Evidence of meeting #88 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 community.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ryan Day  Chief, Bonaparte Indian Band
Ann Louie  Chief, Williams Lake Indian Band
Tammy Cook-Searson  Chief, Lac La Ronge Indian Band
Ronald E. Ignace  Chief, Skeetchestn Indian Band
Chief Alvin Fiddler  Grand Chief, Nishnawbe Aski Nation
Michael McKay  Director, Housing and Infrastructure, Nishnawbe Aski Nation
John Hay  Fire Chief, Thunder Bay Fire Rescue, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

12:55 p.m.

Chief, Skeetchestn Indian Band

Chief Ronald E. Ignace

We're now looking at setting up a cultural resources and management centre so that we can train our people in the use of fire as well as in the use of revegetation using our traditional plants. I gave the chair two books on that.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Yes.

12:55 p.m.

Chief, Skeetchestn Indian Band

Chief Ronald E. Ignace

I've been using fire, and I've been able to bring back two keystone species that were dormant for 100 years through the use of fire, which is a regenerator.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you, Chief.

The book that we received looks comprehensive, detailed, and is available for committee members. It's a gift to the Parliament of Canada. We want to thank you for that. It will be available for MPs and analysts going forward. We appreciate that very much.

For the final presenters, everyone, I believe, has been informed that we can stay here until 1:20. Is that the agreement? We have a few minutes left. We'll have enough time to hear from you and a very short round of questions after that.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, please go ahead.

12:55 p.m.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler Grand Chief, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Meegwetch.

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to talk about these very important issues.

I want to start off by acknowledging that we are on unceded territory of the Algonquin people. I thank the leadership and the members of that nation for welcoming us into their territory.

My name is Alvin Fiddler. I'm the grand chief for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. The Nishnawbe Aski Nation represents 49 first nations in northeastern and northwestern Ontario, on Treaty No. 9 and part of Treaty No. 5 land.

Loss of lives to house fires is something that has hit us hard during the course of our history. I want to mention one community very quickly, which is Mishkeegogamang. Since 1980 they've recorded over 30 lives lost to house fires, and we hear about other tragic incidents that have occurred in our territory over the course of NAN's existence.

One of the things that really shook us up was what happened in Pigangkum in March 2016 in one house fire. In that one tragic event, nine lives were lost. The youngest victim in that house fire was named Amber Strang. Amber was just five months old. Three generations of one family were lost in that one tragic event.

About a month and a half later, our chiefs from NAN gathered in Timmins and they passed a motion directing the NAN executive to launch a campaign named in Amber's memory, Amber's Fire Safety Campaign. They were very direct with us in terms of what they wanted to see. They wanted to see some immediate things happen in the communities to protect our families from house fires.

One of the things they told us to do was to install a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector in every home in the NAN territory. They said to go to every home to ensure—because many of our homes are still heated by wood stoves—that the wood stoves are clean, that they're working properly, that the chimneys are clean, and that there's proper shielding around the walls where the wood stoves are located.

They also identified some long-term issues that they wanted us to work on. These included things like proper infrastructure to ensure that our communities have fire hydrants and that they have access to water in the event of a fire. They wanted us to look at building garages to have fire trucks, and to have trained personnel, volunteers on the ground, who could do this work.

I'm here today with Mike McKay. Mike is our infrastructure director at the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Also with me is one of our partners, Chief John Hay from the Thunder Bay Fire Department.

We recognized when we began this work that we needed partners. We cannot do this by ourselves. We need municipalities, and I'm thankful for John's leadership and help. We need the federal government. We need Ontario to make this a sustainable and comprehensive campaign. It has to be a permanent campaign. It cannot be just a one-year, two-year, or three-year campaign. It has to be permanent, because the threats are there every day in our communities because of the way our houses are built, because of the way they're heated, and because of the general living conditions in our communities.

The risks are high and we see that in the stats. There are 10 times more lives lost in our communities than in the rest of the country. So the threats are real. The issues that we submitted to you are real.

I wanted to give a few moments for both Mike and John to speak to some of the specifics we are asking you to consider as members of the standing committee. We need your support to make this a sustainable campaign. It has to be a comprehensive one. We need buy-in from all parties. We need support from everyone to ensure this works for our communities. We have a detailed plan. I'm not sure if any other region in the country has that, but we're organized; we're ready. We have the capacity. We will need some help to continue to build our capacity in our communities, but we are ready to roll this out, because it's very important to us.

It's very difficult to go to one of our communities and go to a funeral. I remember when I was in Pikangikum for that. There were nine caskets in the church. The smallest one was Amber's. It's at those moments that you have to say to yourself that something needs to change. We cannot lose any more lives.

The fundamental issue that I find in our communities is the lack of standards, the lack of any type of code for our communities to meet. I was at a meeting just this morning with Minister Ralph Goodale on policing. Again, it's lack of standards. Everything is program-based. These programs are endangering the lives of our communities, and in some cases, killing our community members.

I want to give a few moments to Mike and John.

1 p.m.

Michael McKay Director, Housing and Infrastructure, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Thank you, Grand Chief.

Thank you to the committee for this opportunity today.

I'll just speak a little bit on the Amber's Fire Safety Campaign. We have four pillars in the campaign: education, training, partnerships, and capacity building. With the education piece, we've been working with our partners, for example Fire Chief John Hay, to deliver these fire prevention activities in our first nations. We have 31 remote communities, so it's a little bit harder for our communities and our schools to access that basic education.

One of the things our fire professionals or fire chiefs found is that the schools have never conducted fire drills. That's one thing I couldn't shake off when I heard it. It's unimaginable that our communities are unable to conduct this basic practice. I'm grateful, as Grand Chief Fiddler said, to have these partnerships developed, and they've been great to work with on this. The fire drills lead back to the accountability mechanisms that are not offered in our first nations but are offered in municipalities and urban centres. That's just one story I wanted to share with the committee today.

I'll let John speak now.

1:05 p.m.

John Hay Fire Chief, Thunder Bay Fire Rescue, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Good afternoon, Madam Chair, and committee members.

I'm privileged to be able to offer some comments at this venue, but I'm equally proud to be part of the Amber campaign. I had the opportunity to go to Pikangikum with Chief Fiddler many months after the event. The pall that stills exists in the community, the cloud that's surrounding the people there, is palpable. That trip still resonates with me now. That reinforced my desire to be part of the Amber campaign, to offer up any suggestions I can to them, to support them on a technical basis. I've had 35 years in the fire service—municipal fire service, some wild land interface activities. I think I bring some experience to them as well as some suggestions.

Firefighting capacity in first nations communities is not going to be what Ottawa enjoys or what Thunder Bay enjoys. We have to take that into account when we build resilience into the community for fire safety protection. I think sprinklers in residentials is one way to do that. It's not to save the building. It's to extend the escape time for family members and people who are in the building by up to 10 minutes. That will save lives.

The folks from B.C. who were presenting earlier are not far away from a community that decided to put sprinklers in all their new residential buildings and some existing ones. They have not had a fire death in a sprinklered building since that happened 20-some years ago.

I think it's an opportunity. It's something that should be considered along with enhancing the firefighting capacity, matching up with the needs and the circumstances in the community.

I'm pleased to be before you again, and I look forward any questions.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you very much. The time is so short. I'm sorry for having to limit the amount of time.

We do have to go into questioning. I see that we're not going to have enough time for five minutes each. We're going to have to cut it to four minutes to make it fair.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Chair, can we extend the time of the committee?

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I have a deadline at twenty after, so no.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

That's unfortunate. It doesn't leave a lot of time, Chair.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Yes, but we have a vice-chair here as well, so I don't know if—

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Five minutes? Okay.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

If necessary, we can have Cathy go first if she wants to do the first round of questioning.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Cathy, do you want to go first?

December 5th, 2017 / 1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Sure, Madam Chair, and then perhaps if you have a commitment....

First of all, thank you to all the witnesses. Each one of you had so much to tell us. I too feel it was unfortunate that the bells got in the way of what is our normal time frame.

I think there are two places I want to go to.

First of all, I do have to acknowledge Chief Ignace from my area. One of the reasons I'm so glad he could come and join us is his story about how he introduced some of the cultural pieces. The people were from Mexico, I think, and from all over. I thought it was something that we needed to learn from.

Also, I've worked in the emergency social service centres, and what I realized was that you can quickly train someone to work in those centres. The fact is that we didn't take people from the communities that were being evacuated and say to them, “Listen, you know your people and you know your elders, and it's a two-hour training program, so can we get you trained up so that you can do that work in the emergency support centre?”

Chief Ignace, could you talk a bit about that element?

Then, if I have time, I have a last question for everyone. There has been a lot of talk about the creation of a national indigenous fire marshal's office. I want to hear just quickly from everyone if you support that idea or not.

1:10 p.m.

Chief, Skeetchestn Indian Band

Chief Ronald E. Ignace

I'm sorry. Can you quickly rephrase your question just to be clear?

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

The last part is about the creation of the national indigenous fire marshal's office. A lot of communities have come before us to talk about that as something that should help. More specifically, I think, could you talk about the ability to have a more sensitive reception centre and the ability to share the culture with the people who are fighting the fires?

1:10 p.m.

Chief, Skeetchestn Indian Band

Chief Ronald E. Ignace

Yes, and thank you for that, but I want to say first that when the federal and provincial governments came out and immediately, while the smoke was still billowing in the air, gave $20 million to the cattlemen's association—and we have yet to get any money—we took this to mean that cattle are more important than us Indians. I have to say that.

I wanted to say earlier that we have a proposal I'm putting forward. We're developing a proposal for an indigenous-led environmental and stewardship emergency response education centre that will be open both to our people and to non-native people.

In league with that, we're working with Brinkman & Associates to co-develop a restoration approach that engages a strategy of walking on the two legs of western science and indigenous knowledge for the reforestation and revegetation of non-timber forest products, based on the management of forests for water and not for fibre. Those will include using fire as a traditional management practice and other traditional practices that we've developed down through the ages.

The book I gave you talks about our 10,000-year history. I wrote about our 10,000-year history, going back to the ice age, as to how we lived on our land and managed it. I hope that helps.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

You have 30 seconds.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Have you heard about the proposal that's been put forward around the national indigenous fire marshal's office? Do you support it or not? I need a quick yes or no, given the time.

1:10 p.m.

Grand Chief, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

Yes, we support it. It's in our submission. What we want to insist on, though, is that we be involved in defining the function of that office. We need to be involved in the creation of that office.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Very good.

1:10 p.m.

Chief, Lac La Ronge Indian Band

Chief Tammy Cook-Searson

We also support it , the first nations fire marshal's office which is being rolled out right now. We do support the idea.