Evidence of meeting #49 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 video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chief Sheila North Wilson  Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Yes, for sure.

I guess where I'm trying to go with this is that financial transparency is something that all Canadians have a right to, and we'd like to see that on our first nations. We need some way to have that accountability within the first nation. I know that in Duncan's First Nation, in my riding, the chief was just elected on a transparency mandate.

Could you maybe comment on the transparency and how that is seen in Manitoba?

9:20 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

I know that our communities report the most, but at the same time they're not given the resources to even do that, in terms of the connectivity and the reporting the way everyone is used to reporting now, going online and doing their financial paperwork there. That's an issue.

At the same time, I know of a lot of first nations that are accountable to their communities. They open their books to their communities and they have regular meetings. It's not across the board, but, again, that also has to do with capacity building and the change in leadership that constantly happens in our communities. There is rarely any consistency in some of the communities.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Questioning now moves to MP Romeo Saganash.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Meegwetch.

[Member speaks in Cree ]

[English]

There are a lot of questions I want to ask following your presentation. I want to start off with your statement that if we are serious about reconciliation we need to look seriously at the report of the TRC and the “Calls to Action”.

In the 94 calls to action, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is referred to at least 16 times, I think, including the two fundamental ones that are under the heading “Reconciliation”, calls to action 43 and 44. It calls on the Government of Canada, the provinces, territories, and municipalities “to fully adopt and implement” the UN declaration “as the framework for reconciliation”. That's an important recommendation, I believe.

Do you think that in undertaking this task that we have of reviewing this policy that we need that framework as well?

9:20 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

Absolutely. I think it spells it out quite clearly and easily when you look at UNDRIP and the calls to action. It calls for mutual respect and even collaboration in working with our first nations to start to address a lot of these policies that negatively impact our communities. I think it's long overdue that we start implementing them. Our people are suffering every day under these policies, and it's not getting any better. I think the sooner we start to look at that and stop talking about reconciliation and start doing it....

I think when we're talking to international communities, as I did last week, they were under the assumption that we were well on our way and that everything is.... People have the assumption that in Canada we're doing really well to our first nations. It might seem that way on some fronts, but when you live in our communities, we feel the crippling poverty and the disparaging health realities, and it's because of these policies. We have it all spelled out in UNDRIP and in TRC, paid for by this government to look at these policies and recommendations, and yet they're not implementing them in a lot of ways.

I don't know how anyone can go to sleep at night knowing that they're responsible for first nations who are suffering in communities in our own country. It is one of the wealthiest countries in this world, and we still have this abject poverty that we go home to.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Although this committee is studying the default prevention and management policy, even when a community comes out of third party management they still remain under a colonial structure called the Indian Act. Many of the issues or challenges we face in our communities have been neglected for so long by successive federal governments that they all have become priorities. Beyond the study on this particular policy, do you have any recommendations as to how we should move forward from here?

9:25 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

I know that a lot of people are calling out for the abolishment of the Indian Act. I think that's the right way to go as we move forward. I also know that we need to have a process designed by our first nations and by incredibly talented and intelligent people like you, who have participated in the development of UNDRIP. I think we have those experts in our own communities now to design and support that way forward, abolishing and moving away from the Indian Act, because it's not helping anyone in Canada, the way it is set up.

9:25 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

I know that there are many challenges, and you represent a lot of northern isolated communities. What are the challenges in that respect, in terms of planning for those communities? I'm from northern Quebec. We have to plan carefully for construction season, for instance. A lot of times it's difficult to do that when you don't know how much money you'll be getting.

Do you face similar challenges in northern Manitoba?

9:25 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

Yes, for sure. Winter roads make up just one of the areas that limit those opportunities. When a first nation finally gets approved for a certain amount of housing, they then have to quickly find the materials, buy the materials, and arrange for transportation. That takes time. It doesn't take an instant. They often need bridge financing because they don't have a reserve of money in the bank to cover until the actual money comes through. Sometimes it hinders projects and delays them by two years or more until everything is up to date.

Sometimes when the housing does get there, especially the prefab, the homes are not appropriate. There's a lot of wasted effort. As well, some companies that deal with our first nations are not always on the up and up in providing the service that they say they will. Then it's the first nations that suffer. Some houses in one of our communities are sitting empty. They're beautiful inside but they're useless, because the company that sold it to them wasn't being truthful about the way the houses were built.

9:25 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Do you think a future policy, an improved policy or whatever, will need to take into consideration the specific circumstances of the north?

9:25 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

Absolutely. There are so many challenges in our north, and especially in the remote communities, that the south will never understand.

That also has to do with capacity. Sometimes there are housing projects for a short season. People are trained up with their carpentry skills. The next time they're needed, their licence has run out. They weren't able to practise their profession, so they have to go back to training in the first place. Then they have to do the training over and over again. Some people have done the same first-level training 12 times in a row, just to keep the jobs they get every once in a while.

9:25 a.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We will now move to MP Don Rusnak.

March 21st, 2017 / 9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you, Grand Chief, for being here today. I worked in your territory back in a past life, when I worked for the Manitoba government in the Swampy Cree Tribal Council region and Norway House. It's a fantastic area with amazing people. I was proud of the work that I did with the communities there.

One of my frustrations, and this is something I said before, is that our people have become beggars in our own land. I got in trouble for saying that before. A lot of people talk about the treaties, especially a number of treatied areas. The intent of those treaties was to share the land. I had a conversation, not too long ago, with northern NAN communities about jurisdiction and how we rely as first nation communities on a department that premises itself on a piece of legislation that was designed to destroy and control our communities. That's what we're studying here right now. We're still looking at that piece of legislation and improving it.

I understand that some communities can't jump into taking over jurisdiction over a lot of things, but how do you see northern Manitoba first nations taking over pieces of responsibility? I view it as incremental to getting rid of the Indian Act. As an indigenous person, I don't view it as the responsibility of the federal government to make those changes. I think those need to be driven by indigenous communities and the federal government needs to listen.

What do you see as the future going forward for northern Manitoba and the communities there?

9:30 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

I think one of the biggest hopes I have is that as indigenous people we're getting into all different facets of society, and one of them is the aboriginal financing officers organization. I think it's called the AFOA. I know that in Swampy Cree some members from there are part of this AFOA. They are very capable and very intelligent in dealing with finances.

I think we just need more capacity building on that level and on the management level to start to address a lot of the concerns that even our communities have in how we manage our finances. We assume that every chief should know how to finance and how to manage their books, but chiefs are chiefs, and they're elected to lead the community. They're not necessarily elected to run the books, but I think we give that false hope on that. It's a racist policy when we think that we should control everything that the chief does and that they're responsible for everything that the community is responsible for.

Really, we need a lot of help in our communities in capacity building. Like it is for any municipal city, it is important to build that capacity at all levels, including the financial area and management.

We're now in a new age. I know that a lot of people want to go back to the old ways and start living off the land, and I commend people who want to do that and want to live that way, but at the same time, there are a lot of other people who want to look forward and build their communities in a modern, current way. There are ways for them to do that are still respectful to our first nations. I think a lot of people are already thinking that way. You'll see that a lot of our communities are actually managed very well. We don't hear enough about those. The ones that manage their communities and affairs very well are the ones that are able to have consistent leadership in their communities. We don't see enough of that.

The communities that are suffering the most, I believe, are the ones impacted directly by the Indian Act, with the short-term election and the terms they're living under. By the time they get their footing and understand all the requirements of running a community as a chief, it's time for them to go, and then someone else has to start all over again. That's a policy of the Indian Act, which talks about when the elections should be run. Unfortunately, it was built that way—to fail—and I think we need to change that. I know that some communities are going into four-year terms now, and that's going to help a lot, but we need to do that across the board and start looking at the policies that are not helping.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I have one minute, so I'll be quick.

There's a conversation I had with Northern Ontario first nations regarding jurisdiction. Do you see anything for northern Manitoba first nations to bite off there in terms of jurisdiction, perhaps with the provinces and the federal government, and to start having those discussions on health care, for example, or natural resources?

Natural resources shared jurisdiction was one of our topics with the NAN communities. Instead of impact and benefit agreements, which I look at as modern beads and trinkets, there's a real conversation to have about jurisdiction and sharing the land and the revenue of the land.

9:35 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

Absolutely. I think we need to transform the whole way we deal with transferring dollars. I don't even like to say “transferring dollars”, because it's money that rightfully belongs to the first nations and to the people themselves.

We need to completely transform the way we conduct health care, for example. I'm working with NAN and FSIN to come up with a plan under what's called the indigenous health alliance. It talks about that, about completely turning around the way we deliver health programs and giving the transparency and the accountability to the people themselves, so that we are the ones in our communities who list the priorities in the areas that we need to be focused on. Then go from the inside out, so that we're managing where that accountability comes from.

As it is right now, health providers and even researchers are accountable to the government. They want to please the government. They report to the government. They don't report to our people, the people they study, and that doesn't give them any reason to make sure the people on reserve are okay. They just want to follow the requirements and fill the requirements needed by the government, and the government doesn't always have the best intentions....

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Questioning is going to MP Cathy McLeod.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, Grand Chief, for joining us today.

My first comment is that I do agree that we need to find a much more appropriate way to share the resources of the land, to ensure that it's appropriately done and fairly done and provides a lot more opportunity in communities. I know in British Columbia there are many movements in that direction. I think that is important. Maybe that's not directly related to the conversation but will ultimately be part of where we go.

I have a concern. I know you talked about taking away the strings. We do need to find ways to ensure accountability while we take away the strings. I note that the audit prior to your leadership with MKO turned up some very concerning issues in terms of money that was intended for child care not reaching the communities. You talked about not having support for skills training. It became clear from that particular audit that there was some money intended for skills training that didn't see its way into the community.

There are many good people out there who do good things, whether it's senators or MPs or business owners or sometimes employees. We need to have checks and balances in terms of monies and systems. If you want to take away the strings, how do you ensure the proper checks and balances? It breaks my heart to know there were child care funds that didn't go toward child care.

9:35 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

Again, I reiterate what I said to Don about putting the accountability back to the people themselves. I can't really speak on the intention of what actually happened with the previous grand chief in our region. I simply don't know, and I don't understand the logic completely.

Also when we talk about those cuts, those deep cuts that happened in 2012 and 2013, I believe those also had a lot to do with it. Communities and organizations were forced to look at their priorities and the current projects they were working on, and had to make decisions based on that.

As I say, at the band level, that happens all the time when there are few resources to go around in the first place, and they're forced to move pockets of the little money they have, to cover something that has come up in the communities.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

I appreciate that.

Certainly as I read through the audit, I saw there were some concerns that were perhaps a little bit bigger, having to decide between food and shelter.

My big concern, and I think I've spoken about it regularly.... I agree that transparency has to be available to the communities. If there's funding for child care or if there's funding for lunch programs, with detailed reporting, it's the community members who are going to be able to hold their chiefs and councils to account.

I'm getting more and more community members who are calling and are very concerned. Obviously, the chiefs did not like the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. We're now 18 months in and we have a really haphazard approach to giving information to community members, and there's an increasing concern.

Are you putting pressure on in terms of saying, “We have to have a system in place that's going to be accountable to our community members”? To me, that's a really important step.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Give a short response, please.

9:40 a.m.

Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

I think at the end of the day we need to understand that our responsibility and our accountability does need to go to our first nations. I know a lot of people realize that and want that as well. It's not lost on us. At the same time, it is a process. Even the government policies themselves don't always follow up on their own policies. They let things lapse and they let things go without proper checks and balances themselves, and then they put it on the first nations as the ones who did the mismanagement. I've seen that and heard of those situations more often than not. It's always the first nations who look like the ones who are at a default, whereas government officials and bureaucrats haven't followed up themselves to do the due diligence and the work they're required to do.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Questioning now moves to MP Rémi Massé.