Status of Women Committee on April 4th, 2012
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Bonnie Brayton National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada
- Peggy Taillon President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Council on Social Development
- Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance
- Paige Isaac Coordinator, First Peoples' House
Judy Sgro York West, ON
In the sense of the whole Digital Divide, you reference—
National Executive Director, DisAbled Women's Network of Canada
Well, Chheng's actually working in my office. Again, this comes back to the question of leadership. It's something that I speak to often. Chheng and I have both committed to a leadership project that steps both of us outside ourselves to work on an international project that will actually develop a social enterprise in the Caribbean region.
In my view, it's very much about creating a country and reminding ourselves here in Canada that the greatness of this country was built not just around business but around social inclusion and economic inclusion for all Canadians, and that the social enterprise model is one that beautifully addresses this vision of who and where Canada can go.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
Peggy, you mentioned some of the work you've done and what you've seen in the village in Kenya in particular, but you were very focused on our girls, and our Canadian kids here. And I agree with everything you said as to what the basics have to be in those first five years and all of those things.
But now, when we're starting to say, okay, we have a young woman who is 16 or 17 years old at this point, what kinds of economic opportunities are there? What roadblocks can we be removing that you think stand in the way of her success?
President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Council on Social Development
That's a great question. Discrimination starts early and it's often latent. It's not obvious. People don't set out to create barriers. Often the barriers are institutionalized or systemic. As women, you experience them and question it.
Finding a high-quality child care place that's safe for your kids—when you find that, it shouldn't feel like a lottery win. It's funny, because I'm a single mom of a little boy, and one of the things that I've learned is that elementary school can be very geared to young women. The environment is very geared towards young women. Often boys don't thrive in that learning environment the way that girls do.
It's flipping the paradigm and finding balance for both genders to thrive. It's trying to create opportunities in which kids see themselves and they see mentors who they respect, and where there are opportunities for them to grow and flourish. The gender analysis, for example, is a great opportunity. But if it's only an analysis, if it's only a “what are the barriers”, if there is no actual implementation, and if it doesn't go beyond government, then we're not really shifting the balance.
In regard to your question earlier about those employers who got it right, where we're seeing shifts in the demographics with respect to more women working in certain segments of the job market, likely somebody in that organization had the leadership and the vision to actually put a gender lens on their company or their organization, and started to create those conditions that everybody can come to work and thrive in. It starts there.
A gender lens is really about men and women, girls and boys, thriving and finding balance in those environments. Often what we end up doing when we do these analyses is that we look at one or the other, as opposed to creating those conditions where everyone can thrive equally. A lot of those barriers can be seen as divisive. Often they're latent. Nobody sets out to create those barriers, just like for people with disabilities, but they're there.
Making shifts in those takes time, but it takes concerted effort and it takes leadership. I also think that young women truly need to see themselves in government, in prominent decision-making roles, at the head of leadership.
I come from health care and I was a senior executive at one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country. I remember sitting at my first meeting of medical heads. There were 47 medical divisions in the hospital. There was only one female head. Imagine. What does that say about the culture?
The Chair Irene Mathyssen
I'm awfully sorry, because I'm so enjoying hearing all of this wonderful information, as I know all the rest of the committee is enjoying it, but we do have to move on.
I want to say thank you, again, to Ms. Brayton and to Ms. Taillon. It's wonderful to see you and we appreciate the contribution that you make, not just here today, but every day.
So at this point I'm going to suspend for a couple of minutes so that we can bring in our other guests.
The Chair Irene Mathyssen
We are ready to begin again. I would ask the committee to resume their seats.
We welcome today Ms. Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty, and of course, Ms. Paige Isaac. Thank you very much.
We'll begin with Jocelyne, please, for ten minutes.
Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance
I want to start by thanking the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for this opportunity to speak today. I consider this a great honour. I accepted the invitation without hesitation. Once I started to prepare my thoughts on how I was going to present this, I realized I could only present a statement based on my own personal issues and experiences as an indigenous woman in Canada, and drawing upon my role as the regional manager for the National Centre for First Nations Governance. I also appreciate the fact that there are many different approaches that could be considered on how we, as Canadians, collectively work toward improving the economic prospects for Canadian girls. But for my presentation today I've decided to centre my thoughts around the theme of “nation rebuilding and indigenous women—the strength of our nations”.
Today we hear about many reconciliation processes. A very important healing movement is under way in Canada between indigenous and non-indigenous people, overseen by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, dealing with the devastating legacies left by residential schools. However, I want to bring in another aspect of reconciliation, because I feel that it's a multi-dimensional process, and talk about other issues of restoring lands, economic self-sufficiency, and expanding the jurisdiction of first nations. It can also provide an opportunity to reaffirm the role of our indigenous women through the reclaiming of balance in their home communities and in the Canadian society at large. It is only through forums for dialogue such as this that all parties can search for respectful approaches that will recreate the just relationship we are seeking.
It has been said that indigenous women are the strength of our nations. Traditionally, indigenous women have always played a central role within families and within their nations. Specific tasks were overseen by women in traditional governance structures and in spiritual ceremonies. Cultural teachings passed through oral traditions of indigenous peoples illustrate that indigenous men and women were equal in power, and each had the autonomy within their own personal and social lives.
No more can we ignore the misplaced role and the marginalized voice of indigenous woman. There are too many stories of our indigenous women's accomplishments, their unique strengths, and their ongoing resilience. It is from showcasing these types of examples that our indigenous women will find a place of empowerment and celebration, leading them to their rightful place in society. In an effort to reclaim this balance, indigenous women need to begin to understand the historical context that has challenged the role of indigenous women in today's society, especially in the areas of leadership, governance, and economic development.
Speaking about historical context and traditional indigenous societies, indigenous women played a central role within their families, their government, and in ceremonies. Women were viewed as both the life-givers and caretakers. Men respected women for the sacred gifts they believed the creator had given them, such as being responsible for the early socialization of children, and keepers of the home fires.
In a presentation I recently went to by Kathleen Whitecloud at a conference of first nation managers said that colonization—the imposition of foreign values and their cultural standards—brought about tremendous historical, social, and economic changes.
Suppression of indigenous society and their traditional practices was a common custom—a way to bring about assimilation and the dismantling of the indigenous identity. Unilaterally imposed federal legislation, such as the British North America Act and the Indian Act; attempts at assimilation such as the 1969 white paper; residential schools; over-policing; an ineffective justice system; the loss of our traditional livelihoods; and the removal from our traditional lands to be placed on reserves have all contributed to dependence on a welfare economy, thus creating intergenerational poverty and a very poor socio-economic status. Women were all but ignored, as can be seen in the treaty-making process and in subsequent federal legislation such as the Indian Act, and in many administrative rulings regarding citizenship and gender inequalities.
Today we see the effects of colonization as a dispossessed people, alienated from their traditional practices. The breakdown of families is apparent. There is overrepresentation of aboriginal people in the justice system. There are social inequalities, institutionalized discrimination, systemic racism, lateral violence, discriminatory hiring practices, and violence against women—such as the file on missing and murdered aboriginal women of Canada.
I've come to learn, and I have always talked about this when I'm in communities delivering workshops, that the path to self-determination and nation rebuilding begins with the self, and any journey begins with one person. For indigenous women, empowerment and decolonization will appear in the form of sharing indigenous knowledge, increasing leadership roles, and capacity development with special attention being paid to post-secondary education and skills development, indigenous language revitalization, and the revival of the traditional role of women.
The importance of post-secondary education and skills development as the turning point for anyone seeking to better their life and the lives of dependants cannot be overstated. However, what must be stressed are the types of support systems that are required for indigenous women as they pursue their educational and career goals. The treaty right to education means investing in the future by educating our indigenous people. Educated people will be part of the solution.
Adequate resources don't just mean funding, scholarships, and bursaries, especially for indigenous women. Additional factors are often associated: proper child care, health, transportation, and access to student services that are first nation specific, for example, ceremonial activities and elder counselling. Never mind the fact that to pursue the dreams of higher education or career development means once again leaving their home communities for urban centres and all that this change entails.
Indian control of Indian education speaks to the need for culturally appropriate educational institutions and the need to have educational opportunities that focus on this cultural alignment. Bilingual, bicultural education talks about the challenges of walking in two worlds, and it is equally important for an indigenous person to have the knowledge base from both worlds, both contemporary and traditional.
Indigenous knowledge includes traditional teachings about creation; learning our songs and our stories; exploring our indigenous laws, protocols, and methodologies; practising our ceremonies; sustaining the arts; reconnecting to our sacred places; and much more. As these teachings are shared among indigenous people, women's identity and cultural connections will increase, resulting in long-term, positive impacts on their families and communities.
Why am I talking so much about this cultural identity and how it is linked to stronger economic independence?
I'm taking a quote from a professor at the University of Regina, Dr. Bob Kayseas. He just made a presentation to a conference here and he talks about this. He says:
Over time the strengthening of aboriginal culture will converge with the entrepreneurial pursuits of our people. This convergence will lead to increased involvement in sustainable entrepreneurship.
As we navigate away from the nucleus of the self and the family, and move toward the larger realm of community and nation rebuilding, we start to see another group of challenges that discriminates against the role of the indigenous woman. Today's mainstream approach to leadership, business, and governance structures is very top down and non-inclusive, and too often these approaches are adopted by first nation contemporary governance structures, once again marginalizing the voice of the indigenous woman.
This is reaffirmed by Dr. Kayseas' research when he spoke of livelihood and economic independence with a group of elders who spoke of the disruption in the family and the community systems, and the impact on the transmission of culture, the language, and the value system. The researcher made the connection that indigenous peoples' traditional pursuit and conception of livelihood are strongly linked to their world views and their survival depends on innovation, hard work, sharing, and mutual respect for all creation. Our resilience as independent people, our livelihood, can be described in today's terms as economic independence and prosperity.
The National Centre for First Nations Governance, Prairie region, has listened to the concerns of the people in our workshops and our forums, in the work that I do working and sitting as a board member for the First Nations University of Canada, and also in participating in the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute and Aboriginal Women's Leaders: Saskatchewan. We talk about the need to bring women together so they can start discussing these issues, and how to move forward and come up with strategies to deal with them.
So we are developing a proposal to host a forum to discuss these issues.
The Chair Irene Mathyssen
I'm sorry to interrupt. I hope we can discuss the rest of your paper in the course of the question period. I'm sure that we'll be able to.
Now Ms. Isaac, for 10 minutes, please.
Paige Isaac Coordinator, First Peoples' House
Kwe. Hello, everyone.
My name is Paige Isaac. I am Mi'kmaq and I am from Listigouche First Nation.
I want to thank the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for inviting me here to speak. I feel very honoured.
I'm a McGill graduate. I'm a biology major. I started working at the First Peoples' House at McGill University as soon as I finished, and have a new-found passion for education and advancing aboriginal education in this country.
I'll say a little bit about the First Peoples' House and how we contribute to the economic prospects of aboriginal people through education.
We're a part of student services. We're dedicated to providing support for first nations, Inuit, Métis, status and non-status students by establishing a sense of community and a voice for these students who have left their home communities in order to pursue their education. A large part of our student population is women and mothers. We see a lot of the active student population. They're in medicine, law, education, and social work, among other fields. We offer wide-ranging activities. Our staff has actually grown in recent years to help manage this. We do everything from outreach to communities as early as grade school and high school, to families, and to other universities. We support them while they're here, we celebrate them at graduation, and we help with their integration into employment.
I just want to highlight a couple of our really successful outreach programs. This year will see our sixth annual Eagle Spirit High Performance Camp. It runs for a long weekend in May and brings together aboriginal youth ages 13 to 17 from all over the country to come to McGill, spend a weekend here, learn about health careers, amongst others, and find their passion. And there's a lot of focus on sports and physical fitness and overall well-being.
We're seeing a lot more campers, actually, apply to McGill. We have our first student completing his first year at university here. He wants to get into sports medicine. So it's a really successful program. We collaborate with many different people, and you can see that in my notes. We also raise awareness in the McGill community about aboriginal history, culture, and identity through various programs.
I'll talk a little bit about the obstacles. The recommendation I would have is for a sustainable and long-term investment, especially to keep some of the new positions we have. They're running on grants and need to be continually renewed. Funding for students—the post-secondary student support program—is not up to par with the cost of living. This program needs to be maintained. I would encourage that it not turn into a loan program, and that the cap be removed and increased. It offers a lot of restrictions. A lot of our students have to be full-time, they sometimes can't take classes in the summer, and it is good for only certain programs. It doesn't actually support transitional programs, which some universities are developing because they see a need, because some K to 12 students are not being qualified to go into university. So it would be really great if some of these programs could be supported.
In terms of housing, we actually offer housing in our building, but the costs are very high and it's not suitable for families.
I see the need for culturally appropriate counselling. There's a lot of healing needed, and a lot of students do not feel comfortable seeing just any counsellor. There's a need for more communication between community post-secondary counsellors, institutions, and federal and provincial governments to come together to create a more uniform and modernized strategy to advance aboriginal education.
I was recently at a conference and we were discussing unemployment and poverty. They had the statistics up there—high unemployment and high poverty—and one student brought up a really good point. She asked if we could break down these terms and ask who sets these standards.
I think a lot more could be in the discussion on unemployment and poverty, such as our aboriginal values in these standards that have been put in place. What does it mean to aboriginal people to be unemployed and living in poverty? It's a very diverse situation for many different people.
You know, we're always associated with some of these nasty statistics. There is not enough recognition that the situations of aboriginal people around the country are diverse. Stereotypes still exist because of these statistics. More emphasis could be put on what we are doing right and what we're doing well. We are doctors, lawyers, and CEOs. This needs to be visible.
There are structural and systemic problems. Aboriginal and western values tend to clash. I think there needs to be better coordination and more education and awareness campaigns. I think it needs to be moved beyond just awareness. We need to move towards more understanding.
I think a mandated improved aboriginal curriculum in K to 12 is definitely needed. Then we wouldn't have to go do all these education and awareness campaigns. We would be dealing with these in school, talking about them more in-depth, analyzing them, and coming up with solutions together. We would have a curriculum with indigenous perspectives and resources.
Faculties of education in universities and colleges across the country can do the same. We're teaching future teachers, and everyone has to be in the same boat learning how to engage with aboriginal issues.
There should be more mentoring and support, especially for graduate students. As I work in the university, we would like to see that happening.
There should be more aboriginal inclusion. One of our students would really like to see a commercial highlighting various aboriginal people in various positions to really make these positions and fields more visible so that young aboriginal women and boys can see themselves in these work fields.
We should highlight or create a document on useful grants that could help fund economic projects on and off reserve. Making that information easily accessible would be good.
I'll raise some particular factors affecting women. Child care is one. Raising a family while in school, away from community support, is a big one. In most cases, the women going back to school are the sole caretakers. We tend to see aboriginal mothers going back to school later on, because they see the importance of education, and they see it influencing their children. If they want their children to grow up to be successful, they know that they need to set that path. We need to support them.
Discrimination is another one. Being a woman and indigenous, it still happens.
There is self-esteem. Again, we need more mentoring programs. Programs that exist could be tailored and could connect with aboriginal communities to make sure that we're empowering all women.
There is a little bit of a difference between those on reserve and off reserve. Again, aboriginal people are very diverse, and we need to always keep that in mind. They're very diverse socially, culturally, and economically. We need to be aware of assumptions. I give an example here. When we're creating an outreach program, say with a school on reserve, that's great. At the same time, there are a lot of parents sending their children to private schools or urban schools, because they think that's a better opportunity for them. I think we need to make sure that we're aware of that and we reach out to those students as well.
I've noticed that a lot of on-reserve students coming to an urban setting have a lot more social, cultural, and emotional needs, because that's what they're getting in the community. We need to make sure that we're having that in the urban setting as well, and are creating that community. Students on reserve usually have to move to an urban setting, if they want the same opportunities as the rest of the population—whether that's going to high school, going to post-secondary, getting employment, or even for health.
So there are a lot of trade-offs. Because to get a good education and a chance to succeed, you most likely have to leave your community and your family and integrate.
The Chair Irene Mathyssen
I'm sorry, Ms. Isaac. We're at 10 minutes. I hope the committee will give you an opportunity to finish your remarks.
Now we'll go to Ms. Young for seven minutes.
Wai Young Vancouver South, BC
I want to thank both of you for your presentations and for taking the time to share your personal experiences as well. I think that's also very important for us to hear about.
What I also wanted to hear about from you is a bit more of a focus on the subject of this study, which is the economic participation of girls and young women, and what it is that we can do as a country to overcome some of the challenges. If I were to ask each of you to say what your top three things are that we could or should be doing, that would be really interesting to me. Maybe we'll start with Jocelyne.
I hope you don't mind if I use your first name.
Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance
On the top four things that I see as an area that we could start exploring, again, I could talk a lot about the colonization, but I think we really have to understand that as first nations women we have to understand the impacts and how that looks in today's culture. So it's about understanding the role of the woman, the leadership and the governance issues, and how nation rebuilding and self-governance are all tied into that, and really showcasing stories of success—stories of women leaders and of the resilience that we have as first nations women.
Another area would be encouraging economic independence. Again, it would be showcasing a lot of entrepreneurs and corporate and community people, and building the financial literacy among them, really promoting that strong administrative practitioner approach, building their capacity, and building those opportunities for training. So it would be really focusing on profiling that.
Also, the mentorship aspect is key in this. We have to look at the next generation of our emerging leaders and reach out to them to see what kinds of needs they have, and we have to really think about how we can service and facilitate that with them. If it's through projects that are already out there, NCFNG has some things that we do with our services. We have a mentorship program. There are also other organizations, such as the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute and their project, where they're really trying to empower women.
Also, another area that I think is key is to start to look at the role of women in the area of board governance, because I think there's a role, and there's a decision-making aspect in there, and women have to start becoming more aware of that as an avenue. Because when you think of indigenous leadership, the first thought for a lot of them is that it has to be an elected position, but there are other avenues whereby we can start participating in decision-making. So really, it's about building that capacity at a first nations level and at the indigenous women's level, increasing the board governance role, and talking about the challenges and why is it important to have women's voices in these areas.
Those are my top four.
Wai Young Vancouver South, BC
I think those are excellent. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Before we go on to Paige, I'd like to ask you, Jocelyne, if you know that in budget 2012, which is the budget we're currently presenting, there's a huge initiative in there called the women's advisory council. We want to strike a national women's advisory council specifically to help other people be on different boards across all sectors in Canada, to then increase our voice in all these different areas.
So that's just something for you to watch for, and in the future, hopefully participate in. That would be great.
Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance
Wai Young Vancouver South, BC
Paige, could you share with us your top three things that you think would be really critical and that we could use to overcome the challenges in increasing the participation of girls and youth in economic success?