Evidence of meeting #52 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 policy.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chief Nelson Genaille  Grand Chief, Swampy Cree Tribal Council
Arlen Dumas  Chief, Swampy Cree Tribal Council
Andrew Yesno  Manager, Financial Advisory Services, Matawa First Nations
Dawn Madahbee Leach  Interim Chair, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board
Terry Goodtrack  President and Chief Executive Officer, AFOA Canada
Charmaine Stick  As an Individual

9:20 a.m.

An hon. member

You do not get to respond unless the Chair—

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Maybe we need a conversation about parliamentary rule reform.

9:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Okay. I'm sorry I opened that.

MP Romeo, save us.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

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

Meegwetch, Madam Chair.

[Member speaks in Cree]

[English]

Since we started the study, because there was a lot of talk about chronic underfunding throughout the country in indigenous communities, and given the population growth of the indigenous population, and given the fact of the snail's pace of the “increases” in funding for communities, I get the impression that we'll be getting more and more of this third party management in the communities. That's a side comment.

The purpose of the study is to improve this policy. I don't know if we can improve something that is, from the outset, undesirable for many indigenous communities, but if that is possible, we'll see. Nevertheless, one of the things that escapes me is the fact that, even if we get the communities out of the third party management, they're still under this archaic Indian Act. Is that a challenge in itself to remain under the Indian Act or does this improvement also require a change in the government system of the communities?

We had the Algonquins of Barriere Lake here on Tuesday and they'd prefer article 3 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a form of governance. I'd like any or all of you to comment on that.

9:20 a.m.

Chief, Swampy Cree Tribal Council

Chief Arlen Dumas

I believe there needs to be a complete overhaul of the system and that as a nation we need to come to terms with the fact that we need to find a new way forward. However, whatever that path becomes, we'll have to have a meaningful contribution from the indigenous governance in our country. They need to recognize that, and how we're going to move forward.

Unfortunately, I don't think we would be able to completely remove ourselves from the Indian Act yet, because of the paradigms that exist. Unfortunately, that seems to be our only caveat in influencing how this nation moves forward. I think that part of the conversation that needs to change is not to discuss fraud, but talk about the reality of the fact that my community could only fund 20 people to go to post-secondary school in 1980, but now I have 150 people who want to go to post-secondary school, and I can only pick 20.

Of course, the government of the day perpetuates this false narrative of our inability to manage ourselves and creates opportunities for disgruntled people to have media attention and criticize their governments. That's not the path forward, so I think we need to figure out new ways of moving forward in a meaningful way, in a transparent way, by all means. We would all be better served by it.

9:20 a.m.

Grand Chief, Swampy Cree Tribal Council

Grand Chief Nelson Genaille

I look at this funding model that's given to us based on membership. It just doesn't work. It's always going to be subject to failure. I look at my territory as an example. If I could get every taxpayer in my territory to pay me directly, I'd be happy, but it doesn't come to me, it goes to Canada. If I have a student coming out of my territory going to a town, INAC pays $13,500 for my student. For the same student to stay in my school, I'm funded $4,500. That's a big discrepancy in funding; it's subject to failure. How am I supposed to educate my children properly when I'm not given that status? Operation and maintenance, housing-wise, it's the same thing. There's a backlog of 275 houses in my community. People want to live in the community.

I have to go outside and do my external economic activity, which I have to fight for just to get a licence to operate. I shouldn't be having that fight. If I'm able to do business, allow me to do business. I have a proponent called Manitoba Hydro coming through my territory selling resources to the States, neighbouring communities, and provinces, I don't get anything out of that. When I look at the treaties, I'm supposed to be benefiting from the resources. As I said, in my community we're doing an excellent job balancing budgets. I'm a good Indian Act chief. It's not a compliment to say, “We'll increase your budget to help satisfy your underfunded areas”.

9:25 a.m.

Manager, Financial Advisory Services, Matawa First Nations

Andrew Yesno

Quickly, I have a lot going through my head at the moment, but I'm thinking back. I had to leave my community at the age of six. I was moved out to Thunder Bay. My parents wanted me to get a better education, and I grew up there and went through high school. They bought a house, they paid their taxes and supported me through college and university. Every year I'd go back for a spring hunt, for a fall hunt, trapping, setting nets in the winter, and I never forgot that part. I still do it to this day, and I'm going there in a couple of weeks. The thing is, not everyone has the means to do that. As you were saying, it's a broken system. It was meant to keep us where we are today. It was meant to fail. It has to change.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Questions now move to MP Rusnak.

April 6th, 2017 / 9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I sit here frustrated a lot of the time. Just saying “chronic underfunding”.... I've said this before and I got in trouble for it, but I don't think that, when I get in trouble for it, people understand what I'm saying, that we've become beggars in our own land. That's not what the treaties were designed to do.

I liked what the grand chief said about Manitoba Hydro going through the traditional territory, or the people living in our traditional territories, and about reimagining how we get the resources to do what we need in our communities. I think that's the answer, but it may not be the answer for all communities.

I guess my first question is, do we add more money to a broken system? That's exactly what this Indian Act system is, a broken system. How do we get out of the system? That's a huge question, so I don't know who wants to start.

I'll ask Andrew Yesno first.

9:25 a.m.

Manager, Financial Advisory Services, Matawa First Nations

Andrew Yesno

You mentioned that it's a broken system. It has been underfunded. If you throw more money into the pot, it's just going to continue. Are we going to keep it growing?

We have one first nation that is not in default prevention, but one of the comments they made to me was, “If you were to throw another program or a large project at us, we don't have the capacity to handle it, and it may be the project that sinks us.” Even though they don't happen to be under co-management or a third party, they're treading water right now just to stay out of it. They are a road-access community. They do send people for training; oftentimes they don't return. They'd rather stay in the city. They have to look after themselves as well.

Yes, I think a bridge needs to be created to go from being under the Indian Act to creating something new, an entirely new structure. That's going to take a lot of work that we can't do just sitting around talking here.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

One of the things Romeo and I have talked about is the increase in funding. This government has increased funding by 27% over any other government. I call it an investment in our first nations communities, but it's not incumbent on the government to tell first nations how they are going to spend it. That's what has been done for far too long. Programs are being developed in Ottawa and then everyone has to fight for what dollars are out there.

How do we, as indigenous communities, develop a system, a path forward? I know it's not going to be a pan-aboriginal approach. I know that northern Manitoba has a lot in common with northwestern Ontario, but not a lot in common with southern B.C. or the Inuit, so there need to be different solutions in different parts of the country. How do we get there? How do we start?

9:30 a.m.

Chief, Swampy Cree Tribal Council

Chief Arlen Dumas

This is what I think needs to happen. We actually have to have a fulsome discussion, and we have to have a proper understanding of the things that we are discussing. We can say that the system is broken, but maybe it's not. The system is chronically underfunded.

As I said, the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation are survivors of this paradigm. However, it's because of a combination of our own source revenue and because of our entrepreneurial spirit that we were able to get ourselves out of co-management. However, other communities are still punitive, and in fact, it still affects us negatively because, to this day, I'm still paying for the sins of the past, of co-managers. We mentioned earlier about these triggers. We have to keep in mind, “What does that mean?”

When you change auditing firms, one auditor doesn't agree with the other auditor's number, so he's going to give you a qualified opinion. It doesn't mean anything about how you're actually operating. It doesn't mean anything about whether you're under or over budget. It's a matter of two different professionals having a disagreement of opinion, so they're going to give you a qualified opinion and the Department of Indian Affairs is going to say, “Well, you're in intervention then.” It has nothing to do with the communities. The system overall needs to be assessed and looked at.

The Department of Indian Affairs gets $8.5 billion annually. If you broke that up and gave us our money, I'd get $350,000 every year, but because of the bureaucracy and because of all these things that exist, as an individual, as a beneficiary to that budget, I think I get maybe 50¢. If we're going to talk about the system, then let's talk about the system. Where are the real fractures? Where is the real breakdown in the system that needs to be examined? It's not our fault. The communities are always blamed, “Oh, they don't have capacity.” We have capacity; just let me enhance it. I have all the capacity in the world. Never before have I had more educated people in my band membership. Just unshackle the chains so we can look after ourselves.

I hope I'm answering your question. We truly need to have the proper discussion in the proper way.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Obviously, you're talking about the department and that's another discussion. Negotiation with the government—and I have had this conversation over and over again with both....

I'm probably going to run out of time here.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have 16 seconds.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I'll continue at another time.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

But don't give up, MP Rusnak. Don't give up.

MP Viersen.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would like to point out right at the outset that this motion that we're discussing today, that we're questioning, was brought forward by the Liberals to discuss this policy and how we change this policy. When my questions are kind of pointed, I want to talk about this policy. We can talk about the funding and everything that leads to this, for sure, but this isn't what I wanted to talk about at all. I voted against talking about this motion. I want to talk about what I think are much more important things than default management. It seems like a fairly niche issue that a lot of bands are in, but the fact that they get into it isn't because of the policy itself; it's because of a whole bunch of other things. I want the success of first nations as much as anybody.

We're here today to talk about the default management and to perhaps propose alternatives to it. That's what we need to be discussing. I'd like to start out by addressing a comment made by the grand chief about balanced budgets.

You have to balance your budget. The Government of Canada doesn't have to balance a budget, so perhaps we should put the Government of Canada in default management. I will be totally—

9:35 a.m.

Chief, Swampy Cree Tribal Council

Chief Arlen Dumas

I'll second that motion.

9:35 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Although I don't want to start circling the drain. I've seen what happens when first nations are in....

When the other chief talks about the sins of the past and having to deal with that, that's exactly what we're going to be dealing with. Our children and grandchildren are going to be saddled with this debt so we can live high on the hog today, and they can pay for it later. I totally understand where you're coming from on that. I rant about that all the time. I will second your motion that we should put the government under default management indefinitely.

Beyond that, to get back to my line of questioning earlier, the money has to be accounted for in some way. There are these tripwires that are there. If these tripwires were to stay the same as they are.... I see there are big advantages in trying to reduce the reporting load that is placed on the bands. To me, it seems you are the most audited and reported folks in this country. There's no doubt about that. We could talk about those things, but that's not what the motion is about today. The motion is about the third party management policy and how we change that.

Do you have unique solutions?

I know that in the past study on suicide, we heard that pretty much everybody in every community is on Facebook. There might be avenues to communicate through Facebook. I know that every first nation person has an ID card with a bar code on it. There might be abilities to transfer the funds right to their ID card.

Have you thought of that at all in terms of, if you trip one of these wires, what can we change to get...? Rather than bringing in a third party manager, what other things could we do?

9:35 a.m.

Grand Chief, Swampy Cree Tribal Council

Grand Chief Nelson Genaille

This is the question that.... Auditing firms, companies, they help and assist with reporting requirements with agencies, funders. They're the demise of their own operation.

Basically, if they put me in third party management, it's giving themselves a job to do that. That's basically what it is. The funding we get is grant funding to look after our people. We're trying to explain to you that we're being underfunded.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Then you go in third party management and you lose another 10%.

9:35 a.m.

Grand Chief, Swampy Cree Tribal Council

Grand Chief Nelson Genaille

Lose another 10% and then you're still caught in that system. Give me economic dollars to operate my own business. Currently in O and M, I'm funding myself for the operation and maintenance of my homes. Same thing with education. I had the luxury of providing sponsorship to people who want to go out and get educated. I have to do it from my own source funding. When do I get my money back from the Government of Canada for underfunding me? That's the same question I had for Minister Bennett.

For six years my business was waiting for operation. Six times six, that's $36 million I lost. When do I get that back? In regard to default management, it's the reporting requirements. You have to jump through hoops and open the doors. By the time you're done opening the door, it's fiscal year-end basically.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Next—