during the day. When there is one minute remaining in any of those periods, I'll be holding up a yellow card, so members and witnesses please observe that. Then when the time is up, I'll hold up the red card. Please come to a close as quickly as you can at that point.

I would also mention that when we get through those four panels at the end of the day, we are going to have an open mike session, so we can hear from other members of the community and other members of the audience. Unfortunately, the rules of committee procedure don't allow interventions from the audience during testimony, but we have created time at the end of the day for that. I expect that will be between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

With that, let's get into the first panel. It's my tremendous honour to welcome the Honourable George Hickes, Minister of Health and Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, to present for 10 minutes.

8:45 a.m.

George Hickes Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and committee members.

Before I get started, I'd like to acknowledge the presence of Minister Johnny Mike, the Minister of Family Services here in Nunavut.

I'd like to again thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the invitation to appear as a witness in this committee's important work and for travelling to Inuit regions. I would like to acknowledge those who have appeared before the committee already: Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Jack Hicks. Natan, Jack, and many of today's witnesses have spent years building the foundation of our suicide prevention work. I fully support their calls for social equity and knowledge-based interventions.

I would also like to acknowledge the federal government for its recent investments. We are in the third year of the territorial and pan-territorial health investment funds. These programs have invested over $7 million over three years to develop youth mental wellness, add mental health counselling capacity, and train current and future employees. With Canada's lead, we anticipate the reopening of the Mamisarvik in Ottawa, the only culturally grounded residential substance abuse treatment facility available to Nunavummiut. Most recently, we anticipate that the announcement from this June for additional funds for suicide prevention in indigenous communities will allow us to pilot an on-the-land addictions treatment program and facilitate the development of men's groups.

Nunavut is in a position to undertake these initiatives because we have a territorial suicide prevention strategy. The partners to the strategy—Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Government of Nunavut, and Embrace Life Council—undertook community consultations in 2009 and released a strategy in 2010 and an action plan in 2011. Copies of these documents are available.

There were some bumps along the road. The partnership model was weak at the beginning, and the first action plan was unfunded. Recently we took a renewed approach to our work. Premier Peter Taptuna declared suicide a crisis in our territory. We created a cabinet committee on quality of life, a minister responsible for suicide prevention, and a secretariat to improve collaboration. In March, with our partners, we introduced Resiliency Within, an interim one-year action plan that allowed us to begin implementing the recommendations from the coroner's suicide inquest, while also engaging communities for the development of a longer-term action plan.

What is important in all of this is that we're not reinventing the wheel. We are not looking for any magic solutions. We are working towards the priorities and needs of individuals and organizations in our communities. We are using knowledge and engagement at the core of our partnerships. There is much work to be done, but we know what we need, and we are working together to get there.

In May of this year, we engaged stakeholders for the longer-term action plan. Priorities identified during the United for Life Stakeholder Summit for Suicide Prevention were similar to those from 2009. They included community-led action and decision-making, transmission of Inuit language and culture, early childhood development grounded in Inuit culture, supports for children and youth grounded in Inuit culture, healing gatherings and support groups in all communities, and more mental health services for all ages, with a focus on involving communities and Inuit practitioners.

I will circulate the summit report to this committee after its final review by our stakeholders. The mechanics of each priority boil down to local infrastructure, responsive and predictable funding programs, capacity development, research, and jobs in wellness and healing.

As the chairman said, you are here to better understand how Canada can be part of the solution.

First, Nunavut and Inuit need to be full and equal partners with Canada. We need to be engaged in the design and delivery of new programs, services, and research so that they meet our needs and we have adequate time to develop capacity for delivery. As just one example, the national native alcohol and drug abuse program does not fund our country's two Inuit-specific residential treatment centres, and neither will it recognize a Nunavut facility. As a result, we continue to rely on costly medical travel and on English-language facilities in the south.

Our unique language and vast geography mean that we have 25 health centres providing services in four official languages. We need to be at the table, working together, to design programs and services to meet our unique needs.

Indigenous people have spoken about and documented many traumas, and have worked towards restoring wellness in our communities and our country as a whole. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Qikiqtani Truth Commission warrant the arrest of individuals charged with child sex abuse. The list is long and will soon include the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. I call on Canada to acknowledge these historical wrongs and to implement the recommendations with Nunavut and Inuit as full and equal partners.

Second, indigenous suicide prevention needs long-term, stable, and predictable investments. Given the need, our communities require more mental health services, not less, than the average Canadian jurisdiction. We need a breadth of services utilizing both western and Inuit healing methods that respect and reflect our language and culture.

Given the need, we need more youth and early childhood education centres than the average Canadian jurisdiction. This requires both program and capital investments. We need to address the immediate risks through intervention and by addressing underlying needs such as affordable housing, early childhood education, and food security, so that children born today can live in a healthier society.

This is not a shortcoming of Inuit. Our people are dealing with rapid social and cultural change. Within our living history, Inuit have faced tremendous injustices, all well documented, which created the conditions for suicide risk factors. In some individuals, these traumas compromised their ability to cope and heal, and they in turn passed the trauma on to younger generations.

The situation we are facing today is the result of decades of social injustice. The Government of Nunavut does not have adequate resources to self-fund the solutions.

I want to be clear in the need for Inuit-specific and Inuit-led approaches. We are past the days when we had no other options. Today, we have an accredited training program for counsellors called “Our Life's Journey”, thanks to the dedication of Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River. Those counsellors are critical to the wellness in our communities, yet they are not recognized as equals in pay or title by current federal programs. Today, we have documented and accessible wellness resources, such as the Inuit language preschool curriculum, Inuinnaqtun songbooks, and research by Inuit scholars. To scale up these programs, approaches, and interventions, our territory needs long-term, stable, and predictable investments.

I would like to address your specific request for indicators for Nunavut's place on the KidsRights Index and the need for more data. Many of the indicators from the index are not relevant here, such as running water, sewers, and education for both genders. Our desired outcomes should inform our monitoring, not the other way around. With the partners to the suicide prevention strategy, we are in the planning stages for collecting and analyzing more robust data specific to the strategy. This could be achieved under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement's Nunavut general monitoring plan, if additional resources were made available.

Finally, we need a national dialogue with regard to our country's recent history, cultural safety, and opportunities to address common misconceptions. Suicide is not the Inuit way. Being indigenous is not a risk factor. I'm going to quote Natan Obed in his committee appearance earlier this year. We are here because:

At the base of this issue is social inequity. We can talk around this issue all we want, but if we don't provide health care, housing, education, and a basic level of security for all Canadians and all indigenous Canadians, then this issue is not going to be addressed the way that it could be.

Not only are the issues we are faced with relatively new, we have significant strength as a people who have long thrived in what others considered a hostile environment. Public health efforts should be built upon these and our many strengths.

In closing, I thank you for undertaking this important work. My list of priorities is short: Nunavut must be a full and equal partner with Canada; we need stable long-term funding; and, the time for a national dialogue on cultural safety is now. That is a tall order, but we're optimistic. I'll leave you with some hope.

The Arviat Wellness Committee has introduced Young Hunters, an after-school program for youth, which has resulted in increased school attendance, food security, mental wellness, transmission of traditional knowledge, and intergenerational connectedness.

In Hall Beach, a men's group to serve those who were spending too many nights in jail began last September. Men and their relationships with each other, their spouses, and their families are healing. This has been supported by a reduction in jail cell use.

These examples demonstrate the strength of the individual and community initiatives that serve as the foundation for mental wellness, resiliency, and suicide prevention through our communities. They also serve as a reminder that the most effective programs and initiatives are locally initiated, culturally appropriate, and based on Inuit societal values and traditions.

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Just in closing, I'd like to recognize my associate deputy minister Karen Kabloona. As I mentioned in my opening comments, Nunavut has taken the step to create a ministry portfolio responsible for suicide prevention, and my associate deputy minister leads that division. Thank you.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thanks very much, Mr. Hickes.

Welcome to Ms. Kabloona as well. It's nice to have you here. As I understand it, you both may answer questions, depending on the questions asked. Thank you for that.

We'll move right into questions from committee members. The first-round questions are seven minutes, so each member will have seven minutes to ask and to hear the answer for the question. I would just remind members, as always, to try to come to the point as quickly as you can so we can have more time to hear from the witnesses.

The first member to have a question is Gary Anandasangaree.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Thank you, Minister and Associate Deputy Minister, for being here. It's a pleasure to be here in Nunavut.

I was just glancing through your report on Resiliency Within, and we looked at the partners and I noticed that the federal government is not listed as a partner. What are the impediments for the federal government to be a partner on this? I think it's an important place for the federal government to be, and it's a great responsibility. What were some of the challenges, and what does the government need to do to be a partner?

8:55 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

To start off, in going forward we do want the federal government to be an equal partner, as I mentioned a few times in my opening comments. When we're developing the national suicide strategy, I think there's definitely room for more partnerships. The Public Health Agency of Canada has assisted us in some components with creating two positions. That's basically what we're asking. You guys are here, and hopefully what I see in the report is for the federal government to sit at the table with us. Thank you.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

With respect to social inequity, housing has become a recurring theme in the last couple of days as one of the major areas of inequity. What are the housing needs of the people of Nunavut, and what kinds of solutions can assist in alleviating some of that inequity?

8:55 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

That's an excellent question, and I thank you for asking that one. Housing is obviously a critical need across the entire territory; the lack of infrastructure and the infrequency of investments. We're doing the best we can with the monies we have to promote housing and home ownership and develop public housing. Other than the infrequent funding investments that we do have, one of the real challenges is O and M. The costs of maintaining a unit across this territory are in the neighbourhood of $25,000 a year with our extreme costs for power, water, and sewer. It's an ongoing challenge and this is something that you're probably going to get tired of hearing me saying: long-term, stable, reliable funding.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

The other major issue we saw was the need for education and the need to have attainment rates that will allow young people to go on to further education. I think it's a cycle, and it's important to have people from the community who go through an education system and come back and serve. What are some of those impediments, and how do we work to fix them? I know it's a huge question, but if you can give your thoughts, that'll be appreciated.

9 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

That would almost take another committee meeting, but in a nutshell, the consistency of education across the territory is very important. It starts at the early childhood level. When we have our youth going into early childhood curriculum, their success at the K-to-12 level improves dramatically. When we're looking at funding for our schools—and we've taken some steps within our education act to be at least equal to the Canadian average or better—the challenge is that we're holding to a statistic. I think we need to do more on a needs base. We need to recognize the population of some of our schools, and the resources that are available to them, not just to maintain, but to enhance the education process with the science labs, the gymnasiums, the arts sector. We do have our Nunavut Arctic College, which has a number of great programs. Some of them are degree-granting partnerships with outside universities. We need to further enhance those relationships. We need to encourage our youth to take on post-secondary education opportunities, and—this is our goal as well—make sure they are incentivized to come back so that we don't lose that brain power.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Just to probe a bit more on the education front, one of the issues that was identified last night by a small-group gathering is the lack of post-secondary education locally. If somebody wants to study, they need to go south. Oftentimes there are some serious barriers when someone leaves the community. They're disconnected from their day-to-day life as well as many of the social supports they've had.

What is your government's overall position on establishing a post-secondary institution here, and what are the things you need in order to do that?

9 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

There was very recently a study done on just that: creating an actual university of the Arctic or a northern university. One of the challenges is to receive university accreditation. There are a number of different protocols or guidelines to be able to be considered a university, one of them being enrolment, which, with our numbers, we probably wouldn't be able to make.

We have taken a very serious look at partnerships. We have a nursing program here. We have a teacher program. We're in the process of revitalizing the law program. In addition, there are a number of other training opportunities through our Nunavut Arctic College, and we have satellite campuses in all of our communities. So the access to initial post-secondary education is there at the local level. If you are going into different academic streams than what we can provide, we have relationships with different Inuit associations in the south for support. There are different organizations in Manitoba, and I think Montreal has one, and there's one in Ontario. There are groups out there to help some of our students.

You have travelled here to Iqaluit, and as I mentioned to a couple of you during discussions, Iqaluit is not the norm for Nunavut. When you take a kid from a community of 350 people and put them in Laval university, the cultural challenges are pretty overwhelming.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thanks, Minister, and thanks, Gary, for the questions.

The next question is from David Yurdiga.

9 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Good morning. I'd like to welcome you to our committee.

Obviously, we have a passion to make a difference within the north and throughout our indigenous populations. There's a significant increase in suicides, and this is a concern to all of us.

I understand that you have created an action plan for suicide prevention. What are some of the short- and long-term measures identified in those strategies?

9 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

There are a number of them. Again, this would take a pretty long answer, but one of the key things to take from our strategy is working with the community, at the community level, and we talked about that a little bit earlier. It's one of the things we really need to focus on. We know what we need to do to move forward. We need some help with the resources and to develop the capacity to work with our communities. We have some very active communities, as I mentioned earlier—Arviat, men's wellness and keeping people from the judicial system.

The engagement within some of our youth groups is very prominent. You met with some of our great youth leadership last night. I was very happy to see that occur. There are a number of strategies outlined, for example, monitoring and program funding. We need some help in gathering some of this capacity to be able to analyze the data so that we can move forward, see what's working and what's not working, and enhance those that are.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

During our conversations in the past few days, a lot of people have been concerned about sustainable funding. Programs come and go, and they want to see a longer period when they are guaranteed this funding. A lot of times, when they just get going, the program changes, and then it goes through the whole process again of making application and all the barriers that are put up when you have to fit into this or that category.

Is that a huge challenge with a lot of these suicide prevention strategies—dealing with the funding itself that is always changing? Are there any plans to have a longer-term process where somebody says, yes, we can do this for 10 years, or whatever, so we can develop the program and maintain it over a longer period of time?

9:05 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

Absolutely. One of our main goals out of this exercise is to reinforce the belief that, given some stable funding with some flexibility to it.... Again, as things adjust, as things adapt, we need some fluidity within the parameters of the programming so that we can adjust as we recognize things that are working and things that aren't working.

As I mentioned in my opening comments, there is the Nunavut general monitoring program funding, which could be utilized to gather and assist with a lot of these programs, but stable long-term funding is the key message.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

You mentioned that programs should have flexibility. Every community is a little different. If you go 50 kilometres and compare one community to the other, there are similarities, but there are also a lot of differences. In these programs, how much flexibility is allowed, so they can tailor that program to fit that community's particular needs? Is that one of the strategies, to make it more and more flexible so it can be tailored to that community?

9:05 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

That is one of the challenges with the funding that we do have and that we are able to provide at the community level. It is more the community initiatives that are developing the programs. We are trying not to be Big Brother. We want the communities to develop their own programming, if they can. We also need the funding and the resources to be able to, again, take advantage of best practices, take advantage of a program that has worked in one community and modify it for another community so that those positive impacts can be territorial.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

We understand that you have a quality of life secretariat. What does that role entail?

9:05 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

I am going to let Karen respond to that one, if you don't mind, Mr. Chair.

9:05 a.m.

Karen Kabloona Associate Deputy Minister, Quality of Life, Department of Health, Government of Nunavut

The quality of life secretariat is just getting built right now, and the main purpose is to collaborate within the Government of Nunavut so that the Government of Nunavut is a partner in the Nunavut suicide prevention strategy implementation committee. That is with Nunavut Tunngavik, the RCMP, and the Embrace Life Council. Prior to that, the other partners worked quite regularly with each other but then had to call in other departments one at a time, so it just helps with the collaboration within the Government of Nunavut.

We are also able to move faster on the implementation, because somebody is responsible; it's not off the corner of a desk.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

What is the exact role of the quality of life secretariat? Whom do you report to? I want to understand the mechanics of it all. I understand the position is created, but how does it fit in the whole region? How does that work, the mechanics of that position?

9:10 a.m.

Minister of Health, Minister responsible for Suicide Prevention, Government of Nunavut

George Hickes

That was one of the things we did as a jurisdiction, and it is a very new concept across the country. I am the minister responsible for suicide prevention. Karen reports directly to me, so it has that direction and responsibility from the very top, from a cabinet level, which I think is a key component, not having departments work parallel to each other, with duplication and passing the buck, in some cases. The buck stops here.

I will let Karen elaborate a little more on the actual mechanics of it. Thank you.