THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 10, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:45 p.m. to the subject matter of Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good evening. 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, on television 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. My name is Lillian Dyck from Saskatchewan, and I have the privilege and honour of chairing this committee.
Tonight, we are continuing our pre-study of Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. Before we begin, I would invite my fellow senators to introduce themselves, starting on my left.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, New Brunswick.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate, Ontario.
Senator Christmas: Dan Christmas, Nova Scotia.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Patti LaBoucane-Benson, Treaty 6 territory, Alberta.
Senator McCallum: Mary Jane McCallum, Treaty 10 territory, Manitoba region.
Senator Coyle: Mary Coyle, Nova Scotia.
Senator Griffin: Diane Griffin, Prince Edward Island.
Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas, from Alberta.
The Chair: Thank you, senators.
I would like to welcome to the committee this evening, from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Robert Bertrand, National Chief; and Lisa Cooper, Chief, Native Council of PEI and CAP Board Member; and from the National Association of Friendship Centres, Jocelyn Formsma, Executive Director. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us this evening.
Robert Bertrand, National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples: Good evening, senators, representatives and guests. I am National Chief Robert Bertrand of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, and with me I have president and chief of the Native Council of P.E.I., Lisa Cooper. I am pleased to be with you today and wish to acknowledge that we are on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples and their descendants. Thank you for the invitation to be part of this pre-study on Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.
Honourable senators, we have grave concerns with this legislation because CAP was specifically excluded in the government’s co-development of the bill with only three national Indigenous organizations. This legislation fails to meet the specific needs of the off-reserve and urban Indigenous peoples and further marginalizes our constituency.
For over 48 years, CAP has been advocating for the rights and needs of off-reserve status and non-status Indians, Metis people across Canada, and Inuit of southern Labrador, the majority of whom live in urban, rural, or remote areas. CAP’s vision is that all Indigenous peoples in Canada should experience the highest quality of life, through the rebuilding of nations. All Indigenous citizens have the right to be treated with respect, dignity, integrity and equality. We must keep this vision paramount for our Indigenous children and youth.
Our concerns with the bill include a lack of recognition of non-status and Metis children and families as Indigenous peoples, a lack of dedicated funding to meet current gaps for off-reserve, non-status and Metis populations, and a failure to address the barriers experienced by these families in accessing needed services.
The 2016 Daniels decision by the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the federal responsibility to legislate for and fiduciary duty to the Metis and non-status peoples. With legislation like this, the government is continuing to act in denial. Where is the honour of the Crown?
We have provided a detailed written submission for your consideration that I understand will be circulated later on. CAP would be happy to answer your questions on this submission, but first I would like to turn the floor over to Chief Cooper to discuss concerns and recommendations from the grassroots community. Meegwetch. Thank you.
Lisa Cooper, Chief, Native Council of PEI and CAP Board Member, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples: Thank you, my name is Lisa Cooper, present Chief of the Native Council of Prince Edward Island. I would like to thank you for having me here to speak on behalf of the Native Council in my community.
I do have things written down here, but I would like to speak from the heart. One of the things that Chief Bertrand talked about was families accessing needs, specifically the off-reserve. I want to give you a couple of examples.
My mother is a residential school survivor, was removed from the home when she was 6, had tuberculosis and spent a year in the infirmary. Her siblings were removed as well. Those that could not and were too young to go to the residential school were put in the orphanage on Price Edward Island because my grandmother had tuberculosis. From that day forward, at the age of six, there was a disconnect from our community, from her family, siblings, mother, father, brother, sisters, aunts, uncles and extended family.
I do not know what it’s like to live on reserve. I was never born on the reserve. I was never raised on the reserve. I am that ripple effect of the next generation. My kids do not know what it’s like to live on a reserve, nor does my granddaughter, yet we are all Indians. I myself gained status back under Bill C-31, and my kids gained it under McIvor, and my granddaughter will have it under Descheneaux, but we do not share the history of the reserve, and I think that’s important for the senators to know.
We, the native councils across Canada and CAP, are creations of the Indian Act. We were created like one family that was united at one point, but we weren’t allowed to gather politically, but we did. Through that political gathering, our voices were heard, but we recognize within ourselves and in our communities that there was a different need for those that lived on reserve and for those that lived off reserve. So we broke into two organizations, and it was the AFN, which is now the AFN, and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
My history lies with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. My mother proudly held the position of vice-president with the native council, and that’s what I was raised with, the native council. I was raised in a dysfunctional family, because that’s what the residential school left my mother. That’s the legacy that was left, and it’s a legacy that would have been left with me had I not turned to the native council and had the native council not been there for me to help provide me with housing, affordable housing that I could afford, and programs and services that I could access as a mother, a young single mother. If it had not been that, I would not be here with a masters in education. If it had not been for the native council, my children would not have had the education that they received.
What I see this bill doing is denying us the continued support that our community needs. We have a program called Strengthening Aboriginal Families Effectively. It’s project funding. It’s not guaranteed. I have one more year of funding. In that program, we help families who are at risking their kids in care, but we don’t know when they’re going to care because we’re not at that table because they don’t recognize us as a duty to consult. Where is the honour of the Crown when it comes to our children, that we can’t be at the table to determine and help put input into policies that are affecting my community directly?
So if this goes the way it does, using the term “First Nations,” you are excluding us. Daniels said we are Indians. We are section 35. I am a section 35 and my kids. If this goes through the way it does, I fear that the majority of those that Daniels spoke about, that are the most impoverished, will continue to be the most impoverished. We cannot come out alone. We need your help and the government’s help to raise the water so that we all are raised and we can all move forward in a healthy community. Thank you.
Jocelyn Formsma, Executive Director, National Association of Friendship Centres:
[Editor’s Note: Ms. Formsma spoke in her Indigenous language.]
I am from the Moose Cree First Nation, and I currently serve as the executive director of the National Association of Friendship Centres. Thank you so much for the invitation today to speak to this bill.
Just a bit about my background and where I’m coming from in making my comments: For about the last 15 years, I’ve worked on Indigenous youth engagement, Indigenous children’s rights and assisted with co-authoring the Touchstones of Hope, Reconciliation in Child Welfare. I’ve worked for the Caring Society for a number of years, and I’ve been a board member of the National Indian Child Welfare Association for the last 12 years in the United States and assisted with their international advocacy work on trying to instill regulations under the Indian Child Welfare Act with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
I’m very thankful that you are all very much aware of the work of friendship centres. I want to provide you today with an overview of how friendship centres have been engaged in child family services, our perspective on the bill and how we think it might affect Indigenous people who are living in urban settings.
I do have a short discussion paper that has been prepared, but it’s not translated, so we’ll work to get that translated and make sure that we provide those comments to you so that you have them. In my verbal submission, I will speak a little bit about the experiences under the Indian Child Welfare Act, but they’re not in the discussion paper. So if there’s anything you have questions on, I can send you those resources that I’m relying on later.
I think that the work of friendship centres and child family services is largely unrecognized, and I couldn’t even say to what extent I even know that friendship centres are engaged. We do provide a wide range of prevention services — we know that — prenatal services, parental supports, child supports, programs that help keep families together and care for their children and assist parents to get their children back if they’ve been apprehended. I know friendship centres have developed cultural competency curriculum for foster parents and they provide essential cultural programming for children living in care. Foster parents/adoptive parents often use friendship centre programming for their children or child to have access to culture and community.
Friendship centres are often the sites of supervised visits for children who are in care, and sometimes unfortunately have been the sites of apprehension. Friendship centres are left to both serve the child but also the parent who is relying on this community resource. Friendship centres have also been called upon by child and family service agencies to assist in interventions. The examples that I was able to collect in the short time period is that, for example, for a child in care who had been hospitalized, the service agencies called the friendship centre to assist to provide service to that child while hospitalized; and for a woman who was fleeing violence not directly engaged with child welfare, but an example of some of the prevention services. We also learn that some friendship centres are providing aftercare supports for youth who are leaving care.
On the bill, we do not see on its surface the explicit consideration for urban Indigenous children, youth and families and communities. We believe that the definitions are broad enough that arguments can be made for those inclusions, but we just want to flag that, and we fear that without explicit inclusion, it also allows for passive exclusion.
The lack of clarity was an issue that plagued the proper implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and I’ll just call it ICWA for short, in the U.S. for decades. The result was inconsistent application of ICWA across many jurisdictions, tribal, non-tribunal, government, state, federal courts, which actually did not result in benefits for American Indian Alaskan native children, families and communities. Those were challenges for quite some time.
There were ICWA guidelines, or what we would call regulations, that dictated federal expectations on the implementation of ICWA. They were initially developed in 1979, which was a year after the bill was passed, and no other regulations were passed until 2015, which was 36 years later. Some of the issues that needed to be updated in those guidelines were notice; active efforts; when does ICWA apply; how guidelines interact between federal and state laws; who decides who is an American Indian, Alaska native child; rights of the tribe to intervene; placement preferences and alternatives when preferred placements aren’t available; interstate matters, so a child who is part of a tribe but was apprehended or was living in another state; issues around termination of parental rights; transfers to tribal court; emergency removal; qualified expert witnesses; voluntary proceedings; petitions to invalidate a hearing; rights of adult adoptees to their files; requirements of state to send information to the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and state requirements of maintenance of records.
I raise these flags because I think we can learn from what has happened in these jurisdictions, with the expectation that we can avoid some of those similar issues in the implementation of this act.
In the case of urban Indigenous children who are non-status, non-beneficiary Inuit, Inuit living in the South, or Metis who are living away from their homelands, we don’t see the acknowledgment of who might have the ability to have jurisdiction, and we don’t see who could or would identify to claim these children as members of their community, outside of First Nations with their own membership code that identify members outside of the Indian Act recognition or establish urban Indigenous communities.
We echo the concerns other witnesses have made around funding and data collection. These are the key drivers for success in the provision of any effective services. ICWA has been in existence for 40 years and does not provide explicit funding. It does allow for the jurisdiction, but not the funding. The challenge for tribes has been to ensure they are providing the full range of child and family services as per their jurisdiction but without the resources to be able to enact the full range of services they would like to be providing.
Further, although there are data collection requirements in ICWA, regulations under what are called the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System did not include ICWA elements until 2016. Prior to this, there was no comprehensive data collection system that measured state ICWA implementation at the federal level.
I wanted to provide those brief remarks. We trust our submissions will inform your work, and we look forward to any questions. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. The floor is now open to questions from senators.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Good evening. Thank you very much for being here.
I hear the issue with the definitions of who falls under this bill. When I look in the definition section, I see, Ms. Cooper, what you’re saying about Indigenous being described as First Nations, Inuk or Metis. I also see Indigenous people as meaning assigned by the definition in section 35, which, if we look at that, the specific wording is “includes the Indian, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada.”
I’m really interested in making sure that we get it right. Do you think that with those two — on the one hand, calling “First Nations,” but when you go to the “Indigenous peoples” definition, it does hearken to section 35, which is specifically “Indian.” I think that is what you were saying.
Ms. Cooper: Thank you for the question. Absolutely. In Prince Edward Island, there is a consultation document called the consultation with the Mi’kmaq community on Prince Edward Island, and it’s in the child protection act as well. If a child goes into care, it’s the First Nations bands that they call. What if the child lives off reserve or resided off reserve? According to the act, they still notify the band. So we may not know a child is in care until we hear from the community or they come and access our programs or services. I fear that when they start with this “First Nations,” right away, “First Nations,” to me, is on reserve.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: There is a problem with the legal definition, you’re saying?
Ms. Cooper: Absolutely. Because if you look at part of the document disclosure in the Daniels trial, the 1972 Confidential Memorandum to Cabinet showed that Canada was well aware that Metis and non-status Indians are far more exposed to discrimination and other social disabilities. It is true to say that, in the absence of federal initiatives — which is what you’re deciding here — in this field, they are the most disadvantaged of all Canadian citizens. So the term “First Nations” is being used against us.
We signed the CAP-Canada Political Accord with the federal government, recognizing that PTOs — provincial-territorial organizations like ours — are rights holders. We do have rights within our communities, section 35 rights. That’s what’s happening. There seems to be a struggle between: Are you 91(24) or are you section 35?
My argument is that Daniels says it doesn’t matter. We’re still a federal fiduciary responsibility, but we’re lacking funding and commitment because of these terms that government is playing, like “First Nations.” The Constitution is clear: Indians, Inuit and Metis. It doesn’t say AFN, MNC and ITK, but that’s the way it’s being used. It’s being used against us.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: There is a section in this bill that talks about children getting access to services, whether they’re on reserve or not, but what you’re saying is that’s probably not strong enough and we need a clarifying statement.
Ms. Cooper: Currently on Prince Edward Island there is the Mi’kmaq Confederacy that has family pride. The Mi’kmaq Confederacy represents two First Nations bands, and they cannot service off reserve. They don’t service off reserve. For me, that’s sad. What happens is that if you live on reserve, then as soon as your child is at risk of going into care, they’re there to help you keep the child at home. But once your child is in care, the confederacy comes in and starts finding these programs or services, recommendations. When the child is returned home, they’re gone.
There’s no proactive follow-through unless you live on reserve. For most of the families that are at risk and that live off reserve, there is a lot of resentment there because it’s like you missed the bus. “When I went to you for help because I’m off reserve status or non-status or Metis, you couldn’t service me. So why are you here now? Are you going to be here after?” The answer is no. So we scoop them up, and we do so willingly, because we have a 40-year history. We’re talking three generations of families that we can help. We’re hoping this terminology is changed to continue that hard work and some of the work that we heard across the table.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you.
Senator Coyle: Thank you all for being here and, to some of you, for returning to our committee.
You’ve raised very critical issues, the first about the fact that there was no consultation at all and no role in the co-development of this bill, which is very disappointing to hear.
We’ve heard from other witnesses. I’m now trying to, in my own mind, formulate what the ecosystem that’s going to support the healthy development of children and families in the future looks like, that would be then supported by this bill, which largely lays out, as we’ve been told by the government, jurisdictional clarity and mechanisms.
We talk about jurisdiction and about that ecosystem of support. You were saying that in your case, Chief Cooper and Chief Bertrand, across the groups you work with, there are patchworks of support programs that have worked quite well, none of which have been well supported themselves. It would be good to know what is there and what your advice is in terms of both the jurisdictional aspect, how that should relate to this bill, and what makes sense practically once this bill is in force in terms of the channelling and linking of those resources to institutions and others.
If I could carry this question also to Ms. Formsma, we’ve heard about urban-based Indigenous peoples from all the various categories that are meant to be covered by this bill, and we’ve heard about the potential part of the model being the jurisdictions, which would be home communities or home territories that would not just have responsibility on those territories or in those nations but actually wherever their members are. We’re talking about some who don’t fit in those and about some who do, and some being captured in the urban areas but somehow linked back to their place of origin. Could you speak a bit to that and how that might work and whether there would be gaps in that we need to be conscious of? Also, would you mind answering my first question about your reality?
Ms. Cooper: The reality is jurisdictional dispute has always been — that’s why we were in court for 16 years. Who services the non-status, the Metis and Inuit that live off reserve? It is being done by patchwork. Now, where Daniels, you start seeing some of the talk about the First Nation bands now wanting to service the off reserve and go into that area.
For my community, that will be difficult because the trust isn’t there. The trust is just not there when a community has been disconnected for generations — three or four generations. For us, we partner with the Mi’kmaq Family Resource Centre, which is part of the AWA, Aboriginal Women’s Association, group on P.E.I. It’s a partnership and collaboration.
Mental health, addictions and child welfare don’t end on the reserve or remain on the reserve when they leave. They need to go somewhere where they are getting the support. These children need to continue the support. With our program, we do a lot of the same things the Friendship Centre does. We get referrals from Child and Family Services and we do cultural competency training, but we’re finding a lot of the non-Indigenous foster families don’t seem to be interested in that. I don’t know if it is the colonial mindset: If we keep them away from that community, they will not be influenced by alcohol or drugs. That’s not a reality. The reality is that you need to keep the child connected to the community, but in a healthy way. You have to do it with healthy programming, traditional dancing and the medicines. You have to abstain from drugs and alcohol for four days before you drum. That’s what keeps our community healthy. The extended family — by keeping our kids away from us and in child welfare, it’s almost like the Sixties Scoop all over again. They’re coming back culture shocked into our community. We need a way that we’re all in this together and all a rising tide. It’s not the pocket funding — but not giving us where we’re fighting each other, either.
Senator Coyle: Could you speak to that?
Ms. Cooper: Government created this monster and this beast with the Indian Act. We wouldn’t be here with Bill S-3 if government didn’t try to determine who an Indian was and where an Indian belonged. My life has been around politics and watching my mother fight for Bill C-31, for McIvor and for Descheneaux. Now I’m here hoping I won’t pass this on to my children who are into the politics. My son is in the national youth with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. I don’t want this to be another discussion 20 years from now, where we’re saying, “Stop the discrimination. Recognize the Congress of the Aboriginal Peoples. We have a 40-year history. We are a creation of the Indian Act. You can’t just ignore us. We’re not going anywhere.”
Senator Coyle: We have the Daniels decision.
Ms. Cooper: Let’s use it. We have Daniels and the TRC call 66 to action with permanent youth funding. We have the UNDRIP. I know it’s not legislated yet, but it’s representation by choice, free and prior consent.
We have the information, but it’s not only that. We can reach the people you guys can’t. We have done study after study after study, and unless you work the front line, you’re not going to reach them. You do a general study, like we tried — a community mapping — and according to my community mapping, zero people suffer from addictions. Yet I run an Aboriginal mental health and addictions program and I know there are 40 clients. Why is that not showing up? Because they’re not going to go online and click a button. You will not find them there.
It’s the same with our youth. How many children are in care? Do all the studies you want, and you will not find the answers unless you reach to organizations such as ours. We can give you the stats. But we can also give them the programs and services they need, with your support. The bands won’t find them. You guys won’t find them. We will.
Mr. Bertrand: I would like to add that the people CAP represents were called the forgotten people. I thought that with the Daniels decision, all these wrongs would be rectified. Unfortunately, they have not.
I look at this bill, and it says, for the benefit of Indigenous children, including First Nations, Inuit and Metis nation children. That’s fine for the Metis nation in Manitoba. What about the non-status Indians who live in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario? They’re forgotten with this legislation. That’s why we thought it important that we come here and bring these facts to you. You are the people who can rectify these challenges, if you will.
Senator Coyle: Thank you.
Ms. Formsma: My experience in working with Indigenous communities and within Friendship Centres for quite a number of years is that when we talk about urban Indigenous communities, the sense is that people end up lumping Indigenous peoples as some sort of pan-Aboriginal group. But when you’re actually living in those communities — and I’ve lived in a number of them, some up in northern Ontario and then in larger centres in southern Ontario — we kind of connect with each other through our diaspora. We recognize that we are from somewhere. We are Cree, Ojibway, Inuit or Cree-Metis from Alberta, as examples. We don’t tend to come together and be like, “We’re all urban Indigenous.” We recognize that we do come from somewhere, and we have those connections to back home.
When we’re talking about urban Indigenous communities, it is people who have come together from other places to create something for themselves within those urban centres and to create community and have access to culture. Through that coming together, we have created organizations like Friendship Centres and other urban Indigenous organizations that also fill other roles within those communities.
In terms of the identity piece, we’re flagging it because it’s what we see. The people coming into our centres are asking those questions, so we’re amplifying the voices.
I also recognize and I see Raymond Shingoose sitting over on the other side, someone who has done amazing work and for whom I have such respect — on the Child and Family Service agencies also being an agency that’s Indigenous-owned and -operated but not necessarily a direct extension of First Nations governments. They are a bit of an arm’s length.
I’m drawing on this because of comments made yesterday about them extending the mandates off reserve. That’s an expression of jurisdiction. We’re not allowing them to express it beyond a certain boundary at this point. If it makes sense, why wouldn’t we do it? At the end of the day, we have to look at what makes sense for the communities that are being served and what makes sense for the children in those communities.
I’m glad to see the broadness within the bill, but I also flag that there needs to be some expression of intent of Parliament, whether that’s within the regulations that will be developed — I’m looking to the example in the U.S. — and if those expressions and the intent are not made clear, it could leave the interpretations actually against Indigenous families and children. That’s what has happened with ICWA. I don’t want to see it too prescriptive, but at the same time, if there isn’t acknowledgment about the urban communities, I fear they might just be left out of the jurisdictions, and then these First Nations, Metis and Inuit children are kind of left to be served by the mainstream provincial service agencies. A lot of research has been done to show they have not been as effective as they could have been.
I hope I answered your question.
Senator Christmas: Thank you for being here with us, Chief Bertrand and Ms. Formsma. It seems we’re always calling upon you to provide your perspectives and opinions on different issues.
I would like to shift the conversation. Many of us around this table, especially some of the Indigenous members, are acutely aware of the representation issues that Canada has. I don’t want to minimize that or be perceived as skipping over that, but I want to dig deeper on the whole issue of care that urban Indigenous children are currently receiving. Could you help all of us here get a better understanding of the needs and challenges that Indigenous children living in urban areas are facing today? Some of us are familiar with some of the Indigenous child care agencies that operate within reserves, but I wonder about the care that urban Indigenous children currently receive. I assume that the families who have Indigenous children in care fall under the jurisdiction of provincial child care agencies. I’m trying to get my head around how this piece of legislation could change things to enable urban Indigenous children to have their needs met. Can you paint a picture for us of the challenges that urban Indigenous children face today, especially those children who may be in care or about to go in care?
Ms. Formsma: The identity piece is huge to those children, especially the ones in care. Some of the issues can be alleviated just by having cross-jurisdictional plans, whether it is cross-jurisdictional plans amongst First Nations who are creating their own laws and asserting their jurisdiction, between provinces and those kinds of things. We know so many of the identities aren’t just one thing. I know Cree Inuit. I know Metis who are also Ojibway. I know an Ojibway, a Cree, who is also Oji-Cree. Those identities become so mixed that sometimes even identifying, “Well, who do I belong to? Where do I belong? Who is going to claim me?” becomes a threshold issue in some respects. If we’re talking about jurisdiction, and we have agencies or governments that will become involved, at some point they might come up against each other. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m saying we have to make plans for those things.
From my perspective, a lot of the systemic issues will help alleviate that. A lot of the reasons why people are coming into the cities in the first place is because they are not able to access adequate, appropriate health care within their communities. They are not able to access adequate, appropriate housing. If we were able to alleviate those issues within the community, that would help stem people who feel like they are forced to leave for education or those other systemic issues that exist within the community.
As those who live in urban environments, we feel those connections to back home, and we do what we can to help, but at the end of the day, it becomes challenging when we’re so far from home, and how do we connect, how do we help, how do we alleviate some of those things?
Coming from a service delivery perspective, urban agencies like Friendship Centres, we’re already doing the work, and I think part of it is we have to make an awareness to folks to what extent we’re doing the work and in what ways so people have an awareness of our capacity and then look to us, if it makes sense, as a partner, so that if we don’t have to recreate this institution or these services because we can partner with an agency that is already established in the community and knows the community well, then we can build stronger relationships. I’m not saying that should be the case across the board. It has to make sense for the community’s needs.
Does that help with some of those questions?
Senator Christmas: I hear you saying that, right now, in urban areas, friendship centres are already providing some services and that you’re doing your best to work with others to provide enhanced or better services to urban areas.
Ms. Formsma: Yes. If you look at Ottawa as an example, there is a partnership amongst the Indigenous urban-based organizations to try to fill the gaps for Indigenous children who are living here. You have the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, but you also have the Makonsag Head Start program and the TI that provides services to Inuit. I can’t remember how many organizations there are, but they, together, do create the wraparound supports for Indigenous children within the community. If they get one coming to their doors and are saying, “We’re probably not the best suited to provide the services to this child,” they work with their partners within the community to try to get those needs met for both the child and the family themselves. They are working with external partners, with CFS agencies, school boards and other education organizations to wrap around those services for those children, but with the recognition that each of these children is unique. They’re not just an Aboriginal child or Indigenous child. Well, this child is coming from an Algonquin community, and this child is coming from up North from an Inuit community. There is an acknowledgment of the diversity of Indigenous peoples within those urban settings as the services are being provided.
Ms. Cooper: Some of the challenges are it’s difficult accessing extended Indigenous families when you’re in care. Most of the families are non-Aboriginal foster families, so they are non-Indigenous families, and that itself is an issue. One of the things that we find is, it’s unfortunate, but a lot of our Aboriginal community members have probably been involved in child protection at some point in time in their own life, so they’re shy and mistrusting of the system. You’re not getting a lot of Aboriginal foster families because they don’t believe they live up to the standards that are set.
One of the definite needs is we need to find a way that, yes, they may have been involved in a child protection case when they were younger and put in care, and when they have a child they’re red-flagged. They’re not even given a chance to improve. Because of that, most of them, when we hold a foster family information night, will not get involved.
We find a lot of kinship care. I have a daughter who I have had since she has been three. That’s kinship care. But there’s no supports for kinship care because they’re treated differently. They are not able to access the same funding as foster parents, but yet we’re scrutinized as much as a foster parent because the child is a ward of the province. That’s an issue.
Understand the need for non-Indigenous foster families to access Aboriginal culture. If they want to foster Aboriginal children, it should be mandatory. For strengthening the Aboriginal families effectively, we work with children who are aging out and currently in care, but we also offer cultural competency. We don’t find that a lot of non-Aboriginal foster families are taking advantage of it. I don’t understand why, because we work with child and family services. We get referrals from them.
A lot of our children are not removed because of abuse; they’re removed because of poverty, which is a result. It’s neglect, which is a social determinant of health. It leads to poverty, if you don’t have proper housing. The Native Council has done work in triple-P parenting, so we have our staff trained in that because it’s important to us for Social Services to feel comfortable with our programs and services. We align ourselves with that and, because of that, we get a lot of referrals.
The parents need the wrap-around. What makes us unique and what is needed in urban centres is very much what you said — a wrap-around approach. It’s not just the child you need to work with. I think Dr. Phil says it great: You can remove a child and fix them, but you can’t put that child back in the family and expect it to be the same. There has to be work done around the family. That’s what the native councils across Canada do. We wrap around.
When we’re working with a child who is in care, we’re also working with the parents. If they have low education, we have access to an assets program. We can fund education. If they have mental health and addictions, we have a program for them. If they have other kids in the family who are youth, we wrap around them and bring them into our youth program where they can learn how to make regalia and how to do sweats and dancing and drumming and connect back to their culture. We have 56 units of low-income housing for 25 per cent of their income. That is in itself is a wrap-around. It’s not just the child. We understand that. That’s only an issue that is reflective of a bigger issue within the family. If a child has been removed — wow! What does it take? It takes a lot to remove a child.
Understand the difference between a child who lives on reserve and a child who lives off reserve. When you live on reserve, your community is so closed in that little Sue, who is three, will go two houses down with her sister who is six to get something to eat from Auntie’s house. When you’re small, that’s common. Try that in an urban centre. How long do you think it will be before somebody calls Child and Family Services because a three-year-old and a six-year-old are walking down the street? We are educating our community members as well. That is why, when they come off, we wrap around them. We say, “You know what? That may be the way it is on the reserve, but you need to be careful; when you’re off reserve, it is different.”
We work with social workers. I’ve sat in meetings where they tell the parents that the child must do this and this and this. The parent is smiling and nodding, smiling and nodding. When we leave, I will look at the social worker and say, “That is not going to happen.” They ask what I mean, because the parents just agreed. I explain, “No, what they’re saying is, ‘I respect your opinion.’” You’re smiling again, and I respect that. They are saying, “I respect that you have an opinion and I will respect that, but it is not mine.” We recognize those signs, and we work hard with parents and social workers to make sure they both understand what’s expected of them. Just because you get a nod and a smile does not mean they will do it. There are a lot of cultural competencies and hands-on wrap-arounds with the families.
Those are the challenges we find. I hope that answered your question.
Senator Christmas: Thank you very much.
Ms. Cooper: You’re welcome.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for your presentations and for all the work that you do with the little that you have. We’ve heard from you before.
When I listen to the mess we have here and the little time we have to address the issue, it makes me sad and very angry that our people are left again in a mess.
When we look at the law, it still continues to exist as a vessel of assimilation. That is what happens here because everyone is in one. Problems inevitably begin when someone else, like government, determines what culture or what way ought to be there for a particular people’s children. In addition, these fundamentally democratic issues become more complicated if groups of people find themselves, for whatever reason, living in a more multicultural human environment. The more heterogeneous the human cultural context, the more difficult it is to declare what core values and beliefs ought to be considered. In these cases, First Nations, Inuit, Metis, the non-status, urban, non-urban, these values have already been determined by others for future members of our given society — in this case, apprehended children.
I have listened to all the issues you’ve brought up — the invisibility of women, the discrimination of women, self-determination, jurisdiction of many kinds, funding and lack of adequate identification. I talk about invisibility of women. This is a child bill. There is not one mention of women in the bill. Okay? When I look at all that, there is so much mashed into this bill that it’s incoherent. We have this before we come to the main issue of the bill, which is the self-determination of our children and the future of our children.
With all these complications that exist, I don’t even know what question to ask you. Where would you start with all that? There is so little time and such inadequate funding. It just seems like people will be pitched against each other. What are your thoughts?
Mr. Bertrand: I’ll just take a couple of minutes and then I’ll pass it over.
One of the reasons I asked Lisa to join me is the fantastic work they do in the small affiliate of P.E.I. with the small amount of funding they receive. I wish I could tell you, honourable senators, that all of our affiliates are doing such great work, but I can’t. I can’t because a lot of our affiliates are not receiving core funding. For instance, the rural areas of Northern Quebec and Northern Ontario just do not have the funding to do some of this work.
We are asking you to change this bill, yes. I’ve always said that it’s so important to address the problems of the First Nations, but there are so many other challenges out there facing the off reserve, whether they be non-status, Metis or Indian. From what I can see, there is no help in this bill. That’s why it’s so important to me that some major changes come to it.
Ms. Cooper: It’s divide and conquer.
Mr. Bertrand: That’s what it is.
Ms. Cooper: It’s colonialism at its finest. The best place to start is allowing us to speak here today, to share our experience, and I thank you.
It’s also going back to the table. Historically, Canada had five national Indigenous organizations. We are all born of the same mother. If you have Native Women’s Association, AFN, MNC, ITK, and Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, we are all born from the same organization. We come from the same womb, as I like to say. Why do we treat one different than the other? Why is one better? Why do we have to show one is better than the other? Why are we here? Bring us to the table. You have the determination.
I mean no disrespect, but it’s the Government of Canada that caused this. It’s the Government of Canada that needs to help us fix it. Throwing us a bone and saying “fight for it” is not helping us. Kids’ lives are at stake. We are the most impoverished now off reserve. I would never discredit my on-reserve cousins because they need that help. I understand that they are in very small communities needing clean water, health, education, but don’t forget that that’s not where everyone is now. The majority live off reserve so there has to be some allocation of funding in recognition of that. The ones who are best suited are the ones with the family history and the connection. We’re third and fourth generations now. Those are the people who will get the biggest bang for your buck.
That is what I think. I think you need to bring us together. Canada needs to stop playing one against another. Bring us all together to resolve this problem. Without us, you will not resolve it. It’s the definition of insanity — doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. The numbers will not go down. Your problems will not be resolved. They will still be urban. They will still move to be urban. They will still look for us and we’re still going to be there. We started in the living room, we’ll probably end up in someone’s living room, but at least we’ll do it with pride and we’ll continue. It would be nice if we had help.
Ms. Formsma: Just adding on that, I think, coming from the Indigenous children’s rights background, that the efforts made really need to be about upholding the rights of those children and about advancing their rights within whatever it is that is created. When I say that, what I mean is you can take the UN declaration as the framework around Indigenous rights, and then you have the Convention on the Rights of the Child that has the framework around the children’s rights, but when it comes to Indigenous children, they are both and you cannot separate the child from the Indigenous and the Indigenous from the child. Those frameworks really need to come together to reinforce one another.
If we keep in mind that as an Indigenous child, you have the right to your family, your culture, your language and everything that’s existing within the declaration, but you have equal access to every single right that’s articulated under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and there is the general comment 11 that does I think an initial attempt to bring those together. This is right from the general comment — that special measures through legislation and policies for the protection of Indigenous children should be undertaken in consultation with the communities concerned and the participation of children in the consultation process.
I think this is one of those areas that we’re looking at around special measures, and I think the bill advances the status quo from where we’re currently at. If it’s between this and doing nothing, I’m not sure how doing nothing really helps us get there. But again, to reiterate, I cannot see more advancement without the funding reference, not a number or amount, but some kind of reference to ensuring that jurisdiction is funded. Because without the funding, you can all the jurisdiction you want, but it doesn’t mean it can be implemented in the way that these communities envision for their children.
The second part of that is the data collection. If we don’t have any numbers, and we don’t right now since the last iteration of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, which was only a small component of only First Nations on reserve, if we don’t even have a sense of what the actual issues are, then we can’t even dream to imagine how we would start to resolve these things.
We have an opportunity with this bill. It advances the status quo as it is to a certain extent, but a very incremental step. We have the opportunity to maybe add a couple more steps within that if we draft it properly. Those are decisions that are outside of my hands, but I wanted to provide the perspective from where I’m coming from that would help inform perhaps some of those revisions.
Senator McCallum: So the funding is the number one issue then?
Ms. Cooper: Funding and recognition, recognition of the work we do, absolutely.
Ms. Formsma: I’ll just point back to the experience in the U.S. ICWA has been around for 40 years, and the organizations like the National Indian Child Welfare Association are still left to do basic ICWA 101 with policy makers, with courts, with judges, with tribes. You think after 40 years of this act being in existence, that they would be much further along, but that bill never had the funding for tribes to be able to fully enact their jurisdiction. It doesn’t have funding for the courts to be able to make the kinds of decisions that they are allowed to make under the act. They just don’t have the resources to do that. So I can’t see how, without it, we would have the advancement. They say the funding will come later, but again, under ICWA, there was supposed to be another bill that was going to be passed afterwards providing some of those appropriations that just never came. We can’t say let’s do this for now with the promise later, because that promise might never ever be realized.
The Chair: We are out of time but, Senator Tannas, do you have a question>
Senator Tannas: I feel a bit like Senator McCallum. I’ve got more questions than answers out of the presentation.
I understand that there’s a caring and a want to deliver services, but at the end of the day, the authority is the issue. You don’t have the authority that you need in order to have people submit to what you think ought to be done with the children. You’re the service deliverers, right? And I gather that your fear is that those who have the authority, that are on reserve and are recognized as legitimate governments, that we are passing the authority to them to protect and improve the rights of children that are members of that community, whether they’re on or off reserve. You’re worried that somehow you’re going to get elbowed out of the way of what you’re doing now. Is that fair to say? Is that what this is about? Help me.
Mr. Bertrand: Senator, you are absolutely right. I remember the last time I sat before you, I was mentioning that, right now, the last Statistics Canada numbers, 70 per cent of Indigenous people now live off reserve.
We always say around the CAP table that we can be part of the solution.
Senator Tannas: Right.
Mr. Bertrand: We are there. We want to help. We tried on numerous occasions to get involved and to be consulted. We contacted the different departments, from 2018 and 2019, the most recent letter to Minister O’Regan on March 8. I do not understand why we are being left out.
Senator Tannas: Thank you.
Ms. Cooper: I want to say Harry Daniels was the president and national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples at the time of the constitutions. The Native Council of Prince Edward Island was very actively involved as well. I don’t think Harry Daniels would have had talks on the constitution to exclude us. That would never have been his intentions. Canada chose to narrow the definition of “Indian,” not Harry Daniels. So when Harry was on the constitutional talks, the talks were about “Indians” including Indians, Inuit and Metis. Canada took it upon themselves to narrow the definition. So it is more than just funding. It is more than just being elbowed out of the way. It’s taking our rightful place in Canada where we belong.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is an Indigenous representative organization with PTOs who have section 35 rights. We have an accord that says that. We have a history that says that. What I think it is, is about recognizing our rights to be at the table, recognizing our rights to service our community, and recognizing our rights to speak on behalf of our children and our grandchildren and our children’s children’s children for seven, eight or ten generations. So I think it goes deeper and it’s about acknowledging CAP’s rightful place at the table. Thank you.
Ms. Formsma: If I could just add very quickly, friendship centres aren’t seeking jurisdiction, but we’re saying that we already provide these services, so whoever has the jurisdiction in the communities that we’re working in, we’re already there and we’re already doing some of those services already. So I think that’s the point that we’re trying to bring forward.
Senator Tannas: I’m sorry. I think the point that is starting to dawn on me is that we can’t help you with that. We can only make sure that some rule in this bill prevents those who make those decisions from asking you to deliver those services. But you don’t have the powers that the governments who will set this up have. You deliver the services, and you’re there, and it’s logical. It would be crazy for them to try to replicate that.
If you see things in this bill that specifically prevent a First Nations government, an Inuit government or a Metis government from asking you to deliver those services, or a portion of those services, that’s what I think I’m interested in knowing. If that’s not there, then we move forward, and you move forward to make sure that you engage with your potential new clients, if you will, that will help you get the funding and so on.
Am I way off base here, or is that what you want us to do and what you’re here to tell us?
Ms. Formsma: I’ll just answer very quickly. We think that explicitly mentioning that communities can exist within the urban setting will help to ensure that those communities are considered when the jurisdiction is rolling out. I’m thinking of Native Child and Family Services in Toronto, for example. That service is within that urban population. There are other examples across the country. It is Indigenous owned and operated, it has the power and authority to do the apprehensions and it works with others to do prevention services. But to say that anyone has jurisdiction to do that? They’ve sort of given it to themselves within an urban space. It’s the urban community that’s come together to create Native Child and Family Services and examples of other urban agencies that provide those services. I just don’t want it to be so limited that we can’t account for certain realities. I am also concerned that it’s so broad that we might be excluded, not on purpose but it’s just that no one is really considering those. Thank you.
Senator Tannas: Got it. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. We are out of time. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank you very much for taking the time to be here and for presenting your positions and answering questions.
The committee is pleased to welcome from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief; from the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, Grand Chief Joel Abram who is appearing via video conference; from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Vice Chief David Pratt; Raymond Shingoose, Director of Yorkton Tribal Council Child and Family Services; and Kyle Prettyshield, Health and Social Director.
Thank you all for being here this evening.
Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs:
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Dumas spoke in his Indigenous language.]
As I have been introduced, my name is Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. I came here today and am grateful for the invitation. Thank you to the senators who invited me and to the senators who continued to work with and provide advice to me. I appreciate that.
Fundamentally, I’m here tonight to actually speak against the legislation that is being proposed. I am going to advocate on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs that this legislation actually be abandoned and that we have meaningful discussions on how we’re wanting to move forward.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has been very progressive. I want to acknowledge the leadership of Manitoba. Over the past 40 years, they’ve been very innovative and very forward-thinking. It seems as though, every 10 years, there is an opportunity to work collaboratively with our treaty partners to come up with a proper process. Unfortunately, when we get to the end, our treaty partners get cold feet and refuse to move forward in a substantial way that will allow for us to properly care for our children.
Our children were given to us. The creator provided laws for us to follow, and all those things were interfered with by colonialism, racism and discrimination. Our previous ministers have said that Child Welfare Manitoba is ground zero and that it is a humanitarian crisis.
With that said, the main issues that we have with the current legislation are that there was no meaningful consultation, it’s a pan-Indigenous approach, and it does not respect the laws or jurisdiction of Indigenous people. The trick words or the lexicon of the day is that it is actually attempting to domesticate the rights and authorities that First Nations have. It actually fails on reconciliation because it does not respect the jurisdiction and authority that First Nations people have. The premise and the foundation, based on the best interests of the child, is not defined, but yet the definition of rights of the Indigenous child are defined. That is very problematic. Also, it does not respect the unique Indigenous-First Nations-Crown and treaty relationship that First Nations in Manitoba have with Canada.
It does not fundamentally change the status quo. It continues to make a space for the role of the province in legislating the province into Bill C-92. I’m here to say on the record that the status quo is actually better for us than this legislation. If we continue to move forward with this legislation, it will actually cause further complications and further divide us than anything else.
Also, the issue that we have with this legislation is that it attempts to legislate Jordan’s Principle, and that is a separate thing. It’s actually beyond the grasp of child welfare. It’s more of a fulsome issue. That is a very important initiative and needs to be looked at it in its own regard.
Also there is no commitment to funding. That’s very problematic.
As you’ve heard from the previous witnesses, everyone gets bogged down to discussing issues about funding and who is going to get this and what’s going to get that, but fundamentally, the issue, as one of the senators had brought up, is authority and jurisdiction. Fundamentally, that is what we want. If our treaty partners chose to actually acknowledge and recognize that we’re walking this road together in a meaningful way and realized that by acknowledging our authority and our jurisdiction, it only bolsters the position of this country. That is how we need to move forward. It is not putting one over the other but moving forward in the way it needs to move.
I will have my staff share with you the technical information we have. We’ve done a comparison of the legislation. That will be provided to you. We will give you the list of information we have, but fundamentally, we will not be able to support this legislation as is because it is more problematic than anything.
I want to acknowledge the women’s leadership in Manitoba. They have championed this issue. We had made a commitment with the federal government in signing a Canada and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs MOU a year or two ago. Because Manitoba is so proficient and so innovative, we were able to do that work fairly quickly. We’d actually gone and engaged our communities, consulted with our communities, prepared draft templates for our communities to use so they could shape child welfare to actually conform to what it was and how they’re wanting to govern themselves. In the same breath, the previous Minister of Indian Affairs announces her legislation that we’re discussing today.
That is why I feel so strongly that I have to speak against this legislation in the way I am. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the chiefs of Manitoba who wholeheartedly support the initiatives we’ve undertaken in the assembly will continue. We won’t waiver. Some of the work we had done bringing our children home — we will provide that to you. We will provide a copy of the MOU to you and the other information that justifies the statements I have made here this evening.
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Dumas spoke in his Indigenous language.]
Thank you very much.
Joel Abram, Grand Chief, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians: Thank you, senators, for the time this evening to speak on this issue.
The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, also known as AIAI, has seven member communities, with about 20,000 First Nations citizens. I know time is short so I will get right to AIAI’s position on Bill C-9.
As it currently stands, AIAI rejects Bill C-92 on the following three points: It lacks a standard of substantive quality to ensure compliance for tribunal decisions; second, it does not respect Indigenous jurisdiction and enables federal interference; and third, it was not co-developed, and this needs to be clearly understood. I will speak briefly to each of these three points.
The first is funding. First Nations have spent 12 years at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to deal with the chronic underfunding of our child welfare services by the federal government. The chiefs of Ontario has been a part of that process. The tribunal agreed with us and found that Canada discriminates against our children. The tribunal made it crystal clear that Canada needs to raise its funding and update its funding system consistent with the legal standard of substantive equality. But we have an implementation problem. We need to implement that and not leave it to chance. This bill needs to be amended to take the language on substantive equality out of the preamble and put into the law itself so it can hold the government accountable.
The preamble refers to the need for funding that is predictable, stable, sustainable, needs-based and consistent with the principle of equality. We agree with that. It says it wants to implement the tribunal’s decision, but the words are not going to help us in a preamble. We need more than rhetoric; we need implementation of a binding funding commitment, not a formula but tying in the standard of substantive equality, a funding clause that has accountability. We don’t want to be back after the next budget or after the next election. We think the funding — and will not work in the future —
The Chair: I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we’re having difficulty with the audio transmission. Unfortunately, it sounds like they’re not able to fix it. You mentioned that you had a written submission, which would be important to send to us. We can try to continue. If you try to hold your microphone closer or speaking slower, we’ll see if we can improve.
Mr. Abram: I can do it a little bit slower, if that sounds better.
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. Abram: I will go to our second point, which is on jurisdiction, and you will receive the PowerPoint in my speaking notes. We just couldn’t get them translated in time.
Our member nations haven inherent jurisdiction regarding their children and families. This inherent right was never surrendered and never will be. Bill C-92 claims to recognize that jurisdiction, but, in the same breath, it imposes all kinds of limits over it.
One limit is the so-called “minimum standards” in sections 10 to 15 of the bill. These are imposed under section 22(1). Not only is it an interference, but these are not necessarily minimums. Some of these would reduce our current rights under Ontario’s law, such as section 12(2) on notice and section 13 on party status. Section 12(2) basically says the province would not be allowed to give information after the child is apprehended. Right now we receive notice, and we have band reps who are involved in a case right off the hop. This would allow CASs to take a child and tell the First Nation, “We took one of your kids. Guess which one.” That doesn’t make sense to us.
A second limit is in section 23 of the bill, which invites anyone to challenge our laws based on their own interpretation of best interests. It’s completely open-ended and would mean that our laws will never be certain to even apply.
A third limit is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. These are part of the Canadian Constitution and federal laws, not part of our own laws. Canada has no power to limit our jurisdiction in this way. We reject the federal government’s interference with our laws in the bill as it stands. The legislation needs a true recognition of jurisdiction — not giving with one hand and taking with the other.
Third, a few words about the process: The notion that this bill was co-developed is incorrect and insulting. Canada has been aware of the child welfare crisis for years, but developing this bill was all of a sudden a huge rush at the end of the term. I was invited to be a member of the AFN’s legislative working group in December 2018, and I participated. It wasn’t until late January 2019 that we were invited to review a single draft, with only a few days’ notice to comment. In that draft, and afterward, the majority of our comments appeared to have been ignored. This process is not co-development. Real co-development means respect for nation-to-nation relationships. It means respectful treatment as equal partners. It means allowing time for internal processes on both sides, not just on one side.
I believe that Amendments could still fix this bill. We urge the committee to make critical amendments by, No. 1, adding a funding commitment on the standard of substantive equality to ensure compliance with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decisions, and this can use language from the preamble; and, No. 2, respecting and affirming First Nations jurisdiction by eliminating federal interference.
We urge you to see the issues of this bill through our perspective because our children need change. We ask that you make these appropriate amendments to make this bill fair and workable for the communities who will be required to work with it. Canada has recognized that the Indian Act is discriminatory and patriarchal and that we need to get beyond it. It is not about using the name Indian Act or not. The question is, is our jurisdiction actually being respected? If federal control is still being imposed, then we would only be entrenching colonial control in new ways.
I am going to hold up here a Two Row Wampum, also known as the Guswenta. This signifies the original relationship . . .
The Chair: I think we lost the video, but we had a very dramatic image ending with the Two Row Wampum, and we all got the message.
David Pratt, Vice Chief, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations:
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Dumas spoke in his Indigenous language.]
I thank you and acknowledge the prayers that were rendered today for this session. I thank you for the opportunity to come here today and speak to the committee.
I acknowledge the Algonquin territory and the prayers made for us today.
I am here on behalf of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. I’m Second Vice Chief David Pratt, and I hold the portfolio for Health and Social Development.
I bring greetings from Chief Cameron and FSIN Executive on behalf of the 74 Saskatchewan First Nation communities. It is a great honour to work in this area, advocating for our children and their families — in essence our future.
We know the only way to maintain healthy and thriving communities is by supporting our people to raise their children in accordance with their own history, culture, language, customs and laws. We know our children are not subjects or commodities to be owned or considered property; they are a gift from the creator and are viewed as sacred beings. It is a sacred responsibility to protect and nurture our children. It is inherent to us as a people to care for our children according to our laws no matter where they reside, whether on or off reserve. In all aspects, children are considered always, and this was true even at the time of treaty. Our leaders wanted to ensure health and wellness for all our children as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.
The purpose of my presentation is to outline why child welfare legislation is important to Saskatchewan First Nations. Next to Manitoba, we have the second-highest number of children in care, and more than 80 per cent of those children are First Nations children. The status quo for us is not acceptable and can no longer continue to work for our children with Saskatchewan in the way it’s going. We agree with former minister Jane Philpott when she said the situation for Indigenous people in the child welfare system is a humanitarian crisis.
In Saskatchewan, the Ministry of Social Services was given the right to come into our communities and apply Saskatchewan child welfare law to our children and families. Like the residential school process and other failed policies, all power and authority was given to officials in non-Indigenous governments to break up families and decide what kind of families we should have. These policies continue to go on this very day.
It was not long ago, and it is my belief that it continues today, that racism, discrimination and abhorrent beliefs in the inferiority of First Nations people and families caused massive breakup of our relationships by removing our children.
The TRC said that child welfare issues are part of the legacy of the residential school removals and forced assimilation of our children, of which my parents were survivors, and grandparents. I could not agree more. It is the same thing — deciding what is best for us by imposing someone else’s standards and will on us without our consent — in short, a fundamental human rights violation impacting our identity and integrity as distinct peoples of this land.
This is why provisions in Bill C-92 are so important to us. What important provisions are principles that we embrace? Let me highlight six sections that will contribute to needed change in child welfare: the affirmation and recognition that it is our inherent God-given right to provide for our children, to care for them and keep our families together — section 18 — that the priority must be on prevention and keeping our families together — section 14 — and not apprehension, as has been the focus in the Ministry of Social Services since 1951; that if f the child is removed, the priority must be on placement in their family and community first and foremost; that birth alerts must be stopped — the trauma of removing children in hospitals is so traumatic to the mothers and family that it represents everything that has failed about the provincial child welfare systems imposed upon or people — section 14(2); that the best interests of a child must be interpreted with understanding of our identity, connection to family, culture, language, territories and values — section 9; that poverty and poor health are not reasons to remove the child from a family — section 10.
We know this bill was not co-drafted with First Nations. Canada drafted it on their own but shared a consultation draft with FSIN. It was developed with our input into that process, and we met with the current and former minister as well as officials many times, and we submitted briefs and positions to inform the changes that we believed were required.
Canada did not accept all of our policy positions. We urged them to include predictable, sustainable, needs-based funding provisions. We urged them to create a national children’s commissioner. We urged them to create a national child welfare agency, like the National Indian Child Welfare Agency in the U.S., that could work to support Indigenous governing bodies as they develop and implement their child welfare laws and policies. We did not achieve all that we wished for, and we know that the legislative process is sometimes like that. You have to start somewhere and let it build over time. It is a path to change and not necessarily the entire shift in one stroke of a pen.
In Saskatchewan, the 74 First Nations of the FSIN have for more than 50 years built distinctive cooperative institutions to serve our people and communities, such as First Nations University of Canada, Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority and other bodies that have been created and operated with great impact to build up the economy of First Nations people and contribute to the overall health and well-being of the province of Saskatchewan. We are rebuilding our nations, supporting our young people to get the education that their grandparents were denied under the residential school system, and we want to continue to build more supports for our nations in relations to child welfare. I want to acknowledge the work of Raymond Shingoose, who sits beside me today, the Director of Yorkton Child and Family Services. We also work with national organizations like AFN to keep this work moving forward.
There is a lot of pressure to get this bill perfect, and I have identified six items that I believe will help us along the road and bring improvement over time. This bill can be reviewed every five years. We know it will take more than one bill or change in law to change the current culture and colonial context. We do not intend to stop this effort to reunify our families and change child welfare. This movement to address the humanitarian crisis will use the legislation but also the values and principles of our own First Nations treaty people. We believe in peace and friendship. We know we have our work as leaders to strengthen our communities, our children, women and families. We do not shy away from that work. There is a great amount of work that has been done already and still much more yet to be done. They are suggestions to improve the bill that will come from the AFN. We have been part of developing that work, and I tell you that we support the work. I will not repeat those proposals at this time. Further recommendations are important, and I do acknowledge there are restrictions on this committee recommending such changes, but I put them on the record because we want Canada to be in full compliance where the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal findings and orders.
I will raise one issue we believe needs to be address. The bill needs to reference the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as part of the purposes section of the bill, section 8. Bill C-91 has a purposes section that references UNDRIP because the protection of human rights and implementation of UNDRIP is the framework for this cultural, language and family-building work we must do together in Canada. Let me illustrate. Article 8 of UNDRIP provides that:
Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
Subsection (c) further provides that:
Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim of violating or undermining any of their rights —
— is prohibited. That’s what’s happening under the current child welfare system.
Bill C-92 has a provision in section 9(2)(d) that says child and family services should be provided in a manner that does not contribute to the assimilation of First Nations peoples or the destruction of their culture. Interpreting this provision will be critical to changing the course on child welfare. It does not make sense without understanding article 8 in UNDRIP. UNDRIP sets out the minimum standards required for the survival and dignity of First Nations people. While UNDRIP is referenced in the preamble, it must be in the very purposes section of Bill C-92. I urge you to make this explicit in section 8 on the purposes provision of Bill C-92, just as was done with Bill C-91 on Indigenous language, by recommending a new subsection is added at the end of the current provision that reads:
... implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples....
I thank you for this opportunity to address an important bill for our First Nations people in Saskatchewan, our most precious treasure and resource, and not only our most precious treasure and resource but our future. We know this work is difficult and will take many strategies and collective efforts on all of our parts, not just at the federal level but at the provincial and regional level, with the PTOs, but we urge you to accept the importance of this bill and to make improvements but not to delay it.
FSIN and many of our tribal councils and First Nations are already working to implement their authority and laws for children and families, and that work is currently being developed. Saskatchewan is ready to occupy the field in jurisdiction of child welfare and we will succeed where the provincial Ministry of Social Services of Saskatchewan has failed our children time and time again. We cannot be held back any longer, and our children deserve better than the status quo that exists today. We hope this bill will help influence continued recognition of our inherent, God-given and treaty rights, title and jurisdiction in future co-development. Meegwetch.
The Chair: Thank you very much. The floor is now open to questions from senators. Before we begin, Mr. Pratt, did you have some documents that you would send to the committee that outline the particular items that you thought should be included so that we have it very clear? You could send that to the clerk.
Mr. Pratt: Yes, senator, we can provide any documentation from what I have presented here.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Senator McPhedran: My question is directed to Grand Chief Dumas. I have a letter, and I won’t read it all, but I want to just ask for some clarification. This is a letter that you wrote, dated February 7, 2019, on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and you addressed it to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I will go into a little more detail, but my first question about the letter is whether you had a reply from the Prime Minister to this letter.
Mr. Dumas: I don’t believe I have received one yet.
Senator McPhedran: You made a number of very compelling points that would be of interest to members of this committee. The first part is that an MOU was actually signed between Canada and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Am I correct that that was towards the end of 2017?
Mr. Dumas: Yes.
Senator McPhedran: And that MOU related to an agreement that the Manitoba First Nations would draft a Manitoba-specific child and family draft legislation.
Mr. Dumas: Yes, absolutely.
Senator McPhedran: I have that correct. My question is in the context of one of the key points that you made tonight and had been made by a number of other speakers that we’ve heard, and that is that this is legislation that could be called one-size-fits-all, or pan-Indigenous is another term that’s used. What would it look like if you did get an answer from the Prime Minister? Your question and your request was that the AMC would be able to proceed. I do also want to note also that this letter was signed by the chair of the AMC Women’s Council Chief Francine Meeches and yourself. What would it look like for Manitoba to have, as you put it, a government bill to give effect to the Manitoba-derived bringing home our children act?
Mr. Dumas: First of all, senator, I appreciate your question. Thank you very much.
Before I answer, there’s already existing legislation that actually identifies specific regions already in existence, so the whole concept of asking for bringing-our-children-home specific legislation to Manitoba isn’t anything impossible. It has been done before and it can be done again. Unfortunately, I have no faith in the partners that we have to deal with in Manitoba.
Fundamentally, when the issue was brought forward to us by the federal government, the travesty happening on the incentivized apprehension of our children made the federal government very uncomfortable. They were literally paying the provincial government of Manitoba to apprehend our children, so much so that there are more children in care in Manitoba than there ever was during the residential school period. The majority of those children are permanent wards, and it will continue. I think it is very poignant that I had said that I would prefer the status quo than to move forward on this legislation. Because I have no faith in these people who, over the past 50 years, have shown their true colours and truly not wanted to work with us to look after our children.
Fundamentally, as simply as I can put it, there are already existing processes we could work towards together within the federal constructs, and we would be able to work together to ensure that the resources made available for looking after our children can come through us. First Nations have been audited six to ten times a year. We’ve been doing reports. We’re been conditioned to do all of these things, and we do them fairly regularly. When you want to talk about transparency, let’s go visit our provincial treaty partners and ask them for an audit on the funding that they receive on behalf of our kids. You will never get that.
So, senator, to answer your question, I don’t think it’s an impossible feat. It can be done. Through Chief Meeches and the rest of the Women’s Council with their strategic leadership and the work they’ve done, we’ve actually created the templates, the opportunity and the conduit to bring life to this thing, if only our treaty partners on the federal side would have enough trust in us to be able to look out for ourselves.
Senator McPhedran: Just a quick supplementary, would you find it acceptable if it was possible for Manitoba to be exempted from this act?
Mr. Dumas: Certainly. We all need to be reasonable, but there needs to be truth when we say these things. With the rest of the things that my honourable colleagues have said, there needs to be a real commitment to moving forward. Get the province out of the legislation. We don’t need them. Don’t make this a pan-Indigenous thing. Actually, it further complicates things. It will eventually create more discrimination than what we realize. It will be very problematic. If we pass this legislation as it is today, it will haunt us for generations.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you.
Senator Coyle: Thank you to all of you who are with us by video and in person tonight. I almost don’t know where to start, but I do hear a consistency, actually, with various grades. No one is 100 per cent saying to pass that legislation just the way it is. We’re going to have some concrete amendments coming from Vice Chief Pratt and from you, Grand Chief Abram. You have some amendments that you’ll be suggesting.
I think my biggest question is for you, Grand Chief Dumas. I don’t know the nuance of everything you’re talking about, but I believe you have said to us that this legislation should be abandoned and that the status quo is better than this legislation. My question to you then: Is there any condition under which Bill C-92, in some form, not the form as you see it here today, is redeemable for you?
Mr. Dumas: First of all, I want to preface my statement by saying that it pains me to have to say that to you about the status quo. I’ve been involved with child welfare from a young person. I see the potential through the generations of what it is we need to do. It was with great hope and aspiration when we took up the challenge of former Minister Jane Philpott to do the work that we’ve done in Manitoba. It pains me to say that I would have to abandon this legislation as is.
However, I think that with my Women’s Council in Manitoba and the leadership of the assembly, if there was actually a truly meaningful process, we could come up with something that could be workable, but our writers and our drafters in the room would have to abandon the positions they’re in. We’re talking about issues here, senators — and I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way — but there is a reason why there are lawyers and drafters that are talking about this. There are larger fundamental issues in regard to the division of authorities and all of the rigmarole that goes along with it that are actually Canada’s problems. We know what our rights are and what our privileges are. We know what our laws are, and we need to move forward as we’ve done historically.
If you think that there might be some redeeming qualities on this, it would essentially have to be a whole redraft. The simple thing to do would be to support the bringing our children home act that was developed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and everyone would be able to build off of that.
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: My question is for Vice Chief Pratt and Grand Chief Abram. I want to talk about funding statements that are clear and in the body of the bill. We heard from Kevin Page this week, and he was talking about adding a fourth principle in the purpose and principles section that would be about funding. Another idea was around adding a bullet in the substantive equality principle around funding that would demonstrate substantive equality. I want your feedback and maybe other ideas about where that funding statement would be best placed in a way that doesn’t limit the funds that could be spent on a wide variety of programming but also holds the government’s feet to the fire to ensure that funding is actually available for the programs and services that are required.
Mr. Pratt: Thank you, senator, for that question. I want to say there is definitely a need for stronger language when it comes to funding in the bill. Currently it’s in the preamble part and I think it needs to be in the main body where there’s some stronger language and commitment. Should the legislation be successful, and it is Saskatchewan’s hope that it is, we want to be able to have the resources that we need for implementation. There is going to be a lot of work that is going to have to happen on the ground. That’s already starting. We’ve already started some of that. I think our legislative development, we have our welfare framework act that was ratified by our chiefs and assembly. A lot of work has already been done, and a lot of good things have been happening in terms of child welfare with their agencies.
I am grateful for Raymond Shingoose, who is an expert on child welfare in our region, as well as Colin Rope. We call him our guru and is like the godfather of child welfare. He has done a lot of good work. I appreciate these men and women who are standing with us and providing us direction.
But I definitely think there has to be some stronger language here when it comes to the statutory obligations of Canada for us to be able to implement this bill. It can’t just be in the preamble. It needs to be in the body of the bill. As to where it will fit, that’s a good question. I think it needs to be somewhere where it has some teeth to it. I think that’s very important.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Like a principle then. Like a strong principle.
Mr. Pratt: Like a strong principle, yes.
Mr. Abram: If funding is not statutory, it’s discretionary, and if funding is discretionary, First Nations have lived through over 100 years of discretionary funding, and look where it has gotten us in terms of drinking water, housing and child welfare.
At every table we’ve participated in with Canada since that CHRT decision, people say over and over that the funding must be predictable, stable, sustainable, needs-based and consistent with the principle of substantive equality.
The Government of Canada sees it too. It did not appeal the tribunal decision. It says it is working to implement it. They put that exact language quoted above into the preamble, but if it’s not statutory, again, it will remain at the goodwill of future governments. First Nations relying on the goodwill of governments over the years have not fared very well.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for your presentations.
[Editor’s Note: Senator McCallum spoke in her Indigenous language.]
My question now is about the relationships that you have with the province. When you look in section 3, it says that the First Nations or the government will supersede the province, but the next clause says: “ . . . unless there is a pre-existing agreement with the province.”
I know with Manitoba, the funding for our children in care is a big issue, and the province has refused to relinquish their hold on the children, so we remain in their stranglehold. I don’t know what Saskatchewan’s relationship is. I know what Manitoba has, and I think that is one of the questions that has always been in your mind. Could you please speak about it a bit?
Mr. Dumas: Thank you, Senator McCallum. Before I answer your question, I just want to make it totally clear to the senators that if this legislation were to pass as is today, you will be forcing all of the discrimination and all of those things onto Manitoba. You will be doing that. If you support this, that will be your legacy, if this legislation goes as is.
Before I speak specifically on child welfare, everyone here in the room knows that the Province of Manitoba refused to sign the Health Accord until the last possible moment. The Province of Manitoba refused to sign the carbon tax. I don’t know if they did or not. They completely refused to do these things and work with the federal system. So here you are. The question is: How are they going to work with us? If they can’t work with the federal government, then how are they going to work with us? How are we going to be able to change the whole business that they’ve created over the past 20 years on cashing in on our children?
In going back to the funding flow, I would like to do an analysis on the children who come into care. When they come into our communities, they are level one kids, but as soon as they’re taken out, they magically become level three or four kids, and funding magically becomes available for them to be looked after in these specific institutions. That’s why the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has worked so hard to create attention for this issue.
We can’t move forward without having our meaningful involvement in developing these processes. That relationship with the Province of Manitoba is essentially nonexistent, and if we rely upon the status quo and the good favours and the well wishes of people, well, it’s not going to do anything for us.
Does that answer your question?
Senator McCallum: Yes.
Mr. Pratt: Thank you, senator, for your question. With Saskatchewan, where do I begin with these guys? I think we have to go back to 1905 when the province was created. It’s not good. We basically have a nonexistent relationship with the current Saskatchewan government and Premier Moe. Premier Wall, before him, was just as bad. When they did the review of the child welfare legislation and did the amendments and changes to the Child and Family Services Act in Saskatchewan in 2016, there was no consultation. The two child welfare agencies that were recognized in the previous child welfare legislation act, YTC and STC, were removed from the legislation when they redid it. They only came to us after to discuss the policy.
That’s how business operates in Saskatchewan; it’s not good. I have had numerous meetings with Premier Moe, as well as his colleagues, Minister Merriman and Minister Warren Kaeding, Minister responsible for First Nations, Metis and Northern Affairs, in Saskatoon. I had a heated discussion with Minister Kaeding. I might as well tell you all here because it doesn’t matter. It’s not like it’s going to change anything with our relationship with him. I asked him, “Why don’t you want to give us our kids? Give us our kids back. Why don’t you give them up?” He smiled at me across the table and said, “Because we’ll own that badge.” Just like that.
I want to let senators know why Saskatchewan supports this and why we want out from under child welfare, because that’s what we deal with on the ground. This is the province that killed an Indigenous man, Colten Boushie, whom I will never stop speaking about every chance I get, and let him walk free. What message did that send to our young people in Saskatchewan? That their lives don’t matter. That’s what we deal with in Saskatchewan on a daily basis.
It’s no secret Saskatchewan has an issue with racism. That’s what we fight daily. It’s high up in the Cabinet level. I have friends that are in Cabinet. I have friends that are in the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP. I hear the comments the cabinet ministers make when they think they’re having a private discussion. We hear everything they’re doing. Minister Merriman and his bureaucrats have done everything they could to scuttle this bill and everything they could to destroy the work that we’ve done and that Saskatchewan has led since 1982 when our Vice Chief at that time started the work.
We don’t have a relationship with the provincial government. That’s why our legislation has to be recognized. We’re ready to do it. We’re working on enabling legislation. It’s already done and ready to go. We already have a child welfare framework act. We already have 16 child welfare agencies that operate in the province of Saskatchewan. We’re ready. We know what the needs are. Saskatchewan will never, ever be able to heal our children as long as they’re coming in and taking them over. They don’t even understand how to introduce the culture because it’s not theirs to introduce.
We get that recognition of our jurisdiction back that we never gave up when we signed the treaties. We get that back. We’re going to bring down the numbers. We’re going to succeed where the province has failed and that’s my message over and over. Saskatchewan is ready to go. We’ve already developed that work.
You pass that legislation, make the amendments that we want, get it through the Senate, get it through Parliament, get it into law, get Royal Assent and, man, we’ll be ready to declare the day it receives Royal Assent that we’re going to give the province one year’s notice we’re ready to occupy the field and enact our own legislation and take that seat away from them. I think we’re going to do a heck of a lot better job than they are.
I hope that answers your question, senator. I’m going to tell the truth here. I’m not here to tell you everything is rosy in Saskatchewan, because it isn’t.
The Chair: Chief Abram, would you like to respond?
Mr. Abram: With regard to the province, I think the biggest thing is that you don’t realize that the provincial legislation is still going to apply even if Bill C-92 does pass. It will still apply to First Nations, and First Nations laws only if they’re recognized with the force of federal law and if there is a conflict with provincial law, well the First Nation law supersedes. Where there is no conflict, then a provincial law will still apply.
Ontario also has a long history of apprehending children from hospitals as newborns on the basis of poverty. It’s a wicked circle between the federal and provincial governments that we have created here with regard to child welfare where the federal government has underfunded us in terms of housing and safe drinking water, and the province comes along and says, “Your kids have no safe drinking water and no safe housing, so we’re going to take them,” and other poverty-related issues.
It’s really a holistic thing we’re looking at. It’s not just this bill. It’s about if a child is healthy, then they have to have a healthy family. For a family to be healthy, there has to be certain things. They have to have services available to them. They have to have a safe place to live and safe drinking water. That’s mainly what I want to talk about, jurisdiction-wise.
Subclause 12(2) of the bill basically says that the province would not be allowed to disclose information when a child has been apprehended. That would actually be a downgrade from the rights that we have under the provincial legislation.
Also, we have band reps. Ontario is different in that way, where First Nations have band reps who are notified if there is a protection issue with a child. If this legislation passes, that will make our band rep programs unworkable.
I don’t see why First Nations should not be able to know which child they’re having a protection issue with. Why can’t we know that? Why can’t we know until after the child has been apprehended? And even after the child has been apprehended, we have to guess which one has been apprehended?
Our band reps are also representative of our nation’s rights of what is the best interests of that child. That’s another thing, about sections 10 to 15 assuming to know what the best interests of the child are, and assuming that First Nations are not capable of deciding what those best interests are ourselves, as if we’re going to choose something that is not in the best interests of the child. This bill makes several assumptions with respect to that which I think First Nations don’t agree with.
Also, I should add that, just today, we had a special chiefs assembly in Ontario. We’ve all come to one mind with respect to the bill, and we’ve decided to reject the bill as it stands unless the jurisdiction issue and the statutory funding issue are cleared up. If those are not cleared up, then in Ontario, as a province, we will be against this bill. If this bill passes without those amendments, it will certainly be a step back from what we already have in the province. Those are hard-fought things that we had within our provincial legislation.
Senator McCallum: When you’re looking at the federal and provincial relationship, does the federal government have authority to tell the provinces what to do through law? If they could, they would have already done it. They would have already worked with First Nations to do this without the province. It doesn’t seem like it exists already. Could you respond to that, both of you?
Mr. Dumas: I would argue that it does. We’ve been told that the federal government has supremacy, is sovereign and delegates authority to the province — the division of authority the constitution has agreed to. However, because of our unique relationship, there are mechanisms that are already in existence that we would be able to use that actually wouldn’t have to go into this whole realm of division of authority, but there needs to be trust on the federal side to do those things. It can be done.
With that said, I want to add this to my answer, and I want senators to be aware of this, because this is the sober second thought: The bureaucrats going around doing engagement on this bill have said to my technical people today that it doesn’t matter what Manitoba says because this bill is going to pass. So if that’s the sentiment of this bureaucracy, then I’m pleading to you even more that, in order to do this bill, we need to do it right. If that’s the mindset of the people we’re supposed to be working with, that’s very problematic.
Mr. Pratt: Thank you, senator, for your question. It depends on the interpretation of the Constitution Act section 91(24). In Saskatchewan, particularly on First Nations lands, the federal government has that responsibility for lands and lands reserved for Indians. Our chiefs’ historical position is that our treaty rights are portable, so they work both on and off reserve. As a member of Muscowpetung, I might not be residing on Muscowpetung, but because Muscowpetung having signed a treaty, my rights are just as valid whether I live in Saskatoon or here in Ottawa. That’s always been our historical position.
The federal government is well within its rights to make such an historic change in legislation when it comes to our children in care. It’s long overdue, and I think it’s much needed. It’s going to be a great day when it happens for Saskatchewan, because we’ll have the provincial government out of our hair and we’ll be able to move forward. And that’s not just on child welfare. Once we get child welfare jurisdiction back with adequate funding, we’re going to go after them for education and justice. I plan on being back here over the next couple of years to talk about those two big issues next, because we need a whole new justice system in Saskatchewan. The current one is a failure. We need a whole new education system, because the current one isn’t working for First Nations people.
Senator Tannas: This was supposed to be the easy thing. This was, “The framework failed. We have to do something to get Indigenous people on the road to self-determination.” This was the easy thing that they picked, because they were in a hurry. Time is ticking now. Wow.
I really appreciate everything you have said here — both diametrically opposed, spoken strongly, clearly. I’m humbled to have been here to listen, and it will take the wisdom and the full wattage of intelligence of all of us to figure out how to square this.
I don’t have any questions. Thank you.
Senator Christmas: Again, as was expressed, we appreciate you being here and bringing your experience and knowledge to this table.
Grand Chief Dumas and Vice Chief Pratt, both of you have mentioned that child care is in a humanitarian crisis. I believe Manitoba has the highest number of Indigenous children in child care. Grand Chief, I think you called it ground zero. Vice Chief, you mentioned that Saskatchewan has the second-highest number of children in child care. For the public record and while this issue is so pressing, can both of you just take a few moments and describe why child care in your respective provinces is at the level of a humanitarian crisis?
Mr. Dumas: Generally, senator, because of racism, discrimination and because of all these ugly things that have impacted our societies — things we need to expunge and move away from. It’s because of differences in world view. Here’s a simple example: Because of how and where I was raised, I slept in a communal bed with my family. As a father, it was important for me to bond with my children, so I chose to sleep with my children in my bed. But according to the law of Manitoba, I’m not supposed to do that. Every child is supposed to have their own bed. There are all these bureaucratic policies that interfere with how we choose to raise our children.
In Manitoba, I believe the number is like 12,000 kids in care. Unacceptable. Then again, you need to follow the course of time. Like I said, Manitoba has been very innovative. They have been very strong and wanted to do these things. They have developed authorities and agencies, and they have done all this stuff in good faith to work with a system that always ends up skewing interpretations and definitions. All of a sudden, it’s, “Yeah, you can look after your children,” but for the safety of children, the Province of Manitoba decides what that is. What is that? You can’t be sleeping two children to a bed or whatever the excuse is. Fundamentally, that’s the problem. People take advantage and liberty of our good graces. Over time, they erode and they condition people to think a certain way.
As simply put as we could, if we could make this legislation direct resources directly to the communities, so the communities could decide how our children are looked after, it would build a lot more accountability into how our children are raised. Look at the safety of the child. It takes a village to raise a child. We know what that means — but not according to the Province of Manitoba. Yank that child out of that community because the individual rights of that child far outweigh the collective rights of his community, the collective rights of those people who are supposed to jointly raise and rear that child. According to provincial law, it is illegal, so we yank kids out of their communities.
Mr. Pratt: Senator, thank you for your question. It’s good to meet you in person. I was in your community yesterday, touring Membertou and seeing what’s going on with the school. It’s amazing what’s happening in that community.
Your question is such a loaded question that I could be here all night. So many issues are happening in Saskatchewan when it comes to our children in care. I will defer to Raymond Shingoose. He has a wealth of knowledge, being the director of probably our largest child welfare agency in the province, with 16 First Nations underneath him. I will let him speak. He will be able to answer in more detail from a technical viewpoint.
Raymond Shingoose, Director of Yorkton Tribal Council Child and Family Services, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations: I want to say thank you to the Senate. It’s an honour being here.
That question you asked on the humanitarian crisis is quite heavy for children and families. It’s heavy being a voice for the child and, at the same time, honouring the spirit of that child in the manner that I was taught. We were taught to honour Creator’s laws, grandfathers’ laws, grandmothers’ laws, natural laws — all those laws that are specific to the well-being of a child and a family.
Think of all the trauma done to our people historically — even before the residential schools, during the residential schools and up until now. Physically and mentally, there was so much damage done to our people. It’s still happening. They are using legislation, laws that are not our own. It’s happening on the reserve, and more so off the reserve, to our people. It’s causing so much damage that it’s at a crisis right now. The only people who are able to fix that are us. By doing so, they need to respect our own laws, because it’s a one-way system right now. It needs to be a two-way system.
In the Yorkton Tribal Council Child and Family Services, we have an MOU that recognizes both jurisdictions. Have they followed that? No. We have a bilateral agreement that looks to me like a transitional agreement to start implementing our own laws. If we have federal legislation that recognizes and affirms First Nations’ laws in regard to giving the responsibility to my agency, based on their authorities as rights-holders specific to child welfare in the ways we know how, we could fix this damage. It is very key and very fundamental when it comes to looking at the child. It’s kind of close to my heart here when it comes to how we will fix this.
We have our traditional helping systems. No one does that anymore. It’s not recognized anywhere in this country, but we recognize it. We do two systems in our agency. We implement our own system with very little money or no money, but we implement the provincial system on reserve, which is not working. It’s failing our children even more. We’re doing more damage. We need legislation that will recognize our First Nations laws to fix that historical trauma. I will stop there.
Mr. Dumas: I want to expand upon that, if I may. As I said, in Manitoba, and I know it’s fairly similar to my relatives in Saskatchewan, but, senator, every 10 years, there have been initiatives. There are mechanisms in place where the province is supposed to come and work with us to do these things, but they don’t follow them, as my colleague just said. They choose not to because they don’t have to because they have the authority. That’s the problem.
Senator Christmas: If I can summarize — Grand Chief, you just took the words out of my mouth — the humanitarian crisis that we’re facing is because of the problem of the province.
Mr. Pratt: Senator, can I add a comment? I know we are pressed for time, but this is an example. Things will change because of this example of how the province takes. They’re doing their best now because they have our children. So they’re opening up these homes. I called them and, believe me, I blasted them. I called them about what’s going on at those receiving homes. I said, “What’s happening with our children?”
Listen to this one statistic: 83 per cent of the children in Saskatchewan full-time care are First Nations. They have a 60 per cent dropout rate. Think of that. Yet they come and talk to us about the best interests of the child. I said to Minister Merriman, “You said the best interests of the child,” I said, “I’m a former teacher and educator. I’d be giving you a failing grade right now because six out of every ten of our children whom you are holding are not even completing high school. You are responsible for them. You are robbing them of opportunities to go into post-secondary or technical training institutes. There is no follow-up on these kids once they age out. They are being dumped on the street, probably going right into jails, or right onto the streets or right into gangs.”
That is another issue. They don’t understand anything when it comes to the cultural part of it. They are trying to open up homes to incorporate culture. They’re opening up receiving homes, and they are working. They are using drum therapy with the kids that have been traumatized, and it’s working. They see that it’s working, so they are trying to implement it in other places — but it’s not theirs. They will never succeed to give those kids back their identities, not until we have that. I told that to Minister Paul Merriman and I told that to the Premier. I said, “Your only job with this legislation is for implementation and transition. You have no role to play here whatsoever.”
It needs to be a bilateral relationship with Canada when it comes to the implementation of this legislation. It will change when the accountability switches from Minister Paul Merriman, where it is now, to the chiefs and First Nations communities, where it belongs. When it is back with the First Nations, you will see changes not just in child welfare. It will begin with child welfare, but it will spill over into all the other sectors. There will be a critical mass where it will go into education, which we will tackle next. It will go into justice, which we will go after next. All this damage was not done overnight, but we will begin to work with child welfare legislation to repair the damages from those policies that have impacted the First Nations people in Canada.
Senator Christmas: Thank you very much, gentlemen.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have run out of time. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank our presenters this evening: Grand Chief Arlen Dumas from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Vice-Chief David Pratt, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. We lost our video link for Joel Abram, Grand Chief, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. Thank you very much for your fulsome testimony this evening.