Evidence of meeting #7 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 covid-19.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chief Perry Bellegarde  Assembly of First Nations
Natan Obed  President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
David Chartrand  Vice-President and National Spokesperson, Métis National Council
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk

2:05 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

As the chair of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, I call this meeting to order. I'd like to welcome all to meeting number seven.

I'd 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 in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French.

In order to resolve the sound issues raised in recent virtual committee meetings and to ensure clear audio transmissions, we ask those who wish to speak during meetings to set your interpretation language as follows. If you are speaking in English, please ensure that you are on the English channel. If you are speaking in French, please ensure that you are on the French channel, accessed by the globe in the centre bottom, which says “interpretation”. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will also need to switch the interpretation channel so that 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 microphone, or you can hold down the space bar while you are speaking. When you release the bar, your mike will mute itself, similar to a walkie-talkie.

I remind you that 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 microphone 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 that you can click on “raise hand” next to your name.

When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When not speaking, your microphone should be on mute. The use of headsets is strongly encouraged.

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 and ensure that they are on gallery view? With this view you should be able to see all of the participants in a grid view. It will ensure that all video participants can see each another.

During this meeting, we will follow the same rules that usually apply to opening statements and rounds of questioning of witnesses during our regular meetings. Each witness will have up to 10 minutes for an opening statement, followed by the usual rounds of questions from members.

Now I'd like to welcome our witnesses. From the Assembly of First Nations, we have National Chief Perry Bellegarde; from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Natan Obed, the president; and from the Métis National Council, David Chartrand, vice-president and national spokesperson.

Chief Bellegarde, we are now ready to hear your opening statement for up to 10 minutes. Welcome.

2:05 p.m.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde Assembly of First Nations

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all the committee members and, as well, to all the people listening and managing to be safe by doing this call through Zoom. It's an amazing thing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis for all of Canada as it is for the whole world. I wanted to acknowledge the work of all parties to co-operate and respond in a timely and effective way to deal with this issue. It's an extremely challenging time for everyone. The situation on the ground changes daily, and we're all still learning about how the spread of this disease is best contained.

This makes the context for policy development and funding decisions difficult at best, so we should all acknowledge that these are, indeed, challenging times. We also need to acknowledge the unique challenges facing first nations peoples, challenges that both create needs and all too often impair the ability of first nations governments to ensure the safety of their people. This pandemic presents the opportunity to build back better in all sectors, but we must be cautious that we don't move too fast, too quickly, and we also don't reopen economies too prematurely.

As of May 7, there were 164 confirmed cases on first nations reserves and another 17 in the territories. While the virus has been slower to reach first nations, the number of cases is rising daily. For reasons that I will get into in a minute, there is a reasonable concern that COVID-19 will have a disproportionately negative effect on first nations, as did the H1N1 virus in 2009.

I fear there are already far more cases among our people than we currently know. Unfortunately, largely due to gaps in coordination and information sharing with the federal government and the provinces and territories, first nations do not have access to reliable sources of information that track infections among first nations. This is just one way that COVID-19 affects first nations differently. Canada must take clear action in response to these distinct needs.

To inform this committee's study of the government's response from a first nations' perspective, the pandemic must be understood in the context of the socio-economic gap between first nations citizens and other Canadians. It's a gap I always talk about in terms of quality of life.

A recent analysis by Indigenous Services Canada, using 2016 census data and the United Nations human development index as a measure, reveals that Canada sits 12th in the world in terms of quality of life, but when you apply the same indices to our people, we measure 78th. It's 12 versus 78, and that's the gap that needs to be addressed.

The intensified risk is created by significantly higher rates of already compromised health among first nations and the unfortunate fact that so many first nations do not have adequate access to health care in their communities, or even close to their communities. These factors must be addressed on an emergency basis during this crisis but more fundamentally during the recovery period.

To understand first nations' vulnerability to this virus, we need to look at not just government delivery and funding of health care but also other services that impact community health. For example, due to overcrowded housing at seven times the rate of the rest of Canada, this virus will spread more quickly. The lack of clean water in so many first nations means that basic precautions like handwashing are more difficult to follow. There are 96 remote or fly-in first nations across Canada, so a shortage of reliable transportation means that people will have additional problems accessing care.

There are serious food security issues in many first nations, especially in the north, and the upcoming fire and flood seasons exacerbate an already difficult situation in these communities.

We also need to acknowledge the specific challenges faced by first nations governments in exercising their jurisdiction to respond to this crisis and plan for a recovery. For example, there's poverty among our people. We are the poorest people in the country when compared to other Canadians. Our businesses do not have the same access to financing or supports, and our governments don't have the same human and financial resources to respond fully.

The jurisdictions of first nations governments are not recognized or supported adequately, leading to a lack of coordination and gaps in the delivery of services. This is a good example to show more clearly why there's a need to make policing an essential service. Right now it's not an essential service in Canada, and that's something that should be recommended and implemented as soon as possible.

Canada's response must take all these unique factors into account. The fundamental principles of an effective government response to this crisis are the following: First nations must be included in all discussions relating to COVID-19; jurisdictional conflict, confusion and resistance to first nations' exercising our inherent jurisdictions must not stand in the way of ensuring that first nations citizens are protected; and first nations must be supported in exercising their authority and jurisdiction in meeting the health needs of their communities and in planning for recovery.

Last Friday, Minister Miller detailed for this committee the $740 million that Canada has made available for first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to respond to this crisis. We appreciate that these funds are scalable and based on need, but we need to see this funding greatly expanded, as the needs are many. Remember the 12 versus 78 gap.

Even with the indigenous fund, it provides welcome help to 6,000 of our businesses. There are actually 40,000 first nations businesses across Canada, so the funding commitments will leave many without help. This committee should also be aware that many of our businesses and citizens may not be able to access broader programs set up in response to this crisis due to unique circumstances that apply on reserve. Canada assures us that some of these details are still being worked out, but they're being considered without serious input from first nations and are being announced without any prior notification.

We have three requests, Mr. Chair.

First, first nations must have a seat at the table in designing any response that impacts us. Canada must engage first nations directly to properly address the circumstances that we face and to respect first nations jurisdiction. That includes a seat at any table addressing the current health crisis. Even in the future, when you start looking at reopening the economy, we must be at those tables.

This must also be the case with provincial governments. There are several situations where provincial governments' unilateral decisions have a direct negative impact on first nations. In northern Saskatchewan, for example, in La Loche, there are over a hundred-and-some cases, and they are expanding quickly. Certain officials there prevented citizens from travelling to grocery stores to get food. We all know that's not proper or right.

In northern Ontario, some municipalities are saying there's too much need through COVID-19, that communities are not going to be able to accept first nations people when they come out of the north for evacuations like in Saskatchewan. Thunder Bay has said that. Where do these people go? There have to be options.

Several provinces are refusing to respect lawful decisions by first nations governments' restricting traffic flow and gatherings, among other safety measures. There's a lack of respect when first nations say, “This is our jurisdiction, and we're saying you can't come in or out”. There are problems with people enforcing those laws as well.

A big historical issue is that provinces have regarded first nations as a federal responsibility, and provinces prioritize the needs of the citizens they represent. However, no first nations person, wherever they reside, should go without the supports needed to get through this crisis. These are unacceptable situations that put lives at risk, and they result from a refusal by provinces to respect first nations jurisdiction.

My second recommendation is that Canada must bring the premiers together with first nations leadership on an emergency basis to resolve these jurisdictional issues. Just as Jordan's principle made it clear that no first nations child should go without services, provide the services up front and work out who's responsible later on. It's the same principle going forward.

My third and final recommendation for this committee and for the ongoing study is that Canada's commitment to first nations self-determination must be matched by immediate and sustainable long-term support for first nations governance capacity. We cannot adequately protect citizens when funding for first nations governance is one-quarter of what other governments spend.

With those three recommendations, we can lay the foundation to avoid the challenges that future crises might bring, and support economic and social recovery from the current crisis. Just as the recession of 2009 disproportionately affected first nations' earnings, the socio-economic gap between first nations and other Canadians means that first nations will suffer more due to this pandemic.

2:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You're almost out of time.

2:20 p.m.

Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Just as the historic failure to recognize first nations inherent and treaty rights, title and jurisdiction has resulted in an incomprehensible mess of competing authorities, the COVID-19 crisis shines a light on the real-life consequences to first nations citizens. Just as any government requires the fiscal capacity to exercise its jurisdiction efficiently and effectively, this crisis makes it even clearer that the time to act on the chronic underfunding of first nations governments is long overdue. These are the next steps needed.

The last point is on the throne speech—

2:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Chief, we're out of time now, and in respect of our—

2:20 p.m.

Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Don't forget the throne speech and the UN declaration.

2:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry, Chief. We'll have opportunities during the rounds of questioning for you to expand on some of the issues, but we need to get through our presentations and then to our questioners.

Thank you for your presentation.

Next up is President Obed.

Please go ahead, sir, for 10 minutes.

2:20 p.m.

Natan Obed President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be presenting here today to the committee, and it's good to see so many familiar faces.

As I've been introduced, I am Natan Obed, the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. I'm here to talk about the status of COVID-19 across Inuit Nunangat and for Inuit generally. Right now, our status sits in stark contrast to most of the rest of the country, which can be largely attributed to the public health responses that were implemented immediately and, of course, the remoteness of our 51 communities. To date, there have been only 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19 detected within Inuit Nunangat, and that is across four jurisdictions and 51 communities. Of those 17 cases, all individuals have now recovered.

We've been successful so far in protecting our communities from COVID-19, despite substantial long-term gaps between Inuit and other Canadians on key health measures, which have created unique and considerable vulnerability to both infection with SARS-CoV-2 and to the development of severe COVID-19 cases. The success to date is a testament to the efficacy of the governance structures that are in place across Inuit Nunangat and also the relationships that we now have with the federal government, with the provinces and territories and also within the self-determination of Inuit leadership, from Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region. It shows what can be achieved when Inuit self-determination and strong partnerships with governments work together for a common concern and a common goal.

Prior to COVID-19, we have generally experienced greater adverse socio-economic conditions compared with non-indigenous Canadians. This is seen in statistics such as our average life expectancy, which is about 10.5 years less than that of all other Canadians. Also, our families live in more crowded homes and are less food secure. Our overcrowding rate is at about 52% as of 2020.

Our access to health care is also highly constrained. Most of our health systems are conducted in our communities through health centres that are staffed by nurses, and our regions are basically referral structures to southern care for major illnesses within hospital. We also suffer tuberculosis at a rate of 300 times the non-indigenous Canadian rate. Our respiratory illnesses, above and beyond tuberculosis, are similar in many ways to COVID-19 and continue to plague our communities, despite our ongoing efforts to see not only tuberculosis but RSV and other respiratory illnesses eradicated in our communities.

The current physical distancing measures, travel restrictions and reduced services have seriously impacted Inuit incomes, communities and businesses. The current air transportation circumstances are unsustainable. The annual resupply, including the sealift shipments during the four-to-five-month ice-free season, is definitely going to be impacted. Even though we have assurances from all parties involved, as of today, that the season is going ahead, we know it is not going to be a normal season. We rely very heavily on ports like Montreal, and also on Churchill, Manitoba, to provide staging areas so that we can have all the non-perishable items in our communities resupplied in any given year. The ability of individuals and businesses to place orders has already been impacted, and warehouses in the south, which would typically start to fill up by now, are sitting nearly empty. This will have a direct impact on businesses and households in this and future years.

I want to touch on three key priority areas. The first is in relation to increased public health measures to prevent the circulation of COVID-19 in our communities, specifically in relation to testing and adequate water and sewage. Improving access to testing and reducing delays in test results remain key concerns across our regions, specifically when it comes to reopening our economy and having trust in our transportation networks, and also in our response within our small, isolated communities.

The Cepheid GeneXpert testing platform is a U.S.-based testing platform. We have used it historically to test for TB in a much quicker way than sending sputum samples south, but it is now being used to test for COVID-19. There are a few of these machines in our communities, but we need more access to the testing cartridges and wider access to the test machines themselves if there continue to be setbacks with the Spartan Bioscience cube. We are very thankful that the Government of Canada has put Inuit, northern and rural communities at the front of the queue, when it comes to these point-of-care tests.

Also, in relation to adequate water and sewer services, one of the big public health measures is washing hands frequently, but in some of our communities there is a lack of access to water and sewer services in real time. Infrastructure investments and a commitment to ongoing funding is therefore needed to support water and sewers in the longer term.

The second priority is maintaining capacity for the COVID-19 response. We're transitioning now into extended public health measures and travel restrictions. We also know that to have effective and sustainable Inuit-centred social protection initiatives, we need to ensure that individuals and families don't fall through the cracks. This means that additional investments to support community-led initiatives for reducing residential crowding and increasing access to and support for shelters and transitional housing, as outlined in our Inuit Nunangat housing strategy, are very important. Also, expanding access to mental health and addictions services, as outlined in our national Inuit suicide prevention strategy is very important at this time as well.

We need to continue toward strong health systems. This includes strengthening health human resourcing, laboratory services, infection control and virtual care in response to COVID-19. Proactive measures should be taken by the federal government to identify and minimize impacts on Inuit from predicted shortages in essential medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and drugs and vaccines, including those required for TB and other preventable communicable diseases.

All of our interventions must be evidence-based, globally informed and Inuit-specific. We also want timely access to Inuit-specific data. This will be critical for informing the responses by both the public government and our Inuit organizations, and for understanding the impact of the COVID-19 disease and the pandemic on Inuit living both within and outside Inuit Nunangat.

As of May 6, detailed case information was only available for 53% of reported COVID-19 cases in Canada. Data sharing across jurisdictions has long been a challenge for Inuit, and if we value evidence-based decision-making, now is the time to have more specific data that we can use for our population. The federal government should require provincial and territorial compliance with detailed case reporting on COVID-19, including identifying whether an individual with COVID-19 is first nations, Inuit or Métis.

Our final priority is financial assistance for immediate economic needs. This is a major consideration. We need an Inuit Nunangat approach across the federal government to funding programs aimed at providing immediate and near-term COVID-19-related financial assistance. This means that a lens that has sometimes been applied in the past for a northern fund or an Atlantic Canada fund or a Quebec fund should not be used with us. Our regions get caught up in the messiness of the federal administration's different administrative structures. We are a homogeneous population and require a very specific response.

We have developed a strategic options paper that we have presented to the committee today. In it there are some key points, such as direct Inuit-specific support for businesses; a commitment by the federal government to support major Inuit development projects; an Inuit Nunangat supplement for Inuit eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit; and a supplement to support post-secondary students and other educational supports. There are a number of other things, especially in relation to the airline industry and the immediate concern that we have about the sustainability of these essential services. I encourage you to read that.

A final consideration is that any successful response to COVID-19 in relation to Inuit must be evidence-based, globally informed and Inuit-specific, as I said. Our reality is very different from the rest of Canada and our best path through this pandemic is to ensure the Government of Canada's response to COVID-19 in Inuit communities is specifically developed with Inuit and for Inuit, based on the best available knowledge and the inclusivity of all Inuit communities and regions, whether they're in territories or provinces.


2:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you, President Obed.

Many of the language nuances are new for me, so I think I heard you correctly identify the organization as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. Is that right?

2:30 p.m.

President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

2:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you.

Now, from the Métis National Council, David Chartrand is the vice-president and national spokesperson.

Mr. Chartrand, you have 10 minutes.

2:30 p.m.

David Chartrand Vice-President and National Spokesperson, Métis National Council

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Let me compliment you on pronouncing ITK because I can't say it to my old friend Natan. There are so many different times that I've tried.

I want to start off quickly, before I do my presentation, with this. I'm a leader who likes to speak right off the cuff. I don't really read speeches, but I have no choice. This is a standing committee so I have to make a presentation. I want you to visualize this when you're dealing with the Métis. What you hear from Perry and Natan are the challenges that they face, and what systems and structures they have in place.

Last week you had three ministers here, plus you had FNIHB, first nations and Inuit health branch, and they said to you point blank, the Métis are under federal jurisdiction. When it comes to a province, “Sorry, you're under federal jurisdiction”—that's what happens to us.

I really want you to picture this. We have 400,000 Métis in western Canada. In Manitoba alone, I have 80 villages and all the rest are in urban centres, where my people live half and half, 50% each way. We don't have one clinic. We don't have one nursing station. We have zero—nothing. Imagine from that perspective what I'm challenged with and what we, the Métis Nation, are challenged with, with the pandemic, yet we pay billions of dollars in taxes every year both nationally and provincially. We pay over $400 million or $500 million in Manitoba. Just think about it for a second and picture our situation.

Let me start off again, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much for allowing me to speak here today. I'm speaking to you from the homeland of the Métis Nation of Manitoba. Of course, the study on what response we will be doing to COVID is going to be a continuing challenge for all of us. In our discussion on March 13, the Prime Minister assured me there would be distinct funding for the Métis Nation. That's fundamental. It's very important. It has to be there or we will be left in the dust and blackened out of the process.

On March 25, the federal government provided $30 million for the Métis Nation COVID-19 emergency response plan. The $30 million is enabling the Métis National Council's governing members or provincial affiliates to provide immediate supports to Métis Nation citizens, families and seniors. They have developed and are rolling out action plans, providing immediate supports such as food, income, supplies and rent supplements. Thousands of our elders across our homeland in western Canada have been contacted and are being assured of and have been provided with assistance while staying in their homes. In fact, in Manitoba, we did over 3,000 hampers already.

I greatly appreciate Canada's rapid response to help our citizens and families in times of crisis. At the same time, the health emergency has exposed the particular vulnerability and disadvantages of the 400,000 strong Métis Nation population. It has highlighted the distressing fact that neither level of government has taken responsibility to address the deep-seated health conditions of the Métis people in Canada. At the federal level, we are excluded from resources from the first nations and Inuit health branch, and this continues during this pandemic, even after, if you remember, in 2015, the Daniels decision came down, where it made it very clear that the federal government has fiduciary responsibility for the Métis. Still, to this day, even during this pandemic, the first nations health branch is saying, “No, you're not under our jurisdiction.”

Minister Miller and Minister Bennett appeared before you last Friday and informed this committee on how much PPE was distributed to indigenous communities, the strategy, of course, and the health supplies. What they obviously did not tell you is that none of this was distributed to the Métis community. In fact, in Manitoba, we've been forced to purchase our own directly from China. We have shipments coming in as we speak, but it's a very risky venture when you're putting hundreds of thousands of dollars outside your country and hoping it's going to come back with your product. We have no choice as neither level of government has provided access to those important pandemic supplies.

I want to thank this committee for recognizing the Métis community in northern Saskatchewan, La Loche. I heard Perry Bellegarde reference La Loche. That's a Métis community with a large Métis population. They say it's Dene, but there's a large Métis population there. The neighbouring band is Clearwater River Dene Nation band. In fact, the Métis national president's son is the chief of that reserve.

Perry raised this, and it's not in my speech, but it's interesting that he raised it. When you look at La Loche, you see that the first case came on April 15 or 17. If you look at the band, you see they have 12. The Métis community has 117 cases, because there was no plan. That's just how fast it is that the one with a plan can maybe stop it, and in the one without a plan, it takes off.

This pandemic is reaching hundreds of people and affecting those in the communities of Buffalo Narrows, Île-à-la-Crosse and Beauval this spring. Those are all Métis villages I reference. In speaking to one of the leaders in the affected community, it is clear that there was no set plan by the province or the federal government—because both were arguing over who was responsible—to address the crisis that occurred in the Métis community because of jurisdictional debate.

At the provincial level, despite our staggering chronic illnesses, the province tells us to deal with the federal government to deal with our unique health conditions and needs. Our pandemic plans have been limited to providing income and food supports. In British Columbia, for example, this has included supports for families with children in school to access online educational supports.

In Manitoba, we've created our own isolation units to ensure that anyone who needs a safe place to stay during the pandemic can stay in these isolation units. Why have we done that? We have overcrowding, just like Inuit and just like with the first nations. We have 10 people in a two-bedroom, so how do you isolate with 10 people in two bedrooms? We bought tiny homes, isolation units, and we created our own off the communities.

Our pandemic plan has been limited by a lack of access to Métis health care services. Despite all health research that shows how important it is to have culturally competent and safe health care, Métis have been shut out of the provincial and federal health care systems. As I mentioned, in Manitoba we created over a hundred isolation units but have been unable to secure any health care workers. We have had no partnership with a health care provider, and we actually had to search for and find a health care provider virtually from Ontario. It shows, even in this pandemic, how vulnerable we are in the health care field.

We had proposed a new approach to the Métis health care in budget 2019 and again this year for budget 2020, an approach that would see federal investments to Métis health care that would assist the Métis nation in transforming the provincial health care system to allow us to establish Métis health care hubs in each province in western Canada. Our health care proposal would also enable us to meet the non-insured health care needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

It is our hope that this budget proposal will be supported, and we believe that the proposed new federal legislation, indigenous health care legislation, will correct this inequity. In the meantime, we must be vigilant in ensuring that the resources to cope with the COVID crisis are available to Métis governments as the situation evolves. They are all the more important, given our lack of access to health care resources.

I want to touch on Canada's support for small business, because you referenced it last week with the three ministers. This is of particular importance to our people. We have the highest rate of self-employment of all indigenous peoples. We are grateful for the investments made by the Government of Canada to support small and mid-size businesses. Our Métis Nation capital corporations, which make loans to our entrepreneurs, have paused the loan payments at this time to support those clients during this period of business interruption. They are working with their clients to keep them afloat. We're telling our businesses that they don't have to pay their loans right now. We'll keep them afloat for six months, they don't pay, and then we'll come back.

Their clients will need additional bridge loans to make it through the shutdown. The Government of Canada is proposing to support our Métis capital corporations to meet the needs of their clients, but it is proposing to base the amount of support on the overall value of each capital corporation's loan, not the volume of loans that are out there. The reason I say that to you is so you'll capture it. It's a little complicated, and I have to get briefed over and over.

The way they're approaching this matter is that they're going by volume. If you had a million-dollar loan, then you can have a higher ratio given to you, but your only cap is at $40,000. On the smaller loans, we have hundreds and hundreds of them that exist out there, so we're saying go by volume of loans to keep the small businesses alive, not by gross volume, because this way you're only supporting a few businesses. We're debating that with Canada right now.

This does not work for us in Manitoba, as our capital corporations have hundreds of small loans supporting smaller Métis businesses. Our entrepreneurs are very anxious, which may force them to make decisions like selling equipment and abandoning leases, which they would not otherwise do if they knew there was backstop financing available to get them through this rough period. Most also have difficulty accessing credit from conventional lenders, which is why we established the Métis capital corporations decades ago.

The proposal by the Government of Canada to base its support for our capital corporation in Manitoba does not reflect the needs of our small Métis businesses in Manitoba, and we urge the committee to support our request to change the supports to reflect the number of entrepreneurs who require support, and not use a gross mechanism.

I realize that the ministers, the members of this committee, and indeed all of us who represent Canadians at this time are facing unprecedented demands, pressures and anxieties, and I'm sure you're hearing it loud and clear from all three leaders.

I urge this committee to support our request for greater inclusion in the health care system going forward and for support for our Métis small business sector. This pandemic has shown us what systemic discrimination can do and shows the weakness in our health care system.

We look forward to working with you to transform the health care system and hope this is reflected in new indigenous health legislation in the future.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to speak here today.

2:40 p.m.


Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

May I have a point of order?

I'm not sure if it's a real point of order, but there was something, Mr. Chartrand, in your presentation that wasn't clear. You said that in La Loche there were 12 and 117. I think you were referring to the number of cases of COVID-19 in La Loche.

2:40 p.m.

Vice-President and National Spokesperson, Métis National Council

David Chartrand

Yes. The first case came into La Loche around April 15 or 17, and when it took off, it took off. However, the reserve next door.... It's connected. It's the same thing across Manitoba with Métis villages. For those of you who do not know the Métis community in western Canada, on nearly every reserve you'll find a Métis village next door.

What happened there, of course, was that there was a pandemic plan, a first nations plan by FNIHB with all the bands in Canada. Therefore, there is a strategy. They also have some medical supplies and all the rest that comes with it.

Thank you for the question, because what happened there on the reserve was that, even though they're connected to each other, they only have 12 cases in the band, but on the Métis side, it just skyrocketed because there was no plan, no supports, no programs, no supply chain, nothing. Both levels of government were saying, “It's not my jurisdiction; it's yours.” Both levels of government are still blaming each other, and it is creeping into the next villages now, because families are taking it to the next villages not realizing they're carrying it.

2:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Mr. Gary Vidal, go ahead, please. You have six minutes.

2:40 p.m.


Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all our witnesses for appearing today. Obviously, we appreciate your taking the time to be with us and sharing your wisdom. It is valued and appreciated.

My first question is for National Chief Bellegarde.

First of all, National Chief, thanks for the opportunity we had to meet last week and to get to know each other a bit better and to share some of our common background in Saskatchewan. In that meeting, we talked about data, testing and some of that type of stuff, so in follow up to that, I had the opportunity in the very first virtual Parliament to ask Mr. Miller about the reliability of the data that's being used for measuring results for indigenous people, how the decisions are being made and how resources are being allocated subject to that.

The answer I was provided is that ISC only has data for on-reserve populations. As we all know, more than half of indigenous people live off reserve. They're left relying on provinces and territories to report any of the tests and data being done by those organizations. In essence, what we have is some very inaccurate data that we're using to make decisions. The other difficulty or challenge we're hearing about in northern Saskatchewan particularly is that there's a stigma associated with testing positive, and in some of the smaller northern communities that's causing people to hesitate to get tested and to avoid that process. They are scared to come forward.

All that said, with all the widespread testing that's now going on—in fact, in La Loche, I believe they're going door to door testing people now—as we move forward, could you maybe just discuss how important it is to have accurate data in structuring the response for indigenous people?

2:45 p.m.

Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Thanks, Gary. Yes, you need good information and you need good data to make informed decisions. We always say, before you make any type of decision, get the best information you can.

Right now, it's really difficult to track the numbers and statistics. On reserve you can kind of track, but a lot of our people live off reserve, so it's with the provincial health authorities. There has to be a better way of tracking, and then you can do your wraparound. You can provide support to that individual and that family. You can track it and self-isolate better, but you need to know who is the individual.

We get it about the legal requirements. There's confidentiality, and all those things. However, you need good data and good information. That's why we talked about voluntarily offering your status card or your status number, or declaring whether you're first nation, Métis or Inuit. That has to be looked at, because that's a major thing.

I just got off the phone this morning with Rick Laliberte. He is the guy who's in charge of that area, La Loche. They're working together. They're on the phone right now, as we speak. The mayors from La Loche, Beauval and Green Lake are working with the chiefs, and they're looking at it from the perspective of a Treaty No. 10 pandemic area. They're trying to get coordinated between the Métis people, the first nations people and the mayors so they can control it, because it has really expanded.

I'm grateful and thankful that they're working together, but this whole piece about data is that you have to have better information going forward.

2:45 p.m.


Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you for that, National Chief.

For your information, we normally are sitting in on those calls with Rick and all those leaders at this time. We will join them as soon as our committee is over and get in on those calls. We're trying to stay on top of that as well.

I have one more question for you, and then I'll move on to some of our other witnesses.

As I'm sure you're aware, there was a press release issued by the Prince Albert Grand Council yesterday on an issue relating to inland fisheries in northeast Saskatchewan. I had a fairly lengthy discussion this morning with Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, the issue being freshwater fish supply and demand. It's not so much that they can't go out and fish. There's just no demand for their product. As I understand it, the AFN has an inland fisheries committee in place to try to address some of these kinds of challenges, but that typically focuses more on the coastal things than the inland fisheries' matters.

As an MP for northern Saskatchewan, my question to you would be how we can work together with AFN to help support these inland fishers in northeast Saskatchewan who are going to go through a real struggle here because their opportunity to have an income once summer hits is going to be gone, and they don't qualify for some of the other things that might be in place.

2:45 p.m.

Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

That's a good question, Gary. I'm glad you talked to Grand Chief Hardlotte because they're right there in the PA Grand Council. It has to do with their Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. It's in Winnipeg now. There's a whole issue about processing, trucking, carrying by planes—all these things. When you start talking about fisheries, everybody automatically thinks of the east coast or the west coast, but there's a very strong inland fishery that needs support going forward. The fishers—I won't call them fishermen because there are a lot of women who fish too—need support in terms of processing, accessing and even marketing. It all has to be supported.

I think the Department of Fisheries and Oceans can work with our AFN chiefs' committee on fisheries to start developing a strategy and a very clear, strategic plan for supporting and developing the inland fisheries across Canada, not only focusing on the east coast and west coast. That's how I would see that. There has to be a very specific program for that.

2:50 p.m.


Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

National Chief, do you think the inland fishing people should have been included in the announcement that was made by the government this week to support the fishing industry?

2:50 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Answer very quickly, Chief, as we're past our time. Go ahead.

2:50 p.m.

Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Always. The more inclusion, the better. Again, we need to get our people around decision-making tables, so the answer is yes. We have to get more involvement and more inclusion.

2:50 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks very much.

Now we go to Mr. Battiste for another six-minute round of questioning.

2:50 p.m.


Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Kwe. Thank you very much.

First off, President Chartrand, I want to say that your fish tank with the Métis symbol in the background is the coolest thing I've seen on Zoom so far. That's amazing. It's great.

My questions are to the national chief and the presidents. As advocates for your various constitutionally recognized indigenous nations, your role over the years has been to be advocates in Ottawa for the people you represent. With all of the programs that are coming out, a lot of times indigenous communities don't think these programs apply to them. Now, more than ever, there may be an importance in terms of communicating to the people at the grassroots and to their leaders.

To all the leaders, how are you communicating some of the programs the government is putting out, to make sure people know what they're eligible for and what's being done?

Second, I wanted to give the national chief a chance to finish his thoughts around the socio-economic gap he mentioned when he was going into the throne speech. It's important for us to look at COVID now, but also, as our Deputy Prime Minister has said, we need to skate where the puck is going, not where it is. I'd also like him to comment on the economic recovery, what we're doing and how it's associated with what you heard in the throne speech.

2:50 p.m.

Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Thank you for the question. I'll go to the throne speech first.

This is the first time ever in the history of Canada that there is a whole chapter dedicated to indigenous people's issues. In that throne speech, there is strong reference to the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That was number one, because if that's implemented, that will create economic stability and economic certainty right across every province and territory. Then there is talk of a treaty commissioner, because we have 634 reserves or first nations across Canada, over 60 different nations or tribes, over a million people, but we have a treaty relationship through sharing the land. This is a lot of land first nations people are sharing with 37 million people called Canadians now. We're sharing land and resources, so the treaty commissioner to implement with the “spirit and intent” was a key piece.

Then there was C-91 on languages and C-92 on child welfare. Then we had the implementation of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and then youth suicide. There was mental health talked about in the throne speech. We are seven times the national average for youth suicide. Then as well there was that the infrastructure gap would be closed by 2030. That's investments in housing, water, infrastructure, all those things—huge things. If the throne speech can be implemented, that will be huge.

In terms of what this government is doing and how we communicate, we communicate to the 634 bands through our newsletters, our updates, our websites and our communiqués. That's what we're doing from the Assembly of First Nations' side. We have constant chiefs committees. We also have a chiefs committee and a COVID task force in place to deal with this. We have the systems in place, no question, but there's lots of work to do post-COVID-19 to kick-start the economy. People on this call should know that first nations have contributed lots through our treaty relationship with the Crown. That's a a lot of land across Canada and a lot of resource bases that have been shared to help develop the GDP and the overall economic growth here in Canada.

That's my comment. Thank you.