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

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you.

Ms. Gabriel.

6:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Ellen Gabriel

I think of language, culture and land, something combined that reflects indigenous peoples' identity and the ancestral teachings that talk about the land. As we're living in these uncertain times, with climate change being a very real issue whether you're living up north or down south, our lives have been impacted. We need to bring down the barriers that the provinces put up in not respecting our indigenous academics' ability to help us change the education system to decolonize it. A lot of walls have been put up by Quebec over the years, and I've experienced them. Our indigenous academics have a lot of things to share, as do our elders, and we don't need to have letters behind our names to be good teachers. We have elders who can teach the language and the teachings.

It's also about relationship sharing. If we're talking about battling racism, we can teach that to the youth. For everything we do in society, the youth, the elders and everybody in between need to work as one team. I don't think that works in education. I think we have a very isolated, very compartmentalized form of education. As our ancestors said in the 1960s and 1970s, we need indigenous control over indigenous education. I think that's what we need to start working on, with the full and effective participation of the provinces and the federal government.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Ms. Gabriel, I would like you to comment on what you feel UNDRIP would do for us if we were to implement it in Canada.

6:30 p.m.

As an Individual

Ellen Gabriel

The UN declaration is that framework of reconciliation, and not only for the settlers of our society but for us as well. We understand that this is what makes us Onkwehon:we; this is what makes us indigenous people. That land is part of this. It's the songs, the energy sharing, the respect that what we're doing today will impact people seven generations from now. Those are the things that we need to start considering. We should not let Eurocentric views further impact our education system.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That brings us to the end of your time, Mr. Battiste. Thank you.

We'll now go to a two and a half minute round of questions. I have Ms. Michaud and Ms. Qaqqaq.

Please go ahead, Ms. Michaud, for two and a half minutes.

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First, I would like to thank the witnesses.

My question is for Mr. Cardinal.

Mr. Cardinal, I would like to say a few words about the divide in the regions. You touched briefly on this subject earlier when you brought up the third example. You said that members not living on a reserve do not have access to federal support, and that this particularly affects them in times of crisis.

Could you tell us more about that?

6:30 p.m.

As an Individual

Éric Cardinal

Everywhere, but especially in the regions, First Nations people live either in communities—on reserve, as they say—or outside of them. They receive services from either the provincial or federal government. So there is already some confusion, sometimes, as to who should provide services to members of certain First Nations. With the current crisis, members are looking to their government, which in most cases is the First Nations council. The council has to ensure the health and safety of its members, which creates competition of sorts between governments. Ultimately, it is a question of resources, especially financial resources.

The people of La Nation Micmac de Gespeg, as I mentioned, do not live on a reserve because they do not meet the criteria of the Indian Act and that means they do not receive the financial support that other First Nations receive. Therefore, the council cannot help its own members. These First Nations members are then referred to other forms of government support—provincial, municipal or federal. This is a major challenge right now, in my opinion.

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

How can we rectify this problem? We talk about recognizing the council and that form of government. Of course, the crisis underscores this difficulty, but it was there long before the crisis.

What should the government do to help these people who are not sure where to turn at this point?

6:30 p.m.

As an Individual

Éric Cardinal

To the question of recognition we must add the question of concrete resources.

It is a pervasive issue: because of the way government works, it is very difficult to recognize First Nations self-government. Not only do we have to look beyond the Indian Act, but we also have to go even further. It takes a truly political relationship between federal officials, governments, and First Nations representatives.

Your role as a committee is very important, and I thank you for the work that you do. It is useful right now.

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you very much.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you.

Ms. Qaqqaq, you have two and and a half minutes. Please, go ahead.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Matna. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As always, thank you to all of the interpreters and the IT team. Thank you to all of the witnesses for being here and sharing your experiences and valuable knowledge.

My questions will be for Mr. Watt. I'm going to ask that you to stick to about a minute if you can, just because of my time crunch.

One of the real challenges we face in Nunavut when it comes to safely delivering education during the pandemic is the Internet connectivity in our communities. Can you discuss how your organization has been able to overcome these challenges? What further supports would you need if the pandemic extends into the fall?

6:35 p.m.

President, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq

Robert Watt

[Witness spoke in Inuktitut and provided the following text:]

Nakurmiik, apirsutitsiaratarmi apirsukavinnga.

[English]

We have not resolved anything when it comes to broadband Internet. High-speed is very slow. We definitely need support. We need to have the federal government—both governments—work on this because my connectivity here is already a challenge. I've been disconnected [Technical difficulty—Editor].

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

It's disconnected now.

Perhaps, Ms. Qaqqaq, you could move to another questioner.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Yes, absolutely.

This question will be for Mr. Williams.

Can you talk about the impact around not having enough indigenous voices in the classroom, and what indigenous education could look like?

6:35 p.m.

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

Elijah Williams

The impact of not having many indigenous students within the classroom is that, when they are in the classroom, they're usually the ones being called on to be almost the voice of all indigenous people. It creates an unreasonable burden on the student to speak truth to the discussion that's going on. When a student is educated within their own community, they're not faced with that same challenge. We have to do something about re-educating our staff in terms of the experience of indigenous people, but also about supporting communities in terms of allowing them to determine education for themselves as well, because we have the system developed. It's a matter of working together.

What we know from indigenous students in the classroom is that they usually experience more racism than anyone because of those questions. Sometimes they are stereotypical or outright racist, depending on the topic.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much.

We'll go to a five-minute round now. I have Mr. Vidal, Mr. van Koeverden, Mr. Viersen and Mr. Powlowski.

Mr. Vidal, you have five minutes. Please start.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My first question is going to be for Mr. Williams. Before COVID hit, I had the opportunity to have some ongoing discussions with some people at the University of Saskatchewan on their approach to indigenization on campus and how they're trying to build that presence within their own campus. I'm interested in hearing about the programs that your college was using before the pandemic began that were very successful in indigenous engagement. Maybe even refer to those 51 graduates you talked about. Congratulations for that.

What programs are engaging indigenous people very successfully?

6:35 p.m.

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

Elijah Williams

We have our elder in residence program, which was successful in terms of bringing the culture to campus. Students will have access to an elder, and if they are far from their community, our elder reminds them of their own community. We do vigorous student engagement supports and personally call all students to check in on them at the start of term and end of term, and even after the next term to see if there's anything we can do if they're on academic probation or suspension.

In terms of our strategy, we have adopted three things that we're going to focus on for the next four to five years. The first is understanding the truth. Our whole learning community has to understand the truth of what has happened in the past. Quite frankly, it explains a lot of what is happening right now. The second is an unwavering commitment to supports for students, so increasing our number of indigenous staff and access to spaces. The third is redeveloping our curriculum, so really re-examining every single program in terms of where we can include indigenous content and where we can make sure there's proper representation, especially for critical programs like nursing, community, justice, law and a lot of health programs.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you for that.

I'm going to move to Mr. Watt, and maybe I'll come back to you, Mr. Williams. I'll see how much time I have.

Mr. Watt, in your presentation you talked about on-the-land education, and I will quote from your recommendations. In your brief, you wrote:

The Inuit culture and identity cannot be dissociated from the territory. On-the-land education programs and activities offer unique educational opportunities that connect youth to their language, identity and communities.

Here in northern Saskatchewan the term we use is “land-based learning”, which I think sounds very similar to this, in which we're trying to connect youth to the culture and to their history.

Can you just elaborate a little bit on the on-the-land learning, what it looks like and what makes it effective in educating young people?

6:40 p.m.

President, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq

Robert Watt

Just recently a group of students went out on the land, where they got a chance to tap into their Inuit rites of passage.

I find way too often we separate our Inuit rites of passage from western education. Inuit rites of passage are very similar to a form of learning and I believe right now we have an opportunity to bridge western education with Inuit knowledge, which is our Inuit rites of passage.

When I was a young man, I was brought out on the land, and I still remember the skills I learned from that. I think it's very critical to not separate western education from traditional knowledge. I think there need to be ways for one to support the other and for them to complement each other.

In fact, through Kativik Ilisarniliriniq we are creating a new approach, which is called Inuit environmental science, through which we are trying to bridge on-the-land programming with science, so that's where I'm coming from.

Thank you.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

I appreciate that answer.

I am going to jump back to Mr. Williams. I do end up with 30 seconds here.

Mr. Williams, you talked about the success you had pre-pandemic. Given all the stuff that's changed, can you speak to how you see these same programs that you talked about being successful earlier potentially being affected by distance learning and some of the limitations and what this might look like, for you, come the fall, post-pandemic, or maybe not post-pandemic but post the initial phases here that we've talked about.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We're well past time.

Be very brief.

6:40 p.m.

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

Elijah Williams

Just briefly, we're going to have to really adjust what we do, so there are going to be more online presentations with elders or more online events.

We'll make sure we're always available for somebody to call in more quickly.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks for that.

Now we go to Mr. van Koeverden for five minutes.