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

Noon

Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras

Certainly.

Own-source revenues are derived from the businesses that are owned by the nations or by individuals. In Alberta, we have five casinos that are first nations owned and they've generated a lot of revenue from that, so they were able to fund some of the deficits in the COVID response. We also have some first nations that have oil and gas revenues. There are all types of ways that first nations have generated those funds. Of course, having to use those funds is depleting those resources as well.

Noon

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

It's interesting. Casinos were probably all shut down during COVID, so that revenue doesn't continue, and the oil patch is hard hit as well, which would also hit your own-source revenue. I just want to get that on the record.

Mr. Fiddler, in northern Alberta, most of the communities put up barricades to all the roads entering their communities. They basically had a checkstop at every entrance, and that seemed to have worked. We've had a couple of tragic cases in northern Alberta, but for the most part, the indigenous communities have fared reasonably well due to those blockades or checkstops working. Is that a similar experience in your neck of the woods?

Noon

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

Yes. It has been extraordinary to witness the efforts that our leadership and our citizens have made over these last three months to keep themselves safe, including putting up checkpoints or barricades. In our territory, we have 35 remote communities. I think we have 20 that are road accessible, so they've put in these barricades or checkpoints to limit traffic in and out, and it has been very effective.

One of the presenters talked about the issues around enforcement. That's something we are working on right now, knowing that today the province is moving into phase two of reopening the economy. We need to give assurance to our leadership and our communities that they have every right to maintain those measures after today and that they will be respected.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Yes. I heard that all my friends in Ontario are excited about getting haircuts.

Around the blockades or the checkpoints, essentially, there was some frustration in northern Alberta just around the consistency of enforcement at those checkpoints, that there didn't seem to necessarily be clear criteria as to who could come and who could go. Was that an issue up in your neck of the woods as well, or did that seem to all go fairly well?

12:05 p.m.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

We've had to put in these measures very quickly, on the fly. As I said, we didn't have pandemic plans when this pandemic was declared in March. We very quickly had to give advice to our communities on what they could do and what the risks are. That's true of the work of our NAN COVID task team in terms of what measures they could develop quickly and put in place, including checkpoints and barricades, which is something that has proved to be very effective in keeping the virus out of our communities. That's something we need to do moving forward.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

It has been effective.

Have you had any cases of COVID in the 30 communities you represent?

12:05 p.m.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

It's actually 49 communities, and we did have one positive case in Eabametoong in early April, which has since been resolved, thankfully.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

That brings us to time.

Thanks, Mr. Viersen.

Now, for five minutes, Mr. Battiste, please go ahead.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

One of the things that has happened as a result of COVID that I was sad to hear is that the AFN AGA will not be taking place in Halifax in July. I understand why.

As someone who has probably attended all of these AFN AGAs over the past 20 years, I'm wondering how AFN is continuing advocacy and communicating with their chiefs. I know Zoom has been used, but I'm wondering what the strategy is for passing resolutions, for moving things forward and really doing the important work that AFN has done over the years in its advocacy.

I'd like to hear from Regional Chief Poitras as well as Grand Chief Fiddler, who I have often seen at the AFN AGAs and shared wings with over the years. I'm wondering how we see this unfolding over the next six months to a year during COVID times. How do the first nations across Canada continue the great work of advocacy and passing resolutions and working with committees moving forward?

I'd like to hear from both of you.

12:05 p.m.

Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras

Thank you.

Yes, it's unfortunate that the AGA has been cancelled this year. We've decided to move the decision-making and the resolutions we need to move forward to December, but in the meantime, as you said, we continue to advocate with government. We also continue to do some of the work through Zoom, but a lot of that really slowed down during the shutdown, so we need to figure out how we're going to move forward and ensure that the issues on which we need some direction and guidance are being received by the leadership.

It's a work in progress.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Grand Chief, do you want to comment on how effective that has been for you as a grand chief in your region. Can you give us a sense, from government, what recommendations we could do?

I know you had an event that was planned in Ottawa that got cancelled a while ago. I'm just wondering. What are your recommendations and what are your feelings on how we move forward in terms of having that communication among ministers and regions and chiefs in Canada?

12:10 p.m.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

It's nice to hear from you, MP Battiste.

That's something we are also working on right now in terms of our own governance systems during this pandemic. Obviously we have to make adjustments to how we do business, especially with our leadership, and that's something on which we're getting legal advice. We had planned a chiefs' meeting in April, which we obviously cancelled. There is another meeting coming up in August which we are postponing to the fall. We have to reframe and redevelop our rules and procedures so that once we do a virtual chiefs' meeting in early fall, it will be legally binding. The decisions they make will be legally binding and the resolutions they pass will be enforced.

We've had to do some rewriting in terms of our own rules and procedures to make sure that how we do business moving forward is legal and that the resolutions they are going to pass will be enforced.

It's a work in progress, and obviously we have to do that and we'll definitely keep moving forward. That is something we are committed to doing.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Grand Chief, I know you were cut off a little bit when you were getting into the importance of UNDRIP, and its importance to your communities.

I wanted to give you time to talk about why UNDRIP is important for us to move forward on and what it means to your community.

12:10 p.m.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

Even during this pandemic we're hearing in the media stories about communities still facing pressure from developers going through their territories, wanting to consult them on a mining project, for example. Right now with the travel restrictions that are in place, we need to respect those. Everyone needs to respect the decisions that our communities have in place now. They shouldn't be facing additional pressures at this time, including from the ministry, to have these inside discussions.

Again, if UNDRIP were the law of the land, this wouldn't be happening. It is so important that this be legislated, that this become law at the provincial level and the federal level—all governments. This needs to happen fairly quickly.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much.

I'm glad you were able to get that in. Thank you, Mr. Battiste.

Mr. Vidal, you have five minutes. Please go ahead.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As well, I want to thank all of our witnesses today for being here.

I want to ask Regional Chief Poitras, Grand Chief Fiddler and Chief Mathias each a question about education in your communities.

My role is services and that portfolio. I would just be curious to have your responses in the context of everything you had to do to adapt the elementary education in your communities, both what you have to do now in the midst of this and what you're anticipating come fall. How are you adapting to what you expect come fall from a post-secondary education perspective for the people of your communities?

I think it was Chief Mathias who talked about the percentage of people under 25 in her community, in the context of where we go come fall from a post-secondary education perspective.

Let's start with Grand Chief Fiddler, and then Chief Mathias and Regional Chief Poitras, if you would each give me your response to that.

12:10 p.m.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler

Thank you for this very important question.

While we're dealing with COVID and all the safety measures put in place, at the same time we need to look at education because we don't want our children to fall further behind in their schooling. That's what we are working on right now. In fact, next week we're having a virtual chiefs' forum on education to talk about what that will look like in the fall, moving forward.

Again, as has been mentioned before in terms of the lack of infrastructure in many of our communities, we need to very quickly build on this work to make sure that there's broadband and that there's adequate bandwidth for our communities to be able to deliver education to our children. That's something that I want Canada to look at in more detail in terms of how that work can be supported, because infrastructure will be a key piece in terms of how we deliver education, especially in the remote north.

As I said, a third of our communities are considered remote, and we need to very quickly move on that work.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Chief Mathias.

12:15 p.m.

Long Point First Nation

Chief Steeve Mathias

Yes, thanks for the question.

My community is in the province of Quebec, and Quebec reopened their schools about three weeks ago or so. We found it pretty premature to do that, so we decided not to reopen our school. Although it's just one school, it houses the primary and secondary school, so we chose not to reopen it.

What we're doing is we're putting in place different measures, putting a plan in place to reopen in September. We were in lockdown. We're kind of in a semi-lockdown now, and most of the teachers come from outside the province of Quebec, so they have to come into quarantine when they come to the community. These are the things that we have to put in place to make sure we don't allow the virus to come in and spread through the community.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you.

Regional Chief.

12:15 p.m.

Regional Chief, Alberta Association, Assembly of First Nations

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras

Thank you for the question.

There are many great examples of virtual online learning for indigenous youth that were presented during COVID, but there's also on-the-land training, and resources were provided to some of the nations.

In terms of opening up and moving forward in September, the issues are social distancing, the need for additional portable infrastructures, increased bus services and of course broadband, so that our nations can ensure that their students are receiving the optimal education that they require.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you.

I think I just have a few seconds. Does anyone want to make a quick comment on the post-secondary side of this at all?

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Perhaps we'll be able to pick that up. I want to make sure everyone gets a round of questioning, so hold that thought.

Mr. Powlowski, I will give the floor to you for five minutes.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you.

I have a whole bunch of questions for Grand Chief Fiddler, but we talk fairly often. If and when I go to church, he's usually there as well. If I go out and open the door and yell really loudly, he could probably hear me too.

I think I will instead address my question to Mr. Jackson. We have an opportunity to have a very famous Canadian appear before us today.

I thought I would ask you a question. Racism has been very much in the news lately. You said you didn't go to school very long, but wisdom isn't something, in my experience, that you learn in school. It's something that you learn in life and from experience. You, like me, have grey hair. I think you are the eldest of the witnesses before us today. You've worked in a lot of places with a lot of people in Canada and the United States. What have you learned in life about the nature of racism?

12:15 p.m.

Performer, Creative Industries Coalition

Tom Jackson

It's a constant. What we have to do to mitigate racism and the effects of racism, in my opinion, is that we have to take this word, a word called “love” and create a verb. We need to school in compassion and in empathy, but mostly we could become the cause, not follow the cause. If we are committed to creating a better environment, then we have to commit ourselves. We can't wait for somebody else to make change. We can't hope that somebody else has a voice. If you don't use your voice now, you may never get a chance to use your voice.

The reason I'm saying that is that we're at a very important point in our history. This is a point where the convergence is not so much a convergence; it's a gap. What's happened is that a gap has been identified. A crevice has been identified, and it has been brought about by many things that are founded in history. We don't have to rely upon our knowledge of history, but it's a good place to look to make sure that our today makes more sense to us and that our tomorrow becomes our today.

It's great to make a plan, but it's better to have action. It's better to have a verb than a word.