Evidence of meeting #42 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 métis.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sylvia Johnson  Co-Minister of Health, Children and Youth, Métis Nation of Alberta
Heather Bear  Fourth Vice-Chief, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations
Susan Bobbi Herrera  Chief Executive Officer, Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations

9:40 a.m.

Co-Minister of Health, Children and Youth, Métis Nation of Alberta

Sylvia Johnson

There certainly are because we Métis are one of the three indigenous groups that have no health care at all. We have absolutely nothing, nothing for dental and nothing for mental health. We can't go to mental health, unless it's free. We have to find free programs, otherwise we have to pay. It's the same thing with everything.

There are long waiting lists and if we can get on them, we have to go through social services, which means we have to give our children up to the system for them to get help. The government programs are not specific and don't fit with us, so we are in a situation whereby, without any dollars, we have no insured health benefits. Therefore, we are subjected to whatever the government will give us and provide us, which is very little. Either it's free or our children have to be taken and we have to sign them over to care so they can receive health benefits. It's very sad to have to do that in this day and age.

February 7th, 2017 / 9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

In Saskatchewan, regarding health delivery, with the coordination between the first nation organizations, the provincial system, and the federal system, are there recommendations for improvement? Are there glaring problems that we can recommend to government immediately?

9:40 a.m.

Fourth Vice-Chief, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations

Vice-Chief Heather Bear

I know in Saskatchewan—collectively, because the 74 first nations are a collective—there is one example, the Fort Qu'Appelle Indian Hospital in the Regina Qu'Appelle Valley, which is a model. They have been leading the charge with a sweat lodge incorporated....

The FSIN has a strong network, but we do lack capacity within our funding and our regional office. A lot of work can and should be done. Again, of course, the capacity to do that....

Have I answered your question properly?

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

However you want to answer it....

9:45 a.m.

Fourth Vice-Chief, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We're moving on to the second round of questions, so we're going to start with the Conservative party and MP Yurdiga.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Good morning and thank you for joining our committee today.

It's a very important topic and we have to move forward quickly because one life is too many and your testimony will be important in moving forward.

We heard that in many isolated and northern communities there's a difficulty in attracting and retaining mental health professionals, which is a challenge. You see different workers coming all the time and no relationship is developed with people requiring mental health services. A connection is made and then, all of a sudden, they leave. It's a really big challenge.

What are the challenges in attracting professional health workers in communities outside large urban centres?

9:45 a.m.

Fourth Vice-Chief, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations

Vice-Chief Heather Bear

I think one of the biggest challenges, especially in the north, is the conditions. For example, I am occupied in the north a lot, the Far North, with the Dene, and the housing conditions are deplorable. We are looking at, for example, one family of 19 people living in one house. When I was a counsellor, I spent two days talking to the community and the leaders. Just picture the reality of the children lining up to go to the washroom in the morning. I go to the community and at their facility there's not even a doorknob on the washroom. The blood and the bones of their ancestors are in the wealth of that land. Industry has come in and taken and left, and they've been ignored far too long.

There is a lack of employment. There's also the underground. It's so entrenched. People really don't know and understand and realize the problems that exist in the Far North. When you look at the price of a jug of milk, at $18 to $22, imagine if you had eight boys and how much milk you'd go through in a week, and you get $250 every two weeks. So there's poverty, and when you look at health services....

My sister works in Black Lake. She has been there for two years. Boy, I would love for the standing committee go and stay there for a week or two and see it through the lens of the reality, and working in the salt mines of finance and trying to make ends meet.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We have two more minutes.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Okay.

I represent Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, and a lot of communities do not have access to mental health service workers. To obtain a mental health professional, they have to travel long distances. A lot of times, a lot of people cannot afford to drive three or four hours to the community providing that service. What are the implications for individuals who do not receive mental health services in a timely fashion, and in many cases, not at all?

9:45 a.m.

Co-Minister of Health, Children and Youth, Métis Nation of Alberta

Sylvia Johnson

I'd like to answer.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We'll give you a minute, but first we'll go to Ms. Herrera.

9:45 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations

Susan Bobbi Herrera

Thank you.

Cold Lake is part of Treaty 6. In Treaty 6, there's a medicine chest clause, especially for Chief Martial. She is very adamant that we have the right to health, yet the people not only need the services and may have travelled a great distance, but often now they have to pay for it themselves and ask for reimbursement. When there is such poverty in many of our first nations, they can't afford it, so they go without. Instead of addressing mental illnesses, they'll suffer in silence and that's leading to suicides.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Ms. Johnson, you have 15 seconds.

9:50 a.m.

Co-Minister of Health, Children and Youth, Métis Nation of Alberta

Sylvia Johnson

We have to pay for health services and there's no reimbursement. Think how helpless you must feel as a young person to have no hope, that you have no choice but to kill yourself. You're helplessly pushed into a corner where you have nothing and you know nothing will ever get better. You feel that you have no way out, that you feel you will help your family by killing yourself, that they'll all be better off without you. Instead of looking at a bright, exciting future, there's nothing but despair and hopelessness with suicide as the only way out.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you for those comments.

We are now going to the Liberal Party and MP Mike Bossio.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you, Chair, and thank you very much, guests, for being here. I'm going to share some of my time with Hunter Tootoo, so I'm just going to ask a couple of quick questions.

I'm really curious about co-management in Alberta, because a lot of the changes that we think need to happen and what we're hearing from a lot of witnesses is that they need to be community-driven priorities and solutions, rather than a top-down approach that's happening, the paternalistic approach occurring today.

Under co-management, what successes are you seeing? Is it leading to more indigenous people being employed, and can we take the successes from that and transfer those to other socio-economic areas such as housing, education, and so on?

I'd like Ms. Herrera to answer that, because I think she has the most experience on that side of things, from what I've been able to gather anyway from some of her presentation, and then I'd like to pass the remainder of my time over to Hunter Tootoo.

Thank you.

9:50 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations

Susan Bobbi Herrera

Thank you for your question.

That was the initial intent of entering co-management, and it was a hard sell when it was first introduced to the chiefs of Alberta of Treaty 6, 7 and 8.

Like I said, not all have signed on and some of those who did have withdrawn. There has been a continual review of the process, because even though the chiefs and technicians sit at the co-management tables and, in fact, were meeting all last week, we haven't seen that many changes, other than their saying they have consulted with us. It hasn't been true consultation. It's just saying come to a meeting, this is what it's going to be, this is what we're taking off the benefits and pretty much live with it.

That's why you see first nations pulling out and standing by the treaty right to help, because in Treaty No. 6 there's the medicine chest clause and we have to keep pushing that. It's something that was promised our ancestors. Thank you.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Okay.

MP Tootoo, you have about three minutes.

9:50 a.m.

Independent

Hunter Tootoo Independent Nunavut, NU

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Mike, for sharing your time.

Welcome to the panellists. I know this is a huge topic that affects us in Nunavut and I'm pleased to have an opportunity to be able to listen and participate. I appreciate that.

One of the things that was mentioned during the talks was the calls to action. Number 18 was mentioned, basically saying we're in the state that we're in because of how we were treated in the past. It doesn't matter, I believe, if you're Inuit. It doesn't matter if you're Métis. It doesn't matter if you're first nations. We all suffered the same and we need to heal. I think that is the most important first step that we need to go through.

Call to action number 21, calling upon the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new aboriginal healing centres to address physical, mental, and emotional spiritual harms caused by residential schools and ensure funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, is a priority.

I know, and Michael and most of you from the northern rural and remote areas can attest to this, that there is nothing. In Nunavut and the NWT we have zero, and that's the same in most northern and remote areas of the provinces.

Do you feel it should be a priority for this government to fund healing centres in rural and remote areas where we're seeing the highest suicide rates from the statistics to be able to help people heal and move forward in a healthy way? Thank you.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

There's only one minute.

Who would you like to direct the question to?

9:55 a.m.

Independent

Hunter Tootoo Independent Nunavut, NU

To whoever wants to answer, please.

9:55 a.m.

Fourth Vice-Chief, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations

Vice-Chief Heather Bear

I'll take a run at it.

9:55 a.m.

Co-Minister of Health, Children and Youth, Métis Nation of Alberta

Sylvia Johnson

This is Sylvia.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Chief Bear has started to answer the question. We'll see if there's any time.