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

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 16 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. I would like to start by acknowledging that I am joining you today from the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabe and Chonnonton nations.

Pursuant to the order of reference of April 20, 2020, the committee is meeting for the purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. During this meeting, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee.

In order to facilitate the work of our interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.

Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like at a regular committee meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of either floor, English or French. In order to resolve the sound issues raised in recent virtual committee meetings and to ensure clear audio transmission, we ask those who wish to speak during the meeting to set your interpretation language as follows: If speaking in English, please ensure you are on the English channel; if speaking in French, please ensure you are on the French channel. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will need to switch the interpretation channel so it aligns with the language you are speaking. You may want to allow for a short pause when switching languages.

Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can either click on the microphone icon to activate your mike or you can hold down the space bar while you are speaking. When you release the bar, your mike will mute itself, just like a walkie-talkie.

As a reminder, all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair.

Should members need to request the floor outside of their designated time for questions, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order. If a member wishes to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “Raise Hand” function. This will signal to the chair your interest to speak. In order to do so, you should click on “Participants” at the bottom of the screen. When the list pops up, you will see next to your name that you can click “raise hand”.

When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.

The use of headsets is strongly encouraged. If you have earbuds with a microphone, please hold the microphone near your mouth when you are speaking to boost the sound quality for our interpreters.

Should any technical challenges arise, for example in relation to interpretation or if you are accidentally disconnected, please advise the chair or clerk immediately, and the technical team will work to resolve them. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times as we need to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.

Before we get started, can everyone click on their screen in the top right-hand corner to ensure they are on “Gallery View”? With this view, you should be able to see all the participants in a grid. This will ensure that all video participants can see one another.

During this meeting, we will follow the same rules that usually apply to opening statements and rounds for questioning of witnesses during our regular meetings. Each witness will have up to five minutes for an opening statement, followed by the usual rounds of questions from members.

I will just advise everyone with regard to our opening statements by our witnesses and our rounds of questions that I'll be fairly tough on the timing. We really hate to interrupt thoughts as they come forward, but we also have to be aware of keeping the meeting orderly so that everyone gets an opportunity to ask their questions with the full amount of time. We hate to run out of time at the end of the meeting. That's why I may give you a one-minute warning or ask you to wrap up a point.

Welcome to our witnesses. From the Assembly of First Nations Alberta Association, we have Regional Chief Marlene Poitras. From the Creative Industries Coalition, we have performer Tom Jackson. From the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, we have Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, and from the Long Point First Nation we have Chief Steeve Mathias.

Regional Chief Poitras, you have five minutes for your opening remarks.

11:05 a.m.

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning.

[Witness spoke in Cree]

I thank you for the opportunity to address you from the heart of Treaty 6 territory. I represent a region fully encompassed by treaty numbers 6, 7 and 8.

These treaties are more than just agreements between our nations to share the land and live in peaceful co-existence. They are living, breathing relationships that form the basis of your Constitution to this day.

I raise this because many nations are the beneficiaries of the clauses in their treaties, including for the provision of medicine and assistance in times of pestilence. While financial aid and resources have moved quickly to first nations and the collaboration and communication of our regional office have been commendable, Canada continues to fail to meet its commitments and obligations to our treaty relationship, even during a specific circumstance when the Crown promised to support us in a way that we needed.

First nations are being recognized for how they have addressed this crisis. By setting up borders, curfews and other security measures, first nations have fared better statistically speaking than Canadians, but, as one of my colleagues recently said at a meeting, this is not only because of an overabundance of caution, but in fact that the response that so many have celebrated was also born out of necessity.

Our leaders put those extraordinary measures in place because we still have homes that house upwards of 15 people. We have elders who could perish from this disease, and there is never enough time to transmit the knowledge they carry. We have a disproportionate number of people who suffer from chronic illnesses, and we have communities where people can't even properly wash their hands. The list goes on and on.

If it's not a clear sign that systemic racism is alive and well in Canada, I don't know what else this country needs to hear to finally take action on the gross inequality that exists between Canada and first nations.

The fact is that when the indigenous community support fund was rolled out, Canada used a funding formula that only accounted for first nations on-reserve members when it very well has the ability to account for all first nations members both on and off reserve. This is proof that Canada is only willing to recognize our nationhood within the confines of a reserve. How can a government purport to support nation rebuilding when it intentionally finds ways to limit our authority and jurisdiction to borders it determines?

To make matters worse, our leaders scrambled to pass public health orders and laws to safeguard communities from this virus. Some of them in Alberta had to expend exorbitant amounts of own-source revenue to hire security teams to protect their communities. When law enforcement agencies were called to support these public health measures, some refused and said our laws weren't enforceable or, worse, were unconstitutional.

How can we ever be true nation-to-nation partners if Canada is unwilling to accept our laws as equal to its own? This country already recognizes two legal systems, civil and common. It is not unreasonable to expect the same for ours. Let me remind you that if Canada didn't recognize our treaties, you wouldn't have a Constitution.

As we begin the phased reopening of our societies and start working toward economic recovery, we recommend that there be increased availability of testing for first nations people; that first nations-specific assessment guidelines for testing, contact tracing, treatment and vaccinations be designed with first nations technicians, leaders and knowledge keepers; that first nations be able to determine their data needs and that those be responded to appropriately for planning subsequent health crises.

This latter point is critical to self-determination because first nations have not been the first to find out when a confirmed case is in their community. The province continues to hold that information, which then goes to Canada, and finally to the first nation.

Moreover, tracking of cases by Alberta Health reflects first nations on and off reserve, yet the source of information is outdated and is still based on the old Alberta health care data arrangement. Similarly, census data from 2016 is still used as the base number of our populations. Those numbers aren't accurate because many first nations don't actively participate in the census.

Last, distinct funding must be provided to support first nations businesses with the recovery, and we must be active participants in the rebuilding of our economies. I say this because I keep hearing that people can’t wait until things get back to normal, but there’s a part of me that says normal didn’t do us justice. Normal meant injustices for our people; it meant underinvestment in our communities; it meant the exploitation of our lands without our consent.

We now have an opportunity to work together to make things better: to develop our solutions, to develop our laws and to develop whatever it is we need to ensure our people can benefit and thrive. The only way that is going to happen is if our treaty partners come to the table and we work together effectively and efficiently in true partnership.

Thank you. Ay Hiy. Nanaskomin.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks, Chief Poitras.

Mr. Jackson, 40 years ago I was a young DJ and I was entertaining some young people from the Northwest Territories. I was playing some pop music of the day and I asked these young kids who the big pop star was where they came from, and they said, “Tom Jackson”. That was 40 years ago. It's a delight to have you here in person to speak from the Creative Industries Coalition.

Sir, you have five minutes. Please go ahead.

11:15 a.m.

Tom Jackson Performer, Creative Industries Coalition

I want to thank you for your acknowledgement of North of 60. It was a great and wonderful time for me.

Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with the indigenous and northern affairs committee of the House of Commons. I'm proud to be here and I'm honoured to be speaking at this historic time in Canada.

I would like to acknowledge that I am on the Blackfoot territory of Treaty 7.

My name is Tom Jackson, as you know, and I'm here to speak with you on behalf of the Creative Industries Coalition, a group of unions and guilds representing artists and technicians working in live performance.

With COVID, entertainment was the first to go and it will be the last to return, particularly the live-performance sector. About 50,000 Canadians are out of work. There is virtually 100% unemployment in our industry, and our members are experiencing wage losses of about $130 million per month. Due to the freelance or gig nature of our work, fewer than 2% of our members are receiving support from the Canada emergency wage subsidy. Many contract workers are not eligible for employment insurance. We need an extension of the CERB. Although the program runs until October 3, the maximum eligibility period is 16 weeks. Most entertainment industry workers applied immediately. Their benefits will run out in July.

We need an extension of the maximum eligibility period, to beyond 16 weeks, and of the end date of the program. Until it is safe for us to return to work, we need this financial support.

Now, if you don't mind, I need to tell you a bit of my story.

I'm just an old six-foot-five Indian guy with a braid. I have a treaty number. I was born in the back of a horse-drawn buckboard between One Arrow First Nation and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, on October 27, 1947. That tells you two things: one, I have been around for a long time and, two, I'm a pretty lucky guy. You know what makes me lucky? I became an entertainer. I discovered radio. I discovered radio doesn't have a colour, so I was lucky.

I have more than one number. I have five union numbers. I'm a member of ACTRA, SAG, CFM, Equity and the Writers Guild of Canada. You're probably thinking to yourself, “Wow, that guy must be making a lot of money.” Nope. As a matter of fact, a lot of my fellow artists, people in the entertainment industry, are just like me. Lots of numbers but no money. They are brothers and sisters of mine who bring you happiness, joy and health every time you turn on your screen or your music. Entertainment is the most powerful instrument of change in human history, but right now its players are invisible. They're just numbers.

Let me ask you a question. Would you like to see a better Canada? If you'd like to see a better Canada, say “I”.

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

I.

11:15 a.m.

Performer, Creative Industries Coalition

Tom Jackson

Okay, some of you would. If you'd like to see a better Canada, say “I”.

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

I.

11:15 a.m.

Performer, Creative Industries Coalition

Tom Jackson

If you'd like to see a better Canada, say “love”.

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Love.

11:15 a.m.

Performer, Creative Industries Coalition

Tom Jackson

Now not only is Canada better, but you just made the world a better place. Do you see how entertainment can change the world? This is not new, but it's magic.

Do you remember Live Aid or know Farm Aid? Do you know a little project called The Huron Carole? The Huron Carole alone has raised $230 million in cash and in-kind services for Canadian food banks, disaster relief and social services in crisis. Even today, with the help of musicians who wish to participate, there is also a project called Almighty Voices, which provides entertainment, creates health and raises money for the Unison Benevolent Fund. When you need us, we're there for you. You have the want; we have the will.

Now we need your help. We need you to do your magic. We need your political will. We need you to make the invisible visible.

One thing I would see as a godsend is an extension of the CERB.

In my tradition, you may know this, but some of you may not, but it's important for you, so pay attention. You have to know that I love you. Thank you.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you, Mr. Jackson.

Our next speaker is from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Welcome, Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.

You have five minutes. Please go ahead.

June 12th, 2020 / 11:20 a.m.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler Nishnawbe Aski Nation

I'm very honoured to appear with Mr. Jackson. Meegwetch, “Peter”, for your work over the years.

Also, Regional Chief Poitras, meegwetch again for your leadership during these difficult and uncertain times.

Meegwetch to the committee for inviting me and allowing me to say a few words.

I want to start by saying that Nishnawbe Aski Nation represents 49 first nation communities, 43 from Treaty 9 and six from Treaty 5. We have a vast territory in the northwest and northeast part of the province of Ontario.

I was asked today to talk about the federal government's response to date to this pandemic. On March 11 when the World Health Organization made the declaration that COVID-19 was a worldwide pandemic, the first thing we found out was that the federal government did not have a plan, so we had to scramble. As a first nations community, we were already behind the eight ball in terms of the level of health care and the living conditions in our communities with the housing and the lack of proper infrastructure. Right now in the NAN territory we have 18 boil water advisories, nine long term, nine short term, including the Neskantaga First Nation, which has been on that list going on 26 to 27 years.

When we found ourselves in this situation in March, we knew we had to act very quickly. One of the first things we did was to put together our own team, or what we called the NAN COVID-19 task team, comprising public health experts, doctors and knowledge keepers. We had our own people on that team, and they've proven to be a very valuable resource to our communities over these last three months.

Then we had to do a lot of work to keep our communities safe, and we have over these last three months. There's only been one positive case so far in the NAN territory, which was in Eabametoong in early April, and it's since been resolved.

We are grateful for the protection from our Creator. Everything we do is based on the fact that even though we may think we have our own strength and our own knowledge, it's the Creator who in the end looks after all of us. I really believe that, and every chance I get to talk to our leadership, I talk about how important that is, and that we need to keep working together as a nation. We've been reaching out with Treaty 9 in our case. We also have a treaty partner with the Province of Ontario, and we've reached out to both Ontario and Canada to work with us and join us in this effort to keep our communities healthy and safe during these dangerous times.

One of the things we also found out right away is that the things we're trying to address weren't new. These are long-standing issues, and the regional chiefs from Alberta have had some of these issues.

In addition to dealing with a public health disaster like a pandemic, we're also saddled with all the historic wrongs and the inequities in every field, whether it's education, health, infrastructure. Then you throw a pandemic in the mix. That's a recipe for a public health disaster.

We created that trilateral table where we have been working very effectively with both levels of government over these last few months. I would ask that some of these things that we put together.... They need to be carried forward past the pandemic. I think we've been able to prove to both Ontario and Canada that, if we work together, we can do a lot of things. We can really speed up on some of the things that we've been trying to address for many years, and we want to see the tools and the process that we've developed carried forward post-pandemic.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Chief, I'll have to ask you to leave it right there, and we'll pick up more of your comments later on.

Right now, it's time for Chief Steeve Mathias.

Chief, you have five minutes. Please go ahead.

11:25 a.m.

Chief Steeve Mathias Long Point First Nation

Hello.

First, I would like to acknowledge the speakers before me: the regional chief from Alberta, Chief Poitras; Mr. Tom Jackson; and Chief Fiddler. I want to acknowledge them, and I really share their intervention. I will give you a little bit more of a scope from a community perspective. I will also take this opportunity to acknowledge the MP from our riding, Sébastien Lemire.

Mr. Chair, I would like to extend my gratitude to you for this prestigious invitation to address the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

I hear a lot of noise in the background that's really distracting me.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Can I ask everyone to make sure that their mikes are off?

Go ahead, Mr. Mathias. There's not something rubbing on a cord in your office is there?

11:25 a.m.

Long Point First Nation

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Okay.

Carry on.

11:25 a.m.

Long Point First Nation

Chief Steeve Mathias

Are you going to allow me another 30 seconds for that, Mr. Chairman?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Absolutely.

11:25 a.m.

Long Point First Nation

Chief Steeve Mathias

Before answering the question on the effects of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic on my community in particular, I find it important to provide you with a brief history and the issues behind the land status of my community of Winneway. It would serve to enlighten the standing committee on the difficulties that we face and manage.

My own community of Winneway is considered by most departments and governments as a semi-isolated community. It is geographically located in the Témiscamingue region in the northwestern part of the province of Quebec. Our population includes approximately 500 people living in the community and another 400 members who live outside the community due to a housing shortage. At first glance, it is what can be considered a typical aboriginal community, with a young population and challenges around housing, community infrastructure and economic development opportunities, given its location. I always say that you don't pass by Winneway; you go to Winneway, considering it is the last little town within the local eastern sector of the MRC.

Over and above the physical location, what's more surprising to many is that Winneway is not considered a reserve under the Indian Act. Some sections of Winneway are considered a settlement, and others have a federal title, so what comes along with this type of recognition is the jurisdictional dispute and disclaimer by both levels of government.

There is also the historical presence of the Missionary Oblates that dates back to 1951 through a lease between the Oblates and the provincial government of Quebec. Therefore, the land that we occupy is, in the majority, located within the boundaries of the Oblates' lease. The administrative agreement that binds ISC and the Oblates has long since expired, in that the Oblates want to transfer the land back to the province, stating that their mission to the Indians is now terminated.

All the while, the Anishinabe people of Long Point have never ceded any parcel of their traditional territory. Land was taken through a process of dispossession. Although this historical truth of unceded territory is not unique in the province of Quebec, the situation of the sectional and divided parcel of land of the present-day Winneway is unique. What comes with it are unique situations and challenges on both the federal and provincial levels.

When the state of emergency was declared in mid-March, my council and I rapidly put in place a local pandemic committee, and we've been working seven days a week to prevent the spread of this deadly virus among the people and the community. We have put every ounce of our energy into developing measures, educating, creating awareness and setting up temporary community infrastructure because of our semi-isolated location. Many pieces of the giant puzzle were laid out on our table, despite not having our own public security to enforce our rules, regulations and the council resolution. The one important element that remains is the confirmation from the Province of Quebec for a public health decree. It is Long Point's last resort in reinforcing our health guidelines and safety measures with the support and co-operation of the Quebec provincial police.

In conclusion, our people have faced many epidemics before when, historically, there were some were intentional biowarfare attempts meant to eradicate our people. COVID-19 and the federal government's financial aid were seen as a shift in the way past governments have behaved toward us, although there were still some paternalistic administrative constraints that were imposed in this, over and above the lives and safety of our people.

Kitci meegwetch.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much.

Just before we move to questions, Mr. Jackson had submitted a remarkable video that we had hoped to enter into testimony today. It's not quite compliant yet with the translation requirements of our committees, so we're working on that. When that is achieved, I think I have general agreement from the committee that we would like to play it, but we just can't do it at this moment because of compliance issues with regard to translation.

That said, we have a six-minute round of questioning now. Our questioners the first time around will be Mr. Zimmer, Mr. van Koeverden, Mr. Lemire and Ms. Qaqqaq.

Bob Zimmer, please go ahead for six minutes.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses, especially Mr. Jackson and Chiefs Mathias, Fiddler and Poitras for being with us this morning.

My first question is for Mr. Jackson.

My file is northern economic development, so part of my hope for the future is to see our economy functioning again. I've heard that the loss to the film industry is profound, including the impact on the people working in that industry.

How do we get back to that normal where we were before when Canada's film industry was doing so well? How do we get back there amidst this COVID cloud that still hangs over Canada?

11:35 a.m.

Performer, Creative Industries Coalition

Tom Jackson

I think we have to be very diligent and committed to finding ways to collaborate in a fashion where we aren't trying to spend our energy and time negotiating, but that, in fact, we spend our time and energy collaborating and deciding, based not on “you think I know”, but on you having to tell me what you're assuming so that I can tell you what is not right. I'll tell you what I assume about you, and you can tell me, “Well, that's not true”, so we can come together to have a better understanding of what our issues are.

I am, for sure, not one of those people who is an expert who can pull fairy dust out of the air and give you a magic answer as to how we get back to the place we were before, but I know that if we are to succeed in re-establishing ourselves as an industry, we have to concentrate on two things. One, we have to concentrate on making sure that the people who drive this industry are fairly compensated, just as human beings, for having been there when you needed us. Second, understand that the people we are representing are all workers in the industry, not just actors and clowns like me. There are people who get their fingernails dirty every day, but right now they can't do that.

Until we find a way they can do that, we have to make sure they are taken care of, because if there is no leadership and there is nothing to eat, there is no pack, and there is no leader. We can't do it without your help.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Jackson.

If there is anything you'd like to submit to the committee afterwards, too, because what we're looking for is anything that would help in any way, whether it's access to PPE or whatever that looks like, to get our economies functioning wherever they are.

My next questions are for the chiefs.

Chiefs Mathias, Fiddler and Poitras, again, thank you for joining us today.

Again, my file is economic development. I've see the lack of access to PPE and I've definitely read your stories online about that lack of access during the crisis. I know we have bands up in my neck of the woods in northern B.C. where access to PPE was a big problem to emergency plans and those sorts of things. It was a big challenge; they were left scrambling. I was buying bleach for them from Walmart so they could go out to deal with some of these situations.

That was then. Certainly things aren't great right now, but there's more of a hopeful place to go in our minds right now, and in our mind's eye is how we can get to that hopeful place in the future where our economies are functioning, not just the way they were before, but even better. What can we do? With COVID as the topic today, how do we get to that place?

We'll just start off with Chief Poitras and go to Chief Fiddler and then to Chief Mathias for just a few comments there.

How do we get our economies functioning again and even better?

11:35 a.m.

Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras

First nations have always participated in the economy. As a matter of fact, I believe we have over 40,000 businesses across Canada. In moving forward, we should be involved because we have a lot to contribute to society. The business leaders we have are fairly astute and can provide some good direction on moving forward in the economy.

The government also needs to be cognizant that their businesses have had a huge losses during the COVID shutdown. Somehow these businesses have to be compensated for that, but they have to be at the table to provide that guidance and direction.