Thank you, Mr. Chair.
[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.