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Evidence of meeting #32 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 aboriginal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Claudette Dumont-Smith  Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada
Cindy Blackstock  Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

Well, there are 160,000 first nations children, and approximately half of them are on reserves.

The reports I would commend to you, member, are the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report on first nations schools, authored in 2009. He did a rather thorough inventory of the needs of first nations schools in terms of bringing them up to the same standards as offered in the provinces and territories. Of course there's the recent report by the first nations panel on elementary and secondary education, and of course your colleagues in the Senate also just did a report on first nations education. They demarcate, really, where are those areas where investments could be made that would make the most significant impacts for children. In terms of child welfare, there's the Auditor General's report of 2008 and her refresh report in 2011.

As well, a joint report was done between first nations and the government in 2005. The Wen:de report involved over 20 leading experts, including five economists. We wanted to make sure that we were being very fiscally prudent, that we could link every penny we were recommending to be spent with actually good evidence on what happens on the ground in child welfare for children.

Member, I know that you yourself are very familiar with foster care with the work that you were doing in terms of the development of foster care programs, etc., and your own family's commitment.

If you'd like a copy of those reports, we'd be happy to send them to your office.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

I'd like to suggest that perhaps you table those reports for the purposes of this committee and for the education and information of all the members here. This is certainly an issue of grave concern, I think, not only to your community but for us as well, because we do want not just economic but also social stability and development, etc., for the children, that's for sure.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

What we're finding is that when we go across the country and talk to first nations and non-aboriginal kids, first nations kids have dreams of becoming physicians, of becoming business owners, of wanting to be pharmacists, of wanting to be artists. They really do want to make the very best contribution they can for their families and communities. I think these investments in them would help make a far better country for us all, as you point out.

May 2nd, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

If I may, I'd like to focus again on some of the complexities of this very big issue. As we know, it's not just a simple matter of dollars, right? I mean, some of these communities are very remote. Even getting teachers and staffing and a set of supplies to them is difficult at times, given winter conditions, etc., in Canada.

In addition to that, when you mirror that with what's happening in the urban centres, we do have some serious problems there, too, in terms of accomplishment rates, graduation rates, and all of those kinds of things. So we know there are some social issues tied in with the educational issues, which then are challenges for economic success, correct?

Given all of that, I guess what I'd like to ask you, given your extensive knowledge and experience in this area is this. Where are the areas, if you had to name the top three, where we can get the biggest bang for our activity or investment? I'm going to ask each of you to respond to this question, given that we have time.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

I would say that I look at funding as enabling, as being the first domino. If you follow that, then the implementation of best practices is possible.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

But what if we were to take that away? I mean, funding is an obvious thing, right? So let's take that way.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

If we take that away, I would say poverty reduction strategies and investments in programs or even corporate partnerships.

There's a great partnership, and I'm not sure the committee has heard about this, by the National Australia Bank with regard to payday loan operations, for example, which in my personal view are very exploitive of the poor. They charge interest rates that the middle class and rich would never consider paying. In Australia the anti-poverty groups and aboriginal communities went to the National Australia Bank in that country. The bank actually decided it would set up competition for these payday loan operations and provide microcredit to the poor.

That kind of operation has significantly enhanced people's lives and lifted them out of poverty, in some instances, because as you get into that payday loan operation, it can really create a circle of poverty.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

But are you familiar with the fact that Canada currently funds federal micro-loan programs through various banks and institutions, available at very good rates?

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

Right, but not as probably systematically as we were seeing in Australia. There was also an envelope around it of economic development and education, etc. So it's worth taking a look at.

The other thing is substance misuse and mental health treatment. I think it's really critical; it's really what drives a lot of the problems that we're seeing in our communities. If these were more widely available...along with investments in terms of self-esteem and cultural and language investments. We know from the research that girls growing up with a good sense of who they are, feeling proud of who they are, are less likely to get involved in domestic violence, less likely to get involved in other risky behaviours, and more set up for success.

Those would be my three.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Okay.

Ms. Dumont-Smith.

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Claudette Dumont-Smith

Well, I was going to say microfinancing as well, but that has been touched upon.

These were raised as well to government by NWAC a while back. I think we don't have a good handle on measuring the success rates of aboriginal women or girls in the economic development milieu. I think that should be something the government begins. We need this aggregated data by age, as I mentioned, and by gender, to really be able to assess the situation.

I think there have to be programs and services specifically for young women in the cities—more than what there is now. Granted, there are a few that are usually provided by the friendship centres, but I think that has to be really augmented. There has to be more, and it has to be aboriginal young girl-specific.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you.

Ms. Young's time is up. We will now move to other questions. Ms. Sgro, you have seven minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Please feel free to add anything you wanted to add in some of those other comments, because sometimes they're really important for all of us, regardless of which side of this room we're on.

Thank you to both of you for such an excellent presentation and for giving us a copy of the report from the United Nations as well. I think your comments were very, very moving, both of you, and it's just very sad that we're still struggling to solve this issue.

Frankly, if it takes the courts to solve it, then let's get it solved and let's move on with it, because I find these issues nothing short of a disgrace for all of us as Canadians. I think most Canadians want to see full opportunity for our aboriginal community, for our first nations. There's no reason why there shouldn't be.

Maybe this will be the turning point—through the court and through your excellent presentations.

Ms. Dumont-Smith, could you elaborate on the issue to do with the funding cut? That $700,000 to $800,000 is a huge amount of money.

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

It's not a small token. Could you elaborate on just how you're not going to be able to offer...? Tell me a little more about that health program that is no longer going to be.

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Claudette Dumont-Smith

I'll just give you a little bit of history, because I was the first health director of the Native Women's Association of Canada back in 2005. We applied for and received funding from the first nations and Inuit health branch of Health Canada to delve into different health topics, such as maternal and child health, aboriginal health human resources, FASD, early childhood development, and diabetes. The issues that were of great concern to aboriginal women were our concern as well.

We applied for project funding. Every year we got the funding and we would develop whatever we could develop. We would raise the awareness of these issues to our constituents and try to address the issues. We have done very well. As a matter of fact, one of our products on suicide prevention was identified—this was for young girls, as a matter of fact—as a best practice last year.

So as I said, we really thought that we would continue this work. We were very proud of our health unit, and consequently we were very surprised when they cut us at 100%. What will that do to the national office? Well, it's one-fifth of our budget. Six of our staff had to be let go. They had to be laid off. That seems to be the end of our health unit.

So yes, it doesn't only impact us at the national level. It's going to impact our constituents as well. When we had our annual general assembly or special meetings throughout the year, we would talk about whatever issue there was and whatever project we were developing. We would bring that information to them and get their input. We would also go to the tables at the national level, where they would talk about diabetes prevention, for example, or maternal and child health. We would have somebody from our health unit there to give their expert advice and to develop better programs and better policies.

There will be a tremendous backlash, I think, on the health of our women and girls.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Was there a consultation prior to that cut happening?

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Claudette Dumont-Smith

Not at all. No.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

When we started this study regarding where our young women in Canada would fit, the area that was the lowest was the aboriginal girls. We were doing pretty well everywhere else, except for the aboriginal girls, who were the ones who faced the biggest challenges. We were rated lowest in that particular category. So I'm glad that you're here, because I think that's an area that we really need to focus on with the kind of recommendations we're hoping to make here.

You tie it into education. Well, you know, you need healthy communities, and then you have to make sure that the girls are educated. You have to make sure that they know there are opportunities out there for them, that they can be successful if they do the things they're supposed to do.

The amount of substance abuse continues to be a concern for everyone. Is a lot of that a result of thinking that there's not a lot out there for them, that they'll end up without opportunities, and so they go into substance abuse as a way of killing the pain they're feeling about their future opportunities?

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

Shannen Koostachin said that she saw children as young as grade 5 dropping out because they had no hope.

I think if you were to imagine you or your family growing up in a community where people are living in tents, where there's one potable source of water; where you get two buckets, one for sewer and one for water; where your school is sitting next to a toxic waste dump, you could understand why hopelessness sets in as young as 10-years-old. But it's also made worse by the multigenerational impacts of residential schools, and in that regard, among the cuts that happened last year was the 100% cut to the funding to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. There's no real strategy that I know of on how to support the survivors of residential schools and to address the multigenerational impacts of residential schools that are very much alive in our communities.

I don't know if Claudette—

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Ms. Dumont-Smith, you mentioned various recommendations. I don't think you had a chance to finish them. You mentioned microfinancing and community economics. What were the others?

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Claudette Dumont-Smith

There was the thing about the disaggregation of data. We have to have a better handle on that. There are programs, the aboriginal procurement strategy, for example. Are young aboriginal women accessing the funds that are in there? We don't know. The information is there, but who's receiving the funds available for aboriginal business people from it? We don't know, and we've been asking for that for several years now. Also, are there measures in place to make sure that some of the funding available through that program, and the aboriginal business development program as well, is targeted to young aboriginal female entrepreneurs? We don't know. We don't have that information. We need that information.

I think we don't have a good handle on that. We don't have a good assessment, and I think we have to start to do the work so that we can develop the proper solutions.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you, Ms. Sgro.

As we continue around the table, you have five minutes, Ms. O'Neill Gordon

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Conservative Miramichi, NB

Thank you, Madam Chair. I want to thank the witnesses for being with us this afternoon.

I have to say that prior to becoming a member of Parliament, I was a teacher in a public school for 33 years. Following that, I taught for four years on a reserve after I retired. I felt that retirement wasn't for me, that I needed to go and make myself useful. So I went to a reserve and taught there.

Now in my constituency I have three reserves and I am very proud to say that all those three schools have the highest commendations and the highest technology, which I know because I have visited them since becoming a member of Parliament. The school that I taught at had been requesting a new school because they needed some repairs made to it and they were looking for that while I was there those four years, but it wasn't disastrous. There were things that needed to be repaired, like the electrical system and things like that. So I'm proud to say that as soon as I did get here, our government listened to me, and we have a brand new school there that I'm about to open in a few weeks.

These things provide a lot to our children back home on the reserve, and I'm happy and proud to see these kids enjoying such accommodations. It's good not just for the girls and the boys but also for the teachers. It gives them great ambition to go ahead and provide these kids with lots of different programs, which I have seen first hand.

Now of course this new school that we're about to open has breakfast in the morning and lunch at the cafeteria and everything. These are things that students on reserves need to have at their fingertips. They get a three course dinner at this new school for a dollar each. That is a very, very good program being provided by our government. There are some success stories out there, no doubt, with that.

But my question is, why do you see such a big difference from one area to another? I can visit any one of those three schools and be proud about what is going on there, and be proud about the accommodations and the work by teachers and volunteers in the community. Why is there such a big difference from one area to another? Being a teacher, I'm going to be the first to say that I don't like to see boys or girls lose out on a good opportunity for education. But why is it that some areas are doing so well and another has nothing? Is it financial mismanagement? Is there something that our government should be looking at to make things better for all?