Evidence of meeting #45 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

Del Graff  Child and Youth Advocate, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta
Cindy Blackstock  Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada
James Irvine  Medical Health Officer, Mamawetan Churchill River Health Region
Alika Lafontaine  Collaborative Team Lead, Indigenous Health Alliance
David Watts  Executive Director, Integrated Health, Mamawetan Churchill River Health Region

9:35 a.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

You asked where it went. In the tribunal's evidence at tabs 78 and 302, which I would be pleased to provide to the committee later, these are actually federal officials identifying the gaps in services that existed as of 2012 and that continue to exist. Health Canada and INAC have still not addressed those gaps.

They're about things like children's mental health, ensuring that there is addictions treatment on par with what other children get, occupational therapy, and the breathing equipment we talked about so that children don't suffocate. Those things have already been identified within the record, and I provided them very recently again to Health Canada and INAC with a request that they move immediately to provide funding for those gaps already identified by their own officials at the highest levels in the department.

February 16th, 2017 / 9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

One of the things we heard on Tuesday from two chiefs testifying before this committee was that there are not only short-term problems that need to be addressed but also long-term issues. I've used this expression before and I've been attacked for it, but the chief said the same thing on Tuesday, and that was that we've become beggars in our land. For the long-term solution, we should have a share of the resource revenue of this land to make sure that as indigenous people and indigenous communities and indigenous governments, we don't have to go to some other source to pay for what we should have ourselves, and that we have our own resources to be able to do what we need to do as communities and to thrive as a people in this country.

There's the short term, always going to departments and asking for funding to do what we know we need to do in our communities, but there's also the long term.

Mr. Graff, do you see a road to long-term solutions to this issue?

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We have only about 30 seconds.

9:35 a.m.

Child and Youth Advocate, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta

Del Graff

Change the relationship. Change the relationship so it's not the “dominion over” relationship that has always existed between government and first nations people. That's something that is, to my mind, a very obvious shift that could be made that could lead to what you're describing as an outcome.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Sorry. You always seem to be getting the short end, but you have become very good at that.

We now move to MP David Yurdiga.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair. I'd like to thank Cindy Blackstock and Del Graff for joining us this morning.

This is a very important issue for us. I've been working very closely with the native friendship centres in my riding. They do amazing work. They provide all types of services including counselling to urban indigenous people who do not have access to first nations programming.

What role do you believe the native friendship centres should have in helping the indigenous youth in our urban centres?

I'd like a response from both of you.

9:35 a.m.

Child and Youth Advocate, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta

Del Graff

Certainly in Alberta the friendship centres are active in communities in providing options for young people to have activities and for their families to gather. In many communities, when there's a tragedy and there are wakes, for example, they take place in the friendship centres, so they play an integral role in the communities.

One of the things we know in our province is that migration from remote and rural communities to more urban communities has to also include an elevated level of support in those urban communities. That's a key role in which the friendship centres can be quite effective, but they need the resources to do that.

In a place like Edmonton, where there has been a huge increase in terms of the indigenous people migrating to the city, there hasn't been a corresponding increase in the supports to groups like the friendship centres.

9:35 a.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

I'd also point out that the friendship centres indeed do a lot of important work. I echo the issue about the lack of resources, but I think it needs to be broader than that. Certainly there are first nations that want to provide services to their members in urban communities. They have been asking for that for many years. It's certainly something that's practical and that could be done. I would echo that it would go a long way to providing culturally based specific services along the lines of those protective factors of culture specific to different first nations, Métis, and Inuit groups.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

We heard from many witnesses about the importance of indigenous control over health services. What types of support are needed to ensure that indigenous communities have the capacity to design and deliver health services?

9:40 a.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

I would say that two key emerging themes have come up in the reports I've read on children's mental health and children's health over the years. Number one is that there needs to be an expansive framing by the federal government of the range of jurisdictional models the federal government will fund for the provision of health services. Right now, it's often just restricted to providing services according to provincial and territorial statutes. I think that needs to change.

The second, of course, is adequate funding of those services. As the tribunal pointed out, it is not dollar for dollar what a non-aboriginal child receives. Because of the multi-generational impacts, we can expect to have to invest more.

I'd like to point this committee to an important report called “The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention”. It talks about the vital importance of building systemic and societal equity into any national or local suicide strategy. The evidence linking inequality with a preponderance of suicide, both on and off reserve, is overwhelming. It needs to be a critical element in the development of a youth suicide strategy.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Thank you, Ms. Blackstock.

How much time do I have?

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have another minute.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Thank you.

Mr. Graff, go ahead.

9:40 a.m.

Child and Youth Advocate, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta

Del Graff

Certainly one of the shifts that need to be made, in my view, with respect to health services is a level of self-determination that can enable a broader perspective of health services, a more integrated approach.

In my earlier comment, when I was making reference to a holistic approach, the way that funding is provided program by program does not enable that. Groups have to take a piecemeal type of approach. I believe that being able to step back from that and asking how we can create an integrated, holistic way of dealing with the health and well-being of our communities is really what's important and what needs to be put in place on a go-forward basis.

That would be much more effective than the piecemeal approaches that now are just meant to plug the leaks in a boat that might be sinking.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

We'll now move to the last question, and that goes to MP Anandasangaree.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair. I'll be splitting my time with our colleague from Nunavut.

Thank you both for being here.

I want to take this opportunity, Ms. Blackstock, to congratulate you in advance for the human rights award that will be bestowed on you next week by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

I want to probe one issue, and that's the issue of child sexual abuse. I'm wondering if both of you could comment on its relation to suicide, teen suicide particularly.

9:40 a.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

We know from the research that any sexual abuse experience for children predisposes children to a wide array of harms.

When it comes to looking at the national incidence of what we know to be reported cases of sexual abuse among children—I want to underscore “reported”, because we have no measures for unreported cases with either the non-aboriginal population or first nations—there is a slight overrepresentation of first nations children, but not significantly so.

One of the pieces that came forward in tribunal evidence was that where sexual abuse occurs, it absolutely needs to be dealt with and addressed, but adequate resources for child and family service agencies, for both prevention and response, are key to that. That's one of the reasons we brought the case and why we were so happy that the tribunal ordered immediate prevention services and response services so that first nations agencies could elevate their response to children and to families who have experienced sexual exploitation or sexual abuse.

9:40 a.m.

Child and Youth Advocate, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta

Del Graff

Perhaps the only thing I can add is that in my experience, when there are incidents of sexual abuse, the levels of trauma on not just the individuals involved but also the whole family system, and in fact in the community, are so substantial that they cannot be ignored. The behaviour that comes out of trying to cope with that level of trauma is very difficult. In many cases that's where we do see those impacts of suicide.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We adjourn in about a minute, so I'm going to turn it over to MP Hunter Tootoo.

9:45 a.m.

Independent

Hunter Tootoo Independent Nunavut, NU

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Gary, and welcome to both of you. I'll try to be quick.

My colleague Romeo talked about political will. I think that will is there. We have the Prime Minister who is genuine about it now, as well as Ministers Bennett and Philpott. In my experience of almost 16 years in public life, which is half of Romeo's experience, I have always found the bureaucracy is great at spending all their time and energy telling you why you can't do something. They'll give you 100 reasons you can't do something, and I always used to tell them, “Give me 10 reasons why we should.”

You mentioned a review at INAC and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. Do you feel that's part of the problem in moving some of these issues forward? There seems to be political will, but there has been 150 years of treating people as programs and numbers.

9:45 a.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

Yes, I do think there needs to be a recalibration and an exploration of those two departments to better prepare for the implementation of the TRC.

I would also note, though, with the greatest of respect, that the minister recently said she is very proud of the work her department is doing on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case. I don't feel that type of messaging is a clear signal to the bureaucracy that it needs to reform and implement those good visions that the Prime Minister and the minister have set forward.

9:45 a.m.

Child and Youth Advocate, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta

Del Graff

I would add that there is an extreme need to address the apathy that exists in this country regarding indigenous children and families. One of the ways that Cindy has been quite effective has been to try to raise the awareness of Canadians to these issues. We need to do an awful lot more of that for there to be actual change, so I think it's absolutely critical that we address that apathy.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you so much.

We're going to suspend because we have the second hour of additional presenters. They're going to be presenting by video conference, so it will take us a couple of minutes to set up.

To the presenters, meegwetch. Thank you very much for coming and sharing your thoughts with us. We appreciate it.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I am sorry for the delay. We were having some technical difficulties.

I will ask members to specify the person to whom their question is directed, because otherwise it can be a little confusing when we are on video conference.

I want to welcome everybody who is participating in this meeting. The committee is on unceded Algonquin territory here in Ottawa. As we are in the early stages of truth and reconciliation, we always make a point of recognizing our first nations peoples that welcomed the rest of us to this beautiful country.

We have with us the Mamawetan Churchill River Health Region, and in their delegation we have David Watts, Denise Legebokoff, and Dr. James Irvine. We also have Dr. Alika Lafontaine, who is with the Indigenous Health Alliance with.

Is that correct? Everyone is good.

We're going to open it up to the Churchill River Health Region.