Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 30 - Evidence - December 5, 2017
OTTAWA, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 9:01 a.m. to study on the new relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Bonjour, tansi and good morning.
I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples either here in the room or listening via the Web.
I would like to acknowledge for the sake of reconciliation that we are meeting on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin peoples.
I am Lillian Dyck from Saskatchewan, and I have the honour and privilege of chairing this committee. I will now invite my fellow senators to introduce themselves, starting on my right with the deputy chair.
Senator Tannas: Good morning. Scott Tannas, from Alberta.
Senator Doyle: Good morning. Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine from B.C.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate from Ontario.
Senator Hartling: Nancy Hartling from New Brunswick.
Senator Christmas: Dan Christmas, Nova Scotia.
Senator Brazeau: Patrick Brazeau, Quebec.
Senator McPhedran: Marilou McPhedran, Manitoba.
The Chair: Thank you, senators.
Today we continue our study on what a new relationship between the Government of Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada could look like. We are really excited and honoured to hear from the First Nations Major Projects Coalition. We have before us Sharleen Gale, Chair, Fort Nelson First Nation; Niilo Edwards, Executive Director; Mr. Willie Blackwater, Director, Gitsegukla Band Council; Jackie Thomas, Member of the Saik’uz First Nation; and from the First Nations Financial Management Board we have Harold Calla, Executive Chair.
Thank you for appearing before us this morning. I understand that you have some opening statements to be followed by questions from the senators. We are going to test drive on you today phase two of our study, where we’re asking you to think in general terms of what a nation-to-nation relationship could be, and we are distributing a list of general questions to the senators.
Sharleen Gale, Chair, Fort Nelson First Nation, First Nations Major Projects Coalition: Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning, honourable senators. I have the privilege to serve as chair of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition.
I want to acknowledge our presence on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples.
With me today are two members of the coalition: Chief Willie Blackwater from Gitsegukla First Nation, who also serves as a coalition director; and Chief Jackie Thomas from Saik’uz First Nation. I will be sharing my time with Chief Blackwater and Chief Thomas so they can speak about our work from the perspective of their communities.
Also with us is the coalition’s executive director, Niilo Edwards. Mr. Edwards oversees the coalition’s technical work and can elaborate on those points should you have questions of that nature.
Sitting behind us are lead members of our technical team. They are members of their respective nations. They are educated in their area of expertise and are key to the coalition’s success.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the support the coalition has received from the First Nations Financial Management Board in providing the guidance and support necessary to make our work a reality.
The coalition is able to provide capacity support to 37 First Nations in British Columbia because we were able to leverage the support of the purposes of the First Nations Fiscal Management Act to do the work.
As a First Nations leader, I want to thank the Senate and your committee for its historic support in ensuring this legislation became law in 2005. Please know that the purposes of the First Nations Fiscal Management Act is making a difference at the community level for those who are using these services.
The existence of the coalition is one example. The capacity-building efforts of the coalition are equipping First Nations with the knowledge and tools necessary to arrive at informed business decisions concerning the management of the wealth that lies within our traditional territories.
From a policy perspective, this work represents First Nation-led action on what the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples means to our communities concerning major project development. Article 4 of the declaration is tied to the right to self-determination and the means by which we finance our autonomous functions. We cannot have self-determination without the means to finance our government, our services and programs for our membership and to build the local economies necessary to correct our massive infrastructure deficits. We have to start a serious conversation around the access to capital and the provision of government loan guarantees for First Nations to participate in major projects.
My community knows that transfers from INAC will never be able to bridge the socio-economic and infrastructure gap. Our communities know that the economic drivers can be found by unlocking the wealth within our territories to our benefit. Directly connected with the building of economies necessary for self-determination is article 29 of the declaration, which details the right and duty of indigenous people in the conservation and protection of the environment.
These two articles are linked. You cannot have a strong economy for long if you do not protect the environment. Canada’s environmental laws must change to enshrine First Nations into the decision-making process.
The work of the coalition is equipping First Nations to take hold of UNDRIP’s provision of the right to First Nations decision-making on resource projects in First Nations territories. Here in Ottawa, we need recognition that this work is important, and the innovative policy mechanisms decided here must include indigenous peoples.
In my view, we see innovation being championed at the political level in a good way by Minister Wilson-Raybould in some of her recent policy announcements. This includes her government’s 10 principles respecting Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples and her previous work as B.C. regional chief in this place on advancing initiatives like Bill S-212 as a tool to move beyond the Indian Act. That bill was tabled a number of times in this place by former Senator Gerry St. Germain, who today, at 80 years old, continues to volunteer his time to help the coalition with our work.
In closing, I want to acknowledge the resources provided to the coalition by Canada through the Strategic Partnerships Initiative and the support for our work from Minister Bennett, Minister Philpott and Minister Carr.
Canada needs to continue to invest in First Nations-led capacity-building initiatives like the work of the coalition in order to get to a pace where shared decision making can be made in a way that is a true representation of the principles of free, prior and informed consent. This is what the work of the coalition is all about.
Thank you. I would like to floor over to Chief Blackwater.
Willie Blackwater, Director, Gitsegukla Band Council, First Nations Major Projects Coalition: Amahilu. Thank you and good morning, honourable senators. I am Chief Willie Blackwater from Gitsegukla First Nation. I am elected Band Chief, and but I also carry the hereditary name of Sim’ogit Djiiwuus. I am a member of the Wolf Clan from the House of Tsa Bux within the Gitxsan Nation. I have the privilege to serve as a director for the First Nations Major Projects Coalition. I will pick up my remarks where Councillor Gale left off.
Through the work of the coalition, our communities are building knowledge to seek access to capital required to realize on project ownership, self-sufficiency and self-determination. We are discussing best practices for benefit-sharing, wealth management and building financial literacy.
We are developing a common approach to environmental stewardship, a tool kit of measures and standards that First Nations can use to assess project impacts and mitigation according to our interests and values.
Not only are we providing action to the UN Declaration, we are also advancing the principle of reconciliation, which I will speak to more in a moment.
My community of Gitsegukla has had a history of being in and out of intervention for a number of decades. I was first elected chief in 2015. Since then, my council and I have agreed to work together for the benefit of our community to turn our financial state around. We did this by agreeing to view our third-party manager and INAC as partners and not our adversaries.
Around this time, Gitsegukla joined the First Nations Major Projects Coalition. It is because of our involvement in the coalition that I met Harold Calla and the Financial Management Board.
The services of the Financial Management Board have become a partner to Gitsegukla success, along with INAC and our third-party manager. Gitsegukla was able to use the additional tools of the First Nations Fiscal Management Act to get out of third party, and we are now working to stay out of it permanently by developing a financial administrative law.
The true definition of reconciliation can be realized when partnerships are forged with our First Nations communities in order to advance our economic and social standing.
The work of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition is, in my view, an example of an act of partnership with Canada that is advancing reconciliation by raising our standing through the building of capacity necessary to get into business. I speak from a position of experience and authority on reconciliation. I am the named plaintiff who advanced the Blackwatercourt case on behalf of those, like me, who suffered the atrocities of Indian residential schools, fought the government and won.
Today, old adversaries have become partners. Honourable senators, that is the true definition of reconciliation.
I thank you for listening. I will turn the floor over to Chief Thomas for the final word.
Jackie Thomas, Member, Saik’uz First Nation, First Nations Major Projects Coalition: Thank you, Chief Blackwater.
Thank you, honourable senators, for this opportunity to appear.
[Editor’s Note: The witness spoke in her native language.]
I am Chief Jackie Thomas from Saik’uz First Nation. Our territory is located west of Prince George, British Columbia.
Councillor Gale and Chief Blackwater made points about how the work of the coalition is providing First Nation-led action on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how this work is advancing the ethic of reconciliation.
I will speak from a more hands-on approach as a leader of a community that is receiving capacity support from the coalition to explore the advancement of a major hydroelectric project called the Kenney Dam water release facility.
Saik’uz, along with three of our impacted neighbours, Stellat’en, Nadleh Whut’en and Cheslatta Carrier Nation, wrote to the coalition’s board of directors requesting the capacity and technical support necessary to explore this project opportunity.
We are the first to road test the coalition’s project identification and capacity support process. This process developed and adopted by the coalition’s membership represents the criteria necessary to assess a major project based on social and economic factors that are truly First Nations influenced and designed. As part of this process, our communities and the coalition have signed a terms of reference outlining our relationship to explore this opportunity.
We, as the communities, lead our interests in the project both from a political and business perspective. The coalition equips us with the necessary capacity supports required to inform our decisions concerning the economic and environmental implications of this project.
We are able to access these services from the coalition free of charge because of the resources provided by the government. If we had to pay for this level of service out of band resources, we likely could not afford to do it on our own.
The project itself would have many benefits to our communities that go far beyond the economic components. The proposed water release facility would reclaim significant environmental damage to a portion of the Nechako River that was made dry due to industrial impacts in the 1950s that were done without consultation or accommodation.
Because of the installation of the Kenney dam, the burial grounds of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation to this day flood in years when there are high water levels. This causes repeated social hardships on that community. For Saik’uz, Stellat’en and Nadleh Whut’en First Nations, the installation of the dam impacted our salmon stocks and our way of life.
We want the opportunity to correct these historical damages. We want the opportunity to strengthen our economy at home so we can pay for our housing, infrastructure and other needs of our membership. This particular project has been talked about for many years in our communities.
In closing, I want to share with you that it isn’t often that multiple First Nations communities are able to set aside our differences and work together to pursue our business interests. A lot of credit is due to the non-political and business-focused resources that the coalition has provided to our communities that enable us to work together. My involvement with the coalition has been meaningful and has provided early success at achieving objectives.
As First Nations, we need our own capacity supports to engage in the same way that other orders of government do every day. The First Nations Major Projects Coalition represents a capacity vehicle that is needed if there is going to be a new collaborative or inclusive way of dealing with the interests of our communities. We all share in the responsibility for tomorrow and we are all in this together.
Thank you for listening and for this opportunity to present to you.
Harold Calla, Executive Chair, First Nations Financial Management Board: Honourable senators, it’s a pleasure to be back. It’s nice to see Senator Watt here. I was reminded coming down here that it was 20 years ago that I first came to Ottawa to appear before the Senate committee concerning the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples at the invitation of Senator Watt. Little did I know what he started through that invitation.
We hear a lot of conversation with this government about resetting a nation-to-nation relationship. What does that mean? Where do we begin? “Nation-to-nation,” I think, must start with recognition, and then we’ll get reconciliation, but recognition of Aboriginal rights and title; recognition of some of the Supreme Court of Canada decisions that have come down. Just as importantly, we need to recognize the need for First Nations to have access to an administrative capacity and structures that allow First Nations to engage with Canada on a level playing field. The path to reconciliation must start with enabling and investing in building government’s capacity.
It is in Canadians’ interests that First Nations have the knowledge and confidence to engage in the opportunities being presented by this government. Closing the socio-economic gaps, increasing self-sufficiency, accessing capital and creating First Nation institutions to support communities as the department of indigenous services sunsets are all reasons to build administrative capacity and structures necessary to respond to the TRC recommendations and the principles of UNDRIP and the principles recently articulated by the Government of Canada.
The First Nations Major Projects Coalition is an example of the type of support that Canada needs to invest in to bring to life the UN declaration, a new fiscal relationship and a true nation-to-nation relationship through a recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights. The firm commitment by this government to recognize and not extinguish Aboriginal and treaty rights will contribute to the reconciliation efforts under way and will support expanding the Canadian economy in ways that enable the sharing of the benefits of this economic growth.
I want to talk next about fiscal relations because the efforts by this government toward a new nation-to-nation relationship have recognized the need for a new fiscal relationship. I suggest to you that funding arrangements, while an important aspect of operationalizing fiscal relations, are not in and of themselves the basis of a new fiscal relationship within a nation-to-nation relationship. Embracing and enabling the exercise of First Nation jurisdiction by making room for First Nations at the fiscal table, similar to the principles that guide the fiscal relationship between Canada and the provinces, is a way to do that.
The government has engaged in a series of meetings with the AFN on a new fiscal relationship. These have been described as exploratory tables. I understand a draft report will be tabled with the chiefs at AFN meetings in the next couple of days.
The fiscal institutions, namely the First Nations Financial Management Board, the tax commission and the finance authority, were invited by the First Nation leadership in British Columbia to support a regional process to discuss fiscal relations. The discussions led to a resolution from British Columbia identifying the principles of a new fiscal relationship based upon the recognition of First Nation jurisdiction. The principles suggested the need to share tax room, jurisdiction over content and eligibility of programs and services and the need to include the provinces at the fiscal table.
There have been conversations between the department and the fiscal institutions created under the Fiscal Management Act on how to leverage the existing transfer system and use the tools of the Fiscal Management Act to consider long-term funding arrangements that could result in greater and broader outcomes.
The First Nation leadership in British Columbia supports a regional process and they support the national table, but we also need to understand that the historical perspective that Indians are a program must change. If we’re governments, then we need to be empowered as governments as other orders of governments are empowered. What we need to build to be successful in this initiative is First Nation institutions that match the kind of institutional support the Government of Canada and you get in this department.
The only thing that is certain at this time is that the amount of resources that are going to be needed to bridge the socio-economic gaps is substantial, and we’re going to need multiple sources of revenues to achieve that goal.
I want to talk next about infrastructure.
The Senate had studied the infrastructure gap that First Nations are facing, and your report provided some observations on opportunities to address the situation. The First Nations Fiscal Management Act institutions have proposed the creation of a First Nations infrastructure institute under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act and to place all aspects of infrastructure procurement, operation and maintenance under this institution. This would permit monetization of existing, resources, including a community’s own source revenue, and looking at alternative procurement models, including the bundling of projects and public-private partnerships.
This initiative would build on existing regional approaches that have been developing over the last few years. Regional delivery of services could provide administrative capacity lacking and better managed cost and completion risk. A First Nation institution could develop national standards and support a local capacity needed to implement and maintain standards.
Now, in order to successfully transition to a new nation-to-nation and a new fiscal relationship, we can’t ignore the challenges that are being faced by many communes who are in some form of default management intervention.
Soon after this government was elected, Minister Bennett spoke to the First Nations Financial Management Board and requested that we look at options to improve the existing default management program being used by her department. The experience of this program saw many communities remain in default management for long periods of time — in some cases decades — and there didn’t seem to be the opportunities or incentives that would see communities improve their affairs and exit the default management program.
The Financial Management Board’s view was that we needed to invest in these communities and build the necessary capacity to develop appropriate governance, financial management and human resource policies and to establish procedures that allow them to develop community plans that respond and give hope to their communities. I want to focus on the hope part of that comment. We need to provide the tools, the opportunities and the support for communities to have hope that they have a future that’s beyond the status quo. I think that the old approach penalized communities. It took away discretionary funding and didn’t invest in their capacity development.
A pilot project was developed, in cooperation with the department and the minister, that saw one community in British Columbia, Willy’s community, and four communities in Manitoba, become part of a pilot project. Our approach was to use the certification processes of the Financial Management Board to move beyond the status quo.
We have been building the necessary tools and capacity to manage the affairs of the community and working with the community on the ground in the community. It is driven by chief and council and it is optional. When we are able to feel that they are capable of having the capacity in place, then they are in a position where many different opportunities are open to them.
The project is working. I got a phone call from the chief of a community in Manitoba. He was very emotional. Apparently it was the first time in two decades that they were out of third-party management because they had committed to the process and done it.
But there are some issues that are starting to arise with everything. And these are not to be criticisms of anybody, any department or any position. They’re just the reality that when you start to unearth things, you find things. The role of INAC regional offices and how they interact with headquarters needs to be reviewed as the program moves beyond the pilot project stage. It is becoming clear that indigenous supports and an indigenous support services entity will achieve economies of scale and provide services not otherwise available to all communities.
The one thing we have learned over the last couple of years through the Major Projects Coalition is the benefit of providing an opportunity for multiple First Nations to have access to capacity that they would not otherwise have. I think we need to expand on that concept in a broader way to provide services to communities. Now, there are some communities that will not need those kinds of services, but we have many smaller communities across this country that could benefit from capacity and expertise, just like those communities along the major projects corridor have been able to do.
I think the move to consolidate indigenous services under one ministry is welcomed, but there needs to be a quick transition so there is harmony in the application and policy among different ministries. This has become evident in the challenges those communities in the pilot project have faced when dealing with multiple departments like Health and Indian Affairs. All of these matters are being recognized and we are beginning to look for solutions.
I think that everyone who is impacted — and all Canadians are impacted by the Aboriginal file — need to accept that the status quo does not work and that fundamental change has to take place. It has to be based on recognition. It has to be based on the principles of UNDRIP through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It has to understand that investments have to be made both in governance and in economic development opportunities. It must be recognized that First Nations need to have their jurisdictions recognized and need to have a place at the table where decisions are being made around major project developments in our country.
And we need to find ourselves in a position where we have reliable and stable sources of income so that our communities can plan like other orders of government can plan and not be dependent on 12-month cash-flow funding as it comes through contribution agreements, as it exists today. A new fiscal relationship does involve new transfer arrangements, I agree, but those transfer arrangements need to come from a different source than necessarily entirely parliamentary appropriations from the Department of Indian Affairs. We need to expand our jurisdictional authority to raise revenue at source in our traditional territories. If we can do those things, we will be able to achieve success.
The one thing I want to implore upon you is there is an urgency to this. These are not uncomplicated matters and there will be a temptation to study it to death. We need to act. There is an urgency in our communities for us to act. We need to have the tolerance that there will be some challenges in the implementation of this new strategy. You cannot hold this initiative to a standard higher than you hold other initiatives of government. What I’m saying politely is there may be some missteps. There may be some things that we have to fix. At the first sign of that, we can’t throw up our hands and say, “See, I told you, they can’t manage it.”
First Nations taking control of their own destiny through institutions is the approach that we need to adopt as an implementation tool for a new nation-to-nation relationship to implement UNDRIP and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations.
Thank you for your time.
The Chair: Thank you, panel members. We’ll now start our first round of questions, first with our vice-chair, Senator Tannas.
Senator Tannas: I recall when I first became aware of the Major Projects Coalition. It would have been maybe two years ago. If I remember rightly, there were really two things that were very powerful in the presentation at that point. One was the story of the missed opportunity of a First Nation to participate in a major pipeline project because there was no program to finance their participation and therefore they lost that opportunity. To me, that was a brilliant, clear, obvious lesson.
The second was this idea of communities having the capacity by themselves, without the help of the promoter, to access a project independently and to prepare for discussion and negotiation and so on and a decision as to whether or not that project could benefit the community and in what ways, or what issues there were around it. If I remember right at the time, reading some of the background materials around the UN declaration, especially the article around consent, this was talked about as being a cornerstone of that article of declaration, the idea that capacity has to be built so that the informed part happens.
We’re two years on. You’ve given some examples now of where the coalition has actually been in and helped the communities on the capacity building side. It sounds to me like that is going well and there’s some effort and some resources being put towards that. What about on the other side, on the partnership side, on the development of some economic muscle that can be brought to bear to allow partnerships from communities? How has that developed over the last couple of years?
Mr. Calla: If I might start, having worked with this group for that period of time, I think Canada found itself in a very difficult circumstance two years ago when the commodity prices tanked. I would dare say that we missed the opportunity by not getting ourselves organized sooner. For those major initiatives that were being contemplated at that time, the proponents found themselves not abandoning but stepping back for a period of time until there was political certainty in the provincial governments’ front, in the federal government’s front, and there were some clear economic indications that these projects were going to be viable.
We’re starting to recover from that process now, and there is some apparent interest in some of those initiatives being initiated again. I think we’re now in a position where people understand that there is a Major Projects Coalition, that they are working and that they can come to the Major Projects Coalition and get some response to opportunities that might be considered at the time.
There is an initiative on the Kenney Dam water release facility, which is about a $350-million project, that will road-test some of this: How do you finance it, how do you deal with the environmental assessments, all of that process.
The reality of First Nations not having a balance sheet, as I refer to it, by virtue of not being able to generate the wealth from their traditional territories is a reality that doesn’t go away until such time as we have access to the resources in our traditional territories and can accumulate a balance sheet. So there’s going to continue to be a need for support of First Nations to acquire an economic interest in many of these things. That matter is unresolved in terms of where is in Canada’s place in a new nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations.
There are many examples in this country, and I’ve discussed them here previously, between CMHC, other specific projects, some that have worked out well, some that have not, where Canada has recognized its important role as a government to step in and provide the fiscal and financial leadership to establish an economic agenda and support that. That might be the case here, where First Nations are looking for opportunities to participate in equity positions in First Nations.
I think there is an appetite on the part of the business community to include First Nations, but First Nations are going to have to pay for any equity position that they might be able to negotiate in these relationships, and that matter remains unchanged, senator.
Ms. Gale: I’d like to answer, senator, in terms of the coalition’s work and how it has brought First Nation communities together in partnerships, to look at the big picture and the reality that our nations face on a daily basis.
We’re very fortunate to live on our lands and to have our elders guide us, but throughout the years there have been many fights on traditional territory and those kinds of things. Through the membership, it’s been wonderful to see communities come together for their nations to find a project, to be able to work on it and to bring prosperity to their communities and something beyond just jobs.
The hope is alive and well. I really believe in the work that the coalition is doing and that we are doing as the board of directors. I see a lot of hope for the future. With our wide range of membership throughout the province, it has brought us all together to share our stories and experiences and to learn from each other. It also opens our eyes to knowing that working with others is a good thing, especially when it comes to your local municipality. There are many things that working together can do for communities. It’s important to remember that, no matter where we’re from, we all work together. The dream is alive and we’re very optimistic. With the coalition’s work, I see a future for future generations.
Senator Patterson: It’s great to have you folks before our committee. I think it’s timely because Canada is talking about the new nation-to-nation relationship and, as you know, our committee is studying that very question. Fiscal relations are a key part of this discussion, clearly.
We are to report in about a year, and I am thinking about the life of this government. We need to make concrete recommendations that can help push this exciting process that you’re talking about. I think we’re in a position to be influential. I hope we’re in a position to be influential.
You talked about some exciting concepts. It’s basically about building capacity as INAC sunsets, I think is what you said. This is how we get rid of the Indian Act.
You talked about an infrastructure institution to better manage capital projects. We’ve been in the field. We have seen with our own eyes how capital projects have been botched through delays and poor communication from regional offices.
You talked about long-term financial arrangements to monetize the funds that we know will be coming, more than year to year, and then levering that to develop capacity to raise own revenues.
You talked about the AFN developing principles of a new fiscal relationship. We’ve got to get beyond principles fast, I think. As you say, we can’t study this thing to death.
Here’s a tough question: What concrete recommendations can we make, and in what areas, to push this agenda along? I know you’re interfacing with the government intensively, and I appreciate your efforts very much. What are the areas we should focus on? What should we be recommending in our report to make a big difference in this relationship and move your agenda forward? What are the key areas that can be moved on?
Mr. Calla: I feel like I’m writing out my Christmas list here. It’s a great question, senator.
I think the work the AFN is doing in creating stable, predictable funding is an immediate short-term win that needs to be encouraged. The ability to establish long-term funding arrangements and to monetize those funding arrangements under certain terms is an important step to move forward right now. Those steps could have an immediate impact on First Nations if they were implemented within the next fiscal year or two.
Beginning to plan is important, and continuing to support, as we have had support from the government since 2007 in the Fiscal Management Act institutions, to develop capacity. I think we have proven — through 220-some-odd First Nations that are scheduled to the act, the 100 that we have certified and the 100 that we are working on, and the ability of the finance authority to raise over $400 million in debentures in New York to support First Nation loan requests — the success of a First Nation-led and -developed approach to these matters. I think that has to become a cornerstone to the approaches that are being followed. Your recommendations, I would respectfully suggest, need to reflect that. To develop First Nation institutions, to allow those institutions to take over the opportunities that are being presented and to have those institutions First Nation-led will be absolutely critical.
You also have the opportunity to comment on the need for recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights. I believe at times that the quantum of recognition that’s going to be required is so significant that it frightens people away from even beginning to talk about it, and we have to get past that. There is not going to be an ability for First Nations to table a bill with you and have you look at paying it. It’s not about money. You can never achieve with money what needs to be achieved in the recognition of our Aboriginal rights and title and our ability to have jurisdiction.
That means that all federal government departments — from NRCan to Environment to Finance to Treasury Board to Indigenous Affairs and the Crown ministry — all need to be embraced. There has to be a harmony within government departments that I don’t see existing today.
If you were able to listen to the Auditor General’s comments at the Institute on Governance meeting last week in the city, understand what he was saying: that, politically, governments are able to develop policy and they can move much more quickly than bureaucracy has demonstrated an ability to move. Our biggest challenge is going to be just that, I suggest: How do you move a structure that’s been in place since Confederation and has had a paternalistic relationship with Indians in this country? How do they embrace the concept of self-determination and a transition of not only authorities but operations to First Nation-led institutions? If there’s one thing that you’re going to have to be aware of, it is the need for that transition to be observed and monitored.
Mr. Blackwater: One of the key things, in answer to your question, is that from Gitsegukla’s perspective, initiatives like Major Projects do give us hope. We thought, and our previous leadership have always thought, that we would be stuck in poverty, no resources, and that we’d be held hostage in a third party environment forever. But when you get access to resources at no cost, it helps our people move beyond.
I live in my own community. When you live in a community where you have two or three families in a home because of no funds to build houses and stuff like that, that’s one of the most devastating — that’s even worse than residential schools. I am a residential school survivor.
When we look at Major Projects, it’s not about just funding a project; it’s about access and resources without charge, sharing those resources freely. Those are the things that help us.
In our community, 85 per cent minimum are on social assistance.
We have a hemp licence, I think one of the rare ones in B.C. When we start looking and start planning, we can be self-sustainable with that hemp licence, and we have a gravel pit and other economic development to move forward with.
When you talk about the removal of the Indian Act, we need to be ready for that. We need to be self-sustainable. I know just in the short years that I’ve been chief, we have the ability to do that because we have let go of our differences and worked together as partners.
So thank you for your question. It’s been on my mind for a long time. That’s my passion as a chief, as a leader for Gitsegukla. It’s to help them build and expand. In order to do that, we have to have our own source of revenue and then our community’s life and our children’s lives will be a lot better. Thank you.
Ms. Gale: Throughout many of our lives and past elders and so forth and leaders in my community, there have been many opportunities that have arisen, but without access to capital or a federal loan guarantee, those realities have never come to fruition. That’s where I see the biggest opportunity. If First Nations could own and build infrastructure, major infrastructure, that would have a huge influence and significance to Canada and our economy. It would make the greatest difference ever.
I talked about not just providing jobs. For Fort Nelson First Nation, we’re one of the biggest employers in our community and we’re very proud of that, because we’re able to provide employment to many people and many families, not just our own people. Many people have come across Canada to come work for us.
We really encourage our members to be strong, healthy, proud, self-reliant people, and we want them to be able to take care of themselves and their families and the future generations. It’s beautiful when you can see a young family mortgaging their own home on the reserve. It’s nice when you can drive in a community where the roads are paved and there’s a beautiful health centre where everyone can gather.
Those are the things that I want to see for every community across this country for First Nations people. I could only imagine how their leadership feels when they don’t have those things and they’re living in poverty and they don’t have fresh running water.
With the coalition’s work, I see the light at the end of the door. We’re going to keep continuing to open that door.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here to speak with you all today. It’s not every day we get an opportunity like this, and I really appreciate the time that you have taken to invite us here.
Ms. Thomas: Thank you for your enthusiasm. It is music to my ears and my community’s ears to hear that we have the support of your institution in trying to make the change that our people need. I think what’s needed, really, is to make the change in Canadian society in how we look at Aboriginal people. Gone, I’m hoping, are the days of enemy, you and me, and having that veto and all that PR that hasn’t helped our society as a whole. When First Nations do well, the whole region does well. I’d like to see some communication and work on how we’re going to change this.
I’m not usually one for caution, but I think I really have to question if we’re feeling guilty about what we’ve done before or we’re trying to make it better because we’ve got to stop the bleeding. When we’re doing first aid, we check airway breathing and circulation. We need to do this with intent and not off wildly with the well-intentioned intent of trying to make change faster. We’re trying to make repairs to a system that has been in place for over a century, so I think we need to be doing it stepwise.
There are some low-hanging fruit. What Sharleen is talking about is loan guarantees. There’s low-hanging fruit there that should be easy. We have meetings set up with various people in the next few days. We’re trying to make that change ourselves. It would be helpful if Canada would help us do that.
I’m tired of being portrayed as somebody that needs rescuing and somebody to be pitied. I’m a strong Aboriginal woman; please see me like that. That’s the message I’d like you to help train Canada on as a society. Thank you.
Senator Patterson: I appreciate the answers. I have another quick question that is very short-term and very practical.
The Major Projects Coalition. I understand, has growth in your membership. You want to continue your work to build capacity. Are you adequately resourced to meet the needs of your members? Are there challenges in finding the resources to support your work?
Ms. Gale: As you may know, our funding is going to be ending on March 31, 2018, and, in order for us to continue our work, we are going to need additional support, but this support is going to have to be secured in a way that is not just through a program. This is something that we want Canadians to take seriously because this work could help nations across this country and not just in the province of British Columbia.
When we did our original work plan — we submitted that nearly three years ago — we never had any idea of what the growth would become of this organization and what we would experience. But, since establishment, the coalition membership is now, as you said, three times bigger, at 37 members, and it’s growing in size. We’re gaining interest from nations in Alberta and Ontario. We see that this has a big impact, and people are generating interest in what we are doing.
To date, we have relied on the program funding provided by the strategic partnership initiative, and the program funding has been challenging in terms of the delivery of the program — the strict guidelines, the cumbersome decision-making process and reporting. That takes a lot of administrative work. We want to get past that. In order to do that, we’re going to have to have multi-year commitment and funding to be able to do this work.
As we heard from Chief Blackwater, getting out of third party and access to resources for their community at no cost can help many lives across this country and help many leaders in First Nation communities.
Senator Raine: It’s always a pleasure, Mr. Calla, for you to be here and for the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, which is showing so much potential. I agree that it is showing its success, and we need to move quickly to capitalize on that.
I personally understand that the way it’s being set up now — and correct me if I’m wrong — will put you in a position, as individual First Nations, to take advantage of opportunities as they come along, without missing the boat, so to speak, as we did on some of the projects in the past.
I realize you will need to have full cooperation of not only the taxpayers of Canada, through the federal government, with loan guarantees, which, to me, makes so much sense, but also with provincial governments and with the people in your regions that may be influenced by outside interests that want to stop progress. I know that, to do that, you need to work together, but there are always people who, for one reason or another, may want to put up a roadblock that’s not necessary. How does the coalition deal with those kinds of negative influences?
Ms. Gale: The coalition is not a project-specific organization and we do not advocate for or against projects. It’s up to the communities to work together and to submit a request to the coalition if they’re interested in reviewing a project. What we do is provide facts. We provide information. We provide technical support for them to make an informed decision if it’s something that is going to work for their people and an infrastructure that they want to be involved in, but it’s up to the communities.
Senator Raine: There was mention of the need for a First Nation national institution, and I was getting a little bit worried that you could build another bureaucracy, but I understand now. Your organization is a support organization, and the authority rests with the First Nation in dealing with every specific project.
Ms. Gale: Yes.
Senator Raine: Thank you.
Senator Christmas: I just wanted to express my congratulations and my appreciation for the work that you are doing, in particular, the First Nations Financial Management Board, the work that you have done. I’m very impressed with the work that you’re doing as the First Nations Major Projects Coalition.
I fully share your vision, Mr. Calla, about the need to develop First Nations institutions that are led by First Nations people. I think I can share this comment with all of us; I think you have given us a glimpse into what nation-to-nation looks like on the ground. So thank you for that. That’s very inspiring, and I’m so pleased you’re able to talk about that.
I guess my question is for Chief Blackwater and maybe for Mr. Calla. I was very inspired by your story of your community coming out of third-party management with the assistance of the First Nations Financial Management Board. I loved your portrayal that you have invested hope in not only those communities but I think for a lot of people in the process. I loved your comment that the old approach has to go. I’m very familiar with the current or former government’s way of dealing with First Nations in third-party management. You’re almost stigmatized. You’re nobody; you’re nothing. It’s a horrible approach.
Contrast it with the approach that you have gone through, chief, with the help of the First Nations Financial Management Board, of investing in communities and providing that service — I think it was described — free of charge. Chief, could you elaborate on that a bit more, how the First Nations Financial Management Board, how a First Nations institution, by investing in your community, has brought that hope and has turned your community around into a prosperous one? Could you tell us more about your story?
Mr. Blackwater: Okay. I hope I have a lot of time.
When I first came on council, it was back in 1998, for a two-year term, and then I heard there were challenges and stuff like that. I left my community altogether and moved back when I ran for council, chief and council, in 2013, I got a seat on the council and lost the chieftainship by two votes. During that timeframe, it was the same old story again. Council was still talking about the same things, and we are not moving anywhere.
One of the things I did is start talking to the community, and I said, “We can’t be stuck in this place forever. We need change, but you can’t have change if you don’t have courage.” So I was doing a lot of campaigning for two years, saying what kind of approach I’d be using. When the next election came in 2015, I made it in as chief, and I won by a landslide because people wanted change.
While I was on council, on October 1, 2014, we went from co-management to third party.
One of the things that I did when I got in as chief, was that I heard about the First Nations Financial Management Board, and I went to talk to Harold Calla. I told him, “We need to do something different. What’s out there?”
In the meantime, we signed a letter of cooperation and we talked about fiscal administrative law, the financial management act and all of that. And with our third party, we told them we need to do something different, and we told INAC we had to do something different. So I got them all together and we met with them as council.
We said to our third party management at that time that we need to move beyond. We have the expertise, we have the training and we have all the internal resources to do things on our own. We just need to be taught how to do it properly. I told them we can’t do that when they were no different from INAC, and INAC was sitting right there. INAC tells us what to do and how to do it or they do it for us. We didn’t want them to do it for us. How can we be self-governing on our finances if we don’t learn how to do that?
At band council, before the meeting, we passed a motion that we’re going to have a partnership with our third party managers and INAC. Through that meeting, and every newly convened meeting we had monthly, transparency. We told INAC, “You’re not a funding agency when you’re sitting here. You’re a partner. You see what it is but you don’t always see our governance, and if you see we’re doing it wrong, let us know and guide us through the process of what it is. Don’t do it for us, and don’t tell us we’re not capable of doing it.” We told third party managers, “We don’t want you here forever. How can we get out of third party if we’re paying you an astronomical amount of money?” We got that understanding.
And then we had an in camera meeting with council. I called an in camera meeting with council. There are eight councillors and myself as chief, and I said, “The first thing we need to do is put all our crap on the table and get over our frustrations with each other and learn how to get along.” If we can’t do that, we can’t see the bigger picture of doing the best we can for our community. So we had to take care of our own issues first, and then when we came back in and started doing business, it made a lot of difference.
We called the RDG — at the time it was Eric Magnuson — to come to our community and showed him how we lived. We brought him to our houses, five houses. And I said, “Would you live in this kind of environment? I challenge you to bring your family and live in this house and survive.”
So then we brought him back to the table. We said, “We’re not here to argue with you or demand anything. What we’d like you to do is make a commitment to invest in a warm, safe, and dry renovation project.” In order to do that investment, we need some guidance and additional monies to get a housing project so that the investments will be safe for decades ahead. So we’re richest third party First Nation in B.C. Where else would you get $1.3 million, warm, safe, dry houses for a five-year commitment? We’re just completing our third year, negotiating our fourth year and have two more years to go.
But our approach is different. Rather than select houses before, and renovation, we had a firm come in — Stantec I believe they’re called — and they did a housing assessment for 134 houses, every house in our community, with a 1,600-page report. Based on that, we had our third party managers decipher that 1,600-page report; they’re getting paid a lot of money anyway so you might as well put them to work. So they did that.
When we called INAC back, we said, “This is what we need per year for housing renovation because we’re going to take every house in the community, not one will be left out.” We started with the key needs first, which is the roof. You should have seen our roofs. They were horrible. We replaced all the roofs in our community. Then we worked with the furnaces. Then we worked with the disabled, made sure that the disabled and elderly had the proper stuff. All those things were done in phases.
Our people are warm, safe and dry. That’s a start. We called Allyson Roweand Catherine Lappe back,because she is our new RDG, and said, “Do you see the investment you made? Look at the people.” Instead of being upset, frustrated and having no sense of life, our people are lifted up now, just on that little housing repair.
I hear a lot of chiefs in B.C. are getting paid a salary, but we don’t. I get $750 a month honorarium, but I spend six or eight hours a day, including weekends, in the office making sure everything is in order. Leadership will do that. It’s commitment from the heart because people come in for a reason, one reason only, that they want change.
Talking about jurisdiction, that’s another approach that we’re looking at with the Gitxsan Nation. One of the key things is that it’s from the top down, INAC down to us. With us and Gitxsan Nation and Gitsegukla, it’s community design and community led, everything from the bottom up. Because it’s our people who actually know their needs and how to address those needs.
So those are the things we worked on as Gitsegukla and we’re proud to say that we’ve designed and implemented a new approach of self-sustainability, growth, because it’s one of the things that I have seen on council table. The demanding, the arguing and all of that, it didn’t get anywhere, so we had to do a different approach. That’s what we did. I believe that — I don’t believe, I know — I know not only B.C. headquarters of INAC but the national headquarters of INAC have a lot of recognition of what we’re doing because Catherine Lappe and Allyson Rowe, before she moved on to the public services, approached me and said, “We would like you to be on our mentorship program to share with other First Nations, not only in B.C. but across Canada, Gitsegukla’s approach, because that is completely different from what we’re used to and it’s really working.”
We’re receiving an appointed advisory now and our goal is to be out of that and self-management within two years.
Senator Christmas: Congratulations, chief; I appreciate your story.
Mr. Calla, you mentioned in our comments that you thought the INAC regional offices had to have a different relationship with headquarters, which I assumed was First Nations. Could you elaborate on why you think that needs to change?
Mr. Calla: We all become comfortable with what I will call “our turf.” As we move to different approaches, those who feel they own the turf have to be prepared to change. At the same time, those who currently have the responsibilities on that turf need to be relieved of those responsibilities.
We’re moving into an alternative default management program that is fundamentally different. In the program as I see it having existed, there’s an initiative to balance the financial ratios. That’s the primary objective. Our approach is to develop the capacity to see Gitsegukla pass a financial administration law and begin to work on financial management certification, so they’re developing policies, procedures and rules where they can conduct their business. This gives the confidence to partners to support the initiatives they have under way. That’s a different approach.
Our belief is that, through that process, eventually the financial ratios will come into line. Our framework is consistent with an international standard called COSO. We’re very comfortable in our rating. Our work has been vetted by accounting houses — everything. The rating agencies and investment banks looked at what we do and our approach to certification and gave the First Nations Finance Authority an investment-grade credit rating, and it’s improving.
There is confidence in what we are doing, but it starts out fundamentally different. We say, “Yes, they have financial issues today, and yes, we have to manage those,” but you manage them not just by removing discretionary funding and putting it in the bank until the ratios are in line; you fix it by investing in their capacity to make their own decisions and manage their own affairs. The financial management board supports them in their work and advises them from the get-go. It is their work. We’re not coming in to do the work; they’re going to do the work, and we’re going to help them.
Senator Hartling: Good morning, and thank you very much for being here. It’s a pleasure to listen to your story and your message of hope. It’s very inspiring, and it’s a message for all Canadians.
I would like to address this to Chief Thomas and Councillor Gale: As leaders in your community and being part of that, with this message of hope, is it difficult sometimes, and how do you deal with building the trust and hope, especially given the history of our government with indigenous people? I know sometimes that must be hard. What do you do? How can we here at the Senate and in our communities support you and encourage you?
Ms. Thomas: I’m doing my fourth term as chief. I actually have an all-woman council now in Saik’uz. I do my little happy dance. We’ve had a focus on our children and returning our children home. I don’t know how many of you have read John’s report on reunification and the return of our children. We have over 40 children in care for Saik’uz.
Before I left on Saturday, we actually made the ministry and service agencies bring the children to our community, because we were finding that in the plan of care for each child, they were not being brought home as they’re required to. We have protocol agreements with agencies. To see the parents and — not all the children but a lot of them came — but to see the parents happy, it gave them hope that we’re a council that follows our word. We have integrity. When we say things, we mean it, and we’re there for our community, because it’s our goal to eventually bring these children all home. We’re not in as bad a place as other communities in terms of how many children are gone.
We missed out on that PTP equity asked from two years ago that was brought up earlier. We’re hoping not to miss that boat again. We’re in the process of doing a financial feasibility for the Kenney Dam water release facility. If we can see that it is a money-making opportunity, then we can move on with that decision. That will give our people hope, and not just to my community but all the downstream, including the municipalities downstream of us that depend upon that water system.
It’s from small things to big things. From economics to children are two examples I can give you.
Ms. Gale: We have a really great chief. His name is Harrison Dickie. I’m very proud of him and my council, and I’m very honoured to be here.
Every day when I wake up, I’m very thankful to be alive and to be Dene. I have been on my council for nine years. I’m a former chief, and I’m very proud of past leadership, past chiefs and councils, and I’m very proud of our members for continuing to wake up every day and face the challenges of life. With that, we can’t lose hope in our daily tasks. We have to stay focused.
I have to say that, recently, our community ratified a vote to secure funds for future generations and locked in a trust for 100 years so that we can continue to do the work on the ground. We hope that, one day, that money will just mean nothing because we’re business partners. We’re partners with investors. We’re working with proponents. We’re working with our local governments and the province and Canada.
I can only imagine that our future looks bright. That’s the only thing I could ever imagine, because there is no going backward. We just hope that with the work we are doing now, our children and our grandchildren won’t still have to be sitting at the table talking to you about getting to where we need to be.
Through the work of the coalition, presentation, expertise and professionals coming forth, it has given us a lot of knowledge of how we can do things better. Our community has recently set up a corporation as a start to separate the business from the politics and to stay focused. Another thing we’re looking at doing and that we are working toward is a central finance office. All our businesses and administration processes will go through one finance office, and we’ll have our information readily available at all times.
And then there is the daily community work, where our members are on the land. Our crafters continue to make beautiful work and keep our traditions alive. There are a lot of things that happen in our community alone that continue to give us hope and to continue to make us proud of who we are as people.
Every day, you have to face those challenges. Like I said, there is no turning back. We will continue to ensure that our rights are respected and we will continue to work with you as partners. But I think the best way forward for all of us is to ensure that we have the tools, the capacity and the funding to work with you to make shared decisions in this country. That’s the only path forward.
Senator Doyle: Thank you for being here. When we as a committee speak about First Nations and your hopes, dreams, aspirations and problems, I automatically think of Labrador. I know that in Labrador, the provision of infrastructure didn’t necessarily mean that all of the social problems were going to go away or be reversed simply because, with the provision of infrastructure, there was very little economic development in the area.
When you plan for an infrastructure project, does the plan automatically go hand-in-hand with a plan for economic opportunities as well in a certain area? I know in one part of Labrador they developed a whole town and moved people into it, but there was little or no economic opportunity in that town and, as a result, the same problems continue to exist. That leads me to believe that when you submit a plan for infrastructure, it’s also necessary to have a long-term plan for economic development. Am I right?
Mr. Calla: Yes, you are, senator. In fact, one of the financial management system standards is to actually develop a community plan that will necessarily involve an economic plan. They get integrated. Part of the challenge that we have today is that too often the infrastructure program guidelines don’t permit the investment in infrastructure for economic development. That fundamentally has to change. Our definition of infrastructure has to be expanded beyond sewer and water. It has to involve technology, broadband, software, computers and training. The infrastructure that we need and how that’s defined needs to change.
We don’t know what the future holds. I was at an AFOA International Conference in Vancouver, and an Aboriginal from New Zealand came and said, “We’re putting our children in school today for jobs, but we don’t know what those jobs are going to look like.” The infrastructure and investment we need to build in our people is to equip them to be in a position where they have the capacity to be able to respond to the opportunities that are there for the future.
Infrastructure that includes economic development is absolutely necessary. If you can develop taxation systems on commercial properties and if you can support the provision of infrastructure, which is fundamentally possible through the Fiscal Management Act, these are the kinds of tools that we need to bring about.
At the moment, the challenge for the private sector is that if they come onto reserve and want to build a project, they also have to pay for the infrastructure generally, and they do not have to do that if they are not on reserve. We have to level that playing field, and we think an infrastructure institution can help do that with the support of good work, and there is some very good work being done in the regions on this right now.
You’re absolutely right. But again, when we talk about a national institution, we’re talking about a First Nation-led approach to doing this that involves regions, consultations and some effective management. There are some really good examples of that occurring in this country. The First Nations Health Authority in British Columbia is a very good example of how assuming the responsibility for delivering health in the province is benefiting our communities.
Senator Doyle: Thank you.
Senator Pate: Thank you very much to all of you, and congratulations on the efforts and the successes, most importantly, that you’ve already achieved.
Mr. Calla, in 2015, I think, you spoke in The Globe and Mail about the dependency-inducing processes, some of the leadership that Minister Wilson-Raybould has taken in the past and opportunities that are available now. I’m curious as to whether any of the options you’re looking at would involve some of the mechanisms being looked at both in the provinces and federally. I’m thinking, for instance, that one of the responsibilities that Minister Wilson-Raybould has taken on, along with the Minister of Public Safety, is to implement the TRC recommendations around decarceration and investment in communities.
That is in line with Chief Thomas and the work you were talking about in terms of bringing children back, the amount of money that is put into foster care and adoption instead of kinship care and keeping children in their communities, as well as some of the discussions that are being had about piloting guaranteed liveable income projects as opposed to social assistance schemes.
I’m curious whether you’ve been involved in some of those discussions, how you’ve been involved and what kind of supports for that infrastructure development you’d be looking at to develop those. I’m thinking of specifically having the provisions that already exist to allow for communities to take people out of prison, keep kids out of care and change from a social assistance scheme to a guaranteed liveable income scheme. Have any of those options have been looked at, and how might any recommendations from this committee assist those processes?
Mr. Calla: If I might start, you need facilities. When we talk about infrastructure, we need facilities. I think the fiscal relationship and the infrastructure institute need to look at how we can fast-track the provision of facilities. We need to be smarter with the transfer of money that’s coming forward. We need to be able to monetize it.
The First Nation Health Authority needs to build nursing stations in British Columbia. Do we wait 10 years for the annual contributions to flow through the funding agreement so they can build one nursing station a year, or do we actually finance those nursing stations and put them on the ground? That concept has applications throughout.
Last week, I was in Fisher River, Manitoba, providing them with a financial management system certificate. I would encourage you, if you ever have an opportunity, to go and visit Fisher River. They’re two and a half hours outside of Winnipeg, on Lake Manitoba, and have used the tools of the Fiscal Management Act, according to Chief David Crate, to their advantage. They’re building new schools and recreation centres, and they have an economic engine. They’re capturing the economic leakage that was occurring.
There’s no one single answer to these challenges. You need to have an economy and employment opportunities. Bringing people home to what they have at home today is not a solution in and of itself, so you need to provide healthier communities for them to come home to. I think if there’s a message here, it is that, yes, there are many things to be done at the same time, but I think you need to invest in the development of governance capacity and economic development and improve the delivery of infrastructure procurement on reserve that supports multiple objectives, one of which must be economic development.
I always like to remind people that it’s very difficult to build a healthy community or a housing program on the basis of welfare and shelter allowance. We need to develop economies and employment opportunities for our communities, in our communities. We will retain our cultures if we’re able to stay in the regions that we come from. There’s no reason why we can’t do that.
Fisher River is an excellent example of how that can be achieved and how they committed to doing that. I went into a work shack of the high school. I understand Fisher River has the highest graduation rate in Manitoba of Aboriginal students. There were three young men in there, and they said, “Yes, and we’re three of them.” They were working in jobs and in apprenticeships. They’re developing skill sets. That’s going hand in hand with how we look at restoring our communities’ values and bringing our people home. They have to come home to something better than what’s there today.
Mr. Blackwater: From a leadership and community perspective, that’s one of the key things in Gitxsan Nation. We’ve teamed up and joined up with youth in First Nations.
I was in Prince George a few weeks ago. We presented a position paper on jurisdiction. That is key to First Nation life and that’s key to us. Our children are our children. They don’t belong to anybody else. Gitxsan children are Gitxsan children, and then you break it up into communities within the Gitxsan Nation. The Gitsegukla children belong to Gitsegukla. We are responsible for them, nobody else.
We presented a position paper with the First Nations Health Authority and informed them that we don’t want them to venture off into the child and family services sector, education or anything for that matter, because that’s no business of theirs. Each nation, each community, is responsible for their children’s social determinants: health, education, child and family services, economic development, all of that. It’s our responsibility, and that’s one of the things where we’re moving toward.
Our council is working on designing and working with the Gitxsan Child & Family Services to design and implement a child welfare committee so that we have the first and only say on our children. I’m not only a chief and on the board of directors. I also work for the Gitxsan Child & Family Services as an family enhancement worker. My passion is working with those children who don’t have a voice and who are struggling. We had one child come home through the Gitxsan Child & Family agency. She was about 14 or 15. She cried and cried because that’s the first time she ever had any type of connection to her family or her nation. It was just amazing to see the impact.
In closing, I’m a survivor of residential schools. I’m a named plaintiff in the atrocities of residential schools. The aftermath of residential schools have had a devastating impact on me as a human being. All my siblings went to residential schools, whether it be Alberni or Edmonton. Not one of us ever returned home to our community. That’s the disruption that’s still affecting us today. Not one of us are communicating with each other. They destroyed the family, but more importantly, they destroyed the community. I may be an exception to that in our family because I’m a drummer in our Gitxsan Gitsegukla dance group. Our daughter is a dancer. Our granddaughter is a dancer. We’re doing our part, because to me, reconciliation starts with me and then it builds from there. Thank you.
Senator Pate: Thank you very much for that. I was pleased when you first started talking about needing infrastructure and facilities. Often the next step I hear is the government wants to fund us to run our own jails, which none of you said. I was pleased to hear that. Some of the successes of some of the Maori communities in New Zealand have been where they’ve taken those resources that had previously been put into other more oppressive types of interventions and developed schools and health facilities. I want to thank you for that and, if there’s anything we could be doing to assist, please let us know.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you very much for being here and for giving us such in-depth and rich information to help us with our work.
I’d like to ask a question that’s geared to youth leadership. I’m picking up on the theme of economic development and how crucial that is. I’m thinking, for example, one of the many young entrepreneurial companies, the Pontiac Group, and the recent proposal for the drone deliveries to isolated communities. What do you see as specific resources? Can you share with us any specific examples of the way in which your communities or organizations are focusing on supporting and galvanizing youth leadership in economic development?
Ms. Thomas: We do have a young lady, my cousin, who is the rookie on our council. We’ve have her on warp speed really in terms of all the work that’s going on. For a little bit of context, where I come from, we haven’t signed a treaty. We were negotiating a treaty until 2007. We’re moving in a direction now in terms of that reconciliation. People are throwing that word around. My young lady is such an inspiration for me because she has such energy. We’ve been developing her.
We’re negotiating an agreement with one of our forestry proponents in our territory. Because we haven’t ceded, released or surrendered any rights or title, we’ve had a 20-year agreement with a forest company in our area. It’s coming up for renewal. I’ve got her involved in doing those negotiations because, in the future, we want to ensure that the people we leave behind are going to be able to do that. We’re going to be the people who are still going to be there.
We have been devastated by the mountain pine beetle on our land base. It’s moving north and into Alberta. Now we’re focusing on mining. We are in negotiations with mining companies for an economic participation agreement with them. We’re not just asking for jobs; we’re asking for small businesses. We’re asking for secure business contracts that are going to be of help to our community. Thankfully, we can do that, because if we were in a different place and we didn’t have the skills available to do all this work, we wouldn’t be able to provide that for our youth.
Over half the population in Saik’uz is under the age of 30. Basically it’s my job to create space for their future, the space that’s required, so we’re changing the way we think and we’re making the opportunities available for the people. It’s up to them to take advantage of it.
We’re in a complex community. We have a fentanyl crisis going on. Four out of five of us have taken naloxone training because we’ve had 12 close calls in Saik’uz. Fortunately, we haven’t lost anybody. We’re trying to save our youth so they can have a future.
When we talk reconciliation, it’s like rebuilding a family with all the families in the community and all the communities that are in the Carrier Nation and all the people in British Columbia and then moving on to the country. In terms of governance, our job is to create that new world and shift the paradigm.
Economics is the only thing that will make the future generation able to live, but we can’t just have business and mines and logging. We also have to have land that some of us need to practise our rights on, a lake to fish in and land where we can hunt. Under the Tsilhqot’in case, we’re not allowed to hinder our future generation’s rights when we make these decisions.
I don’t know if I’ve helpfully answered your question. I’m just giving you a real perspective from my community. You have asked a good question. Thank you for listening.
Ms. Gale: Coming from the community of Fort Nelson First Nation, our community was very fortunate to have a chief who believed in education. In 1980, he was a part of School District No. 81 for the local town of Fort Nelson, and he brought an elementary school to the nation, which was a modular unit. That’s how we started. Today I’m proud to say that we have a school named Chalo School, which is recognized in Canada as one of the top schools in this country for First Nations.
I think that education is the key to our future and to ensuring that our people can function in this society. Not only do we want those who have gotten into trouble or left because they couldn’t heal in their own communities to come home, we want those going to university, post-secondary, taking trades to also come home and have something to come home to that they can be proud of.
Last week we were very fortunate to honour our elders and have a luncheon with our community. We have 65 elders in our community, and with that comes a lot of guidance and expectation. When I see youth stepping up to the plate, standing up and using their voices, it makes me so proud. When you’re going through a general election and you see younger people putting their name forth, you know that you’re making a difference. It’s amazing.
Striking a balance through economic prosperity and ensuring our environment is secure for future generations is very important. Communities need to have the opportunity to work with investors, to work with proponents, local governments and municipalities, to talk about infrastructure that’s going to happen on our lands and to be a part of those projects in a more meaningful manner than just jobs.
One of the things that we have done as a community is made no-go zones, because there’s nobody better to tell people where things should be built and where things should not be built. There are spiritual sites, gathering places, calving grounds, a lot of things to take into consideration when you are building a major project. It doesn’t make sense for people to come, where our people have lived thousands of years and are going to continue to live for thousands of years, and to not involve us in a major decision that will affect our lives. We welcome economic opportunities as long as it’s done right and meets the needs of our people. We cannot dry up lakes and we cannot build roads that do not make sense. This is why it’s so important that we’re involved.
The best place for our people to come home to when they need to heal is to meet with our elders and to heal on the land. If we don’t have places to go, then we don’t have anything. Our elders have always told us, if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. Not only are environmental assessments and those processes important when you go to decide on a project, but listening to the elders and the traditional knowledge that can’t be proven by science means so much. It’s amazing to be on the land and to talk to elders who gather their medicines and harvest, to hear what they have to say about the seasonal changes.
For example, this year we have a lot of snow, tonnes, and winter is a little early and a little colder. I guess if you look on the bright side, we’re going to have a white Christmas and we get to go on the land with snowmobiles. The elders tell you things like we know that this is coming in the fall time. They’re telling you this, that you’re going to have this kind of winter. You think to yourself, how do you know this stuff? But they’re so connected to the land and to what is happening around them in their environment that they take note of that little bee going back to its nest up high in the tree and not underneath the burrow of a log. Those things bring so much value and understanding of how life is connected. That is why it is so important that First Nation people across this country have input and are a part of these projects so we can decide and work with them on where things are going to go.
When it comes to youth, I welcome any youth who would like to join me, not only in leadership but just on daily life. There’s a lot to be done, a lot to learn, and I’m still learning. One thing I would like to see change, not just for my community, is to see youth sitting beside you too. I would like to see, when I go to leadership meetings, you guys bringing a youth too, because we all know those youth who have potential and we know the ones who are driven from the heart. That’s something I would like to see change in institutions and organizations in government.
The Chair: Thank you. Just for your information, I would like to say that we have been inviting youth to this Senate committee for the past four or five years, and it certainly is our intention to include youth as a key component as we go forth on phase two. Thank you so much.
Senator Watt: Welcome. You and I have known each other for many years, Harold, and I have always appreciated the connections that you and I have felt in the past. I do believe I even have a namesake in your family. Leaving that aside for a minute, I guess there are certain aspects of what I’m hearing from you with regard to the financial matters that cannot be put aside and which are very important if we’re going to succeed in moving towards having autonomy.
By saying that, you mentioned that there are certain things that require additional recognition within the government. It might not be directly related in some areas as far as having the capacity to market ourselves at the international level and take part in free trade by way of connecting ourselves with Aboriginal people in the country — not only in other countries — and generally accessing an economic pace for ourselves. What are the areas that you feel require additional recognition in order for us to be able to take it into our own hands to create our own capacity to move in the direction of the international community and to try to help ourselves out by way of looking for potential investors, knowing that we still have the problem of question of title today? We still have not resolved that issue. I have over 40 years of experience looking at the implementation from the inside and the outside, and we have made several attempts, in some cases, especially in my area, to settle with the provincial legislatures and also the federal government. I do see that unless there is going to be a specific legislative base, we won’t get very far, at least with this government and probably the government before that. Taking that into consideration, could you enlighten me as to those specific additional rights that need to be recognized within Canada?
Second, what are the additional rights that are still not being recognized, even though we have constitutional rights and a United Nations declaration, that would free us from the handcuffs of our own system and enable us to reach out to international communities? Those are the two questions I would like to put forward. I am sure you have put some thought into that in the past.
Mr. Calla: Senator, when I started, I talked about recognition. We’ve talked about the need to have us involved in the processes. I think that what needs to be recognized is that there is unextinguished Aboriginal title in British Columbia — land claims, particularly — and that we do have entitlements to surface and subsurface rights and that in an extractive sector economy, which Canada seems to be, First Nations need to be part of it.
The international community is bewildered by the inability of Canada to address this issue, and that was stated in a meeting in Prince Rupert by the ambassador of Japan to Canada, when we were in the height of the LNG and oil debates about corridors in the North. They can’t understand why Canada won’t come to deal with this.
You could speculate as to why, but I think the fundamental challenge that exists is recognizing that First Nations will generate wealth from their Aboriginal rights and title. Are we really prepared to accept, as an element of our evolving economy, that First Nations need to be involved in that exercise? I think that’s the first thing that has to happen, and that’s where the Government of Canada and the provinces have to come to the fore, because sections 91(24) and 92 are the realities that we didn’t bring about; you did. So they have to come to the table and be part of the solution.
If we can do that, then the international community won’t be confronted with the risks associated with unresolved issues. The bigger challenge that we’re going to face today is that we’re not the only place in the world where resources are available. If we want to be part of that, we have to not only do it responsibly but in a way that’s timely and that’s in a situation where the perception of risk isn’t as significant as it is today. If we can do those things, then we will open ourselves up to opportunities to support Canada, ourselves and the international community in doing the things we need to do to support our economy.
But it starts at the very top. It starts with Canada saying that there are rights. It starts with Canada recognizing that, every time a Supreme Court of Canada decision comes down, do we force both sides to go back to court to bring greater clarity? What I believe the Supreme Court of Canada has been telling us is to go to the table and sort this out. We don’t really seem to be willing to do that, and I think that’s where it starts. That’s what this committee, the governments and political parties in this country have to come to grips with.
We’re far better off when we work together, as Councillor Gale has been saying. We’re far better off when we eliminate the perception of risk and when we recognize there is a capacity gap in First Nations communities that needs to be bridged in terms of administrative and experienced capacity and financial and capital capacity.
If we can do those things, then we will help this Canadian economy. The Canadian economy needs a workforce. We can support that workforce because we have the largest growing population. If we can do those things, then I think we can achieve what you’re saying. If we don’t do those things, I think we will be stuck in this process where the status quo will be there, there will be a perception of risk taken and opportunities may not be realized.
The Chair: We have a couple of minutes left if there are pressing questions for a second round.
Senator Tannas: I have one very fast one for Mr. Calla.
You’ve mentioned the institutions that need to be developed, and I know you to have an active mind. Could you supply us with a list of what institutions you think need to be developed? Would you happen to have a nice chart that you could supply us with? Have you ever pencilled something out to say, “Maybe this is how this would all work?” Would you be willing to share that with us for our research?
Mr. Calla: It’s funny that you would ask, because we are actually in the process of doing that.
We definitely know we need an infrastructure institution. We know that we need institutions that can correspond to some of those that are involved in major resource development. We know that we need institutions that provide capacity to First Nations to engage with government. We need a bureaucracy. That’s the reality.
Now, I’m not smart enough to understand what all of that should mean, but we have a bunch of people who can help us do that, and that’s the challenge that this government and Minister Wilson-Raybould have put to us: Tell us what you think you need, but be careful what you ask for. Now we’re in a position where many of us are starting to look at those things. I don’t have something I can table with you today, but I do have something we can table with you by the end of March.
Senator Raine: I have gone to the coalition’s website, which is excellent for giving further detail on governance, structure and how the nations are coming together. It is very informative. I think all of us should be studying that as we go along. Thank you for the work you’re doing.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, I’d like to thank our panel today: Mr. Niilo Edwards, Chief Thomas, Councillor Gale, Chief Blackwater and Mr. Calla. You gave us outstanding testimony this morning.
I think one of the other things that came up that wasn’t maybe so explicit is that Canada and Canadians also need to recognize not just the rights of First Nations but also the devastation of First Nation communities by the Indian residential schools, the Indian Act and, I would also add, the murder and disappearance of many of our indigenous women. Therefore, there are significant gaps, and we all want to move forward from that together.
Today, you have knit together all the pieces about reconstructing healthy families, our children and our women, living on the land and everything that goes with that to create healthy communities that benefit not just the community but the surrounding municipalities as well. Thank you very much for that.
(The committee adjourned.)