Madam Chair, distinguished members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, thank you very much for this opportunity to present to you on the economic security of women in Canada.
I wish to acknowledge the Algonquin Nation, whose traditional territory we are on today.
I'm a member of the self-governing Tsawwassen First Nation in British Columbia, just south of Vancouver, as well as policy officer here with the National Association of Friendship Centres. The NAFC's executive director, Erin Corston, sends her greetings.
Today I would like to share three things with you. One, I'd like to give you a very brief statistical overview of some of the experiences of indigenous women living in urban areas in Canada and an overview of the friendship centre movement.
Two, I'd like to share some concrete ways in which friendship centres—and the NAFC, to some extent—work towards economic security with and for urban indigenous women across Canada, as an example that the federal government might consider.
Three, time permitting, I'd like to share some targeted recommendations about how the federal government might leverage an organization like the friendship centre network to meet its aims around the economic security of women and, broadly, poverty reduction.
To start, indigenous women, as the committee members may be aware, make up more than half of Canada's total indigenous population. Further, more than half of those indigenous women live in urban areas, while about 36% live on reserves. That's according to StatsCan's national household survey data. Further, indigenous women were unemployed at nearly double the rate of non-indigenous women in 2011—again according to StatsCan—and 36% of indigenous women experience poverty in Canada, which is also over double the rate of non-indigenous women.
To address these and other disparities, friendship centres work to create economic opportunities for indigenous women in over 100 cities and towns across Canada. For over 60 years, friendship centres have been providing a broad continuum of holistic, client-focused, culturally appropriate, and complementary or linked supports on a status-blind basis to all indigenous peoples who walk through their doors. As Canada's original, community-driven, and reconciliation-based form of essentially urban indigenous strategy, the friendship centre network is, de facto, Canada's most significant off-reserve indigenous service delivery infrastructure.
To that point, with over 2.3 million client contacts nationwide annually, over 100 friendship centres in cities and towns across Canada delivered over 1,800 programs and services to Canada's—depending on which StatsCan data you look at and for what year—at least 780,000 urban indigenous people in 2014-2015. These programs and services work to try to address some of the barriers that Ms. Armstrong also mentioned as well, including day cares, access to housing, health clinics, emergency relief, mental health supports, employment and training supports, education supports, some targeted economic development activities, justice supports, language and culture, sports and recreation, and community wellness. That doesn't even include the elders programming and youth programming that a lot of friendship centres use on a holistic basis as well.
Further, a full 90% of the over 3,200 staff at friendship centres in 2014-2015 were women, which could potentially be one of the largest representations of indigenous women in urban area workplaces.
I've hinted that friendship centres work with and for the urban indigenous community, and the reason they're successful is that they use a culturally based, community-driven, holistic, wraparound, and complementary services approach. It's customized based on the needs presented by each client who walks in the door. Further, friendship centres offer services in a non-judgmental, culturally safe way, based on and incorporating the indigenous teachings of their respective regions. That non-judgmental, culturally safe space is very important, as it turns out.
Ensuring that indigenous women have access to the opportunities and means to take part in the economy starts from a place of health and wellness as an individual, a family, and as a community.
Further a healthy community is a violence-free community. That's why friendship centres like the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax deliver a domestic violence support program in partnership with the province of Nova Scotia and community organizations. That's also why the NAFC originally developed a NewJourneys website. It's intended to be a secure website that people can log onto with a secure password. It presents an exhaustive list of services in urban areas to assist those indigenous people, including women, who may be choosing to move to urban areas or may be fleeing domestic violence.
Access to affordable and safe housing is another foundational area for supporting indigenous women's participation in the economy. To help indigenous people access affordable and safe housing in urban areas, for example, the Red Deer Native Friendship Society in Alberta is working with the United Way and the Province of Alberta to build the Asooahum Crossing cultural centre and affordable housing development, a 16-unit multiplex facility. In B.C. as well, the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society is developing a 42-unit housing project with the Province of B.C. St. John's runs a 24/7 shelter, complete with phone, Internet access, and meals.
Recognizing as well that urban indigenous women face unique challenges taking part in the labour market, friendship centres also provide targeted employment and training programs. They served over 19,000 clients in 2014-2015. Further, and as Ms. Armstrong also hinted in mentioning the need for safe, affordable child care, friendship centres also house day cares, aboriginal head start programs, and CAPC, the community action program for children, as well as prenatal nutrition programs and other family programs to help indigenous women access affordable and reliable child care in urban areas.
I would suggest that there are many excellent examples of this in friendship centres across the country, but the Brandon Friendship Centre is one that I've had a chance to visit and see the two day cares they run, one by invitation of the province, as an example of the complementary services approach to employment and training and child care housed in the same area.
Examples of the other types of complementary services friendship centres provide are health service clinics like the Val-d'Or friendship centre's Minowé Clinic and a hostel for those flying in from northern Quebec for health services, as well as the Acocan health clinic in La Tuque.
Closing off these examples of the types of services that friendship centres provide are interim and emergency relief programs, whether it's clothing banks, transportation supports like bus tickets, weekly bread programs like at the Dauphin Friendship Centre in Manitoba or food boxes, food banks, community gardens, and nutrition programs. These are all very close to the client and very grassroots interventions, but they're all crucial when addressing barriers that indigenous women might face taking part in the economy in urban areas.
Central to the success of all these programs are partnerships with the federal government, the provincial government, local and municipal governments, community foundations such as United Way, and other service providers, because they recognize that there are many players in the indigenous services delivery space in urban areas.
This partnership-based approach, along with the suite of in-house wraparound services, contributes to friendship centres' success in working with and for urban indigenous women and economic security.
I would encourage you to take a look at the detailed recommendations in the NAFC's brief, but I would hope I could squeeze in four.
One, touching on Ms. Armstrong's points as well, is to consider ways to increase accessibility, qualifying for, and uptake of EI part 1 and part 2 employment benefits and support measures, perhaps doubling the window of time within which people can bank EI insurable hours, perhaps lowering the EI insurable hours requirement by at least 25% for groups like urban indigenous women.
Two, when renewing any federal indigenous program and funding streams that address economic opportunities or poverty across federal departments, consider taking into account evidence of where indigenous people live, because that's where the services need to be. If over 60% of Canada's indigenous people live in cities and towns, that should perhaps factor into any funding decisions that are made.
As well as respecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—