This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #31 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 students.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Anne-Marie Gammon  President, Femmes Équité Atlantique
Angelina Weenie  Department Head, Professional Programs, First Nations University of Canada

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

I want to thank Ms. Gammon. I really appreciated your comments. You talked about the lack of confidence in young women, and confidence is a must for running in an election. I really enjoyed your analysis.

I would first like to yield the floor to my colleague Anne-Marie Day, who has a question for you.

April 30th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Good afternoon, madam. I am very interested in hearing what you have to say. Among the programs you are promoting for girls and women, are there any about guidance, management, the female enterprising spirit and the integration of women in non-traditional lines of work, where there are more jobs in the regions for men than women? Does anyone help them with integration? I am talking about guidance, management, the female enterprising spirit and jobs traditionally reserved for men.

4:40 p.m.

President, Femmes Équité Atlantique

Anne-Marie Gammon

Yes, those programs exist, but there are problems. We need to train those providing the guidance, those providing decision-making support to girls to ensure they are well-advised when they finish high school.

All girls do not have the same type of intelligence. As you know, there are seven or eight types of intelligence. Formal education is not for everyone. Some girls are incredibly skilled with their hands and see the world in a different way. It is important to steer them towards non-traditional occupations. Women who are re-entering the workforce often choose non-traditional occupations, but there are far fewer female high school graduates opting for those fields.

In New Brunswick, there are a number of things happening. We have a program aimed at narrowing the wage gap. Young women wanting to enter non-traditional occupations receive scholarships. Scholarships are also available to young men choosing to enter non-traditional occupations. The REDDI project endeavours to support young female entrepreneurs, in partnership with local businesses. There are entrepreneurial networks for young women. I have to hand it to the federal government; they've done a good job in terms of funding projects that help young women start their own businesses, but it is usually more mature young women who go that route. Today, more women are starting their own small or medium-sized businesses and becoming entrepreneurs.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Earlier, you shared a bit about your own experience. I believe you work for the city council. Do you offer any programs, in cooperation with Status of Women Canada, aimed at increasing the number of women who sit on boards of directors, whether it be for hospitals, banks or schools?

4:40 p.m.

President, Femmes Équité Atlantique

Anne-Marie Gammon

Yes, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities had a program. When their officials came to New Brunswick, I attended a few of their presentations. I even helped organize some with Lise Ouellette, who was the director general of the Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick.

In the French-speaking part of the province, three sessions were held, each attracting 20 or so participants, who were very appreciative. A project was also established together with the Association acadienne et francophone des aînées et aînés du Nouveau-Brunswick called “Éveil à la citoyenneté des femmes et comment l'exercer”. The project targets not just women 50 and older, but also women of all ages, who were invited to participate. Equal Voice also hosted meetings. Unfortunately, however, of the organization's 76 or so participants, only 7 or 8 were French-speaking. We must find ways to encourage young—

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Forgive me, Ms. Gammon, but I must stop you there, as we have another witness waiting for us at this very moment.

Ms. Gammon, if the committee members have more questions, would you be amenable to having the clerk send them to you in writing? Would that be okay with you?

4:45 p.m.

President, Femmes Équité Atlantique

Anne-Marie Gammon

Absolutely, I would be more than happy to answer any such questions. This is something that is very close to my heart. If we want our general community, our sons and our husbands to have a better understanding of what women face and a clearer idea of what we can contribute, it is paramount that someone answer your questions. You are the agents of change, you are the decision makers.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you very much, Ms. Gammon. We were delighted to have you here today.

As I mentioned, we had less time than usual for our first witness. Consequently, the committee members can send any questions in writing to the clerk, who will forward them to Ms. Gammon.

Ms. Gammon, enjoy the rest of your day.

The committee will now take a quick break, so we can we bring in our next witness.

4:47 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

We are resuming our meeting. Joining us now, via videoconference, is Angelina Weenie, Department Head of Professional Programs at the First Nations University of Canada.

Good afternoon, Ms. Weenie. Thank you kindly for indulging us and waiting an extra 15 minutes. Your patience is greatly appreciated. Can you hear me clearly?

4:47 p.m.

Dr. Angelina Weenie Department Head, Professional Programs, First Nations University of Canada

Yes, I can hear you.

4:47 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Ms. Weenie, welcome to our committee. I won't take any more time except to say that you have 10 minutes for your statement, after which we will move on to questions.

4:47 p.m.

Department Head, Professional Programs, First Nations University of Canada

Dr. Angelina Weenie

Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you.

I'm going to talk briefly about my background. I have a Ph.D. in education, and my presentation will focus particularly on aboriginal girls. Part of my presentation will be from my own lived experience and observations from my visits to first nations communities. I'm a Plains Cree, a fluent Cree speaker, and I have been an educator for 35 years. This is my 15th year in a university setting.

What I see as the main issue for improving the economic prospects of aboriginal girls is education. Currently we are experiencing a number of funding cuts in education and health. They will have serious implications for improving the situation of aboriginal girls.

When I visit first nations communities I always say that I believe I'm visiting a third world country. Poverty and inadequate housing are some of the barriers to improving economic prospects for aboriginal girls. The most serious issue is related to the quality of water in the communities. That in turn affects nutrition and the general health and well-being of girls.

Those are some of the observations I would like to make.

On the positive side, as a department head of professional programs that include the school of business, the nursing education program of Saskatchewan, indigenous education, and the Indian social work program, the majority of our students are female. That is really positive, in terms of improving economic situations.

I welcome any questions you have for me. I generally come from a background in education. I have been a teacher for a long time, so I welcome any questions.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you very much, Ms. Weenie.

Mr. Albas, you have seven minutes.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I appreciate that our guests have taken the time to come before us today so we can ask for and hopefully get some good information for our study.

From your experience, what should the focus of Status of Women Canada be when we are trying to directly improve the economic participation, prosperity, and leadership of aboriginal girls in Canada? If you wouldn't mind, please give us a couple of ideas and some examples of things that have worked at other levels or in other areas.

4:50 p.m.

Department Head, Professional Programs, First Nations University of Canada

Dr. Angelina Weenie

Education has always been the key. The funding cuts that are currently in place for post-secondary education need to be addressed. It's certainly getting harder and harder for girls and women to access post-secondary training that is so critical to improving their lives. That is my experience. I've always seen the need to improve ourselves through education, and I continue to carry that message. I've carried it throughout my career.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

I can appreciate that. In our notes prepared by the Library of Parliament, it does mention that recent data has shown some improvement in post-secondary attainment between the ages of 25 and 54. Obviously that's not the bracket we're studying here, but to go from 41% in 2001 to 47% in 2006 I think is a good sign.

You said that education is key. Is there another way for us to try to set a vision that would allow girls to consider skilled trades or post-secondary education if they want that? Is there a way we can connect with aboriginal girls at an earlier stage to try to bring up that percentage point?

4:50 p.m.

Department Head, Professional Programs, First Nations University of Canada

Dr. Angelina Weenie

Some of the practices that are in the schools already...for instance, Oskayak High School, in Saskatoon, has day care facilities for young mothers. I think that's a big support for them.

Another issue is the high rate of teen pregnancies. That changes the school culture altogether when we have to be thinking differently about how to support these young mothers and young girls.

That's just one of the observations I have on the issue.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

So it's about having the community encourage them and try to come together behind certain programs that are oriented towards them. Okay.

Can you provide any insight into what unique challenges aboriginal girls are likely to face with regard to economic participation, leadership, and prosperity? What are some of the obstacles as well?

4:55 p.m.

Department Head, Professional Programs, First Nations University of Canada

Dr. Angelina Weenie

I think a big obstacle is racism. We deal with that on a daily basis. We have to generally have a strong mind about overcoming racist attitudes about the place of women in general, and aboriginal women face a higher degree of obstacles and challenges. Racism is generally a big barrier.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Okay, so it's both racism and also gender discrimination in general.

Are these challenges different for aboriginal girls living in urban areas and rural communities? What has been your experience? Is there a different sense of the obstacles for the rural-urban divide?

4:55 p.m.

Department Head, Professional Programs, First Nations University of Canada

Dr. Angelina Weenie

I received my education in an urban setting. I only spent about two years on my reserve going to school. I was able to succeed with the support of my parents and my grandparents.

We have a vision that we want to be successful. We understand the need to have a good education. That has always been the message for me, for our children, and for our grandchildren. We continue that message. We see a need to prove ourselves in education.

Primarily it has been support from my parents and grandparents, who wanted me to be successful.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

So you would say that support has....

Pardon me. Go ahead, please.

4:55 p.m.

Department Head, Professional Programs, First Nations University of Canada

Dr. Angelina Weenie

The programming that I see in the other areas—for instance, you have Aboriginal Head Start, which has those six areas, including parental and community engagement, language and culture development, and the kids first—are all aimed at early intervention.

In communities you have parenting programs. Another area that is generally lacking is sports. One of the things that I recall in my community was that even though we were poor, we were active in sports. Every Sunday, for instance, the different reserves would get together and there would be a soccer tournament. We understand the need for—

4:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

I apologize, Ms. Weenie, but I must cut you off as Mr. Albas is out of time.

We now move on to a member of the official opposition.

Ms. Ashton, you have seven minutes. Go ahead.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Hello, Ms. Weenie.

Thank you very much for joining us today. Besides being the Status of Women critic for the NDP, I'm also the member of Parliament for Churchill, in Manitoba, which is, of course, next door to where you are. A lot of what you just shared about the reality on reserve and the challenges aboriginal young people face, particularly aboriginal girls, certainly resonates with me. That very much could describe exactly the same situation in first nations in Manitoba as well. Thank you for sharing that.

Ms. Weenie, I want to refer to a report that came out a short while ago, actually from the University of Saskatchewan, by Eric Howe. It talked a bit about the kinds of benefits Saskatchewan and Canada would see if we bridged the educational gap between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people. I believe he noted that the total social benefit, if that were to be done, could accrue to $90 billion, which of course is no small number, by any means.

There is no doubt that the limit on post-secondary funding, perhaps particularly the 2% cap in funding that exists, is a huge obstacle in getting to that point and bridging that gap. I was wondering if you could share with us a bit about where you see the funding, specifically for post-secondary education, that could inspire young girls and all young aboriginal people to take it to the next step. What kinds of supports do we need to see when it comes to funding for post-secondary education?