Evidence of meeting #15 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was students.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Éric Cardinal  As an Individual
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk
Robert Watt  President, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq
Ellen Gabriel  As an Individual
Elijah Williams  Director, Indigenous Engagement, Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support, Sheridan College

June 9th, 2020 / 6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you so much to all the witnesses today, here on site. It's been so valuable.

First I'd like to acknowledge that I'm on the traditional unceded Algonquin and Anishinabe territory in Ottawa, in our nation's capital.

Given that we are fortunate enough to have witnesses who are Inuit or from Haudenosaunee and Mohawk nations, I would also like to acknowledge how I got here, which is indirectly in a kayak, which is an Inuit invention. I'm a white guy from Oakville and the appropriation is not lost on me, but I am grateful for the invention because it has allowed me to explore the world and certainly our country.

My question is around better outcomes in education for indigenous youth.

I'll ask, Mr. Williams and Madam Gabriel, if you could elaborate a little bit on how education empowers and connects youth back to the land and through traditional practices and also provides better mental health and resilience for these youth.

This has been a challenging time for kids across our nation, but certainly even more so for those who were vulnerable prior to COVID-19. We've heard from a lot of kids who have been having a tough time, and certainly from university students heading back to college or university with an uncertain future, so I want to recognize that it's tougher for most of the indigenous youth across the country and I'd like to hear how we can better serve them.

Perhaps I'll ask Ms. Gabriel to go first.

6:45 p.m.

As an Individual

Ellen Gabriel

It's a really good question, and thank you for asking it, Mr. van Koeverden.

One of the things we started here was an adult immersion program for the youth to learn the language. It's a bit difficult now with COVID, because all of our first language speakers are elders and they don't really use Zoom. They're starting to learn.

It is really important for them to learn their history, just as it is for Canadians to learn their own history.

The issue with the land is that a lot of our medicines are on the land. The languages we use are strengthening the relationship of our lands with all our relations. I am a Turtle Clan, so any turtle is my relative in a sense. It links us to our ancestry. It links us to that creation story that we as Haudenosaunee people enjoy. The richness of those stories strengthens our identity. The curriculum we see now is exactly what people have been talking about—that old curriculum of just trying to pass kids through secondary V.

I know Mr. Williams has a lot things to also add and I don't want to take too much time, but I thank you for asking.

6:45 p.m.

Director, Indigenous Engagement, Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support, Sheridan College

Elijah Williams

I would add that what it allows students to do when they do go to school is the exploration of identity.

Many students don't know who they are. They don't know where they have come from. There are some students who have status, but they don't know where they've come from. Our centre provides for those conversations to happen. We make events around that. We bring in different guest speakers. We've had people like Thomas King come in and do a reading of his book.

School allows for that identity exploration. Also, once there is one student who goes, there seem to be cousins who are interested—family members. My nieces and nephews started to go to post-secondary. Once you see a positive example of a role model, you can start seeing yourself in post-secondary because of other students.

This whole transformation is nice to see. From when someone comes in their first year to when they leave, you see how much of a positive impact it has had on them.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Mr. Watt, did you have your hand up?

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

I was just going to ask if Mr. Watt could provide an answer.

I know you are having some connectivity issues, sir, but if you have something to add, we'd love to hear a northern perspective.

6:45 p.m.

President, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq

Robert Watt

Last week, we had an online graduation for our Nunavik Sivunitsavut program, which is kind of similar.... It is exactly like Nunavut Sivunitsavut.

Our students, when they take on that program, get to know their identity. They get to know where they come from. They get to know their history. It is a great platform to get over their culture shock, because all of our students are transported from this region in order to go to post-secondary studies. It's a fly-in community.

I just want to add that once our youth get to know where they come from, their history, they go a long way.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That's a good place to finish—right on time.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you, Mr. Watt.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

I just want to tell Mr. Watt that I had the pleasure of flying through his community once, and I had a day to stop over. Kuujjuak is a beautiful place. Hopefully, I will visit again sometime.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Mr. Viersen, you have five minutes.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses.

I will go back to Ms. Gabriel.

The last time I had the floor, we were talking a bit about having barricades at the entrances to your community.

I'm wondering what it looks like in your community if somebody contracts COVID and has to go to the hospital. Is it possible to be treated in your own community, or do you have to go outside the community? Has a large proportion of the community had to go off reserve for treatment?

6:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Ellen Gabriel

First of all I just want to correct you. They're not barricades; they are checkpoints.

We're 62 kilometres northwest of Montreal. They did some tests on May 29 and 30. As you know, Quebec has the highest number of cases across Canada, with three-quarters of the deaths. We are starting to finally get some help with regard to dealing with COVID.

If they have to leave, they would have to go to Saint-Eustache, which is about a 20- to 25-minute drive. It is very problematic for us to go there. I would prefer to go to Montreal myself.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Basically, have the checkpoints been effective in preventing COVID from coming to your community?

6:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Ellen Gabriel

So far there have been no cases that I know of. Now that the shops are open, I know that could very well change. There are still checkpoints for coming right into the community where we reside. Time will tell whether or not letting people into the community to purchase their products will change that status we have of no cases so far.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Getting gloves and face masks in northern Alberta has been a bit of a challenge for first nation communities, just due to the fact that there are great distances, but the province has been handing them out through the A&W and McDonald's. That seems to be working.

In your community, does everybody have gloves and face masks? If they don't, are they available in your community?

6:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Ellen Gabriel

You can get them at the local pharmacy. That's where most people pick them up. Even then, it took a while for us to get those.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

In your community, Mr. Watt, if I were at your house right now and wanted some gloves and a face mask, how readily available would they be?

6:50 p.m.

President, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq

Robert Watt

You would have to go to our health centre here. They're not made available. I know that in our stores they do have hand sanitizers, but as for gloves and masks right now.... Considering that we did have 16 active cases for a while but they've all recovered, right now we're kind of antsy about getting infected. They're very closed right now.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

It's good to hear that everybody has recovered.

Mr. Williams, with the cohort of students that you deal with on a regular basis, have there been any cases? Has your department been involved at all in handing out masks and gloves?

6:50 p.m.

Director, Indigenous Engagement, Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support, Sheridan College

Elijah Williams

There are no cases that we're aware of, and since we've shut down our schools so there's no access to campuses we didn't have to provide any masks, but we did provide cultural supports when students needed them. If they needed sage or sweetgrass, we sent that to them, but in terms of medical supplies, a lot of students went home back to their communities.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

What about mental health? For many of the people in my community, not being able to hang out together has been a challenge, and I know that for our first nation communities that's also a big part of their life. Have you been hearing anything in that regard?

6:50 p.m.

Director, Indigenous Engagement, Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support, Sheridan College

Elijah Williams

Yes, a lot of people have said that. That adjustment of not seeing people is worse for some people. We make sure that if we do identify someone who is in critical need we'll have counsellors and our student-at-risk and responsibilities officers reach out, and we will also refer them to the first nations mental health and wellness line as a 24-hour support. There is added support, and if they are from a reserve or an urban centre, we do make sure that they're connected to both services that exist.

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you.

We have one five-minute question time now for Mr. Powlowski.

Go ahead, please.

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I think that on this call we have a lot of witnesses who are educators, if I'm not wrong. Certainly, education is probably the best way out of poverty, so it's an important thing for everybody, but there's education that occurs in school and there's education that doesn't occur in school. I've spent a lot of years in university, but apparently not enough to know the difference between when someone is speaking Inuktitut and speaking English.

I would suggest that some of the things I've learned that are most important in life have been things that I have learned when I have not been in school, not just what I've learned in school. In keeping with that, I wanted to ask Mr. Watt about it, because he talked about learning on the land. This seems to me to be an important thing, but I wondered whether that was also offered to non-indigenous people in the community. To me, to see the way the indigenous people traditionally live would seem to be an important learning experience for non-indigenous people in the north also.

6:55 p.m.

President, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq

Robert Watt

That is a good question.

A quick answer is that we are a school board that has a dual mandate, which is to provide education to anyone living in Nunavik and to protect our culture and language.

Any child, any student, any youth who is within our school board has every right to participate in our land programs, so we're open. We are more than open to engaging non-Inuit to participate in any on-the-land programs.