Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to thank the voters of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River who have placed their trust in me to represent them in this Parliament. I thank them very much, for my volunteers and the support I have received in my riding.
I am standing here today as a Dene woman from a small village in the northern part of Saskatchewan called La Loche. From my front door, I can see the rich boreal forest and can hear the children playing by Lac La Loche where generations of children have played and mothers have washed their families' clothes from time immemorial.
In my mind, I can travel along Highway 155 south to where it meets the Churchill River at Île-à-la-Crosse. From there the river travels north to the tiny hamlet of Patuanak, east through the boreal forest to Pinehouse Lake, then on to Stanley Mission, where the river seems of two minds: continue east to Pelican Narrows and Sandy Bay, or cut out north to Wollaston Lake where the currents curve back to the west, to Lake Athabasca and then into Alberta to join the mighty Mackenzie River.
Even as I say the names of these places, I cannot help but feel a little homesick, because it is a place of a beauty beyond parallel for me.
The proper appreciation of that environment means protecting against its destruction and recognizing the traditional owners of that land. This is done by recognizing the treaties and inherent rights of the Métis to maintain their traditional way of life, which is intrinsically tied to this geography, and for these people to be included not as an afterthought or as courtesy, but as equals. They must be consulted about any use or occupation of this traditional land.
This past summer, we lived through a devastating fire season. The elders say that we will have another one again soon.
The immediacy of climate change is all too real for people who live in this part of the boreal forest, who see the summer storms coming over from the west, bringing only lightening strikes that ignite fires, instead of replenishing the lakes and rivers.
For us in the north, climate change is all too real, and it is apparent we must take real action. How often, though, do we reflect on northern Saskatchewan with much different thoughts in our minds than its natural beauty? We hear that the north, as we call it back home, has the highest incidence of violent crime and interpersonal violence, highest rates of suicide, highest rates of alcohol consumption and abuse, highest rates of mental illness. However, sometimes we are also the lowest: lowest rates of educational achievement, lowest rates of employment, lowest average incomes.
My first thought is to stand here and ask for help. That is what a leader would do, and I have been asked to do that from time to time. However, that implies that we are helpless, and we are not.
Our communities and population want recognition of these problems and want understanding. We want it understood that, when we speak of interpersonal violence, we are not talking just about an act a person perpetrated against another person. We need to talk about the whole context of that act.
When we talk about an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, we are not asking for an incident report or even a string of incident reports that only itemize criminal facts. That would have no purpose.
Even the phrase “an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women” acknowledges that this violence is neither normal nor acceptable. Clearly, we would not have an inquiry into something that is normal or acceptable.
Perhaps the biggest danger we face as a community is to say that it is just a normal thing that happens in these places.
It is the entrenchment of complacency when communities themselves think that this violence is normal, that it is acceptable, and that it is the northern way. How can healing take place when we are conditioned to accept that this level of violence is normal?
An inquiry amounts to recognition that this is not a problem for any one community, nor is it a problem that can be resolved in isolation at the community level. What is required is for all groups, including indigenous groups, governments, our justice systems, and our police, to work together to help our communities heal and to give them space to heal. By “space”, I do mean physical space in some cases.
In northern Saskatchewan, we only have one women's shelter for 40,000 people. That is one structure for all of northern Saskatchewan where women and children can go to escape violence.
While climate change and the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women are issues that touch me and the communities I represent, the people in my riding have many other concerns.
Ours is one of the most diverse ridings in the country. Our large boreal forests and lakes are bordered to the south by rich agricultural farmland. North and south, there are only a few cities. Mostly, our riding are a collection of villages and small towns. Many of these are thriving, but some are struggling. The boom and bust cycle means that economic hard times are never far away from resource-dependent communities. The challenge for parliamentarians is how we can help create economic opportunities to ensure the equality of opportunity to break the cycle of welfare dependency. That is the key to getting people out of stressful situations, and to help children grow to be strong, resilient, and proud.
It is a question that I ask myself now, and because I am standing here, I am asking that question of the government.
Clearly, education is one of the keys. For first nations and for everyone, equality of opportunity means, above all, equal access to educational resources. It means funding schools on reserves as well as the schools in the villages or towns down the road are funded. We know that the government has committed itself to that end. If it is able to deliver, I will gladly commend it for that. However, I will remind the government that, while commitments are good, action is better: more of the first, and even more of the second.
I told my constituents while I was campaigning that I would fight for equal access to child care spaces. My constituency has one of the highest natural population growth rates in the country. It also has very high dependency rates. That is a lot of kids to look after. What good are employment opportunities for young mothers if there is no one to help take care of the children or if child care is simply out of reach?
In addition to that, I want to flag the deplorable state of housing in rural and remote communities, particularly on first nations. It is among the many challenges that stand in the way of breaking the silence that has led to many negative outcomes in northern communities right across Canada.
In closing, I want to remind the Liberals that they were elected on a call for change, and they cannot take their time if they expect to maintain the good will of Canadian voters. The history of their party is filled with uneven results and long timelines that saw election promises repeated from one Parliament to the next. Theirs is the party that imposed the 2% funding cap and wrote the white paper, which were the causes of many problems. They are now in a position to right some historical wrongs.
New Democrats are committed to many of these goals, and we are here to roll up our sleeves and make sure this Parliament works. The government has signalled its intent to work with us on the important issues and challenges that Canada faces. I am certain that, if that actually happens, the real winners will be the Canadian public.