House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was aboriginal.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Nunavut (Nunavut)

Won her last election, in 2006, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Youth Criminal Justice Act November 22nd, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add to the debate on this very serious piece of legislation.

As always, I tend to speak about what I am familiar with, and those are the communities in my riding of Nunavut.

I have serious concerns about some of the elements of the legislation, in that I do not believe some of the harsh handling of young people fits the crime in most cases.

I am not against justice. I am not against the real sentence for very violent crimes, but putting everyone in the same category and assuming that they are all dangerous criminals is very scary to me, especially when I know that many of these young people in my riding of Nunavut commit these acts of crime because they are hungry or because they have difficulties at home. They see violence in their homes that I feel can be prevented through other measures.

Unfortunately, they may have FAE or FAS and do not realize the consequences of their actions. We put them into a system with which they are totally not familiar. We sometimes do not have enough preventive programs. I, for one, am a very strong advocate for prevention.

It is truly a sad moment when some of our kids end up in the criminal system and stay there when we have the opportunity to take them to that fork in the road and turn them one way or the other. We hope that in most cases they choose the road to good living. They have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and apologize for their actions and then go on to lead a meaningful life in our society.

What I want for all of the kids in this country is to have a meaningful, healthy, happy life. It is not any different for us in our aboriginal communities and, in my case, Inuit communities in Nunavut. We have many opportunities for our young people but, due to many different circumstances, sometimes they do not always take advantage of that opportunity.

Some of my colleagues already talked about many of the preventive measures we could take, whether it be sports, arts or programs as simple as breakfast at the school. As I said, many of our kids who enter the young offenders system do it because they are hungry. They break in and steal food from homes or steal things that they can sell for money.

In a country as prosperous as Canada, it is truly a sad state of affairs when we have young people committing petty crime in order to feed themselves or for warmer things to wear in my part of the country. The more that we do in prevention, the more I think we can keep some of these kids out of the system.

The other problem for these kids is that some of them are being taken away from their homes. They end up in foster homes. We could do all kinds of things on the social side. We could have programs to keep more kids at home and to have better home situations so they do not need to turn to petty crime in order to survive.

I truly believe that with programs for crime prevention, we would be able to help communities come up with their own programs that could help kids at home before they ever enter into a life of crime.

Some detention centres are trained to run on the land programs. However, a lot of these kids, unfortunately, come from single mother homes with no fatherly influence and, therefore, are not able to participate in some of the livelihood that we still have in our communities. We still have many people in our Nunavut communities who participate on the land, whether it be for subsistence hunting or for other activities. Even though we are now very much in the workforce like everyone else, we still maintain a very close connection to the land.

What we have seen in some of the successful communities are programs to try and work with the young people either through the school or, for kids who are not always in school, through other programs. This is proving to be very beneficial, not just to the students and young people involved, but to the whole family and to the community as a whole.

We are still in some way trying to come to grips with the new way of doing things in our communities. We have people who are caught in between our traditional way of life and the new way that is among us today. However, we have been very successful as a people to blend the two worlds together and to give an opportunity to young people to learn to appreciate the land and what is around us again.

As I mentioned before, many of these young people are in a one parent home and that is becoming the reality with a lot of families in this country. We need to do more to support that because some of them live on a very low income and the parent, usually a mother, cannot provide other activities for her children as much as she would like.

The community and the social fabric of this country needs to take up that void where kids do not have the same opportunity as other kids in being able to have different activities that can take up idle time, which, in a lot of cases, ends up with bored kids looking for something to do.

I really want to see programs where the community has an opportunity to help with the upbringing of children because not every young family is able to do that on their own anymore, not with the high cost of living that we have in our part of the country. Even programs that help people to feed a healthy diet to their family is another angle that we can look at.

We do have food mail for many parts of the north, but even being able to provide a healthy diet for a young family is getting to be very difficult. As I said earlier, some of these kids are just looking for something to eat. When we take it down to that type of basic cause of why some of these kids commit crime, then having very serious consequences for these young people does not meet the crime.

We need more programs that help some of these young mothers, and some single dads too, or even young couples who need parenting skills, not having had the opportunity because they started a family very young. Those are the types of programs that we would definitely support in our communities.

Again, in speaking about the people in my riding, the real key for our communities is to be able to give everyone a proper start in life, and that includes having the support of community programs.

Youth Criminal Justice Act November 22nd, 2007

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the majority of inmates in our Canadian institutions are populated by aboriginal people. I think part of the reason is because of some of the situations in which they live, about which my colleague talked.

One of the initiatives we did under our Liberal government was crime prevention. We truly felt that a lot of those people, whether they were in young offenders' facilities who later probably went to a penitentiary, did not come from homes where they had the proper support.

I truly believe that instead of punishing people for having a bad start in life, we need to look at better ways of circumventing that route. Could our colleague expand on some of the preventative things that we should do in our country so our prison populations are not overly populated by aboriginal people?

Canada Elections Act November 1st, 2007

Mr. Speaker, recent changes to the Canada Elections Act have resulted in the vote being stripped from one million rural Canadians. These changes will affect at least 80% of voters in my riding, including myself. This is not acceptable. These problems must be solved immediately by new legislation, not some administrative band-aid.

The government is consulting, but that is not enough. When will the votes of rural Canadians be fully restored by law?

Remembrance Day October 29th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Canada's soldiers and veterans. Remembrance Day is the day we honour all those who served this nation with distinction, remembering the millions who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and around the world from Europe to the Middle East.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, as thousands of Canadians gather at the National War Memorial to remember, let us wear our red poppies with pride and admiration. Let us take a moment to remember those who gave their lives in sacrifice on our behalf.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of Canada's war veterans, in particular the active members of our armed forces and their families currently in Afghanistan.

To echo the words inscribed at the base of the Monument to Canadian Fallen soldiers: “WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU BRAVE SONS [and daughters] OF CANADA”.

Arctic Sovereignty October 26th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday I had the privilege of hearing Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, speak at the Canadian Club of Ottawa.

This was the first speech in a Canada-wide tour sponsored by First Air in which Mary Simon addresses, besides misconceptions about Inuit--we do pay income taxes--the challenges we have in our communities, about climate change and mostly about how we can help with sovereignty in our Arctic.

Mary also rightly pays tribute to the incredible adaptability and resilience of Inuit. We have survived much and we will continue to do so.

Mary Simon did make reference to the “use it or lose it” slogan of the Prime Minister in reference to the north. Inuit wonder if the Prime Minister is unaware that we have lived, hunted and provided careful stewardship of the land and wildlife for hundreds of years before he realized we existed.

Investment in Inuit education, quality of life and economic development would be a much better way to show sovereignty of the north as opposed to merely investing in military hardware.

I encourage those who can attend these speeches across Canada to do so, to hear what message Mary has for all Canadians.

Committees of the House June 18th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, when we look at the demographics for the aboriginal population in Canada, we see that ours is the fastest growing population in this country, yet the cap does not even come close to the numbers that we find when we talk about the increases in population. Another colleague of mine talked about a young population, with 50% of our population under 18 and the 2% cap—

Committees of the House June 18th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I was referring mainly to a comment that came from the parliamentary secretary, so the member might want to have a chat with him if he feels that I am misrepresenting the comments of those members.

In answering his first question about whether I think the government should fund everything, those are the kinds of things that we could work out together. We have always said that we are not asking for a complete handout and that we want to be part of the solutions, the decision making, the policies and the legislative changes. We want to be part of the consultations that are going on about how to implement our land claims agreements.

First of all, I guess, we want to be able to implement the Kelowna accord because we have a private member's motion, and I do not think that we should have to resort to that in the first place to implement something that all people in Canada in the aboriginal communities worked for.

We just want to be part of the solution. We want to help make decisions on where those investments should go. As my other colleague said earlier, we want to be part of the productive society in Canada. We want to be able to do that.

I think it is really very sad when I hear comments in my communities about young people who call home from jail saying they are getting three meals a day and that is more than they ever would get at home. When we are sitting there and listening to that, we are thinking that there is something really wrong with this picture when someone is happy to be in jail so that he can eat three times a day versus living in poverty at home and having to wonder where the next meal is coming from.

Committees of the House June 18th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be speaking in the debate as well, because this is an issue that touches us completely in our communities. I want to thank all those who spoke very eloquently before me. I also want to thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for moving the motion.

I have to add my voice to the people who have expressed their disappointment in the response to the aboriginal affairs committee's sixth report, which is on the topic of education.

I find it quite ironic in looking at our history, especially the residential schools when we were being immersed in the education system against our will. The current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development defended the injustice done by saying that the government at the time was just trying to educate the aboriginal people. Today we are trying to do everything we can to support education for our young people and even older people who want further education. We also want to take ownership of all support programs that lead to a success in education. It is ironic that the government is finding ways not to support us in our endeavours now that we want to get educated.

When we look at good practices and good programs that are already running today, there is little support for them. I know we have the money to support some of the programs that are operational today throughout the country but there never seems to be enough. It is important to break the welfare cycle. My colleague from Churchill mentioned the cost of welfare versus the cost of an education and the impacts.

I am sure we do not know all the numbers. We cannot put a dollar figure on all the problems that come with being on welfare and the dignity that is taken away from people. They wish to change their lives but sometimes the obstacles are just too big. I do not think we can put a dollar figure on that. It is quite difficult for us in the House and for most people to understand exactly what that means to the young people in our communities. We need to change that. We need to reverse the cycle.

I have good examples from my riding of Nunavut where education has meant the world of difference. A young girl whose mother has been on welfare all her life was able to get an education. She came back home to our community, got a job and now she can provide for her mother and her younger sister. She can encourage her younger sister to complete her high school education and go on to post-secondary education. She can be an example to her own family.

There are other very successful programs referred to in the report. We talk about Nunavut Sivuniksavut which is a bridging program. High school students in my riding of Nunavut can apply to this program. It is such a successful program here in Ottawa that many applicants are turned away. We are looking at different ways to offer the program, maybe through modules or in a different community so people can take the same program in their community, but there are just not the resources to do it.

The report also looked at how we can further fund good programs like that which have a very high success rate. We found that of the graduates, most were either working or pursuing further education. Very few were not working and for most it was by choice.

Another good program is the Nunavut youth abroad program, which has been changed to the northern youth abroad program because of its success. It used to be for just Nunavut students, but the Northwest Territories asked that its students be included because of the very successful way that students have been encouraged to enter the program.

It is a summer program, but again, very good numbers of kids have gone on to further their education because of their horizons being broadened by this program. There is a Canadian phase, when they work in different areas of the country, and then a phase in the next year when they go to Africa and help impoverished countries there.

Again, in regard to those students who have entered these programs, the numbers are very high for either furthering their education or being able to take great jobs in their communities, but unfortunately the Department of Foreign Affairs has decided not to fund this program, so we need to find other ways of supporting it. I think post-secondary education would be one of those areas. The funds for that could also fund programs like these.

I find it very disheartening to listen to the parliamentary secretary, not only in his speech today but also in committee, as he seems to discount a lot of the positive things that come from our committee, saying that we are at fault for where we are today and that we are not making better use of the funds that are going to our communities, whether they be for first nations communities, Métis or, in my case, Inuit communities. I find that very insensitive to the great work that I think our people have done as far as aboriginal people are concerned in trying to make life better for our own.

The Conservative government and the Conservative members of Parliament will never convince me or other aboriginal people that they know better than we do what is good for us or that they know how to improve our lives without our input. They are doing all their legislation and policy changes without any of the aboriginal peoples' input, but we remain very much an optimistic people. I have said this many times: we have to be an optimistic people.

I recently attended a graduation in my home community of Arviat, where 14 students were receiving their Bachelor of Education degrees. They were all mature Inuit students who went back to pursue an education. Some were in their thirties and some even in their forties. They definitely would not have been able to do this without support, whether it was financial support or support from the community, elders or educational institutions.

This four year program was done as an outreach, meaning that it was done in our community. It was brought directly to Arviat so the students did not have to leave home. This, for me, has far-reaching impacts, because these people will be able to go back to their schools, whether that is elementary school, middle school or high school, and totally change the school just by being there.

We now will be able to have education take place in the language of the majority of students, which is Inuktitut in my community, and hopefully we will see higher numbers of high school graduates, because these students who are now teachers will be setting an example for our young people of what we can accomplish when we have the right determination and the right support to pursue these kinds of futures.

I want to close by saying that investment in the right places will produce positive results, but we need to be part of the process and involved in all the solutions. I strongly urge the Conservative government to make investments in the right places and work with the people instead of making these remarks that there is already all that money going to our communities and that if we just knew better how to handle the money we would be better off. I find that very patronizing and very insulting to the people who work so hard with so little to produce positive outcomes for their communities. I want to thank all the people who work in our communities to improve life for the people.

Canadian Skills Competition June 18th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate all the team Nunavut participants in the 13th Canadian Skills Competition held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan from June 6 to 9, where they were received with very warm hospitality.

Sixteen talented students and apprentices from across my riding showcased their skills in a variety of skilled trade and technology contest areas, from carpentry to baking to graphic design.

Nunavut received two silver medals. I would like to congratulate Lucy Idlout, in post-secondary hairstyling, and the TV and video production team of Lauren Solski and Bjorn Simonsen, all from Iqaluit. Lauren and Bjorn also received the prestigious “Best in the Region” award.

Thanks to all the instructors, advisers, sponsors and volunteers.

I ask all my colleagues in the House to congratulate these talented competitors, along with all my constituents of Nunavut.

Mary Cousins June 4th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that I inform this House of the passing of Mary Cousins, daughter of the late Special Constable Lazaroosie Kyak and his wife, Letia, from Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

Mary was an extraordinary Inuk. She travelled with Henry Larsen in the St. Roch across the Northwest Passage when she was only six. As a young woman, Mary worked as an interpreter on the C.D. Howe medical ship. I remember seeing her picture as a young girl travelling in Africa and was amazed.

Mary was a pioneer in advocating Inuit rights and was one of the original seven who created Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, which represents Inuit at a national level. Mary wrote, edited and illustrated Inuktitut Magazine and taught Inuktitut to generations of Inuit.

Mary Cousins Panigusiq, author, artist, mother and advocate, will be missed. My sincere sympathies go to her family on behalf of myself and everyone in my riding.