Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 6 - Evidence, February 18, 2003
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 18, 2003
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 9:05 a.m. to study issues affecting urban Aboriginal youth in Canada and, in particular, to examine access, provision and delivery of services; policy and jurisdictional issues; employment and education; access to economic opportunities; youth participation and empowerment; and other related matters.
Senator Thelma J. Chalifoux (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Today we will continue our examination of issues affecting urban Aboriginal youth and action plans for change. Our youth encompass a total family. We are looking at a holistic approach to the issues and the challenges facing our Aboriginal people in the urban areas.
Welcome to our presenters this morning. I understand that we will be looking at the health issues of urban Aboriginal youth, some of which are of epidemic proportions.
First we will hear from the Native Child and Family Services.
Mr. Ken Richard, Executive Director, Native Child and Family Services: I do not want to shock anyone, but I would like to say something to you in memory of a native child with whom we worked at the Native Child and Family Services. He was a 22-year-old Aboriginal boy who was taken from a family in Northern Ontario and adopted in Southern Ontario. He hit the streets at 12 years of age, as many of these children do, and he was killed on the streets of Ottawa. He was dowsed with cooking wine and badly burned. He died in hospital a few days later, just a stone's throw from this beautiful room. It is important that we remember that this issue is very close to us.
I want to tell you about the Native Child and Family Services, where I work, and, as the director of the agency, what works when dealing with Aboriginal street youth. These youth come to Toronto from all over North America. However, there is a significant population of kids from the Prairies and from Northern Ontario. Many of these kids come to Toronto because they have been placed there by well-meaning social workers, adoption services and foster care placements. Most of these placements are tough and many of them break down. As a result, many of these kids wind up on the streets, which, in Toronto, can be a brutal place to exist.
We opened a drop-in centre at the Native Child and Family Services some time ago. It was a modest initiative that, through some assistance from Human Resources Development Canada, HRDC, has become a large, viable, multidisciplinary program.
I want to share with the committee what we have found works in serving Aboriginal kids on the streets. Following that, I would like to give you some description of the actual programs.
We have learned that it takes years to develop effective programs for native youth on the street. Funders need to appreciate that kids are very damaged. Robert was one of many who needed long-term service commitments. One-shot projects of two years at a time, anything less than five years, do not constitute money well spent. We should operate on the premise that the shorter the time frame of a given project, the less potential there is for effectiveness.
We have also found that services should be delivered by native staff in an accessible native agency. One of the common issues that are plaguing youth on the street is the lack of services that could reinforce positive Indian identity. Many of these youths, including Robert, are confused and conflicted with respect to their Aboriginal identity. This does not mean that there is no room for non-Aboriginal service providers, because there certainly is enough room. However, all programs for Aboriginal street youth need an Aboriginal face. Native street youth also bring with them a complex set of issues and related needs, and so they require a holistic orientation to services.
We must see these kids as physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual human beings and we must deliver programs that recognize this. We also want to tell you that street youth need stable housing. Some time ago, under the sponsorship of federal funding, we asked the street youth themselves to run a conference and to say what they needed. What they needed primarily was stable housing. They did not need shelters. They did not like shelters. In fact, most of them did not use them. They wanted us — and this was a challenge to our agency — to develop housing. Again, through HRDC, we currently are opening two transitional homes for youths, who will spend one year to 18 months getting themselves together so that they can walk a path towards life.
We are concerned that the shelter system is taking all the attention on the homeless issue. If you have nothing but shelter spaces available, there is a danger of creating a permanent Aboriginal homeless population. I think we are seeing that to some extent in Toronto.
Native youth also need opportunities to address issues that brought them to the street. Many of those issues are complex and go back to childhood, whether the children stayed at home with their parents or were institutionally raised. Native-based healing programs, focused on healing the wounds of the past, are required. We need lots of time to do that.
Ceremonial activities associated with that do a lot to reinforce positive native identities. More than that, however, we need to get at some of the fundamental issues that are dragging these kids down. We use a contemporary approach as well as a native traditional approach in working with these kids, but it takes time.
Native culture offers opportunities for growth and development through the participation of native elders and traditional peoples. Our drum group, the Red Spirit Drum, which is comprised of staff and street kids, is a good example of that. It draws kids into a native-specific way of living, one that reinforces their identity and makes a huge difference in the way youth see themselves and the world around them. They are kids who have internalized a lot of racism, who feel fundamentally bad about their Aboriginality, who often will change their names to Chico or any other name that they can identify with, particularly with respect to Los Angeles gangs and the hip hop culture. We see that over and over again.
When you move children through an Aboriginal cultural program and engage them with elders, pretty soon you see a change. You see the baggy pants pulled up a bit, and you see kids taking more pride in their Aboriginality, rather than copying something from Los Angeles.
Native youth on the street need a one-stop shop they can call their own. This is important. This is where they can begin the long process of walking towards life. One good relationship between a compassionate native staff person and a kid on the street can make a difference between life and death. Robert was fine in Toronto; he fell apart in Ottawa. This simple equation — a relationship and a child — is something everyone can understand, and it is critical for kids on the street.
In closing, we have learned that native youth on the street have the same aspirations as any other youth. They need to be given opportunities to develop skills that are tangible, marketable and competitive. Education and training programs are critical and need to be part and parcel of all programs, along with housing. Too often, we simply provide counselling, soup bowls and band-aid solutions. We need to invest in these kids for the long term. That is it what we are doing at Native Child and Family Services; and I must say, we are getting support for that and we appreciate it.
The Chairman: Thank you very much. Mr. Richard, hopefully there will be more time to hear from you later on.
Mr. Randy Jackson, Aboriginal Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Coordination Program, Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network: Thank you for asking me to present today.
Every day in Canada, one Aboriginal person becomes infected with HIV. Although Aboriginal people make up only 4.4 per cent of the Canadian population, we account for 21 per cent of new HIV infections every year. This number is steadily rising.
More often than not, Aboriginal people are infected at a younger age than non-Aboriginal people, and more than half of those infected are female, as opposed to less than one-quarter in the non-Aboriginal population. A higher proportion demonstrates injection drug use as a risk category, and a quarter of those infected are heterosexual.
These figures have more in common with the HIV epidemic in the Third World and developing countries, where one in four is HIV positive, than they do with statistics for the non-Aboriginal population in western industrialized areas. More frightening is the fact that, due to variations in reporting standards from province to province and between territories, information about the Aboriginal status of new infections is not always being collected. As a result, the statistics I have cited are certainly higher than would appear in the epidemiological reports and studies. This lack of information creates a haphazard picture of the real epidemic and makes prevention, planning and responding to the needs of Aboriginal people living with, and at risk of, HIV infection extremely difficult.
For Aboriginal youth, a number of factors converge to promote susceptibility to the disease. In today's world, many Aboriginal youth live in a world characterized by violence, poverty and racism that can lead to street involvement and HIV infection. In a recent Vancouver-based study that involved 232 youth who use injection drugs, researchers demonstrated that approximately one-quarter were Aboriginal, and that they were significantly more likely to engage in survival sex, that is, trading sex for food, shelter, drugs, etc. Rates of condom use fell during those times, and social networks were often characterized by power inequities. In addition, many had experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lives.
What happens to Aboriginal youth when they test positive for HIV infection? Again, research has shown that individuals may experience a variety of actions. It should be noted, however, that current studies that focus on Canadian Aboriginal youth living with HIV are limited. As a result, because anecdotal evidence demonstrates similarities to Aboriginal youth living in the United States, we are using a study set in that country. That study shows that, upon discovering that they are HIV-positive, Aboriginal youth often resort to excessive degrees of the risk behaviour that put them in the situation in the first place, such as prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse, and street involvement.
Needless to say, these coping strategies can lead to further spread of the disease. Many Aboriginal youth may not be aware — because of perceived homophobia, AIDS phobia, racism or discrimination within their own communities or local health care systems — that services are available to assist them in coping with their newly discovered status. In rural Aboriginal communities, there often is a lack of specialized services related to HIV care that force Aboriginal youth and others living with HIV infection to migrate to larger areas.
There are a number of high-risk youth groups when it comes to HIV infection. They range from runaway and homeless youth and those involved in the child welfare system, to gay, bisexual, lesbian or two-spirit youth, victims of assault, including rape and sexual assault, and incarcerated youth. For example, two-spirit youth often are seen as unhealthy, sinful or unbalanced. The atmosphere in some communities is homophobic. There are few support services for two-spirit men and women in rural communities; and even in urban areas, support is limited. In many cases, HIV- related discrimination in health care continues, particularly for Aboriginal people. Both in cities and in small communities, some doctors are not knowledgeable about HIV infection. Often, two-spirit youth simply have no one to talk to and may look to substance abuse to alleviate feelings of isolation. This in turn may place them at greater risk of HIV infection.
How can services related to HIV education and prevention make a positive impact? Mr. Richard already put it eloquently. Simply, youth empowerment and involvement in community-based initiatives have a beneficial impact that can reduce or eliminate unsafe behaviour.
Another study demonstrated that through involvement in collective action, individuals increase their understanding of the agents that facilitate or inhibit the capacity to be proactive in their efforts to change their own health and that of their communities.
When individuals participate in programs, they develop their own knowledge and incorporate that into their own realities. In other words, as the Aboriginal AIDS movement has long espoused, programs and services vying for Aboriginal people — in our case, Aboriginal youth — can promote positive change. However, the Aboriginal community requires additional resources for health and other support services that are accessible and involve Aboriginal youth, especially those living on the street, where adequate health care and health information may be unavailable to them.
The Chairman: Thank you very much. Ms. Parisian, it is your turn.
Ms. Delora Parisian, Executive Director, Aboriginal Family Services Centre: I am currently the director of the Aboriginal Family Services Centre in Regina, where we offer various programs. There are about 30 staff members, and we reach between 200 to 300 families and about 400 children per year. It is the first time that an Aboriginal-governed organization in our city has had such success in terms of reaching their people.
Although there are times when we would like to involve the media, because of the politics in this area, we have not done so. We have taken a low-key approach and hired staff who are caring, dependable, honest team players who are able to get the job done. We are not a politically based organization, we are community-based, and we have found that in our area, that makes all the difference.
I have worked in community development and with Aboriginal, non-profit, community-based organizations for almost 30 years. At the time, these agencies were started with the goal of helping to address the issues of our community. Some of the issues back then included alcohol, drugs and various other addictions, employment and education, and life skills issues. In all aspects of these problems, the major underlying issue was a need for inner healing, self-esteem and cultural identity.
During this time, the government introduced many programs, projects, corporations and non-profit agencies with the intent to address these issues. Unfortunately, 30 years later, I do not see any significant inroads. All the money that has been spent and invested over these 30 years has not made significant inroads in addressing the problems, although there is currently a greater awareness of issues and problems such as alcohol, drugs and the FAS/FAE. Aboriginal people are becoming more educated and politically aware; however, just as many, if not more, because of the population increase, including some of the educated or employed, still have unhealthy approaches to life, family and relationships. They are still hurting from the past, and hurting people will always hurt others, no matter how well educated or politically aware they are.
I have also taught life skills for 12 years, logging more than 5,000 hours of group training. Today, the demand for life skills remains high, especially among our youth. Those who enrol in this basic program have great difficulty completing it because of a lack of healing, direction or value system in their lives. Due to the residential schools, the generational dependency on welfare and addictions, and the foster care system, most Aboriginal children and youth never experience a positive family structure. They lack motivation, commitment and a hope that life will get better for themselves and their children.
Reserve life has not been helpful for First Nations people. Most reserves still have rampant unemployment, addiction, family dysfunction, and a lack of education and healing opportunities. Reports indicate that more than half of First Nation bands are unable to manage their financial resources and poverty remains as high as it was 30 years ago.
Reserves are educating their own people, but they are not hiring them, because of politics, nepotism or a lack of employment opportunities on the reserves.
Our culture has been lost in the last 100 years, and the traditional values that once gave us a vibrant, strong family and community system have also been lost. As parents, we have the highest suicide rate, as well as the highest sexual exploitation and abuse of our children and youth. They are all in foster care, in a negative foster care system. We have the highest rates of murder, family breakdown, addiction, poverty, and many other negative lifestyle problems. Our children and youth are not being taught any values by their unhealthy parents. They witness and experience so much negativity that they see suicide as an acceptable answer. They have no respect for self, and therefore no respect for others, so they steal cars and commit violent acts, including murder, against one another. They join gangs or hip-hop ``gangsta'' culture groups to belong to a family. They enter into relationships at a young age. They engage in the sex trade, not only because they have no respect for themselves, but because their parents, who have not had a chance to heal, put them on the street to earn money for addictions, food and clothing.
I have also seen many Aboriginal organizations in our community close because of political interference. I have seen millions of dollars misspent or recovered by government because of Aboriginal mismanagement, yet government continues to partner with the same individuals. I know of convicted criminals still managing community organizations.
There are healthy Aboriginal individuals who want the opportunity to make a positive difference. Government must look at doing business in a different way. In Regina, there has been a push for partnerships between the federal, provincial, civic and Aboriginal governments. This seems to be having a positive impact in our community, because our politicians have many other concerns to work on, and do not have enough time to promote healing or deal with health concerns. However, this may be telling, in that politics and service delivery should perhaps remain separate, just as non-Aboriginal governments maintain a system of separation. You do not find ministers making decisions about who should receive funding to attend school, or who is paid from a training allowance budget to travel to meetings or pay their rent. This happens, however, and our youth end up being exploited for the money that should be going to their education or training. I, and many others in our community, am aware of this, but it takes a lot of time and energy to address that issue. The time is better spent trying to help individuals.
Yes, I believe in promoting self-government, but not a model that will take away funding opportunities for our youth to become educated, or which leaves our children in a negative foster care system.
This is difficult for me to say, but it seems that government sometimes misuses this self-government issue. They expect our people, who have not had many positive experiences and are in need of healing, to suddenly govern themselves. How long has it taken our government to get where they are today? Yet they still have problems. It is easy to report all the facts of mismanagement and the misspending that occurs. This is done, not so money will be spent to find out what is not working and how it can be made better, but rather, most of the time, to reduce already low levels of funding and programming. The media says, ``Look at what a bad job they are doing.'' That helps to perpetuate the racist attitudes that prevail against our community.
Government has vast experience and knows that it takes strong, healthy leaders to lead a nation that is, for the most part, healthy. They should therefore know that the Aboriginal community needs to be healed of many of the problems that have been mentioned here so far.
Yet little is being done to raise strong, healthy leaders, and little can be done until there is a community that can provide an environment for healing.
As Aboriginal people, as women, and as youth, we must be aware of what separates us from the rest of Canada. We cannot believe that we are equal, because we do not have equal opportunity. Our youth, especially, do not have equal access to jobs, education and training, nor to community, civic, sports, recreational and cultural opportunities enjoyed by our counterparts.
I tell my children that they will face discrimination because of who they are. They must be prepared for it so that when it does happen, they will not be devastated and want to give up.
Another concern is that government is funding programs in our community for Aboriginal people, yet Aboriginal people are not running these programs. They are run by non-Aboriginals. They are creating many difficulties within our community. Having worked in the field for 30 years, I must agree with what has been said here. We need our people to run our programs.
I would like to make some recommendations. Healthy families require fathers to take a more active role, especially in dealing with violence. The children, youth and women will remain victims until this is done. Two female community members asked me to bring that forward, and I said that I would.
Office organizations and employers need to create a youth-friendly environment. How many places are set up in a way to attract youth or know how to be youth-friendly? Traditionally, elders would train the youth in their roles, responsibilities and jobs. However, the role of elder has been destroyed because of the problems cited. Somehow, this must be addressed. Perhaps training schools or a mentorship program could be developed.
We need to identify healthy Aboriginal people and utilize them to initiate healing among our people. Of special concern is the sexual abuse suffered at residential schools and now almost epidemic among our nation.
Youth have also not grown up with positive traditions to follow, not even positive family traditions. Nor are they taught virtues or values. This has to be recognized and addressed, especially in the early years.
Youth are also becoming more educated than their parents and other relatives, yet are still influenced by reserve life. Non-Aboriginals will not teach history, culture, or ways to overcome the many barriers to be faced. Ways must be found for youth to be taught about this, because education changes people's beliefs. All these things can contribute to healthy living.
The current foster care situation continues to perpetuate family breakdown. Non-Aboriginal caregivers and social workers still carry out foster care practices.
I sometimes have to go to family court in my community. One morning, I counted nine social workers in that courtroom, sitting off to one side. About six Aboriginal families were sitting in the court. All of those children were apprehended. None of those nine social workers were Aboriginal. There needs to be a drastic change in foster care practices, or our youth will continue to be abused and to grow up without any strong cultural identity.
Although there are some efforts to address the residential school syndrome, there are not enough healing initiatives. Money is not always the answer. There needs to be a greater understanding of the depth and breadth of this problem. More counselling expertise must be available and accessible to urban First Nations people.
I agree with the other presenters that there needs to be longer-term funding for community-based organizations. Communities need to be empowered to build capacity. As healthy communities prevail, people who have an overall desire to improve the well-being of their community will come forward, and not worry only about self.
Community-based organizations need an extensive human resource plan. Staff recruitment, retention and training in such organizations are minimal, even though these are the groups that can better to respond to the community. Most non-Aboriginal employers, such as Crown corporations and city governments, have strong incentives for staff recruitment and retention. Those are not community-based organizations. Despite their hard work and dedication and the positive difference that community organizations make, they are unable to offer incentives for staff recruitment and retention.
An emphasis needs to be placed on early intervention and prevention programs, including sound values and cultural identity that are community based and not politically governed. Preparing Aboriginal youth begins before they are born. Aboriginal mothers need to be educated about prenatal care and have access to such care.
Life skills development, with an emphasis on positive parenting, needs to be provided to adults who did not learn this from their parents.
It is my belief that government does have a key role to play in starting a process of raising healthy children. These children and youth will be the majority as the population increases. They will control our country.
As I stated, it takes healthy individuals with strong values to do what is good for the greater society. Youth will see the politics of their parents, and will either copy them, move away or remain uninvolved.
Youth need to know that the lives of their ancestors were not always negative. They need to know that there is hope that things will be better.
Ms. Connie Boisvert, Director, Aboriginal Resource Centre: Thank you for inviting me. Honourable senators, I will give you some background on how our centre evolved. In 1994, Premier Ralph Klein's government announced the redesigning of children's services, child and family services and the social services system that existed at the time. A three-year community consultation process was conducted in different areas of Alberta. Provincial officials met with community members to discuss how to redesign children's services.
From that process came the new design in our area, that social services, child services, child protection and so forth would be community based. The city is divided into different communities of services. I am sorry that I do not have the exact number. I believe there are anywhere from 10 to 12 different communities of services, COSs.
It was identified that community-based services were needed to serve the needs of each community. COS 1 might have different needs from COS 8, with different services offered.
In the Aboriginal community, we identified a need to have all of these different services available to our children and the entire family. When I speak of the family, I speak of it as an entirety, including biological parents and extended family members.
The resource centre works to assist families to connect with already existing programs and services. We have the forms available. If we do not, we try to get them. We allow the families to complete the forms at the centre and ensure that they have all the documentation before they proceed to the next service area.
In the past, individuals were going from one service to another. Each time, they would need to tell their complete story. We try to reduce that repetition. Our goal is to keep reducing it to a point where we can possibly eliminate it, by working together as a community.
We have a staff of only four. The Calgary Rocky View Child and Family Services Regional Authority currently funds us. They have told us to try to secure funding from other levels of government or the private sector.
With a staff of four, trying to meet community needs and do that too is very difficult, if not impossible.
The position of executive director is not a traditional, mainstream role. I do a lot of the frontline work that is part of working together with the community and with the staff to get the job done. The Aboriginal population in Calgary is reported to be anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000, depending on where the information comes from. Currently, well over 600 families are at different levels of securing support through the centre. Some we have not seen for over a year; some we see on a weekly basis. Last year, over 300 new families came to the centre to secure supports for their families. Youth are part of the family, and so are prenatals and seniors.
We are fortunate in Calgary in that there are some programs available. The need for more is great. There are more families than the existing programs could possibly serve. We have heard from the community about the need for more parenting programs, but not done in the traditional way. Our families have identified the need for hands-on parenting programs.
From my perspective, people identify with the sandwich generation. My generation, people my age, are the new sandwich generation. We may have education, or we may be struggling to secure that. We work in different roles. We generally do not have a large pool of strong role models and leaders to guide us. As Ms. Parisian says, there are issues around Aboriginal leaders who have not been the best of leaders and have had to struggle with their own healings and their own path, so we do not always look to them as people we want to follow. The next generation may look to us, and they may not be looking at the best leaders, either. There is always political infighting among the First Nations tribes; there is infighting between First Nations and Metis, and again within Metis settlements and among Metis people. We have our own political conflicts to deal with, as well as dealing with what makes an Aboriginal person. You see a variety of faces and different backgrounds, yet we are all from the same spectrum.
I would like to see consistent funding. One of our problems in Calgary is that when things stabilize and partners and people are working together — it is almost Murphy's law; too many things are going along quietly or too well — there is then a call for proposals and a fight for money. Then everything gets stirred up again. People who were working together are suddenly competing again for the same dollars. That hampers, and, to some extent, destroys a large part of the partnership.
In 2001-02, the Aboriginal Resource Centre secured funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage to conduct a survey of Aboriginal youth and families to determine some of the barriers to accessing services. I have brought this report with me, and I hope honourable senators will read it. There were many excellent recommendations made by youth.
As I said, it would be in the best interests of the service providers and provide the greater bang for our buck, if you want to call it that, if we were able to secure long-term funding, with constant monitoring to ensure that the funds were being delivered appropriately, rather than having the constant call for proposals and the fight for dollars. The people in the community who are doing the best work should not always have to fight for those dollars. It would be good to allow them to present their case and to secure more dollars to do that. Some of the successful organizations that are very good at advocating and fighting for dollars end up becoming the bigger organizations. To some extent, they end up finding a way to destroy smaller organizations in our city that may be doing some very good work. The smaller groups become intimidated, do not submit proposals and do not proceed with what they need to do.
I struggled with whether to come here and present some of the challenges that are occurring in my city, or to present all of the good stuff that is happening. I would like to present from the report, from what the youth said, a possible vision of the future. I know that in our city right now, there is an ongoing discussion — and it is only a discussion — about creating an area, a spiritual land, where Aboriginal people, First Nations, Metis and so on, could go to host ceremonies. That would be a great asset to our city.
I have spoken to some of the youth who participated in this project. They said that they would like a centre where they could go for recreational and cultural activities and where they would feel welcome. One of their concerns, and they are quick to identify them, is that they do not want to come across as saying they would like a centre for Aboriginal youth. They do not want to be segregated or appear unwelcoming of other children, youth or families. When they attend other centres, they do not really feel welcome.
When people see a group of four or five Aboriginal persons coming down the street together, they think ``gang.'' Racism and discrimination are still a big concern and still very much alive in our cities. How do we eliminate that? It is a challenge. One of the biggest concerns is that perception becomes reality. If we hear on the news and see on television all of the negative and terrible things that are happening in our community, that becomes part of the reality. We hear about the youth gangs. The other day, I witnessed a group of youth assisting a person in a wheelchair that was about to tip over. You do not hear that on the news. I was too far enough away to see whether they were Aboriginal or not, but I can tell you that they certainly looked like rappers from the way they were dressed. People would automatically think that that is a negative group of youth and there is no way they would help that person. Yet they ran over there, helped the person before he fell, and let him go on his way. We need to change perception. We change perception by changing the kind of information we release to the community. Perception then becomes part of our reality.
I envision a future in which, at the heart of all cities, there is an area in a campus-like setting for ceremonial activities, a recreational area, and separate but connected buildings for separate agencies. I say that they need separate, smaller buildings to try to eliminate any possibility of conflict. If you have one large building containing everyone, you may be creating conflict over who is in what part of the building. However, if you have a campus-like setting, like the University of Calgary and other universities, where different buildings are designated for different areas, you would not put law and psychology together because they would probably not get along very well, but they get along great when they are on the same campus in separate buildings. I would like to see support from all levels of government and the private sector for something like that, with the recognition that it is not isolationism or segregation of Aboriginal people; it is allowing them to have the opportunity to build, heal and develop their own identity. People from any walk of life would be welcome to attend and participate, if they would like to.
Individuals also recommend support for stay-in-school programs. Currently, we have a few mentoring programs. The Aboriginal Resource Centre has been working with the Aboriginal Mentoring Program.
We have currently been able to secure the mentoring program for three schools. Kim Trottier, who is running the program, has been working with a practicum student in our office to get that program into schools. It is a challenge to get through the bureaucracies of our education system. Thankfully, the principals at these schools identified the need for the mentoring program. She is currently recruiting successful Aboriginal youth and young adults. She will screen them to participate in this and be role models for the next generation.
Our goal is to identify individuals who can be really good role models for the next generation. Healing is a long path. It will not happen overnight. It will not happen without some stumbling.
Unemployment, poverty and housing are big issues. We have put in a proposal, with the support of the Canadian Red Cross and the Sunrise Community resource centre, which is another centre like ours, to secure housing advocates. We are looking at securing housing advocates to persuade landlords and management to make more units available to Aboriginal people. In order to do that, they have identified the need to have someone that they can contact, someone that they can meet with when they are encountering difficulties with families. If we are able to secure that, and if it were long term, we could develop ongoing relationships with landlords and management to provide families with a stable environment.
We can then work with youth to make housing available just for them. Some Aboriginal youth sometimes feel that having children is a way to secure supports. Without them, they find it more difficult, if not impossible.
I hope that honourable senators are able to read this report and take some of the recommendations to heart, identify some of the things that are working very well in Calgary, and support long-term and stable funding so that people do not have to compete on a yearly basis. Every March 31 is a new competition for more funding.
Staff members are, for the most part, on the lower end of the pay scale. Benefits for frontline staff accomplishing this work are usually non-existent. If they secure employment in non-Aboriginal agencies, they may be the only people there. They may secure a higher wage and benefits, or better benefits, but then they find themselves isolated and alone. They come to places like our centre to be revitalized and reenergized. It does not matter if other First Nations people, Metis people or Inuit are around. They are around people who understand where they are coming from, their background and their history, and who share similar, if not the same, experiences.
Ms. Leona Quewezance, Health Promotion Coordinator, All Nations Hope Aboriginal AIDS Network: Honourable senators, I am the health promotion coordinator for All Nations Hope AIDS network in Regina. We have come up with nine recommendations for the Senate committee to develop a plan of action, not only to identify the key issues, but hopefully to solve some of those issues.
First, programs and services that target Aboriginal youth have to be owned and controlled by Aboriginal youth and/or organizations.
Second, treatment centres must meet the needs of Aboriginal youth living with addictions. This includes long-term and family-oriented treatment centres.
Third, outreach services and programs need to be developed to meet the needs of Aboriginal street youth.
Fourth, age-appropriate treatment centres and services for youth are required. This includes age 17 and younger, and then young adults aged 18 to 25. We feel there is a big difference there and a big gap in services.
Fifth, Aboriginal youth involved in injection drug use need access to harm-reduction initiatives and programs.
Sixth, provide more funds to deal with issues of poverty surrounding youth. Poverty plays a huge role in youth becoming involved in criminal activities to meet basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and recreation.
Seventh, generational cycles of abuse among Aboriginal families must be adequately addressed and broken.
Eighth, counselling support and after care need to be available to families that have actually taken the step of looking for help.
Ninth, youth who are more susceptible to addictions because of parental history need intervention programs during the early-development stages of life and during their school years. This includes babies who are born addicted or who have been subjected to addictions while growing up.
Those are our recommendations.
The Chairman: Senator Stratton is the deputy chair of our committee. He is also from Manitoba.
Senator Stratton: To put things in perspective, I used to work as a volunteer for the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs in the late 1970s. Travelling to Northern Manitoba, particularly in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was a very interesting experience, especially while observing what was taking place.
When I heard Ms. Parisian speak about 30 years in this industry, an industry in which we are dealing with human lives, I found it really heart-breaking. You try to seek out solutions. All of us would like to find a solution.
Ms. Parisian, when you described your 30 years, it was a pretty bleak description of what had transpired. It almost made me think that nothing had changed since I first went up North in the late 1970s.
There was one common theme from all of you, that is, that long-term, stable funding, family education and housing are critical. I would ask Ms. Parisian if she would agree with that.
If, in a perfect world, you could set up one program on a long-term basis to examine and address the issues of family education and housing, what would it be?
We see statistics showing a shortage of skilled labour developing in our country, particularly in Manitoba and Winnipeg, because we have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Why? To a degree, it is because Manitoba cannot attract skilled labour because of its climate.
Here we have this marvellous opportunity, and yet we do not seem to be able to achieve success in getting Aboriginal youth educated. We really seem to be up against the wall there. Every report or submission I read tends to say that there is a 70 per cent drop-out rate, which is unacceptable.
The very future of Winnipeg is at stake here. It requires something dramatic to address the issue. The Aboriginal people will be the heart and soul of that city and responsible for its future success.
How would you, Ms. Parisian, in an ideal world, address the three fundamental issues of family education, housing, and long-term and stable funding?
Ms. Parisian: In our city, and in the agency that I work for, we try to provide a holistic approach. As the population is increasing, it is getting harder and harder to reach these children and youth in time to be able to make a difference in their lives. I do not want to suggest that it has all been negative or else I probably would have given up a long time ago and walked away. However, we are now dealing with the fourth, fifth, and sometimes the sixth generations of babies, toddlers and children who have been impacted by the residential school, by the fact that many of their parents have been put on the reserve with no opportunity for employment and no opportunity to heal.
The youth whom we try to engage in positive activities come from a background of unhealthy living. They have only known that lifestyle. We try to reach them and their families in order to promote healing. Our agency tries for a holistic approach, which involves not only physical and mental well-being, but also the spiritual aspect, through what has been done to our children. Mr. Jackson talked a little about that spiritual aspect. You can be treated physically. You can treat a wound; you go to a doctor, and he or she puts a band-aid on the wound. How do you treat a spiritual wound? Many of our Aboriginal youth are spiritually wounded. They do not know where they belong. That is why, as Mr. Richard was saying, they join the street life. They want a sense of belonging.
We must not only educate them per se; we must also address the need for healing.
It is not only youth who are unemployed, but also their parents. Although the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in our city is graduating many Aboriginal people, they are not getting jobs. I have had an ongoing conversation with the human resources department of the City of Regina, saying, ``Until you hire Aboriginal people within your human resources department, and until you hire Aboriginal people in management, where policy decisions are made, you will not attract our people.'' Members of my own family who have degrees have applied for city jobs. They do not even get interviews. I have had many Aboriginal people come to me and ask, ``Why can I not get a job? I have tried.'' Even with our connections, they cannot get jobs; yet non-Aboriginal people are being hired in those positions. Something needs to be done to address that.
Yes, the schools are doing good work. They are trying to do outreach. Still, they do not have Aboriginal principals. They do not have Aboriginal teachers, except for those who are in the classroom all day and not able to go out into the community and reach out to the people.
You talked about education. I also go to youth court because of my job. I had a son who was involved in the youth system. At youth court, there are usually 15 to 20 youth being called up for various offences involving property — stealing and so on. Out of those 15 or 20, there may be only one or two who have family there to support them. When they come into the court, they must sit in the prisoner's box. They look to see who is out there. The judge will ask, ``Will the family please step forward?'' No one steps forward for these youth. It is a sad situation. Sometimes I feel like getting up and saying, ``Look, I will represent this youth,'' because there is no one else to do it.
Who cares about these youth? Their parents cannot because they are not in a healthy situation. Who is? That needs to be addressed.
I agree that the issues you mentioned are important. They require a long-term strategy. The time for these short- term projects is past. We need to look at some long-term healing initiatives for our people.
Senator Stratton: To go to Ms. Boisvert, in Calgary, if you look at areas in which the issue of long-term, secure funding needs to be addressed, would you agree they are family, education and housing? Looking at those areas, if you had to design and select a program that would have an impact, and did not have to worry about competing on an annual basis for dollars, what system would you set up for Aboriginal youth in the cities?
Ms. Parisian: Based on what I am hearing today, and on my experience of what has and has not worked over the years in our community, I would say that it cannot be done without creating a partnership. It cannot be done without many stakeholders coming to the table with an agenda, not to see how they or their agency can benefit, but with the goal to improve, or make a difference in, the lifestyle of the youth.
Education can cover a whole spectrum of things for different people — youth, children or adults. What does that mean? Bringing the stakeholders together is a workable way to address those issues. We have a federal government initiative in our area called the Kids First initiative. Our provincial government is involved in it. When it was first announced, many stakeholders from the community got together and decided what would be done with that funding. It was a five-year program. Rather than just saying, ``Here is the money, let's spend it,'' they actually worked together to develop an action plan. That is one positive thing that is happening in our community. Of course, everything could be improved in terms of the money actually reaching Aboriginal people.
Ms. Boisvert: I am a product of the Winnipeg system. I am from Manitoba. My family lives just outside Winnipeg. I also attended the Winnipeg School District No. 1. We had a home in the west end during the time that my sisters and I were attending school.
It is very different now from when I grew up as part of that system. It is not all positive; it is not all bad. I grew up in a system where we were all lumped together as ethnics, whether we were First Nations or from the wrong side of Europe — because there was a right side and a wrong side — the Aboriginal kids, kids from South America and other parts of the world. We were referred to as ``ethnic.'' Some of us, especially the girls, were told the best that we could do is get pregnant, get married, hopefully, and raise some kids. That would be ``success.''
The majority of us were successful, in our own eyes, and not because of the support we received in the system, but in spite of the lack of it. Even at the university level, I had an English professor who stood up in a class of about 30 students — and there were four women in that class — and stated that he did not believe women should be at university. This was not in the 1960s. This was in the early 1980s. If women needed post-secondary education, the professor felt that they should be at a separate university, because, by virtue of being there, they were a hindrance to males securing their education.
For the most part, those of us who have succeeded have done so not with the support of the establishment, but with the support of our families. From my perspective, my father is a strong male figure in our household. There was no option but to go on to post-secondary education. He did not give us a way out. He did not make it an option. I was very lucky to have a strong father in my home. Many other people, both males and females, are not as fortunate. There are many families that are not on a path of healing or wellness.
Since then, I left Winnipeg and moved to Calgary, but I have three sisters who are living and working there and doing very well, as well as many friends. Having that experience and that connection, I should like to see the support for the in-school mentoring programs in Manitoba developed and strengthened. I know that some of the teachers that I had have since moved on to other things, and I am hoping that the new teachers who have taken their place are cut from a different cloth. They were not a supportive group.
With respect to school support and having adults who are truly on a path of healing, people know each other in the Aboriginal community. It is a small community. When a person is put into the position of being a role model, the other people in the community will know if that person is honest, has integrity and is worthy of taking on that role, or whether he or she is imposing that role on himself or herself.
For the city I currently live in, Calgary, I would like to see some of the new programs that are in their infancy being supported, along with the long-term mentoring program, which is also in its infancy. It is only two or three years old, and this is the first year where it is in the schools. I would like to see that program strengthened.
We are starting a new hands-on parenting program. The design came from the parents and the people who participated in the already-existing parenting programs, and they told us what they liked and what needed improvement. This new parenting program addresses those issues. Is it perfect? Will it be everything everyone wanted? Probably not. There is room for change and improvement. We need more of those kinds of programs, rather than people fighting.
I would love to see an Aboriginal resource centre in every quadrant of the city. Right now, the Aboriginal Resource Centre is the only one, and we cover all of Calgary and the Rocky View area. Some people would say to that, ``Well, you are sort of cutting your own throat. What will happen?'' We need to stop the competitive thoughts. It scares me when you say it is an industry, because that is what people are starting to see it as. They are starting to see it as an industry, as a business: ``How can I, as the representative from my organization, get the most money for my organization so that I can help the most people?'' If we all work together and have stable funding, what would be so wrong with having an Aboriginal resource centre in every quadrant of the city? If we could get more, that would be even better.
I have no problem with that. I think it is wonderful. I will help them. If they want my help and the help of our board to get them started, we will give it and then let them do what they need to do in their own areas. We do not need to worry so much about losing our jobs that we come to the point where we fear another organization similar to ours is getting started. There is an Aboriginal school that has just started up again. It used to be the Plains Indian Survival School. I cannot pronounce the name and do it justice, so I will not. It has a Blackfoot name, and it is an Aboriginal family school in Calgary. It is run through the Calgary Board of Education. This is great. We need to support that program and support education. It would be great if we could work with the school system to enlarge that school, have Aboriginal family housing advocates there, where the children are attending, and have an opportunity to meet with those people.
Regarding HIV and health issues, the health nurse could be based there. We could house all of this in an area where the youth and families would be able to access it readily and not have to go across town. Right now the school is small and can only do so much, but we could support it's getting bigger.
Mr. Richard: I would like to comment on the schooling issue, if you do not mind.
One of the things that came out of a conference that we had with the street youth was their need for education. Most of them had dropped out at a pathetically early age or had been kicked out. They are finding that to be a significant barrier to getting even the most menial jobs, because they are often illiterate and cannot even read an application form.
We took their challenge to the Toronto school board, which was undergoing its own reorganization at the time, but we were persistent. We requested a classroom on Yonge Street. We asked if we could have a classroom in Jarvis Collegiate, which is one of the most renowned schools in Southern Ontario, put two teachers in it, augment the teachers in that classroom with two of our Aboriginal staff, and start working on some of the issues that were confronting the kids on the street. We found everything on the street, from kids who were geniuses in many ways and had no problem performing in school, to kids with learning disabilities, fetal alcohol syndrome, et cetera. All of these kids moved forward. These are kids who sleep in shelters at night and in the Don Valley, so imagine going to school when you are in that kind of environment. Through the guidance of a strong Aboriginal role model, who has been able to form relationships with those guys and a couple of girls, they are coming to school on a daily basis and they are graduating. We brought in six in our first year. Currently, four are graduating, four have dropped out and another four are still struggling. It is an ongoing intake. Part of that school is used for our drop-in service. They will go to school and have a meal. The other part of the drop-in service is meals every day.
Their case manager is close by. It is a total wrap-around experience for the kids. As a result of that, we have had tremendous success.
The fact that it is Jarvis affiliated means it is not second rate. The fact that it is on Yonge Street means it is absolutely accessible.
If we have done one thing right, that is it. I must give the credit to the youth themselves for putting that idea forward.
Senator Christensen: Your presentation it certainly raised all the major problems and many of the goals. However, we still have major gaps between where we are today and reaching those goals. Often, it is such a vicious circle. Certainly, dealing with damaged spirits in young people is a major problem. A baby being moved from foster home to foster home quickly loses the ability to love and to feel a part of anything. They give their love, they are moved and then they give it again. Pretty soon they stop, because they just get hurt more and more.
I should like you all to comment on this area. With the long history of addictions, and with alcohol being a major one, what do you see in this population of young people in the way of FAS and FAE? These are insidious diseases that cannot be cured but which must be worked with. What percentage of the young people suffer from those kinds of afflictions?
Ms. Parisian: I cannot recall the statistics; however, I know there are some available. I know that they are high enough to raise major concerns among our people themselves and among the schools that these children attend. We see judges now having to consider that when sentencing people. I do not know if I would call it an epidemic, but I would call it serious enough that there must be some means to address it.
Senator Christensen: Are there any specific programs in any of your areas of expertise and work that deal with the problem?
Ms. Parisian: Our work in this area is through the Aboriginal Headstart Program. We are hoping to set up a process that can diagnose these children at an early age. Treatment can then follow. The Aboriginal Headstart Program is one of the few programs that actually have dedicated five-year funding. Hopefully, if that continues, early identification will help to make a difference.
Senator Christensen: About $180 million was included in the 2001 budget to deal with FAS. Do you see that filtering down to the agencies that you people are working for?
Ms. Boisvert: FAS/FAE has been renamed FASA. There is a team of about six doctors who run a diagnostic clinic at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary. Dr. Leonard Crowshoe leads that team. The Foothills is the only hospital in Alberta that undertakes to diagnose this condition. They do amazing things.
Specific programs and services for children with FAS/FAE are coming down the line. The process is slow. I would encourage you to contact Dr. Crowshoe and ask him to make a presentation to this committee.
We have worked with foster parents, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who wanted to join together to use their expertise to provide services and to lobby government and service agencies to get support for their foster kids. They are still working together and still lobbying.
Mr. Jackson: One of the problems in terms of funding for programs at the community level is that calls for funding are often placed on Web sites and do not actually get down to the community level, where funding proposals are actually drafted. That seems to be a barrier. I am thinking in particular of the Aboriginal institute and the Canadian Institute of Health Research, who have placed calls for funding on their Web sites. The HIV/AIDS division of Health Canada has also placed funding calls on their Web site. If you are not browsing through the Web pages on a regular basis, you miss them.
We have tried to log in on a regular basis, and when we notice these calls, send them out to our community groups and others connected with our organization. However, it creates a problem in terms of not knowing that there is funding available for programs that address these issues.
Mr. Richard: We have two dedicated staff members who deal with the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome in both parents and their children. We run a parent group that is essentially a lifestyles group for people who are severely affected and who have responsibility for kids. Part of our agenda is to work with them so that they are able to care for their kids and not lose them to the children's aid societies. People with that problem are often seen to be inappropriate parents. We have found that with a little support, they can sometimes be good parents.
One of the issues, however, is getting a mother to come out to a program with her FAS child. I am sure you can appreciate what that means. It is known that she caused that problem in her child. She is full of remorse, shame and anxiety about it. Often, she is fearful that the child welfare system will apprehend that child because of her drinking.
A creative approach to outreach on the FAS ticket is needed, and it must not be too direct. It should be an approach that talks about parenting generally. Through the establishment of a relationship, you begin to identify the kids and to work toward easing the family into the process of recognition and mourning. You must mourn the child who has FAS because that child has limited life possibilities. We must then start the work of maximizing everything that the child can be.
We are dealing with a couple of generations. We have mothers who have FAS, as do their children. They are families that need a lot of support. We are doing it. It is critical for any multi-service, family-based Aboriginal agency to do that, given the impact.
As for the funding, we get it at the end of the day, after it is announced by the feds and vetted by all the Aboriginal political bodies. Often, deals are made that I will never hear about. At the end of the day, $10 million can turn into $200,000. I think that is a serious problem that gets in the way of our accessing dollars, because we are at the front line. I would like to figure out a way to fix that. Perhaps this committee can make some recommendations in that regard.
Ms. Quewezance: Many of the people who are slipping through the cracks have FAE. In Regina, we not only see FAS, but numerous babies being born addicted to cocaine, morphine, methadone, Talwin and Ritalin.
If you ask most of the mothers who are bearing these children, they will tell you that their parents were alcoholics. I do not know if we are fostering a bigger problem or if we are not really addressing it properly. However, we have big concerns in Regina. The neonatal unit is full of addicted babies, and they are not addicted to alcohol.
Senator Sibbeston: I come from the Northwest Territories, where the problems are not as significant as those you have told us about in the urban centres. Most of the Aboriginal people in the North live in small communities, and I was involved in politics for a large part of my life, so I am aware of the problems. At the same time, it is not a situation of hopelessness, of utter poverty. People are slowly emerging from a traditional way of life and adopting a more modern way. In the larger centres, such as Yellowknife and Inuvik, people are getting on their feet through the land claims that have been settled with Aboriginal people.
I like to think that in at least one part of our country, the status of native people is good. I can probably say that of the Inuit people, who have their own territory, Nunavut, and self-determination. Aboriginal people are involved in all aspects of society, in government, politics, business, et cetera.
It occurred to me that since you are from Aboriginal child and family service groups, in your work you would see many of the problems that exist amongst native people, and I am hearing that there are many problems. One part of me wants to hear that there is hope, and that somewhere in society, there are hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal people who are doing well, making their own way and slowly integrating into society. I am generally aware that, in western parts of our country, such as Saskatchewan, Aboriginal people are becoming a significant part of the population through natural population growth over time. I understand that Aboriginal people will become significant in number in some Saskatchewan cities.
Is there hope? I recognize that in the work you do, you are in touch with most of the problems. Are you aware of any positive situations? Obviously, in your social work, you see people who have problems. Perhaps that taints your view of the situation.
I would like to know that there is hope for Aboriginal people. Is there hope for Aboriginal people in the cities, and in your areas of Canada, such that in 5, 10, 20 or 30 years, Aboriginal people will be a significant, strong and greatly contributing factor in our society?
Mr. Richard: There is a significant amount of hope. First, my world contains people who are having the most difficulties. That may skew, to some extent, the presentations that we make. Toronto receives all manner of Aboriginal people from all over the world, really, and most of them are doing fine. We are talking about how they eventually came to be doing fine. Each individual will have his or her own story. That being said, there is a large middle-class population of Aboriginal people in Toronto, from all over Canada, who are doing fine. I have a board of directors, for example, that is full of such people. I am delighted to be able to report that.
For the people with whom we work — the ones who are most at risk, the most disaffected and those who come to us with all the legacies of Colonial Canada at its worst — there is still hope. I have seen street kids who have been written off and whom we believed had only two options: The first was death and the second was jail. We have been able to break that cycle for many of them, such that they are now clean and sober. Some are drummers in our Red Spirit Drum program.
I was recently in Andong, Korea, to chaperone six Aboriginal street youth who had sobered up and been invited to perform at an international dance festival. These kids were once written off, a couple of them as developmentally handicapped, which they were not, by the way. We enrolled them in our school when they began moving forward. With a good, nurturing environment, staff members who understand their needs, adequate core funding over time, and a place that kids or youth can call their own and where they have some kind of control, you can reach almost everyone. However, there will always be sad stories and casualties.
Some of them are so far gone that we cannot get them back. There is one poor guy that we simply try to keep alive, for example. He is a heroin addict and does not eat, but he comes in when he is hungry. There is some movement for him too, because he is not dead today, whereas everyone around him was. Maybe one day he will kick his habit. You cannot be in this business without having an overall sense of optimism. When you look at the faces of some of these folks, you know that there is a spark there. It is up to you to build on that spark. It is up to the Canadian government to allow us the opportunity to do that.
Ms. Boisvert: I hope that I have projected a positive image. There are many good things happening in Winnipeg and in Calgary. We have a dedicated Aboriginal school and head-start programs. We have a mentoring program in the public and catholic school systems. Although it is in its infancy, it will grow because the youth and the participating families will ensure that it does. Some people who have come to us and have come before you are living, walking proof that there is hope. If there were no hope, we would not be here; things will change.
You will not be able to help everyone, but so many others will come forward whom we will be able to support, and who will, in turn, be able to support others. It comes down to: Help one person and he or she will help someone else, and the path of healing will continue.
I would like to see some of the programs that are truly working well expand. There is a difference between a program that is actually meeting the needs of the families and one that is being evaluated as such, but is not really working. Sometimes I become apprehensive when I hear someone say about a program: ``We are doing so well. Here is our evaluation, which is proof to government funders that we are doing well.'' In the community, people who use that program say: ``Really, I am not getting a lot out of that. I go there, but I am not getting a lot out of it.''
When it comes to evaluators, the more they are third-party, unbiased and removed from the program, the better they are. When an evaluator who is completely removed from us says that we are doing well, that provides more credibility. That is happening now with some programs.
There are programs doing that right now, such that people can come forward and say, to you and to the community, ``Yes, this is a worthwhile program to put your money into that is going to have the biggest impact.'' When we see city programs that have questionable leadership, where there is mismanagement of funds and yet continuous support from government and funding officials for those programs, the rest of the community says, ``What is going on? How come they cannot see the forest for the trees? These programs and these people are not doing their job. Money is being diverted to areas where it should not be, and they continue to get funding.''
The only way that you can solve that, being so far away from so many other communities, is to have the people from those communities come forward and say, ``This program is not doing its job. Do not put any more money into it.''
Mr. Richard: That is a critical point. We find that the bureaucrats who are in charge of managing grants are highly intimidated by the Aboriginal sector. There are those who know how to use that intimidation. I have seen bureaucrats run for the hills when they really should be evaluating a substandard program. We will have to work on that somehow. I am not sure if it is a training issue. I am talking about funding bureaucrats who are employed by various levels of government. I do not think it serves the clients well when bureaucrats will not confront something when they see it is not going well.
Ms. Boisvert: Just because they are Aboriginal people, it does not mean they cannot be bullies. We have our own bullies in the community who will use their abilities to whatever extent necessary to secure the most for themselves.
Senator Pearson: Thank you all for coming. It has been a fascinating presentation. There are certain consistent themes that come through on the question of the long-term, stable funding, with evaluation, as Ms. Boisvert puts it. That so many parents would like the hands-on stuff makes a great deal of sense to me. Having someone who actually comes to help out when you have that tiny baby — not someone who gives you a lecture about what you should be doing — I would support any move in that direction. I really wanted some elaboration, because it is absolutely essential, on this question of mentoring. Even when you have not been able to work with people in the early parenting period, there is still this other opportunity. Mentoring is an extremely important factor in the lives of so many people.
Do any of you know of studies that have been dedicated to mentoring young people, not just in the Aboriginal community? What about the quality, consistency, time commitment, and so on and so forth? Do you know of any studies on mentoring young people that would be helpful in framing our recommendations? I am sure that we would like to say something about the issue of mentoring.
Ms. Parisian: I do not know the name of the study, but in the course of the research that I do, I did read about a youth mentorship program. I do not even remember where that was done, but they did have some success with it. Our community schools in Regina have what they call a buddy system, which is a mentorship program whereby the older kids take on the role of mentoring the younger kids. That works as well.
Within our family programs, if we offer parent education classes, for example, we run a variety of those throughout the year and they become like a support group. As the program continues, there is usually a group of women who have completed that and will continue to meet afterwards and mentor one another in those kinds of issues. This is a positive way to go. It can work at all levels, from children to youth to the adults.
The Chairman: Mr. Richard, do you have any comments on research on mentoring?
Mr. Richard: I do not have any research, but I know it works. Here is what I think works. I run a summer camp — this would be an example — and I make sure that we hire well-turned-out Aboriginal youth to be the primary interface between the little six- and seven-year-olds and the staff at the camp. This would include people who are in university or college, who look healthy and espouse all the things we want to see in our youth. You can call that a mentoring program, but you can call it many other things as well. These camp counsellors establish those relationships with the little ones. Those relationships go on year after year as the kids return to camp. At the end of the day, some of these little ones, as they grow up, are going to say that a significant person in their life has been their summer camp counsellor, who showed them that they could get to university, succeed and be proud of their Aboriginality.
We do not formalize mentoring, but in our hiring we are always conscious that that is how kids learn. It is a significant factor, particularly with kids who are a little iffy with respect to the clarity of their own identity, people who may have internalized some nasty images of Aboriginal people. Suddenly, they meet a five-foot-ten, really good- looking Mohawk guy who excels in sports and is on the debating team. It has quite an impact on little kids to meet the likes of him. This is the kind of stuff we do; it is less formal, but I think it is equally effective.
Ms. Boisvert: Mentoring studies have been conducted with different programs. There is the Rediscovery Program, which currently has mentoring programs on an international basis too. That is a mentoring program with a history behind it, and information on that can be forwarded to you.
There are mentoring programs involving different ethnic backgrounds all over the United States, and throughout the world, with a proven track record. We derive the information and the support for our mentoring programs from that.
Senator Pearson: I have been working with one young person and she and I have been friends for a long time. She calls me her ``tormenter.'' One of the roles of mentors in the lives of younger people is to push them. You are not just modeling, you also have to have this commitment to push them and say, ``Well, look, you know, you did not do it.'' I am interested in following through on other research. The Rediscovery Program is interesting, so thank you for signalling that one. We will look at other things.
Senator Léger: I do not know if they are really questions, but I will point out the things that struck me. Thank you, Mr. Richard, for mentioning Robert, who managed in Toronto, but then was totally lost coming here.
Of all of the witnesses that I have had the good fortune to meet, I feel that you in the Aboriginal community are the forerunners of what is to come. I know that what you have been through in the past is unbelievable; however, I think, for example, you are asking for long-term projects when today everything is short term. There are no more permanent jobs; it is just temporary or freelance. Everything is short and quick, and that is the opposite of what you need, not just to survive, but to actually live. Society will have to go back to its roots.
Speaking of roots, I do feel that a large percentage of Aboriginal youth who go to cities for work are uprooted. That is something your centres can certainly try to deal with, but when that happens, there are all these consequences.
I know this is the ideal. However, I think that, from everything I have heard from the witnesses, yes, there is hope.
Mr. Richard, I loved your comment about ``How come $10 million turns into $250,000?'' I come from the East and it is the same thing there. They sell their fish for I do not know what amount, but at the end, the fisherman gets four cents, and you say, ``What happened?'' I know it was once lobster season and I wanted lobster, but because I got it from the store instead of the wharf, the one that was caught at my doorstep went to Toronto and then was sold back. That was the only way that we could get some in winter, out of season. There is money there. I hope will be able to correct that.
One last thing: Do we protect the leaders? Ms. Parisian, you said you have been in this business for 30 years. Do we protect these incoming leaders? Do we give them work? Otherwise, they will have to change to something else.
Ms. Parisian: I agree that they need to be provided with opportunities. Right now, I am thinking of the people in our community who have degrees and are unemployed.
We hire family support workers at our centre to provide in-home counselling. They do not need a degree, but we are able to hire people with degrees because they cannot find a job anywhere else.
In terms of protection, there is a mentorship aspect to that as well. Mentorship replaces the family these youth never had. Mentorship validates that they are worthwhile, and will give them the hope and encouragement to continue on their path of healing.
It is the same with our leaders. I was mentored while growing up. That is why I was able to stay where I am now. I have also mentored many others. I believe most of the people at this table have probably taken on that role. Many times, we get that support from our families. However, where do you go when you do not have a family?
Senator Hubley: I would like to thank the witnesses for their presentation this morning.
I did have some questions, but I should like to return to the funding issue. You made an important point for the committee this morning, from your side of the table. You feel that funding is important, but there must also be some transparency, credibility and evaluation. Both Mr. Richard and Ms. Boisvert commented on that, but I wonder if Mr. Jackson, Ms. Parisian and Ms. Quewezance might have something to say about their experiences.
Ms. Quewezance: One of the main reasons we think the funding issues are most important is because programs need to be Aboriginal-owned, operated and controlled. It ties into mentorship too: A street youth who needs help will look to someone who has been there and done that, rather than someone who is looking down on them and saying, ``Well, maybe you should try this.'' That method will not work. If you hire people who may not have a degree, but who have lived on the streets, made it and cleaned up their life, you have given them a job and possibly changed their life. It has a domino effect. It will hit them all in one way or another.
I do not think the solution is funding specific organizations. The money must come from somewhere. As was said, programs must be credible and capable of being evaluated. There is no funding for outreach programs. How are we supposed to reach them? We had one lady say that sometimes, you actually need somebody to take your hand. If you have a mother who is addicted to morphine, she needs someone to take her hand, take her to a program and tell her how to clean up her life. It should be someone who has been there and done that.
People think it is all about money. Money gets things started, but it is not money that creates success. It is the people. I believe that funding is important, but not only for people with degrees.
Mr. Jackson: I want to echo what Ms. Quewezance said about funding needing to be Aboriginal-directed. Recently, we encountered a situation in which we will lose a program that mentors undergraduate students in community-based research on HIV/AIDS. That program will be moved out of the HIV division at Health Canada, and out of our organization, which operated it, into the Canadian Institute for Health Research, because of the funding issue. It did not appear as if we had a voice in that decision. It seemed to be a political decision at some level.
I believe that the success of programs ultimately depends on the extent to which funding proposals and guidelines involve Aboriginal people.
Ms. Parisian: We want all our systems to work, but sometimes they do not. As I said earlier, I support self- government and I believe that we should be given that opportunity in a positive way. On the other hand, self- government within our nation sometimes takes an approach that is not democratic. We therefore have elected leaders, but they have not always been democratically elected.
I am not saying anything that does not make the news.
Our people are oppressed. Sometimes, they oppress each other because that is the only way they have been taught to deal with situations.
We do not have oppositions in our governments. In our area, we have a Metis government. They say that we will deal with that government because it is the elected government. How do they become elected?
Approximately eight years ago, there was $22 million in funds for employment and training for our people. We are now down to about $10 million.
My daughter tried to access money to go to school, but they had shut down the entire program in our area. All the students who were going to university could not continue because of mismanagement by the politicians who were in charge of that money. That has happened with much of the money that should have gone into programs and services.
How do we deal with that? Do we elect an opposition? Do we revisit the political structure for our people? It is a sad situation.
I said earlier that bringing the community stakeholders together and working from a community-based perspective seems to work. The Head Start Program is currently working well in our area. When that initiative was announced five years ago, it brought together all of the people in our community who had a stake in that and wanted to see what they could do. They held meetings. Even that was not a perfect system, because one of the stakeholders decided to withdraw and get their own money.
Let's face it; you need money to do anything. Many of our people have never had money. We need it in order to improve our situation.
Some people did remain at the table to discuss Head Start and they went through some challenges. However, Head Start did become a community-based program.
Presently, our agency is governed by an all-Aboriginal board of directors with extensive experience in community development. They are all employed and have gone through a healing journey of their own.
The Head Start Program is offered in Regina. We have a provincial committee for the 16 sites in Saskatchewan and a national committee for the approximately 100 sites across Canada. All of the stakeholders are involved in that.
There may be political sponsorship and individual programs that continue to have problems. However, it is not politics that is driving that initiative, it is the community. Investing in communities and building the capacity of the community has worked in our area. I can see it working for other initiatives as well.
Ms. Boisvert: I agree with Ms. Parisian. We cannot change the bureaucracy and go from one level of government to another. Even if it were our own, such as First Nations or Metis, it would only be replacing one form of government with another. There can be as much corruption there as in any other level of government.
For example, we have $600,000 in an early child development fund. How does that end up becoming $200,000 or $300,000? How does that other money disappear? There is no accounting for where it went.
We have monies allocated for employment. We hear that X number of dollars is designated from whatever level of government, provincial or federal, but by the time it gets to the front line, it is one-quarter of the amount stated. How does that happen?
Head Start is a good program, but it is struggling in our city because of community politics.
An elder came to the table. Before he began the opening prayer, we were having coffee, and he said, as if joking but with a serious tone, ``I wanted to say something. If this is to do some good, then I am against it.'' I would finish that sentence to say,'' If this is to do some good, I am against it unless I am the one getting credit for it.''
That seems to be happening even in some community-based initiatives. It is now becoming another political realm, and everyone wants to take credit for whatever.
``Intellectual property'' is now being batted around. I have no idea how that will play out.
We need to find a way to work together rather than competing with each other for the dollars. We need to get rid of the notion that this is a business and bring in the notion that we are saving or supporting lives.
We are not saving individuals. They are saving themselves. We are merely providing the support for people to be able to do that.
The Chairman: Thank you.
Senator Chaput: I thought that all the presentations were fascinating. I also believe that, by listening to you today, we gained some ideas for solutions from things that are already working, and working well. It is up to us now to see what else can be done.
The Chairman: I have one question for Mr. Jackson and for Ms. Quewezance.
I have been involved a little with the issue of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. The Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres published a report. They found that 62 per cent of the youth surveyed were sexually active by age 16 and that more than 50 per cent reported little or no use of contraception. Alcohol and drugs are a major factor. There is a high incidence of teen pregnancy. Many youth are having sex when their ability to make choices and take responsibility is impaired. It was found that 65 per cent of females and 35 per cent of males reported having experienced some sort of sexual abuse.
In light of these findings, and based on your experience, what recommendations would you make in terms of programs and services for these youth?
Mr. Jackson: First, programs need to involve youth in the actual design and delivery of the service. These programs should address, as we have all been saying today, the broad social, cultural, economic and political issues that affect Aboriginal youth. That requires both financial and organizational support.
At the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, we are searching for any bright lights on the horizon. Our network has been running for the past seven months.
We have a program operated by a youth that is looking at developing prevention messages for Aboriginal youth on HIV/AIDS. That program is unfolding and more Aboriginal youth are becoming involved in an advisory capacity. It has the potential to make a positive impact on the community and individuals involved.
Ms. Quewezance: Although those statistics are startling, I am not so surprised. The only thing different in our region is that our youth are having sex for the first time at 14, two years younger.
Poverty, treatment and outreach programs need to be addressed, not education. Who will go to school if they are hungry and homeless? That is why they have a problem in Toronto. I would definitely say treatment is needed. Two years ago, we had a 12-year-old girl who was addicted to morphine and working the streets. There was nowhere we could take her. There was no treatment for her. She could not go on methadone because she was too young. She slipped through the cracks. If treatment had been addressed, and outreach had been available, we might have been able to help her, but we could not. I would say those three for sure.
The Chairman: Thank you very much.
I would appreciate receiving copies of the presentations that were read, as well as Ms. Boisvert's report. Our clerk would like to hand them round.
Mr. Richard: I promised some youth back in Toronto that I would say this: They think that they can articulate things much better than I, and they want an opportunity to come here and show you a movie that they made on the streets of Toronto and do a similar presentation. If that is possible, please consider it. I think you would find it interesting.
The Chairman: Given our clerk their names and addresses so he can contact them.
Mr. Richard: They are homeless, so their address is where I am.
The Chairman: Talk to our clerk.
Thank you very much. It has been interesting and informative. I can guarantee you that your presentations and recommendations will be seriously considered in this report. We need an action plan for change; we do not need another study.
The committee adjourned.