Evidence of meeting #16 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 community.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chief Marlene Poitras  Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations
Tom Jackson  Performer, Creative Industries Coalition
Chief Alvin Fiddler  Nishnawbe Aski Nation
Steeve Mathias  Long Point First Nation

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Great.

Chief Fiddler.

11:40 a.m.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

Meegwetch for the question. I think it's an important one as we ponder what that recovery will look like. I would say that in NAN territory we've developed frameworks on the reopening of NAN, what that could look like, but also we're in the process now of developing a framework on recovery. I agree with the points that Chief Poitras has raised.

Some of the MPs who are on this committee have probably heard about the resource development that's happening in NAN territory with the Ring of Fire, a potentially big project. I would remind all of us here who are on this meeting today that a framework has already been provided for all governments in terms of how they should engage with the indigenous community, and that is UNDRIP, on the rights of indigenous peoples. That spells everything out in terms of engagement, consultation and accommodation to make sure that all parties benefit.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'll have to interrupt there. We're well over, and I want to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to ask their questions as well as get the answers, of course.

Next up is Mr. van Koeverden for six minutes.

Please go ahead.

June 12th, 2020 / 11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It's nice to see everybody, and thank you very much for the incredible interventions today. I think I speak for all of us when I say thank you for joining us. This is a really impressive panel.

I'd like to start by acknowledging that I am joining you today from the sacred territory of the Wendat, the Haudenosaunee and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

Chief Mathias, when I did a little bit of research on your community, I saw that your emblem is a canoe, so I also want to acknowledge that I made a name for myself here and abroad with an Inuit invention, the kayak. I like to acknowledge that it's a great boat and a great vehicle, so thank you for that contribution.

My questions today will focus on youth and on how sports and arts dovetail with mental health supports in your various communities. I'd love to hear from everybody, so I'd ask you, if you could, to keep your interventions brief. Then we can hear from everybody.

I think I'd start with Chief Poitras, if I could, to more thoroughly understand how the supports with respect to mental health can be better and more culturally relevant and can create better outcomes for youth with respect to arts and sports specifically.

Thanks, Chief.

11:40 a.m.

Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras

The youth are very important to our society because they're going to be our next leaders. It's really important that we put measures in place that support them in sports, arts or whichever area they want to go into, even if it's leadership.

I believe that the voices of youth are really strong. They're very astute. If you look at the statistics in terms of suicides that have occurred during the pandemic, they say to me that there's a definite need for more funding, resources and supports for our youth going forward.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thanks, Chief Poitras.

Chief Mathias.

11:40 a.m.

Long Point First Nation

Chief Steeve Mathias

The population of our youth is very significant. Just in my community, those under the age of 25 represent 65% of the population. There's not very much opportunity, even in terms of sports. We don't have an arena. We're pretty far from that. We are very lacking in community infrastructure. Investments in that need to be made in our community.

We have to reach out to those kids, to those youths, because information is power. We have to be able to communicate with them. They all go on Facebook today and all of that, so they're there and they really have high hopes to see things happen in our community.

When we're completely dependent on government programs and services, that's what makes it even more challenging for us because the government can announce all kinds of monies, but reaching out and getting those monies is a bigger challenge. Often we don't meet their criteria or we don't even fall under the guidelines, especially for a small community like mine, which is kind of semi-isolated, so we have difficulty accessing funding.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Thanks, Chief.

Mr. Jackson, my dad and I watched a lot of North of 60 when I was growing up but we also watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and when you appeared on that show, it very cool to see a Canadian and an indigenous person represented in space.

Could you talk about your relationship with kids? I know you've also been an athlete, but could you elaborate a little on mental health and youth?

11:45 a.m.

Performer, Creative Industries Coalition

Tom Jackson

Thank you very much for bringing up the subject.

There are a couple of points that I'll make quickly. One of them is creating health versus managing disease. Right now, we live at a very important crossroads in our time where we can spend all our time managing disease or we can spend some time creating health.

Our youth are inherently very good with their hands. When I went through school, I wasn't the smartest cat in the world. I dropped out of school, but the reason I dropped out was that they took a basketball out of my hand.

I can tell you this: If you put a guitar, a paintbrush or a needle that makes beadwork in a student's hand, if you give them the things they're good at, they're going to stay in school. If you only challenge them to be academically smart and together and to do what the rest of the world is doing, you might lose them and you don't have to.

Help them be what they want to be, too. Take their voices and listen to them and allow them to create health for themselves. Allow them to smile and be happy. That makes a big difference. As leaders, we have to help, to try to provide the access to the asset.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That brings us right to the time.

Mr. Fiddler, the technician is trying to get in touch with you with regard to how your microphone is selected, so check your phone. The icon for the microphone is on the bottom left. There's an arrow and when you press the arrow it shows different microphones to be selected. IT thinks you might not be on the same microphone as you're using.

I'll let you deal with that as we move on to our next questioner. Just check your phone as well, because IT might be trying to connect you.

Mr. Lemire, you may go ahead. You have six minutes.

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Meegwetch, Mr. Chair.

Kuei, members of the committee.

I want to say what a privilege it is to be here today. I'm especially excited to have the opportunity to speak with Chief Steeve Mathias. This will be one of the finest discussions I've taken part in since becoming a member of Parliament. I should say that my father would be particularly proud to see us conversing formally in a parliamentary committee. I'm quite moved to be here, so I'd like to thank my fellow member Sylvie Bérubé for giving me this chance.

You'll notice that, behind me, is a painting by one of your famous artists, Frank Polson. It's with me just about every time I have a meeting online. I like having it close by not just for its artistic beauty, but also for its symbolic importance. It exemplifies the riding of Abitibi—Témiscamingue, which has a strong and vital indigenous presence.

Mr. Mathias, your role and leadership were fundamental in keeping your fellow constituents and community members safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first time we spoke, it had to do with bringing home members of the community who were travelling, some of whom had health issues.

I want to mention how warmly you welcomed them. Once the arrangements had been made and they were able to return home, you made sure they had a safe place to stay while in quarantine. They were well looked after. The food was already there. That just goes to show the compassionate spirit that guides you when members of your community are involved. You also showed leadership to keep the virus from spreading like a powder trail, as you put it. You acted boldly in closing off your community, because you feared the virus would spread quickly among members of the community given the housing conditions.

At that point, what did you ask the federal government for?

11:50 a.m.

Long Point First Nation

Chief Steeve Mathias

Thank you for your question, Mr. Lemire.

We asked the federal government to help us set up infrastructure.

We went into lockdown and we closed off access to the community—there's only one road into Winneway. We told people that they couldn't leave the community except for medical reasons. They couldn't leave to get groceries; everything had to be done within the community. We asked the federal government for funding so we could buy groceries for the entire community, and luckily, the answer was yes.

Next, we began planning how to manage the response. We set up a committee to pass emergency measures and notify the community. I take part in a radio show almost every night of the week to make sure people know about the steps we are taking.

Obviously, it wasn't easy since people weren't used to being confined to the community. Normally, they make use of all the land. The lockdown was definitely a challenge.

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

That's to your credit, Mr. Mathias.

As we know, historically, your community has had to move a number of times against its will, especially to accommodate hydroelectric projects. Your community still does not have reserve status. It's actually considered an Indian settlement, so the authority to make decisions autonomously remains at issue.

What are you asking for in that regard? If you had full jurisdiction to manage a situation like the COVID-19 response, how would that help you, as chief of the community?

11:50 a.m.

Long Point First Nation

Chief Steeve Mathias

Clearly, it's like trying to govern and manage the community and land with one hand tied behind your back.

We don't have legal status, but we aren't very open to being considered a reserve under the Indian Act. We'd prefer having status similar to that granted to the Kanesatake Mohawk community, for which the House of Commons passed special legislation. That's the type of status we'd like to have to better manage and govern the community. It would also give us the ability to pass our own regulations.

Right now, we don't have our own police force. The Sûreté du Québec serves the community, but it doesn't follow the band council's resolutions and regulations, except by court order or public health decree.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'll have to interrupt there. We're past time.

Thank you, Mr. Lemire and Mr. Mathias.

Now we have Ms. Qaqqaq, for six minutes. Please go ahead.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Matna. Thank you, Chair.

I'll give a shout-out, as always, to the IT team and the interpreters for putting up with us, basically, and I thank all the witnesses for sharing their experiences and such valuable knowledge.

My first question is for all three chiefs. I am going to ask that you each try to stick to about a minute for your answer, just because of my time limit.

Can you talk about how your experience working with the federal government to support communities during COVID-19 has been? We've heard a lot of frustrations about resources that weren't needed being delivered and timely COVID data not being shared. Could you talk about your own experience?

I'd like to start with Chief Fiddler, then go to Chief Mathias and then Chief Poitras.

11:55 a.m.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

Working with the federal government is a bit of a hit-and-miss. That's why we've tried to streamline the communications process and the decision-making processes in partnership with Ontario, so that we can move as quickly as we can on many of the issues we're struggling with. It is becoming an effective tool for all of us. That's why I think we want to tell both Ontario and Canada that we need to maintain these processes in place post-pandemic.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Thank you.

Perhaps we can have Chief Mathias next, please.

11:55 a.m.

Long Point First Nation

Chief Steeve Mathias

We had a rather rough start with the federal government, and that was mainly at the bureaucracy level. What was so frustrating for us was that we felt it was pretty much a delaying tactic.

All we were asking for was to have portable trailers come into the community so that, in the event of a spread of the virus in the community, we could immediately isolate our people, because of the overcrowding situation we have in our community, the lack of housing and the high number of chronic illnesses we have like diabetes and so on.

We had to go public. We had to start putting out press releases to pressure the government to meet the requests and demands we were making. Only there and then were we able to get quick answers. Minister Miller had to intervene on one or two occasions, but things went fairly well afterwards.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Thank you for sharing.

11:55 a.m.

Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras

Thank you.

Personally, in my relationship with the government, they've been very responsive. I've had direct contact with Minister Miller and Minister Blair.

I guess the biggest issue is the lack of involvement of first nations at the table when resources were being doled out across the country. There were always questions about how they came to those numbers. For example, $135 million was recently announced for businesses. How did governments come to that number without our involvement?

Noon

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Thank you all for sharing.

Ms. Poitras, along with my party, I want to make sure the government follows through on its commitment to fully adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Can you talk about the importance of making sure those fundamental rights may have changed the delivery of COVID resources and what impact it could play in our framework for post-COVID recovery?

Noon

Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras

The national chief has been really pushing for UNDRIP to be legislated, and I believe that was a commitment from Minister Lametti in our recent conversation with him.

Of course, UNDRIP supports first nations. It has the free, prior and informed consent. It's a great document to enable us to move forward collectively and to live in peaceful coexistence, as stated in the treaty. We have those documents that support first nations. I think if they were implemented—if the political will is there—we could move forward together in a good way in addressing the many issues we have in this country.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That brings us right to time.

Thanks, Ms. Qaqqaq. That was well done.

Mr. Viersen, Mr. Battiste, Mr. Vidal and Mr. Powlowski are our next round of questioners, for five minutes.

Mr. Viersen, please go ahead.

Noon

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

Ms. Poitras, you talked a little about own-source revenue and how many of the bands in northern Alberta are having to use that to fund the COVID response. Could you talk about what this own-source revenue is, where it comes from and how bands use that typically?