Evidence of meeting #83 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 evacuated.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Keith Maracle  President, First Nations National Building Officers Association
John Kiedrowski  Project Manager and Consultant, First Nations National Building Officers Association
Viola Thomas  Councillor, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc
David McDougall  Chief, St. Theresa Point First Nation
Al Richmond  Chair, Cariboo Regional District
Judy Klassen  Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Kewatinook, As an Individual

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Welcome, everybody. We are continuing our meetings on the issue of wildfires and emergency measures in communities. This is the 83rd meeting of the committee on indigenous and northern affairs.

In the first panel, I'm very pleased to see that we have the First Nations National Building Officers Association. We have Keith Maracle and John Kiedrowski. Then we have the Tk'emlups peoples with Viola Thomas. Finally, we have Chief David McDougall, chief of St. Theresa Point First Nation.

Welcome. I understand that you couldn't make it out to Ottawa, but we appreciate that you're here by video conference.

Each group will have 10 minutes to present for the record. You're also able to present an additional brief if you choose. After we hear from everybody, we'll go through a round of questioning from MPs. I'd ask MPs to please direct their questions specifically, because we have three distinct groups on this topic from different parts of the country.

If we go according to our agenda, we'll start with the First Nations National Building Officers Association. I'll give you indications of how many minutes are left when we're coming close to our timeline and try to cut you off when you've exceeded it.

Please, go ahead.

11:05 a.m.

Keith Maracle President, First Nations National Building Officers Association

Thank you very much.

My name is Keith Maracle. I'm a Mohawk from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte in the Deseronto-Shannonville area. I've worked in native housing since 1974.

The First Nations National Building Officers Association was formed in 2003. When working with some of my colleagues across the country, we would get together in Ottawa; everybody was under the same program but we were all doing something different. Everybody wanted us to do something different. Ontario wasn't doing the same thing that other provinces were doing. We got together and decided we would put the First National Building Officers Association together. At that time we hired John Kiedrowski as our project manager.

We're a non-profit organization. We don't get involved in politics at the first nations level or any other. Our association likes to be the odd man out, you might say. Our association is all volunteers, except for our project manager. We're the only association in Canada that works specifically with first nations on housing issues, inspections, building codes, and stuff like that.

We recently established a partnership with the Canadian Construction Materials Centre. Under that we'll get their advice on technical issues and stuff like that, which we can pass along to our members. Our biggest and hardest thing is to keep our members up to date with what's going on in the building codes and stuff. These are changing so quickly, and with the minimum funding we get, it's very hard for us to keep up.

Since our inception we've worked very hard on the living conditions of our first nations people. We see a lot of stuff. I'm probably one of the most experienced inspectors, FNNBOA member, in the field. There are 132 first nations in Ontario. I've worked on a 128 of them. I've travelled from Labrador to British Columbia in the last 20 years doing training courses, and I've dealt with many first nations in between.

In 1974 we started an Indian inspection unit in Ontario. It was a pilot project put together with funding mostly from Indian Affairs and some funding from CMHC. Then in 2003 we started FNNBOA, the First Nations National Building Officers Association. In the first five years we couldn't spend all of the money you guys gave us in both organizations. After five years, we get crumbs. We have to fight for our money. Right now, I think FNNBOA gets about—

11:10 a.m.

John Kiedrowski Project Manager and Consultant, First Nations National Building Officers Association

On a project base we get $100,000.

11:10 a.m.

President, First Nations National Building Officers Association

Keith Maracle

We get a $100,000 on a project base, but we have to complete the projects and stuff like that and get this stuff done.

It's really different.

I've seen some really good stuff out there, but there's some really bad stuff too. I find the really good stuff is in the larger first nations. They had the infrastructure, the people, the money to do this.

When we get into the smaller first nations, they don't have the infrastructure. They try to build with the subsidy given to them by CMHC and the department. That's when the houses start to become in pretty bad shape.

I talk with community members as I go around. They are no different from the people sitting in this room. All they want is a comfortable house to live in. They don't want to have to fight for it. They want to be able to build this house, to be comfortable with it, to raise their families in it, and to move on from there.

I'm going to let John speak for a minute.

11:10 a.m.

Project Manager and Consultant, First Nations National Building Officers Association

John Kiedrowski

One of the issues facing fire codes in first nations is the role of authority having jurisdiction. For example, the City of Ottawa is the authority for any construction that takes place within its boundaries, and that includes a number of inspections. You have to apply for building permits—it doesn't matter if it's new or renovated—and you have a series of inspections that take place. The plans are reviewed by building departments in consultation with fire people at the same time.

What happens in first nations is.... The concept of authority having jurisdiction was introduced in 1983, when Indian Affairs downloaded a lot of the construction practices to first nations. They said, “Here you go. You are now the authority having jurisdiction.” One of the challenges we find is that a lot of the first nations don't really understand what authority having jurisdiction means when it comes to fire codes specifically. Fire codes relate to renovations, whereas building codes are for new construction. When there is a renovation, there are no inspections, no plans, no processes taking place. What happens if you have a home that's being renovated is that it's done on an ad hoc basis, with no inspections and not really in accordance with any fire codes, in many cases.

If you have new construction, chiefs and councils are the builders, at the same time as they are the inspectors. It's basically a case of the fox looking after the hen. What happens is that the first nations don't really have an inspection process. Inspections are done for a progress payment, but not necessarily to make sure they are meeting both fire and building codes. What you have is homes being built but not necessarily meeting building codes or fire codes, especially on renovations.

While the band council may own the home, tenants sometimes go ahead and do their own renovations. They might rewire, put in an additional heater or wood source, or make some amendments without really talking to the chief and council, because they probably wouldn't approve it, since they don't have the money to rebuild. Authority having jurisdiction really causes concern.

Let's look at some of the key points of why that happens. We have eight or nine different points. One is that many don't believe building permits apply to them. They believe that all inspections are the responsibility of the federal government, CMHC and INAC. There is also the issue of treaty rights on housing. Heating sources that are being installed are not necessarily to WETT certifications. There are a number of reality checks that don't happen on reserve but happen off reserve. Those same checks and balances need to be incorporated into chiefs and councils.

We have some final points. Go ahead, Keith.

11:15 a.m.

President, First Nations National Building Officers Association

Keith Maracle

We currently give presentations on housing authorities across Canada. We provide information and have a booklet on that. We have homeowner maintenance courses for tenants and stuff like that. We work on things like that across Canada.

We work with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association to try to address some issues. Also, we've developed a checklist for tenants and other people to go through and see how their house is doing and what needs to be repaired.

Did we make it?

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You made it. Thank you. You are very co-operative. I appreciate that.

Next we have the Tk’emlúps First Nation, or is it an association?

11:15 a.m.

Viola Thomas Councillor, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc

It's a first nation.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Viola is a councillor for the band. Welcome. We are happy you made it to Ottawa. You've had a long trip.

Are you breaking our equipment?

11:15 a.m.

Councillor, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc

Viola Thomas

It's an emergency situation.

11:15 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Okay, tell us all about it.

11:15 a.m.

Councillor, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc

Viola Thomas

First of all, kukwstsétsemc to the Algonquin nation for their continued generosity in allowing us to be on their unceded territory.

I want to say kukwstsétsemc, Madam Chair, to you and to each of the members of the committee for providing us with the opportunity to share our reflections regarding the emergency incidents we experienced within our community and nation. I want to share a little bit about our people and our territory because it's relevant to how you respond to emergency situations.

The territory that I come from has a lot of ranch lands. It's semi-desert. The Kamloops Secwépemc is one of 27 distinct tribal nations in British Columbia. We have the most diverse indigenous languages and culture in the country. The Kamloops Secwépemc actually translates as “people of the confluence”. We have the North Thompson River and the South Thompson River that flow through our land. In terms of animals that are unique to our territory, we have mountain sheep, whitetail deer, and rattlesnakes. We have lots of ranchers. In fact, we actually have a ranch in our community. We also have a lot of distinct grasslands that you will not find anywhere else in the country. It's unique to our territory.

Our people are referred to as the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc nation. We are part of 17 distinct communities that make up Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc nation.

Madam Chair, I want to share with you today reflections on our response to the emergency preparedness and the challenges that our community faced. I want to start off with May of 2017. We had major flooding that occurred within our community. We never received any adequate support from the province or the federal government to respond to those flooding incidents. Many homes were flooded. People are still waiting for compensation and a response from the authorities regarding the impact that the flooding had within our community.

The emergency operational centre was not operational when the flooding occurred, so there was absolutely no contact from Canada or the province when that emergency situation evolved. The only person we had contact with was the local fire chief.

There was so much damage, and not just done to the homes, but also to many of our roads. Our community is right across the river from the city of Kamloops. Our main reserve is 49 square miles, so it is a very large land-based community. We have an industrial subdivision within our community. We have a lot of leased lands and sublessees in our community.

We require greater infrastructure for fire protection. We have a dire need to build an additional reservoir in our community, so that should another fire break out we have access to adequate infrastructure to respond efficiently to that kind of emergency.

We've approached Indian affairs for the past three years to seek that infrastructure support funding and been denied every year for the past three years. That is the continuous challenge that we face.

Also, the emergency plan that is currently laid out is so outdated. We need to be able to work with Canada and the province to update that emergency plan. It doesn't have proper mapping, for example, and that sort of thing.

We also had to hire equipment operators to deal with bringing in emergency materials, such as sand. There was no formal process for repayment. We have to do that out of our own ways and means.

The cost of damage to houses is $54,657, and some of them are CMHC low-rental units. There is no new money for addressing that.

During the wildfire emergency situation, we had the same experience with no contact from Canada or the province. We took in a number of evacuees. We had over 5,000 evacuees that we put up in our own community. It wasn't until about three weeks later that we finally had contact with Canada and B.C. to try to access support for indigenous evacuees, as well as non-indigenous evacuees.

We housed lots of livestock from neighbouring communities. Once again, there was no reimbursement for any of those costs to help out. Individuals were still fighting Canada to get the adequate reimbursement for those situations.

Two weeks ago, we had a gun incident right across from our school. There was poor communication from Canada once again when we had to resolve that. It traumatized our children because it happened right across the road from our school, which is an elementary school from kindergarten to grade 7. It was a beautiful day. The children were outside playing when the gunman came through our territory.

Therefore, I think there's a real need for effective coordination and communication, both from Canada and B.C., to work with first nation communities to better respond and coordinate our efforts for the safety and protection of all human beings, regardless of residency or race.

I urge this committee to address the ineffective coordination efforts on the part of Canada and B.C.

I will leave all of my material with the clerk so that it will be tabled with the committee.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Very good.

Our final presenter is Chief David McDougall from Manitoba, representing St. Theresa Point First Nation.

Welcome.

11:25 a.m.

Chief David McDougall Chief, St. Theresa Point First Nation

Good morning. Thank you for this opportunity to present to your committee.

To start, I'd like to introduce you to the area where St. Theresa Point First Nation is located. It's in northeastern Manitoba and part of the three communities on Island Lake. Island Lake is a lake full of islands that's about 80 kilometres long by 40 kilometres wide going east to west. There are three communities on there. St. Theresa Point has about 4300 members on its band list. Garden Hill probably has about 4,600. Wasagamack has over 2,000. Red Sucker Lake has about 1,200 or more. Nevertheless, there are 12,000 to 13,000 people who are registered treaty first nations people. We are accessed only by air and have access to winter roads, ice roads, for about six weeks now, due to climate change.

What we want to highlight in this presentation is that, as you know, at St. Theresa Point, where I'm from—I cannot speak for the other communities, but I can allude to their involvement in the whole experience—we have an emergency response protocol. This is due to having experienced three major fires coming through the community. In one case, five residential houses burned down.

If I may add at this point, MaryAnn, one of them that burned down happened to be Judy Klassen's house.

So, we have some experience in handling situations like this.

I'd also like to add that way back in 2007, or around that time, we had the H1N1 crisis, and it occurred right across this country. I guess the focal point was at St. Theresa Point. We had to do emergency measures.

We have a protocol that was triggered when the fire started coming toward Wasagamack First Nation because we knew there was an imminent threat from smoke. The forest fire erupted on the north side of Wasagamack First Nation early in the afternoon of August 29, 2017. The wind was coming from the north-northwest direction. A smoke plume quickly arose in the sky and developed into a vast, dark smoke cloud that passed through the sky above St. Theresa Point. The smoke developed energy, and lightning was observed emanating from it.

A forest fire, assisted by a strong breeze, approached Wasagamack First Nation and forced a full evacuation of the community members. The Wasagamack First Nation was evacuated to St. Theresa Point, about six kilometres to the southeast of Wasagamack. The only airport in the area is on an island across from the mainland of St. Theresa Point. The Wasagamack people were assisted by St. Theresa Point First Nation people, who accommodated them at the high school gym and middle years school gym. We also assisted in transporting them in using a barge, a pontoon boat for medical, and also another larger craft for medical evacuations. We also commandeered 16-foot Lund boats from the community—I think about 10 of them—and we assisted in bringing in people from Wasagamack. There were 917 people at both school gyms. We also deployed our school buses to take them from the dock to the school gym. Initially, people were transported to the airport island, and there were 197 people who spent the night at the airport.

With all this happening, we did assist in the evacuation of Wasagamack, and we used our resources to do this. We have been urged by the Red Cross and Indian affairs to submit billings for reimbursement and also for payment for use of these resources or assets.

The health centre and all the St. Theresa Point staff put in their work time after hours to assist in the fire and smoke emergency.

The Wasagamack people were put under a general evacuation order, meaning everyone had to leave for St. Theresa Point. An evacuation coordination unit was established at the first nation office and monitored by the evacuation supervisor. The health centre put together a health priority list that outlined persons with urgent health issues, such as the elderly, newborn babies, chronic needs persons, asthmatics, cardiac patients, etc. They were categorized into priority one, or P1s, priority two, and priority three categories. These were the people who needed to be evacuated after the Wasagamack people had been evacuated the next day, even though the evacuation began the same evening.

St. Theresa Point first nation began evacuating P1s and their families as early as the evening of August 30, 2017 and into the next day, August 31. The number of evacuees totalled over 1,000 people from St. Theresa Point. The first nation leadership had refrained from the beginning to send P2s due to the smoke situation being manageable at St. Theresa Point. We stayed in contact with the Manitoba Conservation unit in the Stevenson Island detachment, and the first nation monitored the situation and was prepared to mobilize P2s if necessary. The first nation sent administrative staff to monitor.

St. Theresa Point first nation's medically challenged people were assigned to the sports complex and convention centre to sleep in dorm-style army cots in Winnipeg. This quickly became an issue, because people were subjected to hardship from the accommodations and care. We set up a unit at a hotel as a base camp for the people of St. Theresa Point. From there, the evacuees were eventually set up in more comfortable accommodations in hotels, thanks to the work of our people.

At this time, back in the Island Lake region, the forest fire continued to present spot fires and strong smoke over St. Theresa Point, creating uncomfortable air to breathe. Most P2s and P3s were required to stay indoors until action could be taken, if the fire erupted again. Cooler temperatures prevailed.

The nearby community of Garden Hill First Nation, 10 kilometres to the northeast of St. Theresa Point, was mainly covered by dense wood smoke from the forest fires to the northwest of its community. They had evacuated due to the heavy smoke covering the community, and people attested that you couldn't even see across a 50-foot clearing to the road. That's how dense the smoke was at Garden Hill.

Most of the Garden Hill first nation people had to be evacuated due to the intense blanket of smoke. When the sky cleared, the conservation sent for professional forest fire workers from British Columbia and other areas in Canada. The teams began controlling the fires by establishing fire lines and starting fires to control existing fires. Chiefs and councils, with the help of Canada conservation, chartered helicopters and small planes to inspect the burned sections to the north of Island Lake. The conservation officers explained that the expanse was covered with burned forests, and community leaders flying in the aircrafts observed the extent of the forest fire. It stretched as far as the eye could see into the northern direction, and all of the natural destruction was observed. Seventeen square miles had been destroyed, land once used by first nations to supplement diet and continue traditional activities such as camping, hunting, fishing, etc.

During the evacuations, there were over 1,100 people from St. Theresa who had been evacuated to Winnipeg, and these were all P1s. Also, there were over 1,200 people from Wasagamack, as many of their members were away from the community at that time during the summer. From Garden Hill, there were 2,900 people who were evacuated.

Coincidentally, at that time—I verified this through the department—there were over 900 people from Poplar River who had previously been evacuated from the east side of Lake Winnipeg. There were over 6,000 first nation people evacuated to the city of Winnipeg due to the wildfires. Throughout this time, they had to endure the situations at the emergency centres, and there was no state of emergency declared by the Province of Manitoba.

Also, for the expenses that were documented, the Red Cross would get pre-approved expenditures from the department, but for St. Theresa Point and other first nations, we've had to take our chances with submissions after the fact.

I just got word on one claim for about $121,000. The letter said it was glad to inform us that $71,000 had been approved. Where do we get the rest of the $50,000? I guess we have to eat that up from our existing budgets that are already strained.

I want to make that last note on what's happening now. We're putting in our submissions to claim for expenses in dealing with the wildfires.

Thank you, everybody, for listening and giving me the time.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

It's a very short time when you have such a big story, with over 6,000 people being evacuated from a remote area. Thank you so much.

We'll get into more of the details through questions from MPs, starting with MP Bossio.

November 9th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you, Chair; and thank you all for being here today.

It's great to have Keith Maracle here today. I've known him for a number of years. I really have to commend him for founding and advocating on behalf of FNNBOA, the First Nations National Building Officers Association, over all these years. It has made a difference in many indigenous communities that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Thank you so much for that.

First, why did you see the need to establish FNNBOA?

11:35 a.m.

President, First Nations National Building Officers Association

Keith Maracle

The need to establish it was the fact that we have all these programs in place and everybody was treating them differently. My colleagues in Manitoba were being treated different from the ones in Ontario and B.C. in everything, even though we were all supposedly working under the same requirements. We couldn't exchange information, because what they were doing I'd never heard of, and what we were doing, they'd never heard of. Finally, a bunch of us got together in Ottawa at CMHC and said we had to try to get this all in one spot and everybody on the same page. That was the driving force behind it.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

In doing so, you have created a certain level of fire safety in a number of indigenous communities, but not for enough. As you say, amongst the building officer side, there's no consistency across the country. Do you see the creation of a fire marshal bringing that consistency across the country in trying to deal with the lack of a legislative framework, the lack of fire safety codes across the country within indigenous communities, and the lack of the ability to even use the fire marshal within the provincial areas? Would you like to speak to that?

11:40 a.m.

President, First Nations National Building Officers Association

Keith Maracle

We need some coordinating body such as that, because as in the story that the gentleman just related and the lady just told us, who coordinates this type of stuff for our first nations people? Nobody does. It goes by the wayside.

I run into that all the time as I travel the country: “Oh, you guys are federal jurisdiction, so the province doesn't have anything to do with you,” or “That's a provincial issue and it doesn't apply on reserve.” We get that all the time. There's still that big division out there, an “us and them” type of thing. They say, “All you first nations people are a federal responsibility”, so it stops when we get to provincial borders and there's nobody to pick it up on the other side.

I'm not saying they have to be our responsibility. I don't really care. All I know is that somebody needs to start having our best interest at heart here.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

John, you're the feet on the ground in this. What difference do you see a fire marshal making?

11:40 a.m.

Project Manager and Consultant, First Nations National Building Officers Association

John Kiedrowski

I see a fire marshal being quite positive. I've talked with Richard and Blaine on this issue on many occasions. The real challenge is this whole authority having jurisdiction. If you take the concept of the authority having jurisdiction, any fire deaths or fire injuries as a result of the buildings is squarely on the shoulders of the chief and council. What we find quite interesting is that all of a sudden it becomes a comparable challenge in terms of fire deaths and the responsibility of the chief and council. So the fire marshal will be in a good position to help further provide information to councils on the authority having jurisdiction, what this means in terms of responsibility, and making sure that everything is built in accordance with building and fire codes.

Right now, there are no technical specification standards. We have a building code and we have a fire code. What happens in a lot of first nations is that there are no technical standards for the councils to follow up.

11:40 a.m.

President, First Nations National Building Officers Association

Keith Maracle

Just to follow up on that, most reserves are under part 9 of the national building code, which only requires one door in a residential building, whereas the fire code requires two. There's a conflict within those codes.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Has FNNBOA—and I know you've been talking to Blaine and Richard—been consulted directly on the creation of this fire marshal's office?

11:40 a.m.

Project Manager and Consultant, First Nations National Building Officers Association

John Kiedrowski

We've had input from him on the discussions, so we probably all know what's happening there.