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Evidence of meeting #28 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was young.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

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

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Irene Mathyssen

I'm sorry, we're at seven minutes.

Now we'll go to Madam Sgro, for seven minutes.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

To Ms. Merasty and Ms. Isaac, in the statistics we have seen, especially at the beginning of our examination of this issue, aboriginal women or aboriginal girls have not been making the same kind of progress other Canadian girls have been making. There continues to be a much higher percentage of aboriginal girls having a lot of difficulty. Do you have any comments on that?

Why do we continue to see that there's not a balance, a level playing field for both. I know many of the different parts of those answers. But I'm wondering, from both of you, as you're young, what you continue to see are the kinds of things preventing aboriginal girls from achieving the success we would like them to see.

5:05 p.m.

Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance

Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty

You know, I'm not so young, but culturally—

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

You look pretty young in the video. It looks good.

5:05 p.m.

Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance

Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty

I see those same issues with our women. It's a complex issue. I actually deal with an emerging leadership program, too. The women who are more confident, who are willing to put themselves out there, and who are on the right path in education for their career paths are to me the first nations women who are in tune with who they are and their cultural identity. There's a lot of pride that comes from having that connection to your own community, having that connection to your own people, and having that connection to the land and your family. There's a lot of pride that comes with that, and that's really key in trying to make those changes that need to be made.

When you look on the flip side, you see some of the youth at risk. You see that a lot of their culture has been replaced by maybe subcultures, such as gangs. It makes you sad to see that they've replaced something that's so special and so integral to who they are and what they're about.

I also tell people that we have to govern ourselves. When I compare the way we govern ourselves.... We do our own indigenous laws. We see more value in that. We hold ourselves to that standard of that law. If there is an imposed set of values and an imposed set of laws and we're asked to hold ourselves to those standards, it's not as important as it is to do it standing on the side of our own culture. Maybe that's some of the disparity we see among women. I don't know.

I could probably go on more with that, but I just want to start with that point.

5:05 p.m.

Coordinator, First Peoples' House

Paige Isaac

I would say that it all depends on where they're coming from, on their family supports. Perhaps their parents didn't go to college or university, so they don't see anyone going on that path.

I think independence also plays a big role. If a young aboriginal is independent, they might make those choices for themselves. I think codependency could be a problem, whether that's with relationships, or drugs and alcohol—just codependent behaviours.

I think a lot of healing needs to be done because of the intergenerational trauma that they might not even be aware of and that exists due to residential schools. Also, through the sixties scoop, as you know, a lot of historical trauma happened, and that has had an effect on their grandparents and their parents—they might not even be aware of it—and even on their community. I think a lot of aboriginal people see a lot of trauma that we need to start healing. These are historical things that the non-aboriginal Canadian population might not have experienced.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Chair, how much time do I have left?

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Irene Mathyssen

About two and a half minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

I know that my colleague had a particular question that she was hoping to ask, so I'll give my minute and a half—or whatever it is by the time I stop talking—to her.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Thank you very much, Ms. Sgro.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'd like to apologize to our witnesses for the problem we had earlier in terms of not being able to ask questions. I really do appreciate Ms. Sgro giving me the time.

I want to talk about the fact that under-representation in higher education is probably a major factor. I mean, in getting to higher education, there are barriers there already, and even if we can get the right amount of women.... I mean, we have a lot of women. In some departments like law, we have more women studying law than men, and yet women have less opportunity to become lawyers, right? So it's not just getting to education, although I do recognize that aboriginal people face certain barriers in getting there.

There are also things like pay inequity and discrimination systematically, and in the case of aboriginal peoples, it's the legacy of Indian residential schools. So what I want to ask you about is what kinds of social factors make it difficult for aboriginal girls to get to higher education.

That's for both of you, starting with Ms. Isaac.

5:10 p.m.

Coordinator, First Peoples' House

Paige Isaac

Social factors? I don't know. The only thing that's coming to mind quickly is what I just —

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

If you like, maybe we could go to Jocelyne first, and then you can add anything you have at the end.

5:10 p.m.

Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance

Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty

Maybe I'll give you a personal story. When I first started going to university, I had no clue what fields were out there. It was just whatever I stumbled upon. Actually, back then, it was the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, and I had a person come out to me and actually fill out my forms. I didn't even know I was registered for university until the first semester was over.

It just speaks to the understanding we have of post-secondary. We don't have those people in our lives, those role models who say that university is a must. We don't have a parent sitting behind us writing out our forms and stuff like that.

So I didn't too well the first time I went to university. I was a young mother and I had a lot of social issues. I was actually in an abusive relationship. University didn't work out for me. I had a child, and then I was a young widow, so I had to go back at a later time—

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Irene Mathyssen

I'm awfully sorry. I keep cutting you off and I regret that, because it is a great honour for us to have both you and Ms. Isaac here and to hear what you have to say.

We are expecting bells soon, for a vote, but we will go into the second round for as much time as we're given.

I would like to remind members of the committee that they can indeed submit any additional questions for witnesses to the clerk following this meeting. The clerk would like to have those by five o'clock tomorrow.

Ms. Ambler, for five minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I feel so badly that you didn't get to finish your personal story, Jocelyne. Please take a minute, if you'd like to, and finish your thought.

5:10 p.m.

Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance

Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty

I was just going to say that, for me, I was that young, single aboriginal woman trying to go to university. I had a lot of issues that I had to deal with. That's a common story for a lot of us. It's 60% of the story you'll hear from all the aboriginal women across Canada who enter into post-secondary. I actually went back to university about seven years ago and I finished my degree in communications, but I had to go outside. I had to take it in Victoria, B.C. I had to finish that course with a newborn on my lap. There were times when I spent three days in my pyjamas trying to write a paper and look after a newborn.

These are common stories. If you ask the aboriginal women, they'll echo the same kind of story. That's the part of their resilience, and we need to bring out and find ways to embrace those challenges and those stories.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Sure. Thank you.

I think all of us who have been mothers can sympathize with you there in some way.

I'd like to ask you both, as a matter of fact, a question that my colleague, Ms. James, asked our two previous witnesses here earlier today.

How do you think that Status of Women Canada can empower women to want to succeed? What are the things that we, as a federal government, and Status of Women Canada can do?

5:15 p.m.

Regional Manager, Prairie Region, National Centre for First Nations Governance

Jocelyne Wasacase-Merasty

It would be to create those forums for that dialogue to start happening at the first nations level and really getting them to understand that you're there to listen to them and you're there to understand, first of all, some of the historical concepts, and secondly, some of the challenges that are faced. And also just embrace it by saying we're here to listen and we want to collaborate on a way whereby we can find those solutions, those creative solutions, those innovative solutions, and those things that we haven't talked about yet, and start from there. For me, that's always the place where I love to start any kind of project.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Paige, do you have any suggestions?

5:15 p.m.

Coordinator, First Peoples' House

Paige Isaac

Yes. I think I would just add supporting programs put in place already, just letting aboriginal women know they can make a difference and that there's support available, and maybe making that support known. Some aboriginal people just don't know where to look and don't know what exists, so it would be just making sure that information and those connections are made and are accessible.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Irene Mathyssen

Thank you very much.

I am sorry, the bells are ringing and we do have to go. But, again, we're most grateful to you. You have provided some remarkable insights.

Thank you.

The meeting is adjourned.