Hi there. I'm just nervous. It's an amazing thing, eh?
I want to start by saying that I'm the daughter of John and Mary Head from Mistawasis First Nation. I'm a Dakota Cree woman originally born into Treaty 6. I exercised my nationhood and mobility right and transfered to Lutselk'e First Nation when I married my husband, who is Denis Sikoulin.
I would also like to acknowledge the teachings of my elders--and it will help me too. They say that when I go to places like that, I should make it very clear that I don't talk for all aboriginal people. Also, take a moment to pray, because I have ancestors behind me who live in me, and I'm hopefully speaking for the future.
I want to cry. I need to settle down. I'm going to take a minute to do that. I hope this is not offensive to anyone.
[Witness speaks in Cree]
I'm asking that you come and speak with me and help me today as my grandfather and my helper. Creator, I'm thanking you again for giving me life and being able to share whatever it is you're guiding me to do. Forgive me if I speak wrongly and offend people.
As the chair of the NWT aboriginal peoples committee, it's very important that we were formed. In 1994 the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union, began to recognize that aboriginal people were not being acknowledged as aboriginal people in Canada. For the union to be as progressive as we are, we needed to have a policy paper that would speak to that. I want to read a couple of phrases and I want to talk a little bit about our community in the north, because we're very involved with social justice. I also want to say that I went through the whole residential school, and I am one of the people who aren't acknowledged. The government decided, no, your experience doesn't exist for us. I'm also a foster parent and a community member.
The 1994 policy says that the Public Service Alliance “supports the right of aboriginal peoples to self-determination, encourages all governments in Canada to fulfill their historic treaty obligations...”--and I'll just insert something here.
I think that's very important, because I think a lot of Canadians have forgotten that they're treaty people too. I don't think our schools or our governments are educating us: if you're Canadian, you also are treaty, because those treaties weren't made in isolation just with us. They were made on behalf of Canadians and Canada. It's just that as aboriginal people today we want to benefit from that treaty as well as Canadians have done.
In the alliance, we want to encourage all governments in Canada to fulfill their historic treaty obligations, and we urge the timely and just settlement of all land claims. The alliance believes that aboriginal people have been historically disadvantaged, both in society and the workplace, and supports mechanisms that re-addresses this disadvantage.
Aboriginal peoples have the right to employment in the professions they wish to pursue. The alliance believes that employment equity initiatives are fully justified and necessary mechanisms to ensure that aboriginal peoples are provided the opportunity to pursue their chosen careers. The alliance will work to ensure that our union itself is fully accessible to all aboriginal members and that it thoroughly represents the interests of those members.
In the north here, in the NWT, we formed a committee. We have several aims and objectives, but there is one that speaks loudest to me. We work with other organizations, so we do partner. We believe in partnership, because it's very cultural. We don't talk about families or individuals like they're isolated; we talk about nationhood and we talk about community. It's real, and we still try to live that way, and when we come up against policies, it hits at the core of who we are.
So when my sister here talks about policies that are still hitting us, it's very, very true. I know that within PSAC we're going to be addressing what some of systemic policies are that are still there for assimilation and are killing us culturally. We're going to be reviewing that.
We want to support. Our committee works with supporting aboriginal peoples. It's not just in the workplace. It's not having this part at work, this part at home, and this part in society; it's your full life. It's to support aboriginal peoples in their struggle for full access to all human rights and the fundamental freedoms of their right to preserve and strengthen their own political, economic, and legal traditions and institutions.
We want to be active in our own country. This is our homeland. It's not like we can go back to some other place. This is it. We want what governments have been talking about and what service providers talk about with partnerships. We don't want it to be lip service anymore. We want to be at the table.
In order to do that, I think what has to be acknowledged first is that as an aboriginal woman—I'll speak for myself now—I was born into systemic racism. It was there, and it's still there, so when I hear a bunch of things that my sisters have said--and I will address them because I know I have a short period of time.... There are still a lot of systemic services that benefit service providers, which aboriginal people then become dependent on.
When we become dependent, what do we lose? We lose our autonomy, and then governments and service providers get to say, “But we're doing it for your own good”. Or if they want to open up something like child-family circles or something, where we can do something in the community, it's all under their cultural frameworks. They're not acknowledging.... Like our president of NWT, Terry Villeneuve, said, we have wellness practices, and those need to be recognized just as much as some of the social services or legal traditions, and they must start becoming mandatory, because they work for us.
Also, we must have ethical funding. We'll start getting funding like Sisters in Spirit. It works great, right? The government grabbed it, ran away, took it away and called it their own. Yet there is more work that needs to be done.
I'd love to talk more on this.