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Evidence of meeting #15 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was relationship.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Peter Dinsdale  Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations
David MacKenzie  Deputy Minister, Department of Tourism and Culture with Senior Responsibility for Prince Edward Island's 150th Anniversary, Government of Prince Edward Island
Deborah Apps  President and Chief Executive Officer, Trans Canada Trail
Paul LaBarge  Chair, Trans Canada Trail

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, lady and gentlemen. As I forward, I will ask my questions in French.

A couple of years ago, I was still working in a museum in Montreal, Pointe-à-Callière. There was a group of half a dozen First Nations’ people — I believe they were all Iroquois — who came from both Canada and the United States. There was also somebody there representing, let us say, the English, but no one represented the French. I am just giving you a broad description.

These people went from one place to another in Montreal and were looking for sites where various events had happened. I should say that it was a religious group. Their goal was to confront past problems in order to heal. These were healing ceremonies. When they got to the museum, they came as tourists. But then they found out that the museum encompassed a cemetery where French as well as First Nations’ people were buried, whose remains date back to the foundation of Montreal. A dozen First Nations’ people who were catholic are buried there. They started with their ceremony and they called on me as a representative of the French. It was very touching. I was literally crying. However, I already knew the situation. I knew there were problems in the past and that there is a need for healing. However, this is not a knowledge that most people have.

Mr. Dinsdale, you talked earlier about cooperating and working together in order to turn the corner. I believe this is essential, not only for First Nations, but also for the descendants of the Europeans. I know this has already been mentioned, including by Mr. Young. In my view, there are very important projects and legacies. These are not only physical legacies — which are important for the 150th anniversary —, but also social legacies or rather psychological legacies. I already mentioned aspects such as social housing in general. This would be an important legacy of the 150th anniversary. This is what we are looking at in today’s discussion. You said it was difficult for First Nations to tackle certain issues, such as clean water.

However, I have another example. There is a project called Wapikoni mobile. I don't know if you are aware of it. It has been cancelled. It was a grass roots project that tried to establish a foundation for First Nations youth to get back to work, to have a foundation not only to get back into a job, but also to survive. Do you believe this type of program should be put into place and could help the healing and promote cooperation between First Nations and other nations?

9:50 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations

Peter Dinsdale

Thank you very much for the question.

First off, we have such a fascinating history, and we know so little about it. You mentioned the Iroquois group that came out. They were members of the Six Nations, I am sure, most likely Mohawk, given the proximities.

People often say, well, you're first nations, and ask, “Why aren't you Canadians first and why do you have this other concept?” Sometimes I describe the Mohawks around Akwesasne and St. Regis, near Cornwall. They have part of the reserve in Ontario, part of the reserve in Quebec, and part of the reserve in New York State. They have five jurisdictions governing their affairs: Canada; the U.S.; the State of New York; Ontario; and Quebec. So when you ask a young person growing up in one of those communities who they are, they will say, “I'm a Haudenosaunee, I'm Onkwehon:we, I am not Canadian, I'm not American, I'm not Quebec...”. So it's this fascinating history we have of how borders come across somewhat arbitrarily during the history, the dividing of nations.

I know about the project that you're talking about, but not the particular excursion to do some reconciliations. If you haven't read it already, Champlain's Dream is a fascinating history and account of the first foray into Canada and the nature of the relationships, particularly between the Mohawks in what is now New York state and Quebec and this area, and how they engaged. It's part of the history that we don't know enough about.

On storytelling like Wapikoni Mobile's, we actually met with them last year when the funding first was cut. The National Chief wrote a letter of support, I think. The arts more broadly are those that are able to tell the stories we can't always articulate. Their projects had many different functions. One, of course, was employing young people and training them for future opportunities to tell those stories and have them out there. Those, like many arts projects, are incredibly important, and we would support more of them to tell the stories and try to foster that relationship.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Wapikoni is an arts project that aims not only at telling a story but also at developing basic skills, such as following a schedule and that kind of thing. I believe this is very important.

You also talked about self-determination for your governments. How do you view self determination within the framework of the 150th anniversary celebrations? How could your ideas be advanced in order to really reflect what you would like to see, not only during the 150th anniversary but also more generally within your culture?

9:55 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations

Peter Dinsdale

Well, I think the broad framework of inviting first nations of the host areas of your communities but also across Canada--representative of reconciliation and how this country has developed--would be fitting. An appropriate role in the ceremonies, being associated with the ceremonies, is very important in our culture, of course, and in most first nation cultures, as is recognizing each other, the sharing of gifts and of extensions of peace and relationship, whether through treaty or simply through ongoing engagements. I think that would be an important kind of practical opportunity there.

We have traditions of coming together in ceremonies and also socially, like powwows and things of that nature, so it would be a very interesting dynamic to have these kinds of arts and festival relationships engaged as well.

I think a lot of people may come with a little lighter agenda when they come to this committee, particularly for Canada's 150th, and we've reflected a lot about it, about whether we simply talk about the ceremonial events that are incredibly important. This department has some responsibilities around languages, arts, and culture that could certainly feed into this and are critical. I think we also need to put down our placeholders, though, to say, “This is where the relationship is and this is where we need to go”.

I'm a chief operating officer, so I'm very operationally focused. I think we need the bigger thinkers among us to help drive that vision forward, but if we have the framework, it's certainly going to help facilitate a more inclusive relationship. Again, 150 years from now, let's look back and see where we are, and hopefully we won't be seeing the same things on the news.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you.

Mr. Hillyer.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

I have a question for Mr. Dinsdale.

You mentioned something in your introduction which really intrigued me: the idea of investing in the preservation of first nation languages.

I produced a documentary film about the Blood Indian Reserve, which is right by my place. The question that we were trying to learn about was, what makes a difference? I have adopted siblings from the tribe. Their mom died of a Listerine overdose, but her brother is sober, middle income, and teaches Blackfoot immersion; same parents, different situation.

The question was, what makes the difference between the 20% who are like Andrew, who are sober and free, and the people who are in bondage? We found that three elements were present in almost all of the people who were free. They were: they spoke Blackfoot, they were involved in religion of some sort, whether Christian or native, and they had a strong relationship with their grandparents.

We also found that the loss of identity was worse than suffering itself. There was a teenage kid who said: “What the heck is an Indian? I have no idea what that means”. His parents and his grandparents were taken from their communities and taught not just that they were savage, but that they shouldn't even exist. Then, in the sixties and seventies, we came to our senses—whatever that means—and said that the pre-Columbian Indian was a wonderful thing, it's what makes them wonderful. But this kid says, “I can't be that, so my worth is based on something that can't even exist”.

So how can we help first nations people? When you look at roots and people who study their geneology, you see that there is great power in freeing people if they connect with their ancestry. But how can we do that in a forward-thinking way without giving them this desperation of not being able to go back?

10 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations

Peter Dinsdale

Thank you for the question.

I think what you highlight are certainly the impacts of the residential school experience, of that child's grandparents either having successfully avoided residential schools or being able to survive it with the culture intact in some manner, and of that allowing them to be parents and move on. I think that's an important dynamic of what you describe.

I think this idea that our culture is static, that after contact and signing of the treaties in the west, and the plains in particular, with the long headdresses and the teepees...if that's the view of it, then we should fully anticipate that our British brothers and sisters would have powdered wigs and covered carts and that kind of.... Cultures evolve, as our culture has certainly evolved.

With respect to languages, once they're gone, they're gone forever. We can't go back to a homeland somewhere, and reintegrate back into that culture, back into that language. When those cultures die, when the Beothuk died, when other nations die, those languages are gone forever.

We go back to the elders and we ask what should we be focusing on. When we do drug and alcohol programming, when we do employment training programming, why don't we just go to the mainstream institutions...? Because they don't work. If the mainstream institutions worked, then we would have success in these interactions right now. It's about rooting those programs in culture, and the language is in the culture. Our elders say that culture is the language. It expresses world view. It expresses your position in the cosmos. It expresses how you interact with nature. It expresses all aspects of your identity. Once you lose that, where do you go to define that identity? This makes culture so critical.

The push really is to invest in those cultures. You mentioned the Blackfoot immersion program. There's an incredibly successful program in the Six Nations, where they're doing immersion in Mohawk and Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa for their communities. It's really a push that requires support, because it is so tenuous right now. The projection is that of the 50 aboriginal languages now, only 12 are going to survive a generation: what can we do today to stop that? That is a great legacy for Canada: to take this on as a project.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Hillyer.

Mr. Cash.

10 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to our witnesses for being here today.

Mr. Dinsdale, you've been careful to qualify your comments and to state that some of the issues affecting first nations and aboriginal peoples maybe aren't in the purview of this committee. Well, we're spending a hell of a lot of taxpayers' money on meeting to discuss Canada 150. If we're going to do that, it would be good if we could come out of this with some significant recommendations on a legacy that would make a difference, especially in the lives of first nations people.

If we're going to wait till 2013 to guarantee potable water for first nations communities, we'll have waited too long. I think there's an urgency. The concern I have with celebrations is that they can sometimes blunt the urgency of our social issues, especially as they pertain to first nations and aboriginal communities.

The minister has promised that in whatever way this celebration is going to come together, first nations will be consulted. I'd like you to advise us, first, on the best way in which first nations could be consulted, and second, on the governance makeup of the Canada 150.

10 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations

Peter Dinsdale

Consult early and consult often: that's important relationship-building advice. One of the things the Olympics did successfully was to go to various advocacy groups and ask them for help on the planning committee, to join in and bring their ideas forward. There were opportunities for them to plan and carry out their own events. Those are the kinds of things that would make sense.

It's not just first nations, of course; there are Métis and Inuit who should be respected and engaged in this. I would recommend urban peoples and native women as well. There are groups out there that could help support and facilitate where it's appropriate.

It would be outstanding for this committee, in light of Canada's 150th and the bigger picture, to talk about resetting the relationship. You could talk about the tone that could be set. You could talk about the importance of moving forward together. You could talk about supporting ongoing reconciliation across the country. I think all of those things would be spectacular outcomes for this committee in your report.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

If my honourable colleague, Mr. Brown, has an opportunity to ask a question, he may talk about the lack of knowledge of Canadian history in our schools.

Reflecting on that, it strikes me that part of the reason we have a lack of knowledge of our history is that our history is painful. There are a lot of troubling aspects in our history, and the reconciliation process is one way in which we're attempting to approach these issues. With over one million first nations and aboriginal people in this country, and with the population explosion within those communities, we and our country have an opportunity to reset that relationship.

Are you suggesting that as a legacy of Canada 150 we should work towards a fundamental shift in our relationship?

10:05 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations

Peter Dinsdale

Absolutely: I think legacies can be overt and stated and I think legacies can be understated.

When people think of the 2010 Olympics, they think of the participation of first nations, Métis, and Inuit in those celebrations. I don't think there was ever an overt statement that we were going to have these four host nations treated as heads of state, that we were going to have these significant celebrations and engagements—like the first nations torch-bearer program, the legacy fund, or the whole gamut of what took place.

The legacy was the engagement. The legacy was the high profile that these leaders had at the event and the level of engagement that took place. It didn't diminish the Olympic event at all. In fact, I think it elevated its overall perception in Canada and across the world. The legacy can be presented simply through your actions, and I think these would be the most poignant ones to demonstrate in the long term.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Thank you. I have just one--

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

You have about eight seconds.

Mr. Brown.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you to Mr. Cash for reiterating something that's very important to me, of course, which is this promotion of our history.

Maybe I'll start with our friend from P.E.I.

I'm impressed that you're here today. We all know that Prince Edward Island is an important tourism destination, and you're going to be using our history and the development of our country. I've talked about it a bit before. One thing that impressed me with the CBC was the Sir John A. Macdonald program, which ended with 1864.

Maybe you can talk a little bit about how you're going to use the 2014 and the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown conference as an opportunity to promote P.E.I. as a tourism destination and to help promote our history at the same time.

10:05 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Tourism and Culture with Senior Responsibility for Prince Edward Island's 150th Anniversary, Government of Prince Edward Island

David MacKenzie

Thank you very much.

You've touched on the biggest challenge of any anniversary and that is to blend the celebratory components that the public adores and the sometimes hard truth--good and bad--that exists, particularly as part of anniversaries.

I must admit that Mr. Benskin talked about how he likes to learn something every day. I'm just fascinated by what I'm hearing from Peter, because one of the challenges that we have is how to incorporate the first nations into 2014. Basically, they were group excluded from the discussions in Charlottetown in 1864 and 1867, as were women and as were other groups.

We don't have an answer for that yet, Mr. Brown, but the challenge that we have taken on wholeheartedly is how to work with groups to determine the relationship between the haves at that point, in the 1864 and 1867 period, and the have-nots, and how that has changed over the last 150 years. It won't be easy, and the challenge will be to blend it, again, with the party scene that people expect. By working with people like Peter, I'm looking forward to getting the answers to that big question that you asked on the educational role.

I'm positive. We've done a little bit of surveying across the country about whether people know that the Fathers of Confederation first met in Charlottetown, and the knowledge level is extremely low. The federal government's focus on what The Globe and Mail calls anniversary-palooza, I think, is a great step to start thinking about things like the War of 1812, the kickoff of World War I, the 75th anniversary of World War II, etc. Those moments will be important to us, and I think they will help us tell the story of 1864 in Charlottetown as well.

November 29th, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Great. Thank you.

I'd like to get to our friends from the Trans Canada Trail. Back in 2000, I believe it was, you had a relay across the country, which I participated in. Part of the Trans Canada Trail, the Cataraqui Trail, runs through my riding of Leeds--Grenville. It crosses into my riding at Chaffey's Locks. I was at the event and I handed off the water being carried across the country to Dan Aykroyd, who happened to be here a few weeks ago with his father.

I haven't heard a lot about the Trans Canada Trail since 2000. Maybe you can tell us a bit about what's been going on. I didn't realize you had gaps that haven't been completed yet. Maybe you can tell us a little about what's been going on since 2000 when you had that relay. Also, how do you think we can really use 2017 and Canada 150 to help reignite interest in the Trans Canada Trail?

10:10 a.m.

Chair, Trans Canada Trail

Paul LaBarge

After 2000, the Trans Canada Trail was faced with quite a challenge, because a lot of people sort of said, well, that's done, and went off somewhere else. Since then, a lot of rebuilding has taken place on the Trans Canada Trail as far as the organization goes.

One of the challenges of the Trans Canada Trail--the simplest way to phrase it--is that there's a mob of volunteers. Mobs, as you probably gather, are kind of tough to get motivated and get going in a single direction.

Since 2000, we have probably added about 23% to the trail that was completed. More importantly, we now have a robust national network of trail groups that will get us to the completion point. That is probably the short answer to what has happened since 2000.

There are elements we look at. For instance, in that time period, Deborah joined us. We have built relationships with organizations like the Historica-Dominion Institute. We feel that in order for the trail to become truly iconic it has to link our past and our future. With a lot of what you might look at today, we were building the trail on the ground, but also building the infrastructure of the trail in people's minds and getting that sense of local ownership.

We certainly made a great effort and managed to get letters of support from every provincial premier as a part of the trail so the federal government would see that this was a non-partisan effort and something that was reflective of all Canadians. That's where we've been dedicating the bulk of our attention.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Mr. Nantel.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Let me state right away that what Mr. Dinsdale from the First Nations Assembly told us this morning is very important. This was the deepest reflection we heard since the beginning of our hearings on the 150th anniversary of Canada. Mr. Hillyer’s question was especially touching and your answer was just as much so.

Considering all that needs to be done in order to be able to celebrate without being ashamed of what lies in the background, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

I hope the Assembly of First Nations will be widely consulted on the preparation of the celebrations. We cannot help but agree that the Trans Canada Trail is indeed a perfect image. I would imagine there are some repairs to be made but those sections would be fewer than those who remain to be built.

This brings in more of the other aspects by which we could approach 2017 by which I mean carrying out unifying projects. Yours has taken 21 years to reach this point.

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

It started 20 years ago.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

So, now we have reached your 20th anniversary and it is not complete. What kind of support do you expect from Canada 150 in completing the trail? You put forward a very interesting scheme where the government would contribute one dollar for each dollar collected in your funding drive.

So I have two questions. What kind of funding or official participation of Canada 150 for the completion of the trail are you seeking? Do you believe the trail could be used in different ways?

We heard from people here who proposed all sorts of approaches, including getting Canadians to travel. Do you believe the Trans Canada Trail could be one way for Canadians to travel throughout Canada while benefiting, for example, from reduced prices in hotels? Could we envisage that communities along the trail might develop a hospitality infrastructure to allow people to discover Canada?

10:15 a.m.

Chair, Trans Canada Trail

Paul LaBarge

These are very interesting questions.

Let us talk first about funding. Whether it is Canada 150, Parks Canada, Environment Canada or any other agency that provides funding does not really matter to us. If it gets into the budget, yes, that would be fantastic.

I am struck by one similarity, among others, which I believe is essential: in some way, our history is like a thread. The trail is a continuation of that thread. The 150th anniversary is not a stand-alone event. It is about reaching a certain point and continuing on. So it is not a celebration of a day, but a celebration of our existence. This is why we believe that the Trans Canada Trail could indeed be a preferred site for these celebrations. We recognize that we need methods to encourage the use of the trail, whether it be a passport tailored to each region or special hospitality arrangements for travellers. One of our board members who is 90 years old decided to walk a hundred kilometres in each province and territory before dying. And he did. So we need to foster a level of enthusiasm that reflects grass roots values.

So I look at things and I say to myself, frankly, that this is a prime opportunity not only to encourage visitors but also to meet other people on each visit and make new friends. Furthermore, and this is even more important, it is a means to get acquainted with the reality of others. I for one consider myself very lucky to have been able in the course of my career to work all over Canada and I am extremely proud of it. To me, it is an enormous gift. It is beneficial, whether we are talking about Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta of Quebec.

Let's suppose I went to Mont-Tremblant using the P'tit Train du Nord: 500,000 people use that trail every year. Five hundred thousand people are an enormous number! We want to generate this level of enthusiasm and we want it to be the trail that attracts people from one region to another. There is no politics in that. It is simply Canada.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Merci, monsieur Nantel.

Ms. O'Neill Gordon.