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

5:40 p.m.

As an Individual

Éric Cardinal

Thank you, that is very kind of you, Mr. Viersen.

My third example concerns a nation located in the Gaspé Peninsula. It is the La Nation Micmac de Gespeg, whose members do not live on a reserve, much like the members of the Long Point Nation. Members live primarily on the unceded traditional territory in the Gaspé region. Even though the nation has no community to manage, its council still has responsibilities toward members, just like other First Nations governments. The La Nation Micmac de Gespeg applied for assistance from the Indigenous Community Support Fund. It did not ask for much, only $150,000. The government replied that La Nation Gespeg was not entitled to support since it is not a reserve.

However, since the crisis began, the council has been fulfilling its governmental responsibilities toward its members. La Nation Gespeg is asking for support to cover the additional costs associated with managing the COVID-19 crisis. It is being told that it cannot be granted any funds because it does not meet the criteria dictated by a colonialist view of First Nations crisis management. That is a far cry from the nation-to-nation and government-to-government relationship that the Canadian government says it wants to have. This was the third example I wanted to give to show how difficult it is to recognize First Nations governments while managing the COVID-19 crisis.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Mr. Cardinal.

Mr. Chair, I'd like to move a notice of motion right now. I was going to do that right at the beginning of my comments, but I'll do that right now. The motion reads as follows:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee undertake a comprehensive study of the Indian Act, an outdated colonial statute, and the Act’s contribution to systemic racism, women’s inequality, violence, injustice and poverty experienced by First Nations and that the scope of the study include but not be limited to discussing the abolition of the Indian Act and the fiduciary obligations of the Federal Crown to improve the living conditions of First Nations; that the witness list include Ministers and department officials, band councils, band members, individuals, and community groups; that the committee report its findings and recommendations of concrete steps the government can take to the House; and that, pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee request that the Government table a comprehensive response to the report.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That is your notice of motion.

You have about three minutes left in your questioning.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm going to turn to Ms. Gabriel.

In her comments, she talked about how it seemed difficult to enforce lockdown measures around her community. That's totally different from the experience up in northern Alberta. In northern Alberta, typically most communities have maybe two or three routes in, and most of them were barricaded by folks who were monitoring the entrances and exits to the first nation communities.

Was that attempted in your community, or is that totally not feasible, given the location of your community?

5:40 p.m.

As an Individual

Ellen Gabriel

After three centuries of chipping away at our community, it's a checkerboard. The federal government tried to address this after 1990, and because of that there are certain areas where Québécois are living amongst us. There are Mohawks living in what's known as Oka, which is also Kanehsatà:ke.

When the checkpoints went up to protect the community from, as I said, this free flow of people who didn't want to stay home and who were coming into our community, there was support at first from the mayor of Oka. That quickly changed to, "Well, we have to open up the economy."

This whole mindless economy first, that the economy comes before human rights, and before safety and well-being.... There were threats, as I mentioned. It was problematic.

Many of us feel very vulnerable in our community on a daily basis. This has sort of enhanced it because when something happens, we're hesitant to call the Sûreté du Québec because they're racist. Perhaps not all of them, but they're racist. Then, on top of that, we live in a separatist province that has these preconceived notions that we are public enemy number one and that whatever kind of violence is set upon us we must deserve. So these people come in with impunity, whether it's the SQ officer spitting on a person at the checkpoint or a doctor coming in and hitting one of the people at the checkpoint. This is being reported to whom else but the SQ. Who else do we have to report it to?

It's very difficult to maintain security at checkpoints when the people at the checkpoints are not even allowed to ask for ID to determine whether or not someone is an actual resident and can pass through the community. It's neglect. It's a community being vilified and we have racism surrounding us on a daily basis. On top of that we have all of the problems rooted in colonialism that have been happening since forever—three centuries—but that have been really made worse in the past 30 years since the siege.

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you, Ms. Gabriel. We're well over the time.

We'll go now for six minutes to Ms. Damoff.

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.

I'm coming to you as well from Oakville in the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. I want to thank all of the witnesses today for their testimony. I'm going to direct my questions to Elijah because I do want to talk about some of the things he mentioned about post-secondary education.

First of all, congratulations to the Sheridan grads. That's incredibly exciting and please pass on my congratulations. Elijah, you were talking about the support for your indigenous learners at Sheridan. Some of that is the regular funding that they get. I'm wondering if you're aware of any of your students being able to access funding through that $75.2 million. If they were not, what were the barriers to their accessing that funding?

5:45 p.m.

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

Elijah Williams

I'm not aware of any right now because when that funding was announced, many of our students were already pretty much done. When that happened a lot of our students were trying to get home. Some students could not get home, as I mentioned, so they're still living here in Oakville.

We did encourage a lot of our students to apply for the funding for post-secondary support. I think that clarity isn't really there because when I spoke to some of them, they didn't know that their band was supposed to be receiving money to support them while they're in school. I see it as sort of like a broken telephone when these announcements are made.

We're also expecting students who are probably 18, 19, 20, and maybe 17 in some cases. If they don't really know it's out there for them, then how are they supposed to find it? I think communication is really key to that. Simplifying the language is key, because if we're speaking this big government bureaucratic talk, nobody is really going to relate to it and they won't understand what it's actually saying to them.

I think there's also mistrust. I know in some cases some people don't trust the government, unfortunately, so they're not going to access support that way either. However, they would really trust the indigenous centre. If we had more information faster we could say, "Here is what is out there for you and you should really consider applying for that." I think that's where the regional offices come into play. I think there needs to be a stronger connection with regional offices and post-secondary institutions.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

You brought up connectivity, and when we spoke, Elijah, you were talking about the fact that the Six Nations of the Grand River don't have reliable Internet. So you don't have to go to the north for that to be a problem.

Our colleague, Mumilaaq, is unable to join our meetings because of lack of Internet in Baker Lake, but you don't have to go that far for that to be the case. You just go outside Hamilton, Ontario, to Six Nations.

How critical is that connectivity for your students, especially as you are looking at September when you may still be having to give courses online. I don't know if Sheridan has made the final decision.

5:50 p.m.

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

Elijah Williams

It is so critical. About 98% of the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve don't have access to proper Internet. If you do, it's usually about three or five megabytes per second.

It's a shame that this reserve is not up north or not somewhere far off. It's close to the town of Caledonia, to Brantford, Simcoe County, London, Hamilton, and it doesn't have access to proper broadband Internet services. It's not impossible to bring it there, but there is a lack of infrastructure.

If we are still requiring people to go to school in the fall online—and most of our students will be online in the fall, though some programs won't—that's going to be a huge piece for students to access education supports.

The other hat I wear is that I'm on the board of directors for an employment agency. Over 50% of our staff can't work remotely because of where they live on the reserve. They can't access the portals for employment supports for our community.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

One of the missing pieces in all of this that I have talked to my colleagues in the Liberal caucus about is youth voices. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on indigenous youth-led funding being provided and having some of those voices that you deal with as the director at Sheridan being shared with the committee to know what they're looking for in access to funding.

5:50 p.m.

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

Elijah Williams

It is so critical because it opens up another lens they can see it through, as students in 2020, as indigenous learners possibly coming from a reserve, as learners in an urban setting, meaning they are going to bring a different lens to that table. Therefore, I'd say that their voice is really critical and needed.

In making sure the program is effective in what it's aiming to do, which is trying to provide educational outcomes for students, the program should reflect whom it serves, not the other way around.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

You have students not just from the GTA, but from the far north, from all over Canada?

5:50 p.m.

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

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I think that is my time, Chair.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

It is. Very good, thank you.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

You're welcome.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Okay, I'm going to switch to French.

Ms. Bérubé, you have the floor for six minutes.

June 9th, 2020 / 5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank the witnesses taking part in this meeting. I also thank the technicians and the interpreters, whose work is essential to the committee.

I am on the traditional territory of the Algonquin, the Anishinabe and the Cree of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.

Mr. Cardinal, I am very happy you are here. Are you able to draw a parallel between the COVID-19 crisis and the railway crisis in recent months?

5:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Éric Cardinal

That is a good question.

What we learned from the February railway crisis is how complex it is to reconcile the interests of economic development with the Indigenous rights of First Nations over their unceded traditional lands. We are seeing the same in the current crisis. As you know, a very large portion of Quebec is actually located on unceded traditional Indigenous territory, over which First Nations have rights, sometimes even ancestral title, which confers on them a right to the land itself.

Unlike the Wet'suwet'en people in British Columbia, most Indigenous nations in Quebec do not have traditional governments that can oppose the Quebec First Nations band councils, with a few exceptions. Elected chiefs and band councillors exercise both the powers of the band council, those conferred by the Indian Act, and so-called inherent powers, including that of self-government, recognized by Canadian law and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. First Nations councils are therefore governments with powers extending beyond community boundaries.

What we should take away from the railway crisis and the current COVID-19 crisis is that governments need to recognize First Nations governmental authority, not only on the reserve itself, but on a much larger territory, that of the unceded traditional land.

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you.

Mr. Cardinal, since you are also a communications expert, can you give us your opinion on the media coverage of the crisis, particularly as it relates to Indigenous people?

5:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Éric Cardinal

To answer that question, I will go back to the example of the Oka Park situation.

When you look at the media coverage, you can see that the Mohawk council had a lot of trouble getting its message across and explaining that its position was founded on a responsibility to protect its members' health and public health. Many articles and news reports presented the situation as more of a holdover of the land disputes between Kanesatake and the municipality of Oka. Generally speaking, I see the same issues that I raised in my presentation to the Viens Commission, which dealt with the relationship between Indigenous people and certain public services in Quebec.

The most obvious observation, when looking at media coverage of Indigenous people, is the presence of bias in journalism. Personally, I think that biases come in three broad categories: those that can be categorized as ignorance; those that come from cultural differences; and finally, those that are more ideological in nature, which can include racism.

In addition to the biases in the media coverage, Indigenous leaders also have difficulty being heard in the media. We often perceive a kind of indifference towards them, which makes it hard to portray Indigenous issues properly in the media, even if it is in the public interest.

As you know, a few years ago, Richard Desjardins produced a film on First Nations entitled The Invisible People about the Anishinabe.

Indigenous people are invisible in the media and in the public sphere in general, and this is still a very real issue that poses a number of problems. The biggest problem, I feel, is the distorted image that people have of Indigenous people, an image that is strongly influenced precisely by what the media does or does not convey.

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Chair, do I have any time left?

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have two minutes.

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

All right.

After COVID-19, the economic recovery is currently one of the government's priority issues.

Mr. Cardinal, in your opinion, is it also a priority for Indigenous communities?