THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 9, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:45 p.m. to study the new relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
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 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 honour and privilege of chairing the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. I will now invite my fellow senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas, Alberta.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Patterson, Nunavut.
Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland.
Senator Christmas: Dan Christmas, Nova Scotia.
Senator McCallum: Mary Jane McCallum, Manitoba.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate, Ontario.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Senator Lovelace, New Brunswick.
The Chair: Before we begin with our witnesses, senators, you have before you a budget to consider for funds to hold our annual indigenize the Senate event on June 6. Have a look at it, please, to see if you have questions regarding it.
Senator Pate: Do you need a motion?
The Chair: Yes. Is it agreed that the special budget application -- study on a new relationship between Canada and First Nations, Metis and Inuit people -- for $1,900 for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, be approved for submission to the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration following a final review by the Senate administration that will be overseen by the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: That is agreed.
Tonight, we continue our study on what a new relationship between the Government of Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada could look like. We continue looking forward at the principles of a new relationship.
We are happy to welcome Francyne Joe, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada; Veronica Rudyk, Policy Adviser of the Native Women’s Association of Canada; and Christopher Sheppard, President of the National Association of Friendship Centres.
Ms. Joe, you have the floor. Then we will have a presentation by Mr. Sheppard, followed by questions from the senators.
Francyne Joe, President, Native Women’s Association of Canada: Madam Chair, committee members, distinguished witnesses and guests, I am Francyne Joe, President, Native Women’s Association of Canada, and next to me is Veronica Rudyk, Policy Adviser, Native Women’s Association of Canada.
I acknowledge that we gather today on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg, with special acknowledgement to the women and their families for whom NWAC exists.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to contribute to the study of the new relationship between Canada, First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. This study is historic as it reflects this government’s commitment to a genuinely new relationship with Indigenous peoples.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada is a long-standing advocate of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people. We work to preserve Indigenous culture, achieve equality for Indigenous women, and develop and change legislation that affects women, girls and gender-diverse peoples as well as their communities.
We are here to discuss the central principles of this new relationship. The main component of this framework creates a nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and three national Indigenous organizations through a permanent bilateral mechanism. This table is meant to discuss the issues affecting Indigenous peoples today from coast to coast to coast.
As it currently stands, the nation-to-nation approach is derived from the long-standing practice for the federal government to include NIOs in discussions about the issues concerning Indigenous peoples. However, by prioritizing race over other distinctions such as gender, the government has created a hierarchy that largely excludes NWAC from negotiations and partnership. We believe that as chosen representatives of Indigenous women we need to be active participants in any decision-making that could affect Indigenous women, girls, gender-diverse peoples, and their communities. It is particularly important for a feminist government to respect and hear the voices of all Indigenous women.
The way the current framework is structured, gender issues are treated separately from housing, employment, health, community safety, policing, child welfare and education. In reality, gender intersects with all of these issues and a gender lens must be applied to analyze these issues.
In terms of recommendations, we must stress that inclusivity should be a top priority when the Government of Canada is forming partnerships with NIOs. Our collective voices must be heard and taken into account when making policy decisions and creating legislation. This is particularly true for issues related to the environment which affect us all.
Historically, we as Indigenous women have had important roles as stewards of the land and water. As well, we have been vital to the development and attainment of sustainability environments. These practices have built communities where children grow up with a strong identification and relationship with the environment and are in relation to the land.
By supporting the inclusion of ancestral knowledge and Indigenous people’s effective participation in environmental protection and climate change programs, a more comprehensive and meaningful approach will be ensured. To support this, there is a need for clear, cross-jurisdictional guidelines for the maintenance and protection of Indigenous hunting, fishing, logging and land rights.
The importance of including us as Indigenous women must not continue to be overlooked. Including an active voice from Indigenous women allows to us take our inherent place in moving toward Indigenous self-determination. Processes must be developed and recognized to ensure the unique, important and integral roles Indigenous women have provided and continue to provide in Indigenous government.
Funding is necessary for Indigenous nations to provide job security and education for community members. Investing in Indigenous nations and communities means investing in women and vice versa.
We should note that the importance of priorities differs from community to community as well as among First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. Our diversity and unique distinctions must be respected throughout our full inclusion in the development, implementation and evaluation of all action plans and future processes. Indigenous women will then have the political space and opportunity to balance discussions and reclaim our traditional governing roles.
An enormous issue regarding the safety and well-being of Indigenous women is housing. Socio-economic disadvantages facing Indigenous women and girls regularly impact housing, leaving many Indigenous women and girls in precarious housing situations. Women and girls are more susceptible to poverty and financial dependence and thus are more likely to end up missing, murdered, trafficked or targets of racialized violence.
Closing the education gap for Indigenous women will broaden our opportunities and provide the tools needed to succeed and be self-reliant. Quality education is an essential human right. There is relative importance on the success in education and training linked to living conditions. Appropriate housing, good health and the ability to meet physical, financial and social needs are critical. We need to build a curriculum that accurately reflects Indigenous history in Canada. This can be done through the collaborative work of the federal, provincial and territorial governments and the inclusion of Indigenous authorities.
Finally, numerous studies, including the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, have confirmed that one of the leading causes of violence against Indigenous women is their exclusion from decision-making tables. Thus, the Native Women’s Association of Canada is seeking a renewed relationship with the federal government to provide a gender lens to the federal government’s policy development and to finally fulfill RCAP’S Calls to Action. A decision-making framework inclusive of NWAC and Indigenous women from coast to coast to coast is a move toward achieving our policy goals, reducing violence against Indigenous women, and ultimate reconciliation.
Including women in the decision-making that affects our lives allows for evidence-based policy decisions and produces a better socio-economic outcome that provides for a safer home. When women are made to feel safer, communities are made stronger. The well-being and advancement of all Indigenous peoples rest largely on the strength and safety of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people. For these reasons, we must emphasize the inclusion of Indigenous women in the nation-to-nation framework and at all forums that impact Indigenous women’s lives.
Kukstemc, meegwetch and thank you for your time.
Christopher Sheppard, President, National Association of Friendship Centres: I would like to begin by acknowledging the Algonquin territory whose unceded land we are meeting on today.
I want to thank you, Madam Chair and members for the committee, for the opportunity to visit with all of you to discuss the new relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Metis people on behalf of the National Association of Friendship Centres.
My name is Christopher Sheppard, I am an Inuk from Nunatsiavut. I now live and work in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. I grew up in the Friendship Centre Movement, beginning at the age of 19 on our youth council, and I am now President of the NAFC.
With our time together I would like to give you a brief overview of the NAFC, the urban Indigenous population and the new relationship between Canada, First Nations, Inuit and Metis people of Canada, and to answer any questions you may have to the best of my ability.
According to the 2016 census, more than 1.6 million people identified as Aboriginal. Of these, more than one million people or 61.1 per cent lived in one of Canada’s cities. This number is up from approximately 623,000 in 2006, meaning that the urban Indigenous population has increased by more than 60 per cent in just 10 years.
Furthermore, the Indigenous youth population, including those who live in the city, are among the fastest growing population in Canada. As the general population is aging with many baby boomers set to retire in the very near future, young Indigenous people are increasing expected to play a vital role in ensuring Canada’s future economic growth.
Many of today’s Indigenous people migrate to urban centres from reserves and northern or remote communities for a number of reasons, including but not limited to employment, education and improved quality of life, while others represent the second, third and even the fourth generation of urban Indigenous people who have only ever known life in the city.
Unfortunately, we as urban Indigenous people face multiple challenges. We experience racism and discrimination. We are more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed or underemployed, and suffer homelessness, experience violence and be affected by the criminal justice system.
Overcoming these challenges can be a complicated and arduous process, one that requires various levels of support, and sometimes this support must be individualized to ensure that people are met where they are. This is the role of the Friendship Centre Movement. Urban Indigenous migration has been happening since the inception of friendship centres. This is not a new concept, nor a new reality for friendship centres or the NAFC.
As data proves, the urban Indigenous community continues to grow. Now is the time to recognize the impact of an inequitable distribution of resources based on population data and an identified need. To be clear, the resourcing has never been adequate to properly support Indigenous people regardless of where they live, and in a distinctions-based approach urban Indigenous people are oftentimes invisible.
As a status-blind organization from the very beginning, friendship centres have been community-driven, grassroots organizations guided by volunteers in the community at every level and serve everyone, whether they be First Nations, Inuit or Metis. They serve as sites of reconciliation and play a vital role in the broader community by bridging a cultural divide.
In 2015, friendship centres saw over 2.3 million client contacts, and they provided over 1,800 different programs and services in the areas of health, housing, education, recreation, language, justice, employment, economic development, culture and community wellness. Friendship centres are known for meeting people where they are and for creating much-needed support structures that help people move forward in their healing journeys. They transform lives, families and communities.
While this has enabled friendship centres to be responsive to community needs, in the current distinctions-based, nation-to-nation atmosphere our organizations have been left out of many important conversations around the new this relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Metis people across this country.
As we all move through this new approach to working with Indigenous people, what has become clear is that any previous challenges in friendship centres receiving support and being engaged in core areas will be compounded by friendship centres not being included in the more complex discussions about nations. For example, the Government of Canada announced the development of what it calls its Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework and, as a result, the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs has recently begun its consultation process regarding the framework.
In the past, the NAFC would have been invited to participate in such a consultation process. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. The NAFC has not received an invitation to participate in what the department has deemed an invitation-only process. Moreover, the new Urban Programming for Indigenous Peoples or UPIP, which the NAFC administers to friendship centres on behalf of the department, does not provide salary dollars to ensure that we can engage in processes such as this one.
Funds associated with UPIP can only be spent on activities directly related to the administration of the program. This means that work, such as proposal development, partnership development and preparing presentations such as the one I am doing right now, must be done off the sides of our desks by staff who are paid through project dollars that we can mesh together.
We remain hopeful that this will change, as we have a long-awaited meeting with Minister Bennett. We hope that we will be able to access funds to ensure that the urban Indigenous populations can be meaningfully engaged in the process that is currently underway.
Any changes and decisions made as a part of this rights recognition framework, and particularly a distinctions-based approach, could have real impacts in the lives of Indigenous peoples in terms of access to equitable services. This is why Indigenous service providers in urban areas like the Friendship Centre Movement need to be included in this current engagement process.
The reason why the NAFC is here before you today is to ensure the legacy the Friendship Centre Movement has established is not lost in the shuffle as this new nation-to-nation landscape continues to emerge.
For a minute, I would like you to imagine a family of four who has just moved to Ottawa from Halifax. One of the parents is Mi’kmaq and is registered under section 6(2) of the Indian Act, and the other parent is non-Indigenous. As a result, neither child is eligible to be registered. As they are new to the city, they are in need of support to successfully start a new life. They need to find housing. Their kids need to be registered for school. They need furniture, and one of the parents needs to find a job.
Where does this family access services? Would the Mi’kmaq Nation have a service delivery infrastructure in Ottawa? If they did, would this mean that every nation would have a similar program and service infrastructure, or would this family access services through the Algonquin Nation? If this were the case, then it really wouldn’t be distinctions based at all.
Who would pay for these services? Would the Algonquin Nation have to absorb the costs even though it likely doesn’t have the financial resources to meet the needs of its own citizens, or would it bill it back to the Mi’kmaq Nation? If this were the case, then the costs of administering programs and services would rise exponentially, leaving fewer resources for actual programs and services.
Another question that would need to be asked is: Who in this family would even be eligible to access programs and services? After all, only one member is registered under the Indian Act. Again, would the Algonquin Nation be able to meet the needs of the entire family when they are likely struggling to meet the needs of their own people?
I’ll leave you with one final example from a friendship centre that shows the opportunity to avoid some of the above complexities when working with friendship centres, and then I’ll follow with my few recommendations.
An Indigenous woman arrives at a friendship centre, escaping a violent relationship. She isn’t from that province. Her wish is to go back to her home province to be with her family. What nation she belongs to is of no concern to the friendship centre, only her safety, and therefore preparations are made to ensure she can get home safely to her family. Connections were made with the friendship centre in the destination city to have someone there when she arrived until she could be picked up by her family.
This is the strength of friendship centres in practice and only one of many examples of how the status-blind approach truly supports people on the ground.
My recommendations are as follows:
1. That the federal government provide an adequate level of support to friendship centres so they can continue to serve as hubs for urban Indigenous communities;
2. That the federal government provide the NAFC and its provincial and territorial associations with the financial support necessary to ensure that they can work to inform policies that affect those whom they serve;
3. That the federal government provide the NAFC and its provincial and territorial associations with adequate funding support to ensure that Indigenous people who live in urban centres have the opportunity to be engaged in discussions concerning their futures; and
4. That the Government of Canada engage with friendship centres and their communities on issues that affect them within the nation-to-nation context.
Senator Tannas: I was looking forward to this meeting for many reasons, one of which is that I want to talk about the urban experience and how you see that developing in the future.
Both of you have alluded to it, but we are trying to understand in order to bring some good, positive suggestions and potentially even try to implement some things or get some things going. We are trying to understand what perfect looks like.
If we fast forward 50 years, and if all proud Canadians were talking about the wonderful, enormous success we now enjoy with Indigenous Canadians, how would we describe it? We certainly are getting pretty good at describing how lousy it is now, but in order for us to steer to this destination we to understand very clearly what we’re trying to achieve. One question for me that you could perhaps speak to is: What is the ideal relationship of an Indigenous person who does not live in their community, their culture and their way?
I really want to understand it. As you were talking, Mr. Sheppard, about funding and so on, maybe you could tie that back. If the funding for your efforts in urban environments came through the traditional Indigenous governments so that the federal government funds the Indigenous government and they decide how much money you get, would you be better off or worse off? How would that work? Would that be how you would see yourself being funded in a true nation-to-nation relationship, or would there be a nation in the community and a subnation in the city? Now we’re talking about 1,200 different nations instead of 600.
These are the questions, as a dumb old Canadian, I would like to explore. I do not mean to be a smart aleck. We have to get this clear. To me, one of the biggest questions is: How do you see the interaction between urban Indigenous people in a perfect setting 50 years from now, those who are in communities, and Indigenous governments that somehow interact with both?
Sorry for such a long question.
Mr. Sheppard: It’s okay. I am used to challenging questions. I’ll answer your question with not exactly an answer but I guess an explanation.
For us, someone’s nation doesn’t mean much because it’s about what they need in that moment. Whether I am Inuit or someone is First Nations, and whether they are Mohawk or Mi’kmaq, it makes no difference to me. We take people’s cultural distinctiveness into account, but we are told all the time, whether it is something I hear at committees here or at other places on the Hill, that we do great work. Friendship centres do amazing work, and we have been doing this work for 60 years.
Why is it so hard to recognize that work and the fact we have a structure that has worked for 60 years? It’s just the level of support has not been there, especially considering population data. The nation-to-nation relationship for urban people is very personal. My nation-to-nation relationship is a very personal one that also depends on what generation you are.
When I ask people who live in urban centres what community they are from, I am reminded of the young woman in Halifax who tells me every time, “I am not from a reserve. I am from Halifax. I am not from that community. I am not from that nation. I have no connection. I am a Mi’kmaq women, and I am from Halifax.” She is third generation urban with no connection to the home community. It is cultural, but it’s a personal question to ask an urban person. We support whatever connection they want to their community and whatever cultural connection they want. Our job is to make sure that they get the services and programs they need. In reality for us, whatever mechanism is least challenging and provides longer term stability is the one I would go with.
At the end of the day, do I think that friendship centres across the country are ready to be funded by First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities? No. Do I think that those communities are also ready to administer that money? No. What I do know is that there has been a relationship between Canada and friendship centres for 60 years that has been wildly successful. If you look at the success that has come with the work we’ve done, that’s what really needs to be focused on, not necessarily the funding structures. The resourcing really needs to be looked at.
We talked around 61.1 per cent of all Indigenous people living in cities, but we don’t see resourcing anywhere near that. Those are the challenging questions for politicians. It’s challenging for me to say so in real life because you don’t want it to affect our partners and our other organizations, but in reality 61.1 per cent of all Indigenous people live in cities. They do not live on reserves, in northern communities or in Metis settlements but in cities. We have to get very comfortable talking about it, and we don’t talk about it.
Senator Tannas: Bingo. Do you have any advice for us on how to crack this nut? To me, this is one of the more difficult things about getting to nation to nation. You just talked about 61 per cent of the people who want their own version of that nation. How do we do it?
Mr. Sheppard: For me, you make sure that resourcing is appropriate. There are communities that don’t have clean water. There are urban people with no house. For the most part friendship centres don’t have access to housing dollars. We can’t support people who need housing in urban communities. In the same way a reserve community may not have access to clean water.
Some of these nation-to-nation questions will take a very long time to figure out, but I think the main piece is making sure enough people are at the table to talk about what that means. For example, friendship centres haven’t had an opportunity to even sit at the table and be engaged in what that means to them. This is our first even real engagement on what nation to nation means.
To me, if people really want to know what that means for urban people, there needs to be an honest effort to talk to people who live in those spaces.
Ms. Joe: As my colleague was saying, resources or funding is always very key to all projects we are seeking to provide for both those who live in our home communities and those who live off in the urban centres. We need to collaborate with those resources because at some point you have people who leave their home areas to come to the urban centres. They should feel comfortable going back home.
Then there are those who grew up in urban centres. They want to learn about their history. They want to help. We need to work in a collaborative relationship with the urban centres and the remote centres in our homes.
My son is currently working in Vancouver, B.C., for the summer. It makes me feel better to know there are some resources, at least for him, if he needs some assistance. It also pleases me to know that he is lucky that his home in Merritt, B.C., is only three hours away and he’s welcome in both communities. That’s not always the way it is, obviously, for some of our people who live in the northern communities or the very remote communities.
I don’t want to fight over a dollar. I want to work with the other organizations to ensure we are supporting all of our Indigenous peoples.
Senator Raine: I have seen you a few times before, and it’s always good to see you back.
I’d like to start, if I might, with Francyne Joe. You said NWAC represents the chosen representatives of women. How does your structure work in terms of your membership? If you could explain that, it would be helpful.
Ms. Joe: Thank you, senator. It’s great to see you also.
Since 1974, the Native Women’s Association of Canada has had membership in every province and in two of the territories. We have collaboration with Nunavut and with Pauktuutit. Our funding, however, only allows us to basically fund our head office. Our provincial membership is run by volunteers. These are women who are quite often working around kitchen tables, in community centres, in band offices or in friendship centres trying to pull together the resources they recognize their Indigenous women need. We also have the territorials, Yukon and Northwest Territories.
We are looking to seek funding so that they can at least hire an assistant of some sort to do some of the research, to do some of the work and to write proposals. At this time our core funding is only meant for our head office. Up until last year, our core funding was $600,000. We just reached $1 million last August.
Senator Raine: I looked at your website. You have about 45 staff, but those are all kinds of staff: part time, full time or whatever.
Ms. Joe: When I started with the Native Women’s Association almost two years ago we had 10 staff. Because we were smart enough to hire two proposal writers, we have written well over 50 proposals, and we have now increased our staff between 45 and 50.
Senator Raine: NWAC is sort of a representative organization to get the viewpoint of the needs of Indigenous women and to advocate for them, but you don’t actually deliver any services per se.
Ms. Joe: First, our membership is open to First Nations, Metis and Inuit, and also to those in the LGBTQ2S who identify as women.
The only national program that we provide on a regular basis is our assets program, and that provides training dollars and limited wage subsidy dollars.
Senator Raine: Mr. Sheppard, I am very familiar with the friendship centres. They are the most amazing service delivery organization in Canada, bar none. I congratulate the organization for what you are able to do, basically by working miracles.
I can see where investing in the organization would help, especially with the migration from home communities to the urban centres. We want to look ahead to the future, recognizing that people who are free to move to where they can have the best opportunities for their talents. Hopefully they will still be connected to their homeland. What do you envision as the ideal situation for the support network you could provide to them in the cities?
Mr. Sheppard: One of the interesting things about friendship centres is a lot of us say we service the urban Indigenous community. That community is wildly in flux a lot of the time. You have friendship centres that actually sometimes provide services to people who are only in a place temporarily for medical, transportation or housing services, or whether they are in a city for a short period of time for other reasons.
Having the flexibility of being a safe place for people regardless of how long someone is in a community is a huge pillar for us. Our staff at a lot of friendship centres are from that area. I am from nowhere near St. John’s, but that’s where I live and work, and I happen to live and work at a friendship centre for my actual job.
If someone really wants an opportunity to engage in their culture, whatever that looks like, it’s something that we really push. For a lot of cities and urban people, friendship centres have been a cultural revitalization space and a place to video chat with your family, call your family or check in with your community.
People don’t often understand the unique relationship that a lot of friendship centres have with Indigenous communities around them because their people or their members are accessing our services. They need to have unique relationships with a lot of the communities around them.
For me, the ideal situation would be to make that transition a bit easier. If someone moves to the city, sometimes you no longer have access to employment and training dollars. I have to ship you back to your home community, even if you don’t want to live there. You may not have access to education dollars. Again, if you want to access education, first you have to move back home. Then maybe you’ll get some money for education, and you can move back to the city to access it.
Sometimes there isn’t the same level of access in urban centres, so there isn’t an easy transition or fluid process between one and the other. Anything that could make that transition easier would make people a bit more comfortable, regardless of where they ended up living.
Senator Raine: If there are training dollars attached to First Nations communities, for example, you’re saying that somebody living in an urban centre and still a citizen of that community should be able to access it without moving home.
Mr. Sheppard: Yes, or provide the same level of support to an urban organization. There are examples of that already. There are certain provinces that already do that, but not every province is the same. There are provinces where, if you’re urban, you have no access to assets unless you move home. There are communities where you don’t have to move home and you can access it from a third party. It’s actually looking at what the landscape looks like for a person and recognizing that it’s not all created equal, not even within the provinces. Until that stuff gets evened out, it makes it very challenging even if I move to a different province.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: My first question is for Mr. Sheppard. What would self-determination look like to you in an urban area?
Mr. Sheppard: We see it every day: people who have made the decision to be in an urban community and who access the services that they choose and that they can access. I work in a friendship centre, so I oftentimes find it challenging to put my mind in a space where it’s like you have to fit into a box that people think exists.
I don’t care where you come from. I don’t care what community you’re from. I will do whatever it takes to help you. To me, that is self-determination. I don’t ask for your status card. I don’t ask to know where you’re from. If you need daycare or whatever, I will do whatever it takes.
Because my mind doesn’t work in the way of okay, you have to go to this place for this or you can only get this from this, I see self-determination every day. Maybe it is not in the ability of people to access what they need, but in how we’re able to provide what we can. They’ve made those decisions. They choose to live where they live, and we have the luxury of providing the service regardless of where they come from.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Thank you for your answer. I know that you do good work because I have accessed friendship centres before.
My question is for Ms. Joe. Do you think all provinces should be included in a nation-to-nation relationship?
Ms. Joe: That’s a good question. Do I think provinces should be included?
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Should it be tripartite or just federal and First Nations people?
Ms. Joe: My foremost request would be that our many nations across the country need to be recognized as equals by the federal government and, if they decide, with the provincial governments. We need to have equal voices.
There are partnerships between a tripartite relationship that could be effective in developing better relationships and better reconciliation in this country.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Even though the government is responsible for us.
Ms. Joe: I do think the government has a majority of our responsibility. In my two years now in this role, I’ve gone to a few meetings with the federal and provincial governments. I have to admit that some of the provincial governments seem to be more willing to work with the Native Women’s Association of Canada than the federal government. If that moves Indigenous women’s voices forward, then I am all for it.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: That’s a first. Thank you.
Are you usually consulted on what has been happening in the past few years on a regular basis on issues concerning First Nations?
Ms. Joe: Is that for both of us?
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Yes, if you both have answers.
Ms. Joe: The role has definitely changed on consultation with the change in government. However, the Native Women’s Association of Canada has not been invited to all the meetings, to all the tables, but we continue to persevere.
Mr. Sheppard: It depends on what meeting and what consultation process. There’s definitely a hierarchy. Sometimes we’re engaged toward the end. Sometimes we’re engaged knowing full well that we may not be included. Sometimes we’re engaged at the beginning, before anything else happens, as equal partners with everyone.
It really depends on the department and the realities of that department. For example, ESDC, Health Canada and Corrections are all different, but not at the level they really should be and definitely not around what this means for urban people.
The Chair: Could I ask you a question? I think you said ESDC in your answer. Could you explain what that is?
Mr. Sheppard: Employment and Social Development Canada. My acronym usage is slipping.
Senator Patterson: It is very important for us to deal with the phenomenon of urbanization that you spoke of, Mr. Sheppard. I want to mention that it is certainly happening with Inuit in Canada, but we don’t have a way of nailing down the numbers very well. I have heard some estimates from organizations that provide support to Inuit in Ottawa that there could be up to 8,000 Inuit in Ottawa. That would make Ottawa one of the largest Inuit communities in Canada if that’s true.
I mention that because I was amazed by your number that 61 per cent of Aboriginal people now live in cities. I am not at all questioning that, but I believe Statistics Canada counts urban Indigenous people in a certain way. I understand they gather statistics on Indigenous people living in a metropolitan area of at least 30,000 people. According to the 2016 census their number is 51.8 per cent, but you have given us a number of 61 per cent, which is even more dramatic.
Could you explain how you got that number? I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you used different metrics than Statistics Canada.
Mr. Sheppard: In the previous census the way the data was collected was different. This was the first year they used a metropolitan area with a population of 30,000. Because we wanted to keep it more in line with how it was viewed historically, we looked at how it was collected in the previous census and then actually had that reconfirmed. I’ll double-check with my office because we actually sent it back to have it confirmed with Statistics Canada. When we use the same sort of methods as the previous census in 2016, I believe that number came up because it has changed.
How many communities do you know of in this country where there are 25,000 people who are still considered urban? Even in our funding through the department, the threshold is not 30,000 for urban. We wanted to make sure that we were as accurate as possible with our history and even how we are funded.
Urban, in our historical context, has been more than 1,000 people even with the department, not 30,000 people. I’ll make sure that our office reaches out to the committee with exactly how we did it, but we wanted to make sure when we longitudinally looked at our data that we were doing the same thing. The 30,000 threshold is new to be considered urban. That’s why there is a discrepancy. I’ll make sure that our actual metrics are sent to the committee.
Senator Patterson: I was going to ask you if you would do that. That’s very helpful. You talked about, Mr. Sheppard, inequitable distribution of resources and how resources have never been adequate. I too would like to join my colleagues in saying how valuable I think the work of friendship centres is.
Could you give the committee an idea of where the national association is with respect to funding and how the support for friendship centres in Canada is going currently? I know the resources are not adequate, but could you give us an idea of what they are?
Mr. Sheppard: The lowest amount that an average friendship centre would receive a year to exist is $120,000. There is a range, depending on the size of your community and what your provincial association decides. That’s to exist, your organizational capacity funding as it’s now called. We don’t say core funding these days.
Historically that hasn’t changed. If you take into consideration other sources of funding that were specific to friendship centres in history, we are actually worse off than we were historically. For example, for a very long time there was dedicated youth funding for every friendship centre. It allowed you to make sure that you had a safe space for your young people, that you have programming for young people, and that it was always there. That does not exist any more.
I make pretty direct comments sometimes that we talk about Indigenous young people like we’re so proud of them and we’re so ready to support them, yet we don’t have a youth-specific, dedicated funding program within friendship centres. Now what we have are programs and services dollars on top of the core, which is just under $60,000 a year. That’s to do any programs and services work in any area that you can imagine within certain parameters, of course. That support typically comes from our relationship with Indigenous Services.
As an example, at the friendship centre where I am the executive director my budget is many, many times that. We have strived to work on sustainability and to try to make it when we get very little. The leveraging is quite incredible. With an historical leverage of one to nine for the amount we get from the federal government, I would like to challenge any federal department or any organization, for that matter, to leverage one to nine. That’s a standard amount. We have a current five-year agreement. We’re in year two right now. That’s the level of support that centres get across the country.
I just got a note on your other question. The number came right from Statistics Canada, and they verified it for us.
Senator Patterson: There is a national association. How does funding work for that organization?
Mr. Sheppard: It’s the same. It’s with Indigenous Services. They get money to exist, to distribute money to centres across the country, to make sure we have annual meetings, our board meetings and every structure within the organization.
I can send you the budget for the NAFC. I don’t have it with me, but they are supported through Indigenous Services as well.
With this new agreement, I understand it’s also lower than more recent historical amounts. It’s really complex because friendship centres weren’t always funded by Indigenous and Northern Affairs or Indigenous Services. We were transferred there from Canadian Heritage. At that point we lost permanent program status. We once had permanent program status under Canadian Heritage. That’s when we had three streams of funding: core funding, youth funding and summer jobs funding. Sometimes when you look at that number we were actually better off then than we are now.
The Chair: Supplemental to that, when you’re envisioning 50 years down the road, it sounds like what you had in the past was better.
In your vision would you say you’d like to go back to having the permanent and multiple streams of funding?
Mr. Sheppard: My AGM is in Ottawa in July, so you’re all welcome to come. All centres from around the country will be there. If I went to the AGM and said, “You have permanent program status in core, summer jobs and youth funding,” they would say, “Thank you so much. You’re re-elected.”
That’s not being coy or anything. It was comfortable to have permanent program status in three very important areas, with adequate funding in all three and with no concerns of it suddenly changing, depending on the environment. It’s how we grew.
It’s like our historical infrastructure. Once upon a time, there was an infrastructure program for friendship centres. It’s why we own so many buildings across the country. It’s why they have the infrastructure they do. That was under the Ministry for State, I believe. It was a very long time ago.
Senator Christmas: I congratulate both organizations for the work they do. I realize you both represent our people who are sometimes forgotten, marginalized and, as you said, invisible at times. We have to acknowledge or recognize the contributions both organizations have made.
Mr. Sheppard, I was struck by the gap you identified. At least in my mind, on the one hand, we have the fastest growing young population in Canada who are becoming more urbanized. On the other hand, it’s well acknowledged that the work the friendship centres do is simply outstanding. I think you said 1,800 programs were delivered through the friendship centres.
I would say that in some areas, and maybe in all areas, you’re developing and have delivered an essential service. Yet you don’t have a voice. That gap really strikes me. I agree with the other senators that this is an issue we have to deal with to see why we have this gap and how we address it.
One of the dilemmas we have, and the chair has been very clear about this, is that we should never ever prescribe a solution to Indigenous peoples. I don’t want to go there, but the problem is that we still don’t have a voice in Indigenous communities in urban areas.
If we were to start a process on how to develop that voice, and if you had the opportunity, Ms. Joe, to take these 60 per cent of unrepresented Indigenous people in urban areas and begin the process of creating a voice for them, how would you do it? How would you start? How would you begin helping those people to come up with their own voice so that urban people are not invisible?
Mr. Sheppard: For us, we really rely on the fact that our network is huge to be in that many communities across the country. Even with our leadership structure, I am a volunteer. I am not a paid person to do this work. That is not the job of our elected members. A lot of us are on-the-ground people.
For a lot of urban people, especially friendship centre people, the friendship centre has sort of been a place for them. That might not be so when it comes to political representation, but it is for things like Head Start and early childhood education. We were a huge part of the engagement process around what that looks like in urban centres. What does early childhood education for Indigenous people look like in the cities across the country?
The friendship centres had the ability to bring the voice from the community into documents that were presented to the government to say, “This is what the urban community really cares about when it comes to early childhood education. This is what they need.” The most important part of the voice portion is what people actually need to be successful, to be happy and to contribute to the country.
We have a unique sort of place in that we have access to people every day. What organization do you know where in the morning you talk to an Inuit person, in the afternoon you talk to a Metis person, and at night you have a Mi’kmaq person and an Ojibway person from Winnipeg? That’s in St. John’s. You don’t get that kind of engagement in very many places.
The political representation piece is its own thing. At the end of the day, people still need to be successful in their lives. That’s the voice we’re able to bring up when we’re engaged properly and when people take the time to say, “We want to know what the community needs and what that looks like for you.” We’re able to reach out. Even if they are not a part of my organization or others, most likely we have a relationship with the other organizations too. It’s more about the opportunity to bring the voices up in an appropriate way using a structure that already exists.
I make a joke: I wonder what it would cost to create the friendship centre network today with 125 organizations delivering hundreds of millions of dollars in programs and services through hundreds of properties every day. With my centre alone having 50 staff and Halifax having 100 staff, what would that cost to recreate now?
The ability of friendship centres to bring up those voices is what is missing sometimes. The focus needs to be on how we get engaged to the point where we can bring those voices forward, regardless of the political side, on just about what they need.
Senator Christmas: You mentioned in your remarks that you saw friendship centres as also being reconciliation centres. Could you explain how that is?
Mr. Sheppard: I have the perfect example. We talk about reconciliation. We say, “What is that? What does it mean?” I barely understand what reconciliation means, and I am an Indigenous person. Are we ready for it? What does it look like? How do you engage in it?
Then I go to the daycare at the friendship centre. You have Indigenous children of all kinds of backgrounds. You have non-Indigenous children from the community. There are no conversations around why you’re from this community, why you’re native and why I am not. The curriculum is Indigenous. The languages they learn are Indigenous. You don’t have to teach them how to understand Indigenous history. They are being raised with that knowledge from childhood. If you ask almost anyone, they would rather teach children than teach adults about reconciliation. It’s much easier to get the point across. That’s one example: a daycare where there are non-Indigenous children.
If you walk into a friendship centre, most likely you will see Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people and other people. Because of the status-blind piece and the open-door piece, we are centres that have historically operated in the space of race relations for a very long time. We have been in urban communities for 60 years in this country. Sixty years ago it wasn’t exactly a nice place to be a native in this country. Ten years ago, it wasn’t that exciting either. We have lived there for a very long time, so we have had to figure out how to build those relationships when no one wants them to exist.
We are extremely good at it, especially with young people where you’re not having to re-educate them after they get out of high school. I laugh and I say, “Put some of these daycares across the country where they learn Indigenous curriculum before they are six.” They know the Indigenous history of their community and their area. There are no misconceptions. Then what? In two generations you have a society that understands the history.
Ms. Joe: When you were talking about engaging our urban Indigenous people who have this loss of voice, you need to keep in mind that a lot of our Indigenous people are living on the streets. They need to have access to resources at homeless shelters or all shelters at universities and daycares.
Unfortunately, we also need to provide a voice for those women who are incarcerated. The numbers have grown far too high for us. We can’t forget that we have a number of Indigenous people who need to feel that they are still being respected, that they are still being heard, and that their concerns are being brought to the table. It’s very important that we don’t forget those people too.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for your great presentations and the work that you do. You’re awesome spirits.
I am listening to the people that you work with in the urban areas. There are monumental challenges there.
I am looking at your membership and the constant coming and going of people. I understand that the funding for the treaty goes back to the reserves. The reserves use that without paying attention to their off reserve. Even if they did, the amount is so small that it wouldn’t help that much.
I am looking at your funding. I would assume that some of your membership is non-status, which is a totally, completely forgotten group in society by the federal government. That number will only increase.
I am looking at the homeless. When I was in Manitoba I went to look at homeless shelters. In Manitoba alone, in the next four years, there will be 11,000 children coming out of care and 9,000 of them are Indigenous. They don’t have a home base. I don’t know how Indigenous peoples will even look at that issue. It’s such a critical issue. It’s building and building to a crisis level, yet you have no voice at the AFN level or at the regional levels with the grand chiefs or the tribal councils.
I am looking at the new reality of the Indigenous identity in urban areas where there is no land base. Some have no ties and some have very little ties. I don’t even know how you deal with that. When a comment was made about funnelling money to the First Nations and then to you, that is not doable. It’s not going to happen. There is going to be a fight because the reserves have limited funding as well. It’s not even a good scenario. When you’re taking people at the moment, mostly it’s crisis driven.
I am looking at nation to nation. I don’t even know if those are the right words. They are not displaced people, but we see them as displaced because they are not on the reserve system, which was not our system to begin with. Now we are creating another culture. It’s almost a continuation of colonization. They have no way to transition because, as you said, there is no access to home and no access to education.
I know education dollars are short. I was on the education committee on my reserve. They would look at them and say, “Oh, they live in the city. They have better access to care. We need to take care of our own.” Because they have such limited dollars that’s not an option.
Senator Christmas was looking at the voices. I am looking at this crisis situation, which is going to get worse, and at delivering comprehensive care. Would the four objectives or four recommendations that you stated help toward taking it from one end to another? I am just trying to make sense of it and to ask, “What are we going to do here?”
It overwhelms me. I don’t know how you can work.
Mr. Sheppard: It isn’t the easiest job in the world. You can talk to any executive director of any friendship centre in the country. We have these little internal jokes sometimes because that’s all we have. We innovated before innovation was a thing and we were social enterprises before that was a thing because we have never had a choice.
We recognize that the money around education and around employment in the system isn’t enough for the people in the system. For us and for many centres, they innovated, started businesses and started social economies.
When I became an executive director a few years ago, I called another executive director to ask, “Is this normal? Is this feeling of overwhelming stress normal?” She said, “I have a description for you. It’s like you’re swimming in the ocean and you go underwater. You manage to come up just enough to take a breath and then you keep going. That is what my last 10 years have been.” As stressful as that is, and people sometimes wonder how we manage, we are very lucky. I have a homeless shelter as a part of my work. Twenty per cent of all homeless people in my city are Indigenous. To talk to those people every day and to talk to community people who are experiencing homelessness, is a very privileged thing to do. It is a very amazing experience to hear people’s stories of what happened because it makes you appreciate that there are many reasons why things happen. It makes you work that much harder.
On those four recommendations, to me, I was asked to come here to talk about having those voices at the table and recognizing that some friendship centres in the country have solved some very intense, complex social problems and have done amazing jobs creating very unusual relationships. They have been successful but their expertise isn’t always looked at.
Why do we try to solve things over and over again when there are some friendship centres that figured this out 10 years ago? We have a friendship centre in Quebec that just opened a 24-unit apartment building. It is wildly successful. They are looking at opening a clinic that is not just open to the urban community but to the most vulnerable non-Indigenous people.
Those successes and those sorts of milestones aren’t always talked about or even looked at, but because of the way we’ve had to survive and the innovation that has been required of us, even an analysis of why we’re successful would be of use to people to see what has been successful in research, social economy, innovation and even how to deal with homelessness.
I make a joke, and I try not to say it too much: There are centres that have built their entire properties out of very complex challenges. They’ve been successful doing it and meeting them. As overwhelming as they seem to people from the outside, it’s that we don’t get the benefit of shutting our door. We are not lucky enough to avoid some really hard conversations and situations. Friendship centres do it every single day. A lot of them are open 365 days a year.
For us, I would like people to go to centres and look at how they’ve been successful. If you ask most centres what they would need to really create massive change, it isn’t that much. It’s just having the conversations with those executive directors and saying, “What do you really need? What is it that your community really needs?” You’d be surprised at how little that could be, but the challenges they face every day are monumental. I am glad you recognize that because we don’t always show it. We’re very good at talking about success, but not always good at talking about the challenges we put up with every day.
Ms. Joe: Our membership is growing daily because we have Indigenous women who are no longer represented by the AFN because they’re off reserve or they’re non-status and their children are non-status. We have Metis people who don’t identify with the Red River settlement or they’re not part of the Riel settlement.
I have Indigenous women who are Metis but they live east of Manitoba. Therefore, they’re not considered for membership under the MNC. I have Inuit women who reside outside the territory in Toronto and in Winnipeg. Their voices aren’t being heard so they come to us at the Native Women’s Association of Canada to share their stories and to share the issues that are affecting them.
Now we have the LGBTQ2S community, and I am glad to say they feel safe coming to us because we are the only national Indigenous women’s group. We came about because our voices weren’t being heard before. We have the Indian Act that has been oppressive to us. We’ve had issues, obviously, with violence against women. Until we had Sisters in Spirit, nobody was doing anything about it.
Now we’re being excluded from discussions where you have natural resource extraction coming into our communities and displacing our women and areas where strangers are coming into our communities. Strangers are using up the housing, taking spaces among our health care programs, and having families and abandoning those families once the job is done. That’s only the good side.
On the violent side, unfortunately, the women are experiencing violence from these strangers coming into their communities and then leaving, and there are no proper resources. We need to ensure that our voices are still at the table to share the concerns affecting our communities.
I know at this point that a number of our youth need to be incorporated because we’re not always going to have some of these Indigenous voices such as those of Senator Lovelace Nicholas, Sharon McIvor and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell. These women are passing on the torch. Sharon McIvor holds me accountable quite often because she’s from my community. We need to make sure those voices are always heard in order for a true reconciliation to happen in this country.
Senator McCallum: I was interested in the statement about the political rooting of problems. I’ve worked in the health field for over 40 years, mostly in communities. When I look at the problems that we have, it’s not only health. All the problems come out. All of them are politically rooted. When I saw that, I thought the solution should be a political one.
You made a comment that there was no political side when you were looking at your membership or at the people that access service. What did you say?
Mr. Sheppard: We don’t worry about status. We are status blind. It was not politics.
Senator McCallum: Anyway, that was a comment the mayor of Chicago had made. When he came to Winnipeg I spoke to him. He is the one who said that to me. He said, “Most of your problems are politically rooted, so the solution will be political.”
Could you comment on that a bit, on if that may help your situation?
Ms. Joe: Yes, I guess the reason for the Native Women’s Association of Canada back in 1974 was very much politically motivated. We had three other organizations back then. There was the National Indian Brotherhood representing Metis and First Nations. I am not sure of the predecessor to ITK, but there was an obvious bias to some of the perceptions of the political issues at hand, especially the Indian Act.
In this day, I am seeing these political motivations when we have Kinder Morgan coming through our backyard. I have most of the men looking at the impact benefit agreement to see how much money they are going to get to build community centres and houses. Then you have the women, of course, who are looking at the social impacts.
In the Nicola Valley in Merritt, B.C., we’re looking at the industrial camps that are coming to our communities. It’s not going to affect just Indigenous women. It’s going to affect our community. Unfortunately, it’s going to affect Indigenous women to a greater degree than it is non-Indigenous women.
We’ve been quite effective in using our political voices over the years. There have been some changes with the removal of some of the discrimination from the Indian Act. There have been some changes that have happened for environmental issues and for housing issues. Most important for us right now is violence against women. It’s a very political issue. It shouldn’t be a political issue. It’s a social issue. It doesn’t matter who you are in Canada. It’s unsafe, unfortunately, in many parts of our communities to be a woman. It is even more unsafe to be an Indigenous woman.
I was speaking to my friends last week. They don’t understand that when I am out and about, or even when I walk to the parkade to go to my car, I am looking around me. I am looking under my car. I am very cognizant of my safety. The cowboys I used to hang out with in Kamloops, B.C., they don’t think about that because they will use violence to beget violence and they’ll look after themselves. These issues of housing, employment and education shouldn’t be political issues, but unfortunately they are, and we have to fight for every dollar to ensure that our people, our communities and our children are being treated with the same equity as those in non-Indigenous communities.
I hope that would change with reconciliation, but it’s still going to take some time. I recognize that.
Senator Pate: Thanks to both of you individually for your work and collectively for your organizations. I want to also publicly thank you for the number of times I’ve had the opportunity to work with your organizations in my previous life and since I was appointed, having been invited to both of your AGMs over past years in Edmonton and in Montreal. My second question will relate to some of the things we talked about at those AGMs.
You both have talked about funding, the lack of core funding and the fact that both organizations at one time had core funding. I know a number of groups have complained about the lack of core funding requiring them to chase project funding, the issue in terms of mandate drive and the amount of time and resources involved. I’ve had some of those discussions with some of your members. President Joe, you talked about having to hire two people just to write funding proposals. You also talked, President Sheppard, about the fact that you have buildings because of the time you had core funding.
You guys are too young, but old ones like me who were in that sector remember when we had what others referred to as democracy grants. I never referred to them because others did it. It was a time when in all sectors across government non-governmental organizations were funded with the understanding that the best way to have the best legislation and policy, whether on criminal justice, the environment, or on Indigenous, First Nations, Metis or Inuit issues, was to fund civil society groups.
My understanding from both of your organizations is that infrastructure came from that time and you’re moving along. Many of the groups that have national membership like yours have lost members or have lost resources over time. I don’t know if you have the numbers, but do you have any sense of over the last 20 years how many of your members have had to close down and what the resource drop has been in terms of being able to provide those services? Do you have any comment on the mandate drift? That’s my first multi-pronged question.
My second question concerns one of the things that a number of your members were interested in talking about. Some of it has happened in places like New Zealand, where the Maori have what’s not described as a nation-to-nation relationship but where the reclamation of resources has happened. It started first in criminal justice. I know both of you have done that work.
One of the things that some of your members were talking about is if they were able to claim back, say per community, one of the Indigenous people currently in prison and have the resources that would go with having that person not in prison, what could that mean for your communities? I know both of you do that work and both of your memberships do that work, particularly in the friendship centres with youth, men and women, and with women who are the fastest growing prison population. I know your membership does it as well.
Rather than my putting into evidence what I was told, perhaps you could put into evidence what your views were on that.
Ms. Joe: Gosh, I hate funding. In the best case scenario, we’d have the funding obviously to do the work that we need to do. Since about 2005-2006 our core funding has been cut back significantly, and $600,000 does not go a long way in Ottawa. A significant amount goes to rent.
Project funding is difficult because you’re going fiscal year to fiscal year. You apply for your project funding in March or April, and you’re lucky if you get it in October. You’re rushed to do the project, and then you have to give a pink slip to your staff member. There’s no continuity for your staff. You are losing good staff who would like to continue to work with you, but you can’t provide long-term employment.
When I look at the funding of some of our national partners, the inequity of it is unjust. I think we’re doing just as important work as they are. We’ve been doing a lot of work in legislation and in research. We need to make sure that there is equity. When I hear about this democracy grant, I wonder why they didn’t continue that. It sounds like it was a good idea. How can we bring that back?
Our membership across the country has definitely dropped. I can definitely say that in B.C. in the 1980s and 1990s we used to have a strong group of Indigenous women. They didn’t have a lot of money. You take a dollar and you multiply it a couple of times. There’s a lot of volunteer work. In a best-case scenario I would like to have a membership that was open to all Indigenous women. Because we’re mostly a grassroots organization, they need to have some funds to pay for the meeting rooms, for the coffee and for a part-time person to take the phone calls from women who are looking for help.
I'm sure funding is a difficult situation for any civil group, but we have noticed of late that we have to be much more creative. We have to have partnerships. The unions have been surprisingly beneficial for us, but we’re having to get more creative and more entrepreneurial. Hopefully, that will help us in the next few years to continue, even if we lose our funding if the government changes, because we can’t always depend upon it.
We’re looking at having an accord with this government, but we don’t want to give up our freedom to express the desires we need, our inherent rights, just for that core funding to continue on a regular basis.
As I mentioned earlier, up until last year we were getting $600,000 a year. We reached $1 million, thankfully, but that still doesn’t go far, again, for staff. I make $100,000. I feel guilty for that because it’s taking away from some programming, but executive directors are expensive, finance people are expensive and rent is expensive. Again, partnerships are probably one of our best ways to make the dollar stretch.
Actually, I just met some young people from New Zealand at the forum the other week. I was impressed. They have reclaimed their language. Almost a dozen of them were speaking and singing in their language among each other. They were passionate about the issues. All I could think about is: How do we bring that to Canada? That’s the passion we need to bring here so that Indigenous youth feel that they can regain their culture, be proud of their heritage and want to share it with the rest of Canada.
One of the first times I ever see a bit of pride in First Nations girl is when she gets her first ribbon skirt. You get the story because you’re making the ribbon skirt with your aunties, your grandmas and your mom. It’s fitted specifically for you. That’s what we should have for all of our children. It doesn’t matter where they live. Funding shouldn’t matter. We should be able to have the resources necessary for our young people and our elders to collaborate and to reclaim what is inherently ours.
I hope that answers your questions.
Mr. Sheppard: Regarding the first question, we actually had a net increase in the number of friendship centres as a whole. I am not saying that we haven’t lost some organizations over time but as the population has increased, more communities have come on stream. In the last year, for example, we brought on several centres in Quebec, another one in Newfoundland and another one in Alberta. I say Newfoundland, not forgetting Labrador, but it’s on the island of Newfoundland. It’s the first new friendship centre since 1983 when the St. John's Native Friendship Centre opened. That is really around the community increasing and the community mobilizing over time. The unfortunate part is it’s not like we get an increase in funding when new friendship centres come on stream.
Our membership is very kind and made the decision to support each other recently instead of leaving new organizations on their own. You can imagine that’s not exactly the most ideal situation to know you are reducing your own amounts to support someone brand new. How many organizations would be willing to cut their bottom line support someone new? That’s what we did.
We’re very lucky to be in a five-year funding cycle right now, which hasn’t happened often. When the cycle is ending or something shifts, a lot of friendship centres aren’t the most stable places to work. Sometimes you may volunteer for a point in time until the funding is received. Sometimes you have to lay people off. Instead of totally closing your organization, you operate on the most minimum requirements possible. We have a lot of very dedicated employees who will wait. There are not a lot of other agencies or organizations where people would come back to that kind of environment, but there are a lot of people who firmly believe this is what they want to do.
Not every friendship centre faces the same sorts of financial pressures. It depends on your ability to leverage, honestly. We were just in one of these cycles, and it was my first time being president during one of these cycles. You get calls from centres that are reaching the limits of what they can self-fund. If a lot of people making decisions about this funding had to front their own money while we waited for things to be decided, things would probably move quite a bit faster. When friendship centres fund their own money or scrounge and ask the bank to lend them money or give them a line of credit so they can pay their staff, you can imagine the stress that comes with that.
We have been very lucky. Even when we’ve lost some organizations or when community populations have shifted, we have had a net increase over time. I believe that’s because of the increase in population and the mobilization of communities.
With the peace and justice reclamation, especially, I wish I had a dollar for every time we worked with someone in corrections, or for every family where they avoided losing their children, or for every time we had people stand in front of a judge and fight for a family to be treated the same as a non-Indigenous family.
If we were given the resources for the prevention that takes place at friendship centres, we would be some of the biggest property owners in the country. When taking a hard look at social impact, and even recidivism in certain areas of our social world, it would be an interesting concept if we looked at a way to resource, based on some of that work.
We look at true outcomes and benefits to community and what’s able to happen when you work in that space. We work in prisons and we work with corrections organizations regularly across the country. It’s those relationships, the trust that’s built and the prevention that happens on the other side that are quite amazing to actually look at. I would find it interesting to look at the savings and cost benefits of those.
Senator Raine: My question is directed to Mr. Sheppard. We know that all kinds of education, and certainly educating non-Aboriginal people about Indigenous cultures, are very important. Also, more and more Indigenous people are coming into urban centres for post-secondary education.
Does your organization get involved at all in reaching out to the university worlds and the Aboriginal student groups in the universities? Do you have linkages with that?
Mr. Sheppard: It depends on the centre. Not every friendship centre is located somewhere where there’s a college or a university. A lot of them do. One of my favourite examples is in Grande Prairie where they have an on-campus friendship centre. That was something created in more recent history. The friendship centre has an office on campus that provides all support to Indigenous students, but it also provides a connection to the community and their culture after 5 p.m.
Senator Raine: The study we’re doing right now is looking to the future. Would you think that would be, for instance, a good model to look at in the future? It is important when young people go to university that they can stay connected to their people and their culture.
Mr. Sheppard: It is a really amazing example. Another interesting example is that friendship centres were built around this idea of wrap-around service provision. You don’t look at one aspect of a person. You look at multiple facets and how you can wrap them in as many services as you can. Most likely, the more you wrap around them, the more successful they will be.
It’s like you offer employment but no child care. You offer after-school programming, but you can’t pick kids up. For us, the education is an interesting one because when we talk to some students it isn’t necessarily sometimes that post-secondary is challenging. Sometimes it’s the environment and the adjustment that are hard.
A lot of times friendship centres that have really strong connections to academic institutions try to find ways to partner with them, whether it’s partnering on research, partnering on events at the university or presenting to different colleges within that structure for classes. We have friendship centres that host classes on site so that people go out into the community. It provides a connection for students who otherwise sometimes may feel isolated. It would be strategic to look at that. Whether there’s a friendship centre in a community or not, there is probably an organization that could fulfill some of that work.
To me, it’s one of those examples that is really cool. We have an on-campus friendship centre in Alberta. Who would have ever known? It’s an amazing innovation that does amazing work with students every year.
Senator Raine: Great, thank you.
Senator Christmas: You mentioned in your comments, Mr. Sheppard, about the need to innovate the whole change of sustainability. I am looking toward the future, I suppose, but you mentioned in your comments that some friendship centres are operating social enterprises and generating their own revenues. It dawned on me that makes perfect sense to me. You own property. You are in urban centres.
Is the innovation of opening and operating social enterprises happening in many places in friendship centres? If so, do you see that as one of the paths forward?
Mr. Sheppard: For a short period of time there was federal government money for social enterprise development. You could apply for money in the province as a friendship centre. Friendship centres and other urban organizations could apply for this money. There are friendship centres that started four or five social enterprises using that money. The money no longer exists, because the program doesn’t exist any more, but I always said even in that process it’s enough to start a small social enterprise.
The challenge is being a NGO and being an Indigenous NGO. You can imagine the looks you get when you talk about capital investment or that you want to look at even revenue sharing. There aren’t exactly people running to your door to partner with you and to say, “Let’s do this and invest in your idea.” We don’t get the same sort of interest as tech start-ups, supercluster ideas or even in STEM. Yet some centres are doing are quite interesting things and are innovative in some of their social enterprises and even in the way they look at social economy and social benefit.
What if you as an employer took away the labels of for-profit or non-profit enterprise, had 100 employees and a payroll of $4 million a year? If you wanted someone to invest in your development and you approached a bank, a developer, or even the government, most likely the response you’re going to get would be very different from that a friendship centre with 100 staff, $4 million in payroll and a revenue stream of $5 million or $6 million would get. That reality exists for us because even when you want to innovate and you want to develop social economy the seriousness of your work isn’t taken into consideration all the time.
If you were a medium size business everyone wants to touch and grow, your impact on the economy isn’t looked at the same. We generate at my centre over $1 million dollars in revenue from social economy, with 50 staff and a $1.9 million salary line, plus everything else we put into the city as an economic driver.
The investment would be different if you took away the labels friendship centre, native, Indigenous, Aboriginal, or whatever you want to call me this week, and you put all the numbers on the table. That’s the part with social economy federally we really have to look at. What does it truly mean to support an NGO to become an economic driver through social enterprise, and what does that social impact look like? There are friendship centres that make me look tiny and brand new that do amazing, mind-blowing work with very little help.
You talk about support social economy. What if we actually put our weight behind it and said, “Here is a million dollars to design and develop an amazing social enterprise. We’ll support you through. We’ll look at structures like ACOA and how we can bring the best business knowledge to support your employment and training and make it happen?”
What I foresee friendship centres being able to accomplish is pretty amazing, considering what they do with $120,000 and even less than that. For the majority of our existence, it was $103,000 a year. Now we’re a multi-million dollar charity that employs 50 people. If you really put the energy behind entrepreneurs, social economy and innovation that happen in friendship centres, the investment potential would be quite amazing.
The Chair: On behalf of all of the senators, I would like to thank our witnesses this evening from the Native Women’s Association of Canada, President Francyne Joe and Veronica Rudyk, Policy Adviser, and from the National Association of Friendship Centres, President Christopher Sheppard. Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom with us this evening.
Before we adjourn, I would like to thank our retiring senator, Nancy Greene Raine, who has been a diligent, hard working and passionate member of this committee for I don’t know how many years.
Senator Raine: Nine.
The Chair: I was going to guess eight. You have contributed enormously throughout your tenure on the committee. You’re always here. You’re always asking questions and have added so much to it. We will miss you, my dear, and best of luck in your future endeavours. With that, we are adjourned.