Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Aboriginal Peoples

Issue 23 - Evidence, March 17, 1999

OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 17, 1999

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 5:40 p.m. to examine and report upon aboriginal self-government.

Senator Charlie Watt (Chairman) in the Chair.


The Chairman: Honourable senators, our first witnesses tonight are from the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres.

Please proceed.

Ms Vera Pawis Tabobondung, President, Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres: Meeqwetch, bonjour, and thank you for the invitation to make our presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. We want to say "meeqwetch" to the Algonquin peoples for allowing us to travel through and be in their territory today. We want to mention that because we understand, as we wrote in our paper, that we do not speak for all the peoples; we do not have their permission. We speak for the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, which serves the interests of urban aboriginal people.

We have been in this business for some 30 years now. We have understood and been part of aboriginal government initiatives, as well as many other levels of government initiatives, in terms of the work we do. We understand that there has not been a concentrated initiative to address the issue of off-reserve peoples.

We have a great wealth of knowledge that we will try to contain in a few remarks in terms of friendship centres and who we are. There are 26 of us in Ontario. We have members that are non-aligned. There is a vision that we could establishing 10 additional friendship centres, and that is evolving into what urban aboriginal people have understood to be some of their rights. They want delivery of services and programs that are geared to their needs, to address the quality of life issues of aboriginal individuals, families, and communities.

Friendship centres are not-for-profit corporations and they identify with the membership. They choose their boards of directors at annual general meetings. Each of the friendship centres is unique, since they come from a history and an identity in their community that is quite diverse. They have many different social circumstances that have aided them in creating their individual, community-based organizations.

We deliver eight major programs through the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres: healthy living, cultural awareness, justice issues, employment, and health. The friendship centre developed a community continuum-of-care model to address all the aspects of the lives of aboriginal people in a culturally appropriate approach.

Friendship centres are very much involved in community agencies such as district health councils, colleges and universities, healing lodges, and alternative justice projects. We have been able to create other agencies because of the work that we have been involved with in terms of non-profit housing, and literacy programs.

We have been part of the creation of an aboriginal-controlled infrastructure of programs and services off reserve. The Ontario federation supports local initiatives and provides lobbying for programs and resources as well as training and program support to the member centres.

The activities are governed by a code of ethics and those are provided in the information to the Senate. The federation is developing an aboriginal peoples learning centre to ensure that accredited training is provided for friendship centre employees and to make aboriginal-specific training programs available to the aboriginal public at large.

Economic development initiatives to assist with the corporate well-being of local centres and to facilitate local entrepreneurial activity are contemplated. We have an expanded network of off-reserve aboriginal agencies. This is a proclamation of aboriginal identity. There are agencies that demonstrate the survival of aboriginal peoples in Ontario and provide a testament to society that aboriginal people continue to occupy and utilize all regions within our original homelands.

We have outlined the representation issue in our paper. We would like to highlight that we advocate to address the quality of life issues for aboriginal peoples in urban areas. We do not claim to be a political body, but we do have numerous interests of the people to represent. The members of the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres are the ones who direct the work of the federation.

We want to talk to about the ability to be proactive in creating relationships with other agencies and other aboriginal organizations. We have begun to do our work in terms of instructions from the elders that we keep our paths to our homeland free and clear of any obstacles, so that our children and great grandchildren will have the opportunity to return there, should they so choose. We have initiated discussions on protocols, in a number of committees, on how we want to work with the aboriginal organizations and the political organizations. It is very incumbent upon us as a federation to ensure the peoples' interests and understanding of their rights to participate in the design of programs and governance. That is truly the word that has been spoken to us in terms of our work in governance.

We can outline a number of models and some ways to initiate things. However, it can only happen when the interests of the people and their actual right to participate in those programs, services and governances that are being established are kept in mind. We do have outlines of some models that we have included in our paper. We understand that we are not to be, and do not want to be, a mirror of whatever else exists out there in municipal governments.

We understand that nations are a collective of communities. We know that from the diversity of the friendship centres in Ontario, from small to large urban centres. In some communities, one friendship centre is not enough. They have been able to grow into two or three other centres, and yet there is still a lot of room for friendship centres to grow because there truly is a need for the programs and services. We want to create an environment for aboriginal people to talk about their urban governance models.

There is some work that can be done on the nation governance model, as we have noted on page 7 under the heading "Community of Interest Governance Model." We must recognize that there are now generations of aboriginal people born and raised in urban centres who may have no real contact with the band First Nation community of which they may be members. This is a reality. We have to recognize that and provide the opportunity for them to design something that is fresh, new and innovative in terms of governance in the urban aboriginal community.

We have looked at, and done some work on, the public government model. In all of our work, we seem to always fall between being a federal responsibility and/or not a provincial responsibility. We are always involved in that kind of jurisdictional volleyball game. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples did not speak very much to this issue. We cite in our paper our dealings with aboriginal mental health and addictions programs. We have had consultations with the communities and have prepared a paper and a proposal that we have advanced to two or three different levels of government. Everybody disclaims their role or their responsibility for that urban aboriginal initiative.

In our brief, we talk about the recommendation that the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples made for the creation of an independent authority to monitor relations and negotiations between aboriginal peoples and the federal and provincial governments. We very much know, from our work as a federation, that we have been successful in being the voice of reason in some of those initiatives. We agree that an independent party is an absolute necessity upon which to advance positive relationships. There has to be an attempt to include someone from the international community on this independent body to improve relationships between the aboriginal peoples and the various levels of government.

On the role of friendship centres, the very essence of friendship centres is community development. This is articulated in a vision statement that identifies the need to improve the quality of life for aboriginal people in an urban environment in a manner that respects aboriginal cultural distinctiveness. The Government of Canada must recognize that aboriginal communities exist both on and off reserves. Furthermore, the Government of Canada must recognize friendship centres as the primary service provider and gathering centre for the aboriginal community.

On page 11 we have outlined our recommendations. Aboriginal governance off reserve is an emerging issue, and we recommend that:

The Government of Canada work with the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres to facilitate the development of a minimum of four urban governance models in Ontario.

The Government of Canada formally recognize that Aboriginal communities exist in urban centres throughout Canada, not only on reserve lands.

The Government of Canada formally recognize Friendship Centres as the primary gathering place and service delivery agency for Aboriginal peoples in urban centres.

The Government of Canada promote agreements between membership-based organizations and Friendship Centres rather than create parallel infrastructures and competing interests.

The Government of Canada support the principle of Nation-based governance approaches with Nations being fundamentally identified as a collection of people, rather than solely a collection of communities, with common culture, ancestry, institutions, etc.

All First Nations governance agreements require the identification of measures which ensure the participation of all members/citizens, regardless of residence, in determining the government which claims to represent them.

Friendship Centres must be directly involved in any discussions or negotiations between governments in Canada which affect the design of programs and delivery of services to Aboriginal peoples in urban centres.

The Government of Canada confirm that Aboriginal rights are portable, and exist on and off reserve.

The Government of Canada reaffirm that governments in Canada have a fiduciary responsibility to all Aboriginal people, regardless of residence.

The Government of Canada confirm that Section 35 of the Constitution Act of Canada consists of the full range of collective and individual rights internationally recognized as belonging to "peoples." This commitment would nullify the need for a "new" Royal Proclamation.

The Government of Canada establish an independent authority/court which will monitor relations and negotiations between Aboriginal peoples and other governments in Canada; such a forum should include the authority to address inter-jurisdictional disputes brought forward by all parties including Friendship Centres; the forum should include international representation.

The Chairman: Being critical in terms of focusing on the points helps all of us to understand.

Senator St. Germain: At the very end of your brief, you recommend that the government establish an independent authority/court that will monitor relations and negotiations between aboriginal peoples and the governments in Canada. One of the biggest problems that we have heard about from the Cree Niskapi is that they want some type of a court established. If a court was established, it would be for a given period of time and would have a sunset clause as to its existence. You refer to an authority. Have you seriously thought about this, as to how this would be developed?

Aboriginal people can have self-government or they can reach an agreement, but one of the greatest problems is in the implementation, which seems to fall through the cracks. Then our native people have to go back to court, which is very costly and time consuming, and there are delays in the implementation.

Perhaps you could elaborate on what you visualize this court to be or this authority that you speak of in no. 11.

Ms Tabobondung: Some of the thinking behind recommendation 11 comes straight from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. We have to do something about the relationship that exists between the aboriginal peoples of Canada, the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, or those other provincial governments. It is true that you and I can talk forever, but if we do not start to establish some kind of mechanism -- and we are not yet sure what that structure will look like -- then nobody has to be honest or continually accountable to ensure that things we need for the betterment of the aboriginal peoples get better.

Senator St. Germain: Do you feel that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is a problem in this particular area?

Ms Tabobondung: In our experience, nobody wants to be responsible for the aboriginal people who live off reserve. We have correspondence that speaks to that. In the 30-year history of our organization, we have at various times come forward with proposals that have not been favourably received because they do not come from an on-reserve community organization. Yes, that is a problem. Nobody claims responsibility for the urban aboriginal people.

Senator St. Germain: It is clear-cut for the people on reserves, as they have an established jurisdiction. You made reference to aboriginal peoples who have never had contact with their actual base of origin. This is complex, as I am sure you know. We are trying to come up with recommendations on governance while trying to be fair and trying to represent all those who should be represented.

There are people who have never really had any contact with their origins. How do you see dealing with that? You have the experience; you are out there in the field. These people come to you and say, "How do you think we should deal with this from a governance aspect"? How do we reattach them? Or should we be treating them as a separate entity?

Ms Tabobondung: It is a very long task in the work of our friendship centres in our communities to be able to attach someone to their home community, to their home parents, to their home grandparents. That is the whole issue in terms of what is it going to look like. That is the support that we advance in terms of creating the models, so that those people have an opportunity to say what their vision is, what their feelings are, and receive help in the design of a governance model that is appropriate for them in that community.

Senator St. Germain: Are you saying that we should try and link them back to their ancestral background, or are you suggesting that a form of governance be created for them outside of the reserve or First Nation base they come from? You made reference to the fact that a governance of some kind should be established for those who do not have a direct link back to their ancestry.

Ms Tabobondung: They have a link to their ancestry. What they do not have is the ability to create a scenario where they can say what their governance in an urban environment will look like.

The Chairman: They do not provide any input into their home base and development of the political instruments?

Ms Tabobondung: That is right. In the community I come from, I can talk about the 400 people who live there, but I cannot talk very well about the 800 people who do not. I do not know if those 800 would choose, or have the ability, to return to the community where the rest of the 400 live.

The Chairman: In your brief, you talk about nations and describe them as collective groups of people who form a nation. There are two ways to understand the concept of nation. In some Indian communities, one community could be considered a nation. In other groups in the same province, if they bring all the people together, they become a nation. When you talk about the development of nations, that it should be based on nations, where do you draw the line in regards to the membership? Do you draw the line by blood quantum, or on the basis of ancestry? We need your help on that.

Mr. Tim Thompson, Policy Director, Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres: Vera and I have actually talked about the issues pertaining to membership. You have First Nations or bands under the Indian Act that have evolved under the tutelage of Indian Affairs and adopted systems that discourage participation on the basis of race, on the basis of some kind of assessment of blood quantum. Most of our band communities are guilty of that. It is one way of identifying what a community consists of. Each community has to make that determination on who is part of their community.

There are also traditional ways of identifying community and who is part of that community. In the regions we come from, in what is now called Ontario, the cultures that are common to this region have identified their members or their citizens through processes of adoption. If you are willing to live by the rules of the community, if you are willing to accept that community's language, customary ways, rituals, laws, and forms of sustaining themselves and contributing to one another, then you become a citizen. Somehow we have to find a bridge between what has been imposed, what we have learned to administer, and what still exists and is trying to find its way out from under the grasp of imposition.

You raise an interesting question on which we have had a lot of debate in our communities. How does it relate to urban governance issues? As Vera said, you have a community where anywhere from half to two-thirds of their people are living outside that community. They are in urban centres, and there is a collective of people in urban centres who come from all over. Some may identify or affiliate with their First Nation. They may not be too far away. But the fact is, those people have needs. Just because they moved into a town, it does not mean they are no longer aboriginal people and they still have a right to their identity.

How do we ensure that we can create structures where they can express that identity?

The Chairman: Is that at the development stage at this point?

Ms Tabobondung: It is important to many urban people to be able to talk about that, but they are more concerned with the talk about why they do not belong over there and people do not include them or they cannot do things over there. In some areas, yes, we are able to talk about who we are as a people and why we belong and how we are important and special here. It always produces some discussion about those young people in our communities and new, young individuals who have citizenship, not only here in this province, in this country, but other countries as well.

It is going to be a long discussion, but the people want the opportunity to have that discussion and come up with something to stop the discrimination amongst ourselves and amongst all of the other peoples that live on this Turtle Island.

Senator Pearson: You are absolutely right that it is an emerging issue. I would say it has emerged, but the questions of resolving it are very complex. I am trying to visualize a model that will work in a practical way, achieve the objectives that you set it out for it, and that can simultaneously exist within a municipality, say Toronto. There is a very large number of aboriginal people living in Toronto and obviously they come from a variety of different nations. They are not just from one nation. There are people who are identified as Metis. I do not know if there are many Inuit in Toronto, but I presume there are some.

How do we fit those various groups together in a way that will achieve the legitimate objectives and develop working relationship, not only among one another, but also with the municipality, the province, and the federal government? You are dealing with three levels of government.

Ms Tabobondung: In our paper, we are proposing four models, and we would work together in their development.

Senator Pearson: Are you thinking of four different sites?

Ms Tabobondung: Yes.

Senator Pearson: For example, one in Peterborough and one somewhere else?

Ms Tabobondung: Yes, probably Peterborough. However, we are thinking more that our experience would suggest Moosonee, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, and Parry Sound because it is closest to where Tim and I come from.

We understand that the mayor of Toronto has established a race-relations office for aboriginal peoples to give them a voice in what he understands to be the issues for aboriginal people in Toronto. We do have some things in place, but we need a more hands-on approach and advancement of the four models.

Senator Pearson: That is beginning to emerge in Toronto. That is quite new, so it will be interesting to see what evolves.

We find many things challenging in this study, but this is one is particularly so because there are so many different players. How do you sort out the relations among them?

My second question has to do with young people because that is my particular interest. The friendship centres have generally been very sympathetic to and encouraging of the involvement of young people. Can you tell us a little about the role that you give to young people?

Ms Tabobondung: In terms of friendship centres and young people, those of us who have been here for 30 years or more acknowledge that if it were not for the fact that we were once young too, we would never have had an opportunity to be part of the friendship movement in Ontario. All during our existence, we have tried to ensure that young people have an avenue to be very much a fundamental part of everybody's operation. We have created, in our own federation, the opportunity for young people to sit on the board and have a voice. They do not just do nice little things, but they have a voice and speak to issues. They represent us at other youth forums.

We have also encouraged changes, not only to the constitution at the federation level, but to individual friendship centres, to ensure that young people have more than just a youth group, that they have a youth voice. That is very much imperative in terms of the direction from the young people themselves, which is, do not give us a seat without giving us a voice. We want to have the voice; we want to actively participate in those initiatives that are geared to young people, or geared to those issues that are very important to us, and that is, friendship centres and community development.

Senator Pearson: Do you find that much of your emerging leadership is, in fact, young, under 35?

Ms Tabobondung: Yes.

Senator Austin: Your presentation was a particularly stimulating one for me. It is an area that is probably as challenging as any part of the governance issue we are considering.

In broad terms, the policy of the Government of Canada over many decades, and until 1982, was one of encouraging assimilation. It has changed radically, but the mentality remains land based or status based, status-on-land based. To a very significant extent, the federal government has abandoned those who do not fit the pigeonhole. It is quite exciting to see the self-reliance that has been developed and that you describe in your report.

You are careful to state that these are not political entities in the classic sense of lobbying for political results beyond the provision of social and economic services. However, inevitably -- and I do not think it is a bad thing when I say "inevitably" -- a certain level of political action will be required to make sure that the resources of the broader Canadian community are available to the people who do not fit the traditional territorial status base.

Those who do not fit in that base are becoming a very important part of the aboriginal community in Canada. Some still have ties, while others, as you pointed out, have abandoned those ties. They have either been abandoned or they have decided to abandon those ties, but they want to retain their aboriginal identity.

If you have any disagreement with what I have said, please say so in your answer. Is there broad conceptual agreement with what I have just said?

Ms Tabobondung: Yes.

Senator Austin: I would like to go to page 2 of your report. This is a very specific question and I am intrigued by this as much as anything. In the second last paragraph, you say:

Economic development initiatives are contemplated to assist the corporate well-being of local centres and to facilitate local entrepreneurial activity.

I was delighted to see that sentence because it moves what you are trying to do from social dependence to economic self-reliance.

I would like you to give examples of what the centres within your support system are doing to create economic activity amongst the membership.

Ms Tabobondung: In the history of friendship centres, we understand and we know that some of us came out of people's living rooms and basements. We grew into an organization that ran out of church basements and those kinds of places. We understood in the 1970s, and later on, that if we were going to be able to make a difference in the communities we came from, it was important to start looking at initiatives that raised our profile as friendship centres and as representatives of our people.

We started to talk about those organizations and community friendship centres that owned their own facilities. It was more than renting somebody else's basement. We started to change the way that people developed criteria for funding friendship centres. We knew that if we were going to make our presence known other than by protesting about something, and if we were going to leave an understanding for our children about why they live in an urban environment, we had to have some pride in ownership. We were going to go down the road of establishing the opportunity for friendship centres to own their own facilities.

We were very successful in that initiative. We have to say "meeqwetch" to the Province of Ontario for giving attention to the initiative of capital funding for friendship centres. We also had that at the national level. However, it was not entirely responsive to the needs that existed in Ontario for so many at the same time. From that, we began to work in terms of having people understand that if you have a presence, if you own property, you will have to look after that. We will have to create some other initiative besides the fundraising that goes for all these other little things. We will have to start looking at our ability to be entrepreneurs and create economic development.

That is where we are in our initiatives for economic development. We have, and rightly so, the best craft shops in town. We have some of the best aboriginal catering companies. As non-profit organizations, we have enjoyed the opportunity to gain a tax-exempt status collectively in Ontario.

Senator Austin: So tax exemption is available. Do any of your centres have a charitable tax status? Do you have one licence for them all, or does each have separate charitable status?

Ms Tabobondung: They are all individual.

Senator Austin: You are able to start enterprises such as catering services. How do you move from communal activities such as catering services into a form of for-profit entrepreneurial activity? Has that been done yet or is that one of your objectives?

Ms Tabobondung: In some communities, our friendship centres are separate corporations. We have also worked with the Canadian Bankers' Association on establishing and initiating the entrepreneurial spirit through a young people's program for business and economic development.

Senator Austin: I want to encourage you to continue. Let me take you to the bottom of page 3. This is more in the political than the business arena. In the last three lines you say:

Each of the identified organizations are membership driven, rather than territorial. As a consequence, there is no single organization which represents the collective interests of off-reserve Aboriginal communities.

I take that to be fact. In your wildest imagination, how would you like to see off-reserve aboriginal peoples represented in the debates about the aboriginal community as a whole?

Ms Tabobondung: The answer is in the recommendation we have advanced on page 11. We want to work with the Government of Canada to facilitate the development of a minimum of four urban models.

Senator Austin: That does not create a coherent voice for people who are off reserve.

Ms Tabobondung: Then we have to be able to ensure that we have this forum.

Senator Austin: These are operating models for the community itself, but what about the voice that you need in terms of the debate within Canada about the interests of your people?

Ms Tabobondung: We understand that there has to be coordination and cooperation. We envision that the answers to those kinds of questions will evolve.

Senator Austin: Recommendation 2 is the beginning of the answer, is it?

Ms Tabobondung: That is why we believe that part of our work is to ensure that there are political accords.

Senator Austin: In recommendation 2 you say:

The Government of Canada formally recognize that Aboriginal communities exist in urban centres throughout Canada, not only on reserve lands.

Do you believe that in the next year or two, while this discussion about recommendation 2 is taking place, you can bring the formal aboriginal communities that are status, on-land bands, and formal councils, elected or otherwise, to agree politically to the recognition of aboriginal communities in urban centres as equal, small "p" political units within the aboriginal community of Canada, or do you see that as likely to take some time?

Ms Tabobondung: If there were no peoples, there would be no politics. I need the Government of Canada to recognize the aboriginal peoples in this country, and we need, as aboriginal people, to recognize each other. We need to recognize that those opportunities and avenues on which we work together will resolve things for our children and grandchildren.

Senator Austin: I think I understand your answer. However, let me state it in my words and see if I can understand it better. You are saying that the recognition of your community by the status bands and councils is irrelevant. It should be done by the Government of Canada?

Ms Tabobondung: No, because it is the aboriginal peoples who are going to have to address and answer the question themselves. We understand that as urban aboriginal people, we can still continue to extend our hand in friendship. If we need to develop protocols, then that is what we will do. We also know from our history, from our experience as friendship centres, that we collectively and honestly agree that this is how we are going to address this current need. However, it is a discussion that has to take place with the people in terms of the whole urban governance issue. As much as we work to bring our information to the Senate, we have to work to bring that information to the aboriginal political organizations, as well as to our own home communities.

Senator Austin: I appreciate your answer and I think I understand it. I am looking now at a process to do that, rather than at the goal. Let us agree on the goal.

Ms Tabobondung: We do not yet know what that process is.

Senator Austin: But it does involve the aboriginal communities as a whole in Canada?

Ms Tabobondung: I can say for the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, that is how we would try to address it.

Senator Austin: That is your personal view as well?

Ms Tabobondung: Yes.

The Chairman: This is centered around the question of nation. I understand this is the objective. I believe that Senator Austin was asking more about process but, at the same time, what will it look like down the road?

Le me go step by step to see if I fully understand you. You want the Government of Canada to formally recognize the aboriginal community that exists in urban settings throughout the country. That is one task that someone will have to perform.

After it is recognized, or even before, there needs to be a structure put in place. At this point, the friendship centre is the voice of those urban people who are anticipating establishing the structure. However, you do not yet know whether that will be a new structure, or whether it will fit under a so-called assembly or a self-government structure. You are not there yet. Am I correct so far?

Ms Tabobondung: Yes.

The Chairman: Those people still need to engage in a discussion to determine whether they want to fall under a completely new structure or whether they want to be affiliated with their communities of origin?

Ms Tabobondung: That is correct.

The Chairman: In some cases, people have volunteered to abandon their membership of the reserve. Some people were removed for other reasons, but they have no real difficulties in being linked to their communities. At the same time, they might fall under the governance of that new structure. Is that what you are saying?

Ms Tabobondung: Yes.

The Chairman: You have had the courage to step beyond the political institutions that exist today within the aboriginal community. You have gone quite a distance, maybe even further than some of those political instruments that are run by aboriginal people. Have you touched base with those national, provincial, or regional organizations?

Ms Tabobondung: We have tried to ensure that the interests of the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres are maintained. With our ability to be observers in those other forums, and through our invitations to their meetings, we have good relationships with those people who are always the only ones recognized as having the formal responsibility. There are many more opportunities. We understand that there will be discussion of recognition for the urban aboriginal people and for the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, and we understand that we can play a role in facilitating those discussions. What comes next? What are the next steps?

The Chairman: Recommendation no. 3 will probably be the most touchy one that you might have to deal with. At the community-based level, we can use as an example what already exists, not necessarily within the aboriginal community but within the general public of Canada, such as local government. You have a local government, and also in some provinces you have regional government, and then a provincial government and the federal government. Would you look seriously at the urban community being administered, including the delivery of programs, under a regional type of government, not necessarily a local one, if your recommendation 3 becomes questionable?

You do not need to answer right now. Perhaps you could get back to us at some time. That is not an easy one to deal with.

Our next witnesses are from the National Association of Friendship Centres, led by Wayne Helgason. Mr. Helgason is also a participant in the round table discussions.

Mr. Wayne Helgason, President, National Association of Friendship Centres: I will ask Stacy Hill, our Aboriginal Youth Council president, to proceed.

Senator Landon Pearson (Acting Chairman) in the Chair.

Ms Stacy Hill, President, Aboriginal Youth Council, National Association of Friendship Centres: I am a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River territory. Our delegation here this evening consists of Wayne Helgason, President, National Association of Friendship Centres; Rod Macdonald, President, Law Commission of Canada; Marc Maracle, Executive Director, National Association of Friendship Centres; Bruno Bonneville, Executive Director, Law Commission of Canada. I would also like to acknowledge Robert Groves, Principal, Aboriginal Affairs Group; Heather Levecque, National Association of Friendship Centres; Steven Owen, Commissioner, Law Commission of Canada; Susan Zimmerman, Research Director, Law Commission of Canada; and Mark Gryba, National Association of Friendship Centres, who have all worked on this project with us.

On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to acknowledge Honourable Senator Charlie Watt and the honourable senators of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. We appreciate this opportunity to assist in the work of the aboriginal governance round table by sharing our thoughts on aboriginal governance and self-government in urban settings. I am particularly pleased to be here to offer a youth perspective on this issue.

I would like to give you some statistics on aboriginal youth in urban settings. You may be aware that young aboriginal people under the age of 25 make up more than half of the total aboriginal population. In the urban area, the number far exceeds 50 per cent. For example, in Manitoba, young people under the age of 25 account for 54.2 per cent; in Alberta, 53.2; in Saskatchewan, 58.4. A large proportion of our aboriginal population is young. This is really important when speaking to the issue of governance, and to this round table, because we need to speak about that majority of the population. The young people need to be heard.

Our future, as everyone knows, depends on those young people and the leadership that they will bring to the future. It is very important to hear from young people like myself and others across Canada.

I would like to invite Rod Macdonald to speak on behalf of his colleagues at the Law Commission of Canada.

Mr. Rod Macdonald, President, Law Commission of Canada: We at the Law Commission of Canada are most pleased to have had the opportunity to join with the National Association of Friendship Centres in sponsoring research into approaches to aboriginal youth governance.

This project highlights three key objectives that the Law Commission of Canada has set for itself. We seek to form partnerships with non-governmental organizations that interact daily with Canadians and are committed to the renewal of law and its structures. We seek to involve Canadians directly in reflection about their law and are especially concerned to engage youth in a process of reforming the laws of most concern to them. We seek to open up thinking about justice in governance and about models of governance that are effective, relevant and responsive to the needs of all Canadians.

I thank you for this opportunity to present some of the work we have co-sponsored. I will now ask Wayne Helgason, president of the NAFC, to speak to the substance of the focus paper.

Mr. Helgason: I want to say how proud I am, as a Canadian, to have been elected for three terms as the president of the National Association of Friendship Centres. The organization is composed of 115 member centres that, five years ago, undertook to make the youth voice into a significant reality within the movement. The youth worked in cooperation with the then leadership of the entire movement of 115 friendship centres to ensure one-third of the voting delegation without proxy to young people. There are six provincial organizations, one of which you just heard from, a fine example of an active provincial organization. Moving ahead on that, last year the constitution was further amended to provide for the youth president, elected by the assembly at large, to be a member of the executive committee, joining the other four members from the entire movement. The youth voice is there in its own right, and a board position is also available. I am proud to be associated with such an organization, operating in the voluntary sector as very clearly the most significant national aboriginal organization in that regard.

The Law Commission of Canada and the National Association of Friendship Centres have undertaken a joint effort to reassess approaches to urban aboriginal governance, as well as to probe the relevance of these approaches to the needs of aboriginal youth. Our efforts have been prompted by a concern to provide an open and transparent platform for dialogue within the aboriginal community and among Canadians in general. This dialogue should note the challenges of self-government for aboriginal peoples residing in urban areas. As you know, interest in this topic has been steadily growing, as indicated by the round tables, the conferences, and the work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples over the past five years.

However, it is self-government in connection with rural reserve and remote, land-based aboriginal communities that has received the most political and financial focus in governmental, aboriginal and academic circles. Momentum towards reaching consensus on aboriginal governance in urban centres has been far less evident.

Moreover, there may be a reluctance on the part of important participants, both governmental and aboriginal, to directly engage in policy debate and development in this arena. This ambivalence has been no less evident since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples released its final report, in which specific attention was paid to self-government in urban settings. Therefore it is very timely and welcome that we are able to share our thoughts and our suggestions for future dialogue with the senate committee's aboriginal governance round table. It is a significant opportunity for Parliament and aboriginal leaders to bring tangible action plans to bear on the wide-ranging recommendations of both the royal commission and the government's initial response in "Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan."

Our goal, in this focus paper that has been provided to you, is to refashion and broaden the dialogue on governance by comparing the directions emerging from two major touchstones of law and political philosophy, that of aboriginal and treaty rights and that of democratic liberalism.

We have also sponsored a discussion on challenges facing aboriginal youth in urban areas. Our partnership with the Law Commission of Canada, of which we are deeply appreciative, will produce a major paper entitled, "Urban Aboriginal Governance: Refashioning the Dialogue and Engaging Youth in Governance." Indeed, the final draft of this work is currently being vetted by both organizations and will go to print some time in the next few weeks. We will be releasing this seminal work in book form the third week in April at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.

That concludes the formal part of our presentation. Thank you for your time and attention. I will now ask for your comments and questions.

Senator St. Germain: You speak of urban governance. Up to now, any governance that has been established has basically been focused on a particular group that identifies itself as an entity. However, in urban settings such as Winnipeg, where I was born and raised, or Vancouver, where I am from, or Saskatchewan, namely Regina, you have an absolute cross-section of aboriginal peoples from various tribes, bands and organizations. When you speak of urban governance, are you speaking of aboriginal people as a whole or do you see this being broken down according to their various groups?

Mr. Helgason: Certainly Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto have had a long history of aboriginal people sitting down together and defining the needs within their living context. It has been, if not a luxury, an advantage to have the friendship centres' code of ethics include a commitment to responding to people irrespective of their arbitrary label. I suggest that, in some cases, what is meaningful to people in urban areas is their ability to participate and have an impact in a collective sense.

I am a First Nations person from a reserve. I live in the city of Winnipeg and I associate collectively with people according to their needs, wishes, aspirations, equity building, and common interest, not according to the lines we are identifying. That is the binding feature. In one of our models, we look at communities of interest that have basic normative ideas about what our values and our standards might be, the way in which relationships are created and authorities are developed. For example, on health, on those other normal functions of government, we are looking at participation that is not based exclusively, as some of those jurisdictions suggest, on quite arbitrary and artificial distinctions between aboriginal people.

The paper discusses one area. We have found, in our discussions with youth in those communities, that that particular model creates a lot of heightened interest. I know some of the older political leaders have been dealing with government in that divided kind of way. We have had the debate that if you are treaty you have more rights than the Metis, who have more rights than the non-status; and the Inuit, if they are lucky, might achieve something in an urban setting. That has had consequences.

I thank our youth for what they do not see. They do not sometimes see those barriers and those artificial limitations; they see a brighter future based on working together and cooperating with each other. Sometimes we do a disservice by playing on those distinctions. We have work to do within the aboriginal community. I am not suggesting we do not. Sometimes we blame government for putting those divide-and-conquer scenarios in place. Certainly there are binding characteristics of aboriginal people that are universal, that cut across the Metis and the Inuit. Recognizing the distinctiveness of each group is an important feature. It is not a melting-pot situation. It is one in which the Cree and the Ojibway in Winnipeg, the predominant groups, very much recognize that they wish to be Cree and Ojibway, but within the context of a community with collective interests in having much better outcomes in education, in health, and certainly in economic development.

Senator St. Germain: I hear what you are saying about the common interest aspect, but we have been charged with developing recommendations on self-governance, and you have to have something to deal with. We have traditionally related this to a land base, a reserve or a First Nation. I see this aspect of common interest, but when you are working in an urban setting, do you not think that assimilation and exploiting the knowledge resource of the peoples you are dealing with are in conflict with what you are basically looking to achieve?

Mr. Helgason: Assimilation seemed to be a policy thrust earlier.

Senator St. Germain: That is correct. If you want to use another expression, Senator Andreychuk suggests "integration with the rest of the community."

Mr. Helgason: I would hope that integration can leave room for the distinctiveness of aboriginal people operating within a certain context. Almost every friendship centre has a craft store. We want customers. We want to integrate into the overall operation of a community, recognizing that we are neighbors, that we are participants and have a role to play within that urban context. In the inner cities of Toronto and Vancouver, and certainly Winnipeg and Regina, aboriginal people are participating not so much in an integrated way, achieving the jobs and the opportunities, but unfortunately in a negative way. We are working hard to change that.

We are not afraid to say that we want to be involved. If that is being integrated, being involved in that kind of impact and change, then I think Canadians are ready to embrace that. There has been a fundamental shift in the last 20 years in the appreciation of Canadians with respect to both the history and the current capacity of aboriginal people to participate on the Canadian stage. I suggest that will be revealed in its best form through friendship centres in urban centres, through cooperation and partnership.

There are three basic principles to our requests. We want recognition, respect in the process, and then at the end of the day, we want responsibility to undertake and to achieve. There are many aboriginal "headstart" programs across the country, most of which are in friendship centres. We see parents participating who, in many cases, are on social assistance. The one thing they are doing in their live is planning that curriculum. It is a requirement of the program that parents be involved in the delivery and the planning. With that opportunity, I know we are raising a generation of young people who will be very different from my mother's generation, who came out of the residential school feeling very much ashamed of their culture.

There are important transformations going on that friendship centres have stimulated for years.

Senator St. Germain: I represented Mission, B.C., as a Member of Parliament before coming here. I see the entire community as one that has its land base just outside of Mission itself; it has its urban community of native people, and they have their friendship centre there. This is understandable and I can see how that can function.

However, especially in the case of the West Coast natives of the area I represent, I do not see how this common interest will override the identity that they want to retain. How does one establish a governance process for that? This is complex. Maybe I am not bright enough to fully understand it, but it seems to me that we can come to these meetings and say that we need urban governance, but can we realistically effect it?

Mr. Helgason: There is no "one size that fits all." Within the national association, there is a principle of local autonomy.

Mr. Marc Maracle, Executive Director, National Association of Friendship Centres: Let us maybe take a step back from that and look at it from the perspective of what friendship centres are and have been doing for 50 years. They have been doing things with an inclusive mandate, but within that context, also respecting the diversity of the community and its interests, whether it is as a nation or as a segment of an aboriginal population. In terms of self-government or self-governance, we are really talking about the provision of programs and services of a certain standard to a constituency. As I see it, friendship centres, for the most part, are a component of self-governance. We are not saying that friendship centres are self-government or self-governance, but we are a significant component.

When you look at a community like Mission, or at the much larger urban areas where you have a much more diverse urban aboriginal population, the real issue that we are currently faced with is the fact that we have an incredibly large aboriginal population that resides in urban areas. Until now, the focus has primarily been directed to land-based issues and peoples.

This is an opportunity to bring forward new thinking and new dialogue. Certainly our biggest responsibility as aboriginal people, whether on or off reserve, or in the north, is to talk to each other. There are relationships, much better expressed than in a national organization, that happen every day at the community level, between band councils, between organizations in the cities, and in those linkages where people come and go and live and breathe.

The bottom line for aboriginal people in the cities is poverty. It is an issue of poverty and survival first, and then an issue of representation. Currently, the political organizations are truly focusing on the issues of representation and numbers, but that is not helping the people who are facing survival issues day in and day out. If you have to worry about staying alive, you do not really have time to care about your rights. You have to live and you have to be healthy before you can contribute.

Mr. Macdonald: I appreciate the importance of the concern about territory or a land base. One of the remarkable things that emerges when one begins to analyze political structures in Canada in non-aboriginal settings is their diversity and complexity. They do not all relate just to land. One can think of, for example, school boards, where you have overlapping school boards, whether it is Protestant or Roman Catholic, in the same territory. We have built remarkably diverse patterns of representation and identity into our own government structures. We do a disservice to the richness of the possibilities and the themes that are evoked there if we ignore them.


If you take Francophones outside Quebec, their communities are largely scattered. They have a government structure. It is not just land-based.


We have to acknowledge to ourselves that we live in a diverse situation. We have to be open and thoughtful and creative in understanding some of the ideas that have been put forward in the paper.

Senator Andreychuk: I want to deal with the urban Canada situation because that is one of the most difficult things to discuss now. Some of the other debates are not difficult in conception, but in implementation. However, this one is also difficult in concept.

On page 18 of your brief you say:

The preferred approach of the Royal Commission for the organization of self-government, regardless of locale, is to re-establish nation-level institutions that transcend former divisions and the effects of assimilation efforts, and see these re-established national organizations reflected in official federal recognition, before proceeding to self-government or similarly significant negotiations.

That seems to be the Law Commission's point of view. Is that also the view of the National Association of Friendship Centres?

If we were to adopt this preferred approach of establishing nation-level institutions, who should establish them? Should it be aboriginal groups alone, and what is the role of the federal government in that? Therefore, in my opinion, it would significantly slow down the process of self-government. To attempt to establish these national institutions and to get that kind of coordination, with or without federal government intrusion in that process, is a formidable task. It seems to me that we would be putting self-government on hold. Our mandate is to make some recommendations on self-government.

If we accepted this, would we recommend that self-government be put on hold until national-level institutions have been established?

Mr. Helgason: I am of mixed ancestry. I am status from Sandy Bay and I am also Icelandic. Nonetheless, sometimes I introduce myself in the context of my aboriginal heritage as being from the Sandy Bay Band, but part of the Ojibway Nation. Coming from Manitoba, I cannot determine why some people see the self-government process as being within a provincial context. There are Cree living all across the north; there are Ojibway who moved to the south. At the end of the day, it seems to me that some of the factors that create a nation, those national aspects of language, shared history, common values, and customary traditions, are the most important aspects with which to begin building a governance system. It is not just because people happen to be located within a provincial boundary that was slapped on as part of the colonial experience.

At a very large gathering in The Pas, the elders said that the Cree have something very important to preserve for our future, in particular, the language and the oral history. The Ojibway are different, as are the Inuit and the Dene and the Dakota. My understanding from the royal commission is that those features are the basis. Just as in good community development work, the people themselves have to define the priorities and important components of what is needed, rather than imposing a situation from some external source.

As the national president, I am not supposed to talk about Winnipeg, but there are more aboriginal people in Winnipeg than there are in all of Atlantic Canada. There is a good opportunity there, as one example of which I am aware, for fashioning something that makes sense and has better outcomes, better participation, and better engagement of people in the regulatory processes. That is what we are talking about in our approach to governance. What are the issues for people? Education is a big one. Maybe we need an education authority approach to governance through which some of those changes can be made. We are suggesting a model, an approach, certainly with the support of the friendship centres.

There are other communities where aboriginal people are the majority and yet are not in governance. There are different kinds of barriers.

Mr. Maracle: I want to speak further to your point about whether or not we are slowing down the whole discussion around self-government. One thing to remember when looking at the urban dynamic, and again at where a majority of the aboriginal population live in this country, is just how overwhelmingly we are politically disenfranchised. We are disenfranchised, for the most part, by the existing political organizations that do make claims about representation. We are politically disenfranchised by the processes of mainstream politics. Much of that is by choice, but some of it is through fear.

From my perspective, and certainly from what we have experienced in terms of the federal government policy, there is an obligation to properly and adequately consult, to engage people who are going to be most directly affected by the decisions and the responsibilities, whether fiduciary or historical or moral, of the federal government to ensure that people have a voice. We have always said that community people must have the right to determine the institutions and the representation that they will access. It is not a question of slowing down the self-government process, but one of doing it right and ensuring that the people have a voice.

Senator St. Germain: In Winnipeg, for example, has anybody ever thought of becoming politically active because of the numbers that you have there?

Helgason: There have been interests and there has been participation. The aboriginal community does not have a great deal of access to resources, but there are a number of us, including myself, who intend to pursue that. I will pursue that following my tenure as president of the National Association of Friendship Centres. I have actually announced my candidacy in the provincial election in Manitoba, so if there are any Manitobans here, I would like to speak to you afterwards.

There is some interest. We have had success at the school board level for some time, although it is not fully representative at this point. Seven per cent of the population of Winnipeg is aboriginal.

Senator Andreychuk: I have some sympathy with the facts of the evolution on both sides. On the one hand, we did not move on a lot of the issues when we should have and we should not have held some of the attitudes that we did. On the other hand, the federal government has now acknowledged certain groupings that are moving toward self-government that will impact on urban life. They are making demands as to what the federal government should or should not do. For example, there are some bands who say, "We are exclusively responsible for our people in urban centres and the resources should flow through us, not through a broader national base."

How do you think you can achieve this, knowing that you are going to get into small "p" politics, the civil organizations. People want to go this route, this route, this route. How are you going to pull this off?

Is it reasonable, therefore, to expect the federal government not to encourage resolution in other formats until you have had an opportunity to do this?

Mr. Helgason: The executive committee of the NAFC, including Stacy, has had an opportunity to sit down with the executive committee of the AFN. We said that we were delighted to see recognition of the status of urban First Nations people and the resolution that come forward. We must ensure that there is an actual consequence to this, that it is not just a promise, that it has effect. We are in those discussions. However, we have to recognize that in the province of Manitoba, for example, there are 6,000 First Nations people who have been reinstated under Bill C-31 but are not band members. I respect the AFN's desire to do that, knowing that the opportunity for new resources is probably in that "marketplace," if you will.

The question was asked before: "Are you trying?" Well, we are trying. We are not sure what we will achieve, but there is nothing solid on the ground now. There are some chiefs, First Nations leaders, who contain all of their interests and all of their resources to the reserve, and if you leave the reserve you are out of luck. That is the reality. I hope they will be as successful as we have been at getting youth involved and developing a new thinking. That day may come, but in the meantime, we will be suffering the effects of poverty and marginalization for a generation to come unless we do something effective now.

Mr. Maracle: In terms of relationship building, Wayne alluded to a relationship that we are attempting to formulate with the Assembly of First Nations as the national body representing First Nations people. They have made the claim to represent both on and off reserve people. However, there is a practical issue. What can they do for urban First Nations people? There is an opportunity for us, as an organization that primarily deals with service delivery, to more effectively support and encourage development of First Nations people in the cities through organizations like friendship centres.

The same type of relationship can be encouraged with Métis organizations, with the Inuit organizations, and we can try, obviously, to look more at the interests of those people who are without status. The federal government has an absolute responsibility to ensure that when they are putting together these forums that affect aboriginal people, that they bring the right stakeholders to the table. That certainly includes friendship centres in the context of a whole range of service delivery issues in economic and community development in urban areas. It also reinforces the last recommendation of the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, in terms of the federal government looking at the establishment of an independent authority or court to help monitor relations and negotiations between aboriginal peoples and all levels of government. That is a practical way to ensure that people will come to the table, put the issues forward, and work toward the common good.

Senator Andreychuk: We have talked about urban situations and about band and land-based situations, but we have not talked about small towns. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, the survival of the small towns is in question. If the resources move out of these small towns, or are not shared, that whole system will be even more vulnerable, and both the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities will feel the impact. I do not see anyone working on that and it is one of those areas that has been left out of our study. We have talked about the Winnipegs, but we have not talked about the smaller towns and their viability, where there are not sufficient numbers of aboriginals or non-aboriginals. We have a very fragile ecosystem. I wonder if anyone is addressing that particular problem.

Mr. Maracle: Aside from the friendship centres located in all the major urban areas, we are also located in those smaller towns and rural locations adjacent to urban areas. The friendship centres probably have a more significant impact there, not only in terms of community development but on the economy. The federal government provides core funding for employment, through which they are able to attract quality people, attract resources from municipal and provincial and territorial governments. They are players in the economy in that context. Certainly there is a need for measured growth for friendship centres. There is a current need for friendship centres in the other communities of which you speak.

Senator Austin: I want to pick up where Mr. Maracle left off. In the focus paper, you describe the different models, but the one that really stands out as having the approval of the urban aboriginal community is the urban communal governance approach. There is not a single low in either of those columns, and most of them are high. I note that in Vancouver's east end, both practicality and desirability are high.

What this tells me, as something of a political animal, is that the consensus building across the country in the urban centres is one of political and economic self-reliance. There are two ways to go from there. One is to look at the continuing system of economic integration that enterprise and participation in the community will bring about, and which I am sure you are hoping to achieve, while retaining the cultural integrity of the aboriginal community.

This approach, which seems to be the politically desired one, will create a new aboriginal community. It will be a multi-tribal community without a serious concern for the land base, although some individuals will still be concerned. Therefore, the question of a political voice will become more important, but so will the relationship to the land-based, status-based community that I was exploring with the previous witness.

If these assumptions are correct, that there will be more and more autonomy developed in the urban aboriginal setting, what fears will be created in the current land-based system? As the urban setting becomes more attractive to aboriginals, there will be a talent drain, since that is where the economic opportunities will be. Are you therefore expecting resistance from the established councils, elected and otherwise, that are land-based governments? Will they agree to a new normative governance structure based on the urban community?

I go to recommendation 3, which is that the Government of Canada create the new normative system. Can we do that without broadly consulting the non-urban aboriginal community?

Mr. Maracle: Dealing with your question of whether or not the existing authorities would accept that, certainly the answer is no. It is important to remember that this entire exercise, whether it is self-governance, self-government, or the provision of programs and services, is about empowering people and allowing them to have a voice in self-determination.

I would not necessarily look at it as economic integration, but as economic participation on the part of anybody, whether on or off reserve. As a First Nations person who has lived on a reserve and also in two major urban centres in this country, I would like to have a choice. I would like to be able to come out into the cities and get education and experience and also have the opportunity to return to my home community and share that knowledge and that growth.

We know that our people have to come off reserve, have to come into the cities for a whole host of reasons, whether it is displacement by choice or displacement simply by consequences and circumstance. We have to ensure that when they come into the cities, there are institutions that support them, that respect their diversity, that keep them whole people and allow them the opportunity to go back to their home communities and contribute. I do not think it should be an issue of necessarily being competitive or fearing that those people are going to be drawn away from those home communities. It definitely comes down to an issue of choice. We have responsibilities as organizations, as aboriginal people, to talk to our elders, to talk to our traditional people, and ensure that our young people are getting the proper orientation and support that they need to make their own decisions.

Senator Austin: I would like to make my comment in the language of the pre-United Nations world and say that the metaphor in my mind is one of urban colonies of aboriginal land systems. Every model variation did exist in the colonial world. Then I bring in that human behaviour. First of all, you have the model of a land-based aboriginal community inside an urban setting. For example, in my city, the Squamish own extremely valuable land in North Vancouver; the Musqueam have some extremely valuable land, and on it goes. Then you will have relatively distant aboriginal land-based communities. Their people might be successful in Vancouver.

There might be cultural reasons why they would want to go back and share, but there are also pressures in our society to stay and continue the progress and attract others. In our discussion, either you or I are blending categories here. I ask myself if the model you suggest is possible. Is it possible to slip from one model to another, and for how long? That is an unresolved debate.

I thank you very much for your answer, which was very clear and significant.

Senator Pearson: I am looking forward very much to reading the brief that we only just received. I am particularly interested in the research project that is in final phases of completion, and which attempts to analyze the obstacles to and opportunities for engaging youth more effectively in urban aboriginal governance.

Ms Hill, I would like to know how you got interested in becoming involved as much as you obviously are. That may be a personal question.

Ms Hill: That is really quite an interesting question. I initially started my involvement with the friendship centre near my home at Six Nations as a summer student. I continued that involvement by participating in different training opportunities that were offered by both the provincial and the national friendship centre organizations.

Then I had the opportunity to attend an annual general meeting of the national association. There are youth forums at those annual meetings, and I attended one. I have been interested for a long time in involvement in activities and initiatives for the betterment of our young people. I have experienced a number of things in my life that I hope and wish the young people of the future do not have to experience.

In attending the youth forum, I sat back and listened a lot and I spoke when I felt the need. In the general assembly, I had the opportunity to speak twice at the microphone before 300 to 400 people. Because of the things that I spoke of and the way in which I spoke, some people took an interest in me. I was approached by members of the existing youth council and asked to run for a position on the council. It took me a few days to decide, because initially I did not want any involvement in something like that, but they were very convincing about the opportunities it would provide, so I agreed. When I spoke to the assembly at the youth forum, I informed them that I had not grown up in an urban community. I do not know what that experience is. I grew up on a reserve and lived there and I plan to return when my schooling is finished. My urban experience is one of leaving my reserve to attend a post-secondary institution.

My interest is in all aboriginal youth, regardless of where they live. That is where my experience comes from. They chose me as vice-president of the youth council and that is where it started. Since then, I have become very involved with national youth initiatives in friendship centres. Thank you for asking.

Senator Pearson: Did your family encourage you as a child? Were you given opportunities as a child to shape your sense of self-confidence?

Ms Hill: No. I come from a dysfunctional family, as many of us do in aboriginal communities.

Senator Pearson: You are a great model, then.

Ms Hill: I came through that on my own but my family is very supportive now.

Senator St. Germain: Looking at these statistics, there are 800,000 North American Indians, Metis, and Inuit. Is it correct that about 350,000 live in urban areas off reserve?

Mr. Helgason: In Ontario there is a greater proportion of aboriginal people living off reserve. The government recognizes that at least 65 per cent of aboriginal people do not live on a reserve.

Senator St. Germain: So all our self-government focus is basically on the 35 per cent. Mr. Chairman, I rest my case.

Mr. Helgason: I believe you have a self-government focus that includes all people and on-reserve First Nation is one component.


Senator Gill: Something troubles me. Why is it that we always have this tendency to categorize Aboriginal people as Metis, status or not status Indians, urban or living on the reserve, et cetera.

Is it the result of the Indian Act or is it that, because of the marginalization of some Indian groups that are more isolated, we have decided to create groups that will progress more rapidly on the economic level?

If I look at the recommendations from our previous witnesses, everybody would like to be recognized, probably on a basis quite similar to the Indian Act. The process being not fast enough or efficient enough, there seems to be this categorization. I wish to have your comments on that.


Mr. Maracle: I believe you are absolutely right. The Indian Act is probably the single largest contributing factor to this categorization of aboriginal people. What comes with that is the different levels of rights that aboriginal people enjoy. You must also recognize that it is human nature to be competitive. We can be discriminatory, or for lack of a better word, racist, against other nations as well. Certainly the Indian Act is the largest contributing factor to that.

Senator Gill: It is quite easy to fight over poverty. People try to share what they have, but if you have nothing, it is difficult to share. Perhaps that is why we see so many groups divided, as I mentioned at the beginning.

Mr. Maracle: As an impoverished people, whether on the reserve or off the reserve or in the north, we have consistently demonstrated over our history that we have the best ability to share in the world.

Senator Gill: Share what?

Mr. Maracle: Sometimes it is nothing, but we still share.

Mr. Helgason: The Indian Act has been a strong feature in this, but I will make a case for the resiliency of aboriginal people. Image the community I came from as a very young child where all the decisions were made for you. Your child is sent to residential school; there is no choice. My mother's own experience was of residential school 50 weeks of the year, and this occurred for successive generations. Aboriginal people were allowed to vote in 1961. Under the Indian Act, they are now reinstating some aboriginal people but not others. If you went to war, you lost. It is surprising to some extent. People were punished in gaols, and traditional artifacts were taken. Certain ceremonies were outlawed. The resiliency that has been established within the culture, the fact that the languages still exist and that the cultures and traditions are now being revisited and relearned from our old people, is amazing. There is incredible potential and resiliency within aboriginal people in view of those circumstances.

I believe the sharing aspect is part of that. We do not hold any meetings at the National Association of Friendship Centres without elders being present. Their role is not to participate in the debate, unless they want to, but to guide us in what we are doing, how we are thinking and feeling, and in our orientation. It is very helpful at times, when you get into your own mindset, to hear a different view.

I appreciate the question, and that division is unfortunate, but sometimes it helps us focus on issues of children, health, and community circumstances, and we start talking about those things. That community was very different 45 years ago, and it is trying to work towards something. It needs to build that social capital, the roles for people, the shared norms, the trust, the interconnections by which we look after each other.

Government and institutions often take that away from you. They say, "We will make the decisions. You just do what you are supposed to do." I hope that in Canada in the new millennium we will look at community, empowerment, involvement, attachment, and citizen engagement. No community will benefit more than the aboriginal community, to the overall benefit of Canadian society.

Senator Gill: Suppose that we had an institution composed of different representatives from different groups that had the responsibility for determining and establishing citizenship regulations. Do you see that as a possible way of establishing a group that recognizes and feels good about who they are and who they want to be? It could be something established by the Indians themselves. In this country, everyone knows that the citizenship of Indian people as registered and non-registered, was established by someone else under the Indian Act. If we had that determined and organized by our own people, what would be the result?

Mr. Helgason: I believe forums have been most productive when they have been as inclusive as possible. When every component of the aboriginal community, including the urban and the non-status, is included and accorded the three Rs of respect, recognition, and responsibility, they can come to agreements and principles that help to guide and further determine what mechanisms are required.

I believe there is some merit to that kind of consideration. I believe I know what you are getting at. You mean an over-arching body with opportunity there for different groups to be validated and challenged. A good debate is not necessarily a bad thing, since learning takes place. We have listened to Douglas Cardinal, the architect, and he said that sometimes you learn mostly from those who disagree with you. Ultimately, they are as much your teachers as anyone.

Mr. Macdonald: It is amazing how much commonality one finds when addressing problems or issues. If health is an issue, people do not immediately say, you are status or not. It is the same if the issue is education or social services. Research shows the importance of thinking through governance by first addressing, not the abstract questions of who are you, but the services and needs that should be addressed. I believe the friendship centres have been an incredible model of effective work in that regard, and totally inclusive.

The Chairman: Let us assume for a minute that the Government of Canada is willing to acknowledge that something must happen in terms of accommodating the urban community. It seems to be growing at an alarming rate and is beginning to have some economic or social impact, for example, in Winnipeg.

The friendship centre is addressing this area and attempting to build something better than what exists today by providing a voice, and at the same time, establishing necessary infrastructure for delivery of programs. At this point, we cannot really talk about the land base because they are in the city, or some of them are adjacent to the city in smaller communities.

Would the friendship centre be inclined, if the Government of Canada made it possible, to use its institution as a tool to negotiate on behalf of those people? Is this your intention? If it is, are you planning to become the successor of the negotiations in terms of taking that responsibility, using the friendship centre as a tool to make things happen? If a type of governing structure needs to be put in place, would it be the voice and also have the responsibility of delivery to those people in the urban community?

Mr. Maracle: We negotiate now for programs and services on behalf of a constituency. From a national perspective, the National Association of Friendship Centres represents 115 friendship centres and 7 provincial and territorial organizations, primarily in the area of service delivery. Friendship centres at the local level have a constituency, and they have an inclusive mandate, with annual general meetings. The general community, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, is permitted to participate in that process and express, as a community, what programs and services or areas of activity it would like to see that friendship centre involved in. People can be a volunteers, they can be clients of the friendship centre, or they can be part of the governing structure. In terms of what happens subsequently in what a friendship centre does, quite often the friendship centres have been incubators for a whole range of other organizations, such as housing cooperatives and women's organizations. There is no end to the number of entities that exist in terms of other aboriginal institutions and groups that have literally spun off from friendship centres, and vice versa, in terms of other people becoming involved at the community level, simply saying, "We wish to start a friendship centre." We like that model.

Our approach to the issue of self-government is to be a conduit. If a friendship centre can only provide a meeting place for the community to talk about its vision for itself, then it is doing its job.

The Chairman: Then I should understand from your presentation that you are not trying to claim something for the organization that you represent, but that you are trying to gain a beneficial, workable solution and provide a voice for your people.

Mr. Maracle: We still live and breathe our mandate, which is to improve the quality of life for aboriginal people in urban areas and facilitate equal access. Friendship centres, not necessarily by choice, are being pushed into a much more representative role. Whether you wish to call it a political role or not, that is the reality, because there is a political disconnection, in terms of representation, encountered by many urban aboriginal people. It is more evident in the larger urban areas.

Generations of urban aboriginal people have had no connection with their home communities. They know nothing other than the urban community. Quite often, the friendship centre is a little piece of the reserve in the middle of the city. That is precisely how many aboriginal people regard their friendship centres.

The Chairman: I want to be clear on how I should understand your recommendations. Am I correct in concluding from your presentation that friendship centres are trying to spark discussions within the aboriginal community, regardless of where they might be?

Mr. Maracle: That is a safe assumption.

The Chairman: Is it correct to say that you are not married to your proposals, but that those are the elements that must be taken into account if there is to be progress in the future?

Mr. Maracle: There must be active promotion of more open dialogue by all parties. The issue of urban governance has not been given an adequate forum. We must bring people to the table to discuss self-determination and what is appropriate for them as individuals, families, and communities.

Mr. Helgason: People cannot be blamed for not participating if they do not know how they can become involved.We have had a dialogue series on the royal commission, which is part of our function.

Going back to fundraising, there are bingos in most friendship centres for that purpose, but they are also social events. To a large extent, our function is to disseminate information. There must be much more contemplation of this issue, as it may seriously affect the future of aboriginal people in urban areas.

The Chairman: Therefore, you are moving in the direction of cooperation rather than building up tensions within the aboriginal community. The basis of my comment is my concern about why you are dealing with the interests groups, which are not the political organizations. I believe you know where I am coming from.

Mr. Helgason: On the other side of that coin, is it appropriate for political organizations to develop exclusive service delivery?

The Chairman: That is one the reasons I asked my question.

Ms Hill: In my opening remarks, I commented on the importance of engaging youth in discussions of governance and self-government. I wish to stress again that it is very important to get those views. I suggest that perhaps some best practices could be put together and that we could look at existing youth involvement in a number of sectors and organizations. I believe that the NAFC Aboriginal Youth Council is a fine example of how to engage youth in a discussion of governance structures. We would be very happy to provide information on best practices. It is important to look at the involvement of youth in a number of areas: decision making, policy making, program development and implementation, as well as financial considerations. The NAFC Aboriginal Youth Council is involved in all of those areas as well as in leadership.

That is some food for thought. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to appear before you.

The Chairman: Thank you for your excellent presentation.

The committee adjourned.

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