North Island-Powell River’s MP hopes upcoming legislation might meaningfully help Indigenous communities.
New Democrat Rachel Blaney spoke over the phone on Dec. 11 to touch base on Indigenous issues, like housing, education, employment and aquaculture. Blaney sits on the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs as vice-chair and was recently appointed as NDP deputy whip.
Indigenous housing strategy
Last year, the federal government announced a considerable amount of funding to go toward a national housing fund for Indigenous peoples living off-reserve over the next 10 years. The Liberal government outlined it in the 2017 federal budget, but Blaney believes it may not have any meaningful impact for Indigenous communities.
“It’s been over a year and a half and we still have nothing in terms of a national Indigenous housing strategy, which is really concerning because it doesn’t set a goal or a timeline or a commitment from the federal government in terms of this issue. On the North Island, we heard stories there are some communities that are really challenged.”
In small, rural Indigenous communities, people typically may have to go at it alone when tackling housing.
“I work with communities to push the federal government for some commitment toward housing, but it’s still a case-by-case issue, which doesn’t really lead us to understand more openly what the government’s current plan is to address the issue,” the NDP deputy whip said.
“One of the things we’ve heard again and again from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is that housing is a huge issue,” she added, having already said that overcrowding is a common theme.
“We’re seeing Indigenous communities feeling left out,” she also noted. “We want to see what the Indigenous national housing strategy looks like and we want it to be out there so that there can be a higher level of accountability.”
An announcement will be made soon on an Indigenous housing strategy sometime in the new year.
Indigenous children in care
Blaney is also keeping tabs on an ongoing issue: Indigenous children going into foster care, which was brought up in during the committee meeting last November.
“It is a challenging issue, Indigenous children in care because it oversteps both jurisdictions,” she said. “What the federal government is saying, they’re going to put together some legislation and there’s been some work done with Indigenous communities across Canada.”
She expects an announcement to happen in January on the work government has done to address it.
Looking to rural or remote Indigenous communities: “When we have those kinds of discussions about Indigenous communities taking over the care of Indigenous children, the populations are very small and they just do not qualify for the funding.
“What I’ve heard from both on- and off-reserve Indigenous representations,” she added, “is that there is a desire, of course, to have more ownership of children going into care and what the process looks like. We’ll wait to see. A lot of it we’ll find out in January, I’m hoping, or February what the legislation is actually going to look like.”
Indigenous employment, education
When speaking on education, Blaney said an education cap may not have been lifted by the federal government.
“That’s definitely one part is making sure there are the resources,” she said, having already said Indigenous peoples do not have enough resources for education as it stands right now. The federal government raised the funds for Indigenous students’ post-secondary education but limited the rise to two per cent cap each year.
“It’s very apparent that a lot of communities that are rural or remote across Canada are asking the federal government to step up and find more creative ways to deliver education because sometimes there are specific needs that need to be met in those communities and there’s no way to get them educated unless they go far away from home,” Blaney said.
Currently, for example, North Island Colleges offers Indigenous education such as Kwak’wala, Likwala, and Nuu-chah-nulth language courses close to First Nation communities.
“In terms of employment, these are really challenging issues, again, for rural or remote communities overall and, specifically, in Indigenous communities, it can be a lot higher,” she said.
“I know communities have a lot of great ideas and they have a lot of initiatives. I’ll continue to work with the federal government and push them toward working with communities that are ready to take a leadership role.”
“The divisiveness of this issue has been very hard on communities in the region,” Blaney said. “People have called me from either side frustrated, so I’m glad this step has taken place. I think that when we have meaningful conversations it really can change the dynamics.” The B.C. government recently announced a transition of aquaculture farm sites over the next four years, which would mean immediate shut down of aquaculture farms within the Broughton Archipelago.
She noted that there is now a system in place for inclusive discussion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples on the issue.
During a meeting with Marine Harvest at the MP’s office, Blaney had asked what the possible impacts of the recent changes to aquaculture operations would mean for Port Hardy.
“They seem to have a fairly strong plan and how to move forward and make sure the jobs stay in the communities,” she said.
“It’s important that time is put in to have some of those discussions and that a framework is set up. It doesn’t have to be so divisive.”
When working with the federal government, Blaney also mentioned that she hopes to increase salmon enhancement within the region.
“Those are the things I’m going to be focusing on so that we can have that higher level of accountability. Hopefully, that’s going to make sure that industry and government are talking to Indigenous communities across the board. I see that relationship happening so it is more of a nation-to-nation respectful approach.”