Thank you, Tom, and thank you, Mr. Chair.
Before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge Elder Mervin Traverse. He's a member of the Lake St. Martin Ojibway First Nation, and a traditional Saulteaux-language speaker. He is also Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's first departmental elder, and he is here today to answer questions that you might have pertaining to this role.
As Tom mentioned, our department has several branches working to support a diverse array of indigenous initiatives. Underlying this work is the need to increase our departmental capacity to work effectively with indigenous peoples, both externally with indigenous partners but also internally with our indigenous colleagues. In 2017, the indigenous support and awareness office was established to increase our capacity to carry out this work. It has has done so through a variety of methods, such as supporting indigenous recruitment and retention within our department, providing full-time elder services, developing a tailored indigenous awareness learning series for the department, and supporting research projects and partnerships with indigenous communities.
Supporting the recruitment and retention of indigenous employees requires consistent and long-term efforts. To that end, the indigenous student recruitment initiative was launched in February 2016, to offer indigenous students valuable experience and knowledge of the careers available within the public service, and to encourage the pursuit of an education and career, especially in the science and technology disciplines where indigenous peoples have historically been, and continue to be, underrepresented.
Since its launch, a total of 103 students have been hired through the initiative and many have stayed on part-time through the school year, as long as it does not interfere with their studies.
Our department conducts significant outreach to promote knowledge of our indigenous student recruitment initiative within indigenous communities, which is done through various means such as presentations at friendship centres, tabling at career fairs and community visits. Through these efforts, to date roughly 3,500 indigenous students have been consulted about our initiative.
Once hired, students are offered support for the many activities of the department's indigenous network circle, one of the department's five employee diversity networks. Each network has an assistant deputy minister champion, and I am the champion of the indigenous network circle.
The indigenous network circle is a networking and support service for indigenous employees and students that also serves as a platform for enhanced awareness and appreciation of indigenous people and cultures. The work of the indigenous network circle concentrates on three main areas: raising awareness of first nations, Métis and Inuit cultures; recruitment, retention and professional development of indigenous employees and students; and organizing cultural activities for all staff.
I would like to now discuss Elder Traverse's role within the department.
We are the first federal department to have a full-time elder on staff. Since Elder Traverse has joined us, other departments are looking at doing the same. Elder Traverse has roots in the public service, with over 28 years of service at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency prior to joining our department in September of 2016.
Elder Traverse's role in our department has four broad responsibilities: first, to provide an indigenous perspective within the department; second, to serve as an indigenous liaison, whereby Elder Traverse helps to facilitate partnerships with indigenous communities and businesses; third, to provide cultural and emotional support to indigenous employees within the department; and, finally, to raise cultural awareness within the department through various cultural awareness sessions that are made available to all of our employees.
Elder Traverse's presence has been a significant contribution to the department's greater effort to reconcile with indigenous peoples and is a key reason why the department has been recognized by Mediacorp and The Globe and Mail as one of Canada's best diversity employers for the past two consecutive years.
The next topic that I would like to address is the development of a tailored indigenous awareness learning series for the department. The driver for this initiative is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 57, which calls upon all Canadian governments to provide professional development and training for public servants on the histories and cultures of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.
This series will include both formal and informal learning opportunities through workshops, courses, videos, books, a speaker series and cultural awareness information sessions. The speaker series and cultural awareness sessions are currently underway, while the others are being developed. The bulk of the learning activities will focus on agriculture and the needs identified within the department.
Finally, we support research projects and partnerships within indigenous communities. Our indigenous support and awareness office is working on developing learning materials for our scientists, who plan to collaborate with indigenous partners, and will be organizing a workshop this spring to begin that learning series.
One of our employees, Emily McAuley, a biologist and member of Lake Manitoba First Nation, has done an incredible job serving as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's first indigenous liaison scientist. In this new role, she facilitates scientific collaborations with indigenous partners, our own in-house science and technology branch researchers, and external experts.
In 2018, our science and technology branch also added a new priority for an internal call for proposals that our scientists compete for. They were challenged to develop proposals regarding an area that we entitled, “understanding and supporting indigenous people's cultivated food systems.” Our branch also has several ongoing research projects involving indigenous collaborators, including our living laboratories initiative and other projects, such as the three sisters project, the lingonberries project and the Labrador tea project.