Mr. Speaker, it is always a great honour to rise to speak about the people of Timmins—James Bay, a region that is represented by the great region of Treaty 9. Treaty 9 represents Timmins—James Bay and also Kenora region.
This is a very profound week for Canadians and the issues that were raised in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I hear from Canadians all over who are deeply moved by what they saw and deeply hurt that this happened in our country, and ask how we move forward. Reconciliation, as Justice Murray Sinclair said, is not a word; it is rooted in action.
Canadians were also shocked and horrified to see the images of elders finding food in a garbage dump in the north and asked themselves, how can this be Canada? Unfortunately, if we travel to many far northern communities, the issue of hunger is a reality. The effect on communities that are not able to feed their children has devastating impacts. When we deal with the issues of the lack of clean water and the lack of proper schools, the issue of hunger underlies it all.
We are talking about a program that was brought in to replace a program. Each of these programs had its merits and each of these programs had its flaws. We are not arguing about whether a program is perfect or completely imperfect. We are talking about how we address the needs of people in northern communities.
The Auditor General raised serious red flags about the nutrition north program: that the department had not based community eligibility on need, a staggering oversight; that the department had not verified whether the northern retailers had even passed on the full subsidy to customers, completely undermining the power of this program; that the department had not collected the information needed to manage the nutrition north Canada program or measure its success; and that the department had not implemented the program's cost containment strategy.
The motion today is about the 50-some other communities that should be part of the program but are not. Many of those are in Treaty 9 and Treaty 5 territory and Nishnawbe Aski Nation. We will talk about those today.
In 2005, one of the first things I was honoured to do as a member of Parliament was to take part in the 100th anniversary celebrations of Treaty 9. Treaty 9 was first signed at what was called Osnaburgh House then. It is Mishkeegogamang now.
The Treaty Commissioners, led by the infamous Duncan Campbell Scott, came in to take the rivers, along the Albany and then through the Abitibi and the Moose rivers to sign the Treaty 9 that transferred the greatest wealth in the country, the hydro, timber, mining assets, gold and silver to the white settlers. In exchange, the people were told, in Mishkeegogamang, Fort Hope and the other communities, that their way of life would not be impacted, but that was not what happened.
What happened was that the people were taken and put in internal displacement camps. That is what the reserves were. They were forced into these internal displacement camps, and if we go into Kasabonika, Pikangikum or Kashechewan today, they are still internal displacement camps where people do not have the power to effect the change in their community because they are still under the Indian Act.
I went with the recreation of this historic trip, and I was there in Mishkeegogamang, at Marten Falls, and at Moose Factory at the Fort where the signing of the treaties was recreated. I was at Marten Falls when a man stood up and spoke in Oji-Cree and apologized for not speaking English. He said, “I never learned English properly. When they came and took my sister to the residential school, she never came home, ever.” Nobody bothered to come back and say what happened to her. When they came the next year, his family hid the man in the bush.
I see in Marten Falls the crushing poverty and the lack of water. The government would spend $2 million a year shipping bottled water into a community rather fix the water plant, when there is letter after letter from the community saying, “Help us fix this water plant.”
I had to stand up to speak, and they were all talking about the commemoration because they had government officials there. The question was obvious: what is there to celebrate with the signing of Treaty 9, where so much wealth was transferred away from the original signatories of the treaty, and they were left in such deplorable conditions that continue today?
How does this affect what we are talking about now? I have been taught by the people of James Bay and the other communities I represent that, unless we know the history, we do not really understand why we are here.
We will talk about Mishkeegogamang, where I was when they signed the treaty. It is a place that has faced crushing levels of poverty. The issues of nutrition north are absolutely central to the crisis it is facing in its community. In 2007, international relief agencies went into Webequie, another community, and Mishkeegogamang. Save the Children international workers went there to see it and they were shocked. They could not believe that they could see this kind of poverty in North America.
Nicholas Finney from Save the Children U.K. said that this was an international humanitarian disaster zone. He said:
There's been no sudden disaster here. It's a gradual disaster that has emerged, unfolded, and been propagated, whether it's intentionally or by negligence, by people that should know better, by people in power...
Feed the Children responded by sending 100,000 pounds of food to help those communities, and this carries on today.
I look at Marten Falls and Webequie, which are not part of nutrition north. They do not have clean water, and they just happen to be in the heart of the Ring of Fire. I hear the government say how the Ring of Fire is going to be a great thing. We even had a minister for a while. I think the minister disappeared. I think we had two ministers. We were all going to benefit from the Ring of Fire. In other words, everybody but the people of Webequie and Marten Falls were going to benefit. The government says it cannot wait to get this off the ground, but at the same time, people do not have access to proper food. They have to rely on bottled water that is being shipped in. That is not enough to keep them safe.
We carry on to this day with a broken promise that was made when the treaty was signed. Today, in Fort Albany, it costs $60 for baby formula, and two pounds of frozen beef is $15.99. In Treaty 5, in Berens River, people live on $371 a month in welfare and pay $6 for bread, $13 for a jug of milk, and $37 for a case of eggs. If they want their children to have something fresh, like grapes, that is $12. If they ever saw cherries in those communities, it would cost them $20. People feed their children chips and pop because it is easier.
This is not to say that people are lazy. These are people who still live on the land, but we are seeing the disappearance of the caribou herds in the north because of industrial development. Flying over James Bay in winter and seeing a mass caribou herd running on the ice below is absolutely one of the greatest things I have ever seen. However, those caribou herds are starting to disappear. We heard the minister from Nunavut talk about all the people and how they work out on the land. We talked to the families about how difficult it is to get out on the land now because of the costs. We need to find alternative measures.
This is not to say, again, that there are not really good ideas happening. In Fort Albany, we have an incredible greenhouse operation that has come up. In Attawapiskat, they have started a farmers' market where they fly in fresh produce for the families. There are good models out there, but we need to deal with this fundamental issue of hunger.
I just want to say that we have seen a failure from the government and a refusal to stand up for its communities—for example, in the Kenora region, Cat Lake, Deer Lake, Kasabonika Lake, Keewatin, Kingfisher Lake, Koocheching, McDowell Lake, Neskantaga, North Spirit Lake, Pikangikum, Poplar Hill, Sachigo Lake, Sandy Hill, Slate Falls, Wapekeka, Wawakapewin, Webequie, Marten Falls, Peawanuck, and in even Moosonee, which is attached by the rail line, the costs of food are extraordinary.
We need to do better in the House. These are Canadian citizens. This is a land of the north. Everyone in this country should be able to put their children to bed at night and know they are not going to bed hungry.