Good afternoon. Kwe.
Wela'lin for inviting the Assembly of First Nations to appear today.
[Witness speaks in her native language]
My name is Ashley Julian. I'm a Mi'kmaq woman from the Indian Brook First Nation community in Nova Scotia. I am here for the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland representative for the national youth council for the Assembly of First Nations.
The Assembly of First Nations is a national political organization representing first nations citizens in Canada. The Assembly of First Nations' role is to advocate for first nations priorities and objectives as mandated by the chiefs.
The Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council was created by a charter under AFN. The role and function of members of the national youth council is to represent first nations youth perspectives in all political, social, economic, cultural, and traditional manners.
I want to begin my presentation today by stating my appreciation for this study the committee has undertaken. Too often, policy development overlooks the early stage of life and focuses on addressing problems once they arise, as opposed to proactively understanding and planning for better outcomes.
I have identified three main areas of focus to improve the economic prosperity of first nations girls: education, employment, and safety and security.
First and foremost, first nations children deserve quality education. Since 1996 there has been a 2% fall in annual increases in Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada programs for first nations, including education. This has not kept up with inflation or population growth. The Assembly of First Nations estimates that there is a $3,800-per-child gap between funding for first nations schools and funding for other schools in Canada.
First nations children, simply by virtue of being born in a first nations communities, are expected to have a lower quality of education than other children in Canada. This is unacceptable. Improving the economic prospects of first nations girls requires fair and equitable funding for first nations schools. In addition, first nations girls have different educational paths than other girls in Canada. Among first nations girls, the most common reasons for dropping out of school are family caregiving responsibilities, whether for their own children or other members of their family, and trouble at home.
In 2006, 20% of first nations women over the age of 15 were lone parents, compared with 8% among other Canadian women. About 12% of teenage first nations girls were parents, compared with 1.3% of other Canadian teenage girls. Early motherhood and caregiving responsibilities can lead to a disruption in education, which leads to higher dropout rates. With support, these girls often re-engage with the education system later in life. Flexible programming and accessible child-care support are needed in first nations communities.
A strong example of promising practices comes from the National Association of Indigenous Institutes of Higher Learning, which emerged in recent years in response to the need for post-secondary programs that would better meet the learning requirements for first nations people and girls. An alternative to provincial colleges and universities, the indigenous institutes of higher learning provide programs from an indigenous perspective, including knowledge of one's identity and language. Many of these institutes are located within first nations communities, thereby improving access for students living in remote areas. They are also located in larger urban centres.
First nations girls need the tools and resources to actively engage in the market economy. But they also need opportunities and support to learn and understand the traditional roles, responsibilities, languages, and cultures of their traditional backgrounds.
Important studies by Chandler and Lalonde have looked at the preventative factor of cultural continuity in reducing suicide among youth. Steps to reinvigorate or actively support cultural learning and transferences increase individual resilience and self-confidence, which leads to economic and social success.
I will now move on to employment.
You are likely familiar with the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, ASETS. First nations provide employment services as part of ASETS, many of which have specific youth, bridging, and transition support.
A specific example of one of these programs is Caldwell First Nation Employment and Training, located in southern Ontario, which assisted one of our youth clients, Samantha. Samantha credits the Caldwell First Nation Employment and Training Office with helping her through her first real summer job opportunity. This office helped her with her résumé and provided the wage subsidy that created jobs in Point Pelee National Park. Samantha finished university, went back to school, and is now graduating from college. She just landed her dream job. She is heading out to Alberta for a park service ranger job. Again, the Caldwell First Nation Employment and Training Office provided the funds Samantha needed to travel to Edmonton for an interview and support her on her employment journey.
ASETS promotes the importance of helping clients like Samantha in making connections for young girls and young people. Such dedicated support, coupled with mentoring and role modelling, are powerful tools for first nations girls; however, they are not always accessible due to changes in funding.
Finally, I want to note a crucial barrier to the economic prosperity of first nations girls—a lack of safety and security. The incidence of violence and insecurity faced by first nations girls and women is well known in these communities, given your previous study. It is extremely difficult for girls to meet their full potential, economically or otherwise, when they are under such great risk of witnessing or experiencing physical or emotional harm.
As noted in the interim report of this committee's study on violence against aboriginal women, a much greater focus is needed on family violence prevention, anti-bullying, and gang activity reduction.
To conclude, while first nations girls continue to be more disadvantaged than their non-first-nations counterparts, we can look with a real hope to gains that have been achieved in a few short generations. For example, one of our successful statistics around first nations girls and the educational opportunities is the Coady Institute, located at the St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. It is a great opportunity for young female aboriginal and indigenous girls to attend a post-secondary institution in which they are taught leadership skills and roles and responsibilities.
Education is beginning to result in a real improvement for first nations people, but the rate and pace of change needs to accelerate, as it is simply not acceptable to leave first nations children behind.
Actions that can make a tangible difference in improving the economic prospects of first nations girls include flexible and accessible child care for first nations communities in urban and rural areas; support for mentoring in exchanges of formal economies, career development, indigenous languages, and traditional practices; and greater support for violence prevention, anti-bullying programs, and programs to deal with gang recruitment and activity.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. Wela'lin.