Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
Thank you for inviting me on very short notice to take part in this. If I'd had more notice, I would be there with you in person. Nevertheless, I am pleased to be here to make a presentation on fire and emergency service, something which I'm very passionate about as the chief of the largest first nation population in this country.
I want to introduce Matt Miller, who is with you there. Matt is the Six Nations fire chief and is also the president of the Ontario Native Firefighters Society and the Ontario director of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada. At the end of my presentation, I'd like him to reaffirm some of the statements or make a few comments. Also, since he's there with you, he can assist with any questions you have.
I want to start with some statistics according to an Indigenous Affairs first nations fire protection study for 2010 to 2015, which states that fire losses—that is, deaths, injuries, and destruction of property—in first nation communities, particularly those on remote first nations lands, far exceed those in off-reserve communities. The first nations per capita fire incidence rate is 2.4 times the per capita rate for the rest of Canada. The death rate is 10.4 times greater, the fire injury rate is 2.5 times greater, and the fire damage per unit is 2.1 times greater.
The federal government doesn't know the current exact death toll of first nations fires across Canada because it stopped keeping track of on-reserve fire fatality statistics in 2010. People living on a first nation in Canada are 10.4 times more likely to die in a house fire than in any other community in Canada.
Due to the size and population of the Six Nations community, the statistics are easily seen, as they are amplified because of our size. The Six Nations Fire and Emergency Services Department currently responds to approximately 24 to 30 structure fires per year in the Six Nations community. Without adequate fire protection funding, we will lose more of our people to fire, as we did this past December when we tragically lost a young child who perished in a house fire.
I am now in my 14th year as a member of the Six Nations elected council. I spent nine years as a councillor, and this is my fourth year as the chief, and I have been advocating for sufficient funding for fire and emergency services during all that time. I will continue to advocate for it.
We have also stressed many times that fire and emergency service on first nations communities should be classified as an essential service, which it is. We have always found that there was reluctance on the part of the Government of Canada to classify it as an essential service, as it would change the funding that should be made available.
First nations communities are different from municipalities, which rely on a tax base to fund their fire services. As the first peoples here, we have tax immunity, and we do not levy a tax on our people. Also, section 87 of the Indian Act clearly states that we are “exempt from taxation”.
We are very proud of the Six Nations Fire and Emergency Services, which over the past years has become recognized as one of the outstanding first nations fire services in the country. This is due to the leadership of our fire chief, Matt Miller, who is attending this event today.
Our service focuses on providing the best possible service to our community and continues to work tirelessly in the areas of prevention, education, and firefighter training and development. Not only is our service is concerned with the fire protection that is provided to Six Nations, but it is working to ensure that other first nations, particularly in the remote communities, get the service they need. It was contracted a couple of years ago to work with the northern communities to ensure that fire alarms were installed in homes in some of those communities.
Also, as a revenue generator, our council has worked with the fire service to establish a training academy, which is providing firefighter training to first nations people across the province. I was pleased to attend their first graduating class last spring, and I'm happy to advise that they just finished training in Thunder Bay last week. Although this training sometimes takes our firefighters out of the community, they are quite active in community activities, particularly in the area of fire prevention and education.
Also, in 2014, INAC Ontario region initiated the “be fire safe” smoke and carbon monoxide detector program. The program delivered smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to 41 first nations communities at high risk for fires. In 2016-2017 INAC, through a partnership with the Ontario Native Fire Fighters Society and Six Nations Fire and Emergency Services, initiated a training/mentoring program for those high-risk first nations, which received these detectors for all of their communities.
It was identified during the community visit portion of the 2016-2017 Be Fire Safe program that none of the communities had a properly trained fire prevention officer or fire chief to ensure that fire prevention programs were being delivered regularly and consistently. Inadequate funding support was also identified as a significant issue that did not allow for training or program delivery on a consistent basis.
Recently INAC, through this same partnership with the Ontario Native Fire Fighters Society and Six Nations, initiated the Be Fire Safe program in the southern district first nations. The goal of the training program was to install two combination smoke/carbon monoxide detectors into homes in each of the southern first nations and other non-remote first nations communities. It is recommended that this program continue and be done annually to ensure that detectors have been installed in every Ontario region first nation home and that fire prevention programs are being delivered adequately and regularly in first nations communities.
In addition to these programs, we need to secure funding to enhance existing services, equipment, and infrastructure.
I also want to talk briefly about the emergency services part of Six Nations Fire and Emergency Services. A couple of years ago we had a hazardous waste fire at our landfill here at Six Nations, and it was so bad that we declared it an emergency. We had to bring in a haz-mat team to help clean up, and we incurred a huge cost to do so. We had to expend dollars that we really did not have. It was unexpected and not budgeted for. When the emergency was over, we went both to the province and to the federal government for assistance to cover those costs. The province turned us down with a flat no and said that we were a federal responsibility. The federal government initially told us no, but after much persistence—and those of you who know me know that I am very persistent—we did get them to cover half the cost. That means we are still carrying half of that deficit, and they refuse to this day to cover that. That was two or three years ago.
We are not only concerned with the necessary funding for the equipment, services, training, and infrastructure; we are also concerned for the well-being of our firefighters. In a community such as ours, where everyone knows everyone else, it can be very traumatic for our firefighters to come upon a scene where they, more often than not, may find a family member involved in the incident. We need to do more to assist our firefighters to deal with the post-traumatic stresses they face. If our firefighters are not healthy, they will put our community in more danger.
A few years ago, on a Sunday morning, just after our fire chief began his position, some counsellors and I had a session with them. They were down in the dumps because of insufficient funding. They didn't have the training or the equipment, and because of this they were also suffering from low morale. We knew that we needed to do something, not only to get them more funding but to lift their spirits. We began doing our own fundraising. We started our firefighters' gala, and I am pleased to say that we had our third gala this fall. Through that we have been able to raise money for equipment and training.
These galas have not only been able to raise some funds for our service; they have also lifted the spirits of our firefighters, as presentations of several awards are also highlights of the galas. In addition, the council and the community show our first responders, including our fire and emergency services, our paramedics, and our police service, our gratefulness by providing a first responders' breakfast for them every May 1.
As I said, we have had to resort to fundraising and using our own resources, and it's still not enough. The federal government has the fiduciary responsibility to provide this service, and we think it is time that they stepped up to the plate and provided the funding that we need. Six Nations is the largest populated first nation in the country, and we have joined forces with other large first nations in Ontario. We have found that the federal government operates on a variety of formulas, some of which are related to the provision of funding for fire services. We have been discriminated against by these formulas because of our size, as we have found that many of them cap the population component at 2,000 people. We hope to meet with the Minister of Indigenous Services in the very near future to discuss this, and we would welcome your support in this regard.
Until such time as the first nations fire protection funding formula is updated to adequate comparable off-reserve levels and transitioned to a targeted funding designation, people living in first nations communities in this country will continue to die in extraordinarily high numbers as a result of fires.
I also want to tell you that one area where this government could assist Six Nations with funding is to settle our outstanding land rights struggles. We originally settled on 950,000 acres in the Haldimand tract, but because of actions of the Indian agents of the day, most of our land was sold or stolen or given away, and we were never compensated for it.
We have been in discussions with the government for many years on finding a solution. We have a global solution. If the government were to provide the funding to compensate for the lands that were stolen from us, it would be in the trillions. Since we know that would bankrupt the government, we are proposing a global solution whereby direct transfer payments would be made to Six Nations by the Government of Canada on an annual basis, with an escalator built in every year. If we were able to agree on that, Six Nations of the Grand River would be able to look after all of our needs without being forced to jump through the financial hoops that are always forced on us by the Government of Canada.
We know best what is needed in our community. We know what our priorities are and we know what is needed to make our communities safe. We do not want to lose any more first nations children to fires and we are calling upon the government to ensure that we don't. It is time for the government to let the rest of the country know that first nations lives matter.
Lastly, I want to refer to the Ontario Native Fire Fighters Society, the fine work they are doing, and the strategic plan that they have developed.
On May 3 of 2017, Chiefs of Ontario passed a resolution supporting the Ontario Native Fire Fighters Society and their strategic plan. Although this strategic plan is regionally based to address first nations fire protection issues in Ontario, it is closely aligned with the strategic priorities of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, which is currently working closely with INAC on the creation of an indigenous fire marshal's office.
All of the information in the strategic plan has been provided to Indigenous Affairs on a regular basis for the past 24 months. In that time we have lost 18 first nations people in the province of Ontario, including the child that we lost in our community just before Christmas. This strategic plan will be a living document that serves as both a road map and a guide for identifying Ontario region first nation fire protection issues and will assist in prioritizing actions so that we can assist in further developing fire prevention, fire protection, and emergency services into the future that are comparable to off-reserve levels of service.
The three-year plan represents a commitment to the continued creation of a working partnership with every first nation in the province of Ontario, Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
Furthermore, our continued commitment to partnership is to engage further with both the provincial and federal governments with a shared focus on decreasing the unacceptably high number of first nations fire-related fatalities in first nation communities. This plan is all-encompassing, progressive, and achievable, and I fully support the work that they're doing.
If I have a couple of minutes, I'll turn it over to the Six Nations fire chief, Matt Miller, if he has anything to add.