This is page numbers of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was indigenous.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Members, the flags at the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly have been lowered in recognition of the 215 Indigenous children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

This discovery should not surprise us, but it does. Even with everything we already know about Indian residential schools, we can't help but be shocked by the scale of the horrors that occurred. Residential schools are not just a part of our past; they are a part of our present, and their legacy will be a part of our future.

I ask that all Members join me in a moment of silence in remembrance of the 215 Indigenous children who died at the Kamloops school, all residential schools, and give your thoughts to those who survived.

---Moment of Silence

I remind everyone to take the Government of the Northwest Territories' Living Well Together cultural awareness program. It provides a valuable and much-needed education on the lasting effects of colonialism in the north and the path to reconciliation. Thank you, Members. Please be seated.

Ministers' Statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 160-19(2): Indian Residential School Mass Grave in Kamloops
Ministers' Statements

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my statement today, I want to acknowledge that many people, including those who work in and around this Legislative Assembly and Government, are being re-traumatized by the confirmation of the mass grave of Indigenous children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. I am providing this notice so that those who are hurting may choose not to listen if they will be triggered by what I say.

Mr. Speaker, the confirmation of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School last week is a reminder of a dark chapter of Canadian history rooted in the attempted cultural genocide and assimilation of Indigenous people across the country.

We are all grieving at the confirmation of the mass grave by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. This is a devastating moment for so many, especially Indigenous people who have experienced first-hand the system that tried so hard to destroy them and steal their culture and language from them.

On behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories, I want to extend our deepest condolences to Chief Roseanne Casimir, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, and to the families of the 215 spirits who can now come home to rest after all these years.

Mr. Speaker, this is not just a dark chapter in Canadian history; It is part of our present day, as it continues to live on through the multi-generational trauma that has impacted Indigenous people for decades. Because of the physical, psychological, spiritual, and sexual abuse experienced by those torn away from their homes by the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church, the impacts continue to live on in Indigenous communities across the Northwest Territories and throughout Canada.

Mr. Speaker, this is a harmful reminder to so many that the history of the residential school system continues to have a long-lasting impact on families and survivors.

In the Northwest Territories, most of us know someone who has attended a residential school, and we have all felt the impact of the legacy it left and will for generations to come. It is important that we all take care of one another during moments like this. Now is the time for us all to check in on the people in our lives who may be having difficulty as a result of this.

I want to say now to anyone who may be struggling, you are not alone. For immediate assistance to those who may need it, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.

Mr. Speaker, we are mourning the many young lives who never made it home from that school, their lives cut short at the hands of colonialism. This is a difficult time for anyone who has experienced the horrors of the residential school system, and the many generations of Indigenous people who have been impacted by it.

Flags are flying at half-mast today. We want to honour the memory of the thousands of children who were sent to residential schools, for those who never returned, and honour the families whose lives were forever changed.

Mr. Speaker, there is a great deal of work that remains to address reconciliation in the Northwest Territories and Canada, and we continue to move forward on that journey. While it may be long and at times difficult, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to this journey every step of the way. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 160-19(2): Indian Residential School Mass Grave in Kamloops
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 161-19(2): Emerging Stronger: COVID-19 Social and Economic Recovery Plan
Ministers' Statements

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for all of us. Like all jurisdictions, our initial response was focused on public health measures. To date, we have been successful in protecting the health and safety of our residents thanks to the actions we took early and the commitment from residents to follow the public health orders and recommendations in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

As we continue our efforts to be one of the first jurisdictions in the country to successfully implement a vaccination program, we have also been focused on our social and economic recovery.

Mr. Speaker, at the appropriate time later today, I will be pleased to table Emerging Stronger, a social and economic recovery plan for the Northwest Territories.

The pandemic has exposed economic and social gaps in our society and has increased the urgency to address these issues. Emerging Stronger complements our mandate by highlighting areas of responsiveness and further growth.

Emerging Stronger identifies the lessons learned from the urgency and intensity of the pandemic and examines these in the context of our Government's existing mandate to present a set of actions the Government of the Northwest Territories will take to support long-term social and economic recovery.

While our Government's mandate itself provides a foundational plan for strengthening the economic and social conditions in the Northwest Territories that precedes the pandemic, Emerging Stronger builds on our existing commitments to strengthen the Government's vision for social and economic development post-pandemic.

Emerging Stronger includes, for example, commitments to review the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation policies, accelerate work on the Alcohol Strategy, and increase support for addictions programs, as well as efforts to diversify the economy through remediation activities.

Mr. Speaker, our success in social and economic recovery from the pandemic depends on partnerships. Emerging Stronger was shared with Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations for comments earlier this month, and we have discussed it with community governments and the Business Advisory Council.

I would also like to thank the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight for their comments on the plan. We have incorporated the Committee's input, and we will be welcoming comments and feedback from the public on the social and economic recovery plan on an ongoing basis to inform our actions as we move forward with recovery efforts.

Mr. Speaker, the pandemic is ongoing, and many jurisdictions in Canada have been hit hard. The Northwest Territories' recovery planning needs to be responsive to changing circumstances. All actions must take into consideration our fiscal situation and the variability and unpredictability of the pandemic's severity and duration in the Northwest Territories, across Canada, and worldwide.

I am hopeful that we can tackle our biggest social and economic challenges with the same urgency we saw in our initial response to the pandemic. That work involves strong partnerships and collaboration with Indigenous governments, communities, and other stakeholders. The plan notes the expectation for on-going engagement, including through the Government of the Northwest Territories' budget dialogues as work to plan recovery efforts together continues over the near, medium, and long-terms.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the actions this Government took early in the pandemic to support individuals and businesses, particularly vulnerable populations and sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. I believe that Emerging Stronger will be an important tool for continuing social and economic recovery as we emerge from the impacts of the pandemic. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 161-19(2): Emerging Stronger: COVID-19 Social and Economic Recovery Plan
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

Minister's Statement 162-19(2): Wildfire Prevention and FireSmart
Ministers' Statements

Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, wildfire season is here, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or ENR, and our dedicated fire management team are ready.

Today I'd like to provide an update on what ENR has done to get ready for the 2021 fire season and the role residents and communities across the Northwest Territories have in preventing wildfires.

Mr. Speaker, preparation for the wildfire season begins with people. To that end, we have made sure that we have well-trained and well-prepared staff and contractors in place to respond to wildfires across every region and that they are ready to go. We have 37 four-person crews ready to attack early and fast. This includes ten Indigenous-owned companies contracted to provide local fire services. This will serve not only to keep us safe but to build and maintain the skills needed for careers in forest management.

Mr. Speaker, protecting our people and our community is top of our mind as we deliver these essential services in a pandemic. Our wildfire team has maintained strong COVID-19 protocol which the pandemic began in 2020 made some adjustments to how we fight fires to keep people safe.

This year is no different. We continue to have exposure control plans in place designed to protect our staff from the office to the fire line. We have had hired additional staff in smaller communities to make it much less likely we will need to bring in firefighters from other regions or from outside NWT. We have also added two additional air tankers to help us respond quickly when fires are small. We have specific requirements for firefighters if they go to other jurisdictions to help, and we've worked closely with those other jurisdictions to ensure best practices are followed.

Mr. Speaker, our Government is targeting significant reduction in human-caused fires in the NWT over the next five years, and everybody has a role to play. It starts with personal responsibility. It is about taking the extra time to douse your campfires with water. It is about getting a burn permit if you're cleaning up yard waste and following the defined safety requirements. It is about doing your part to stay informed on wildfire dangers in your area and choosing not to have open fires if the fire danger is high or extreme, and it is about understanding that fire restrictions are put in place for reasons and follow them.

Mr. Speaker, our Government invested in outreach and education to give folks the tools to prevent wildfires. Our staff worked with schools and community organizations to provide practical advice to those heading out on the land. They work with local governments to give support and advice as they implement community wildfire protection plans.

Mr. Speaker, even with the best efforts towards prevention, there will always be wildfires. That is where FireSmart principles come in. FireSmart is a practical guide to proactively reduce the risk of damage to your home or cabin before a wildfire. Many of the actions can be done easily and do not cost much, and every single one is proven to make a real difference. We are encouraging individuals and communities to step up and do what they can. We are planning events to build FireSmart awareness at the grassroot level. We are getting these principles out online and over the airways. We are ready to work with homes and cabin owners looking for FireSmart advice.

Mr. Speaker, as the ground dries out and fire danger risks rise, I urge everyone to take responsibility for preventing and protecting against wildfires seriously. It is good for our territory. It's good for our firefighters. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 162-19(2): Wildfire Prevention and FireSmart
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Frame Lake.

Motion to refer Minister's Statement 161-19(2), Emerging Stronger: Planning NWT Social and Economic Recovery to Committee of the Whole, Carried
Ministers' Statements

Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Mahsi, Monsieur le President. I move, seconded by the Member for Kam Lake, that Minister's statement 161-19(2) regarding Emerging Stronger: Planning NWT Social and Economic Recovery be referred to Committee of the Whole for consideration. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Motion to refer Minister's Statement 161-19(2), Emerging Stronger: Planning NWT Social and Economic Recovery to Committee of the Whole, Carried
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you. The motion is in order. To the motion? Question has been called. All those in favour? All those opposed? Any abstentions? Motion is carried.

---Carried.

Minister's statement will be moved into Committee of the Whole. Members' statements. Member for Monfwi.

Remembering Children Found in Mass Graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School
Members' Statements

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we are still reeling from the devastating findings last week at the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School. Ground penetrated radar revealed the remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, Mr. Speaker. Chief of BC First Nations says there are bound to be more. Perhaps many, many more as they comb the rest of the school's grounds. It's a terrible reminder of the unspoken abuses Indigenous people have historically suffered in Canada, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, those 215 skeletons were somebody's children, somebody's nephew, niece, and they had family, cousins, brothers, sisters, aunties, and uncles.

Mr. Speaker, as a residential school survivor myself, this is truly disturbing and traumatizing. I cannot imagine what the families of these children are going through. It is very devastating.

Mr. Speaker, praying is very powerful. Our prayers and thoughts for those 215 children, their families, and for all the Indigenous children and families who have suffered under the Indian Residential School system, we need prayers for the families and our nation for the continued strength and support for continued reconciliation during these very difficult times in Canada's history.

Mr. Speaker, let's never forget this happened. It cannot be hidden. We need everyone in Canada and people throughout the world to know that this history is real. The loss of the children is real. Mr. Speaker, let's remember this day forever. Mahsi.

Remembering Children Found in Mass Graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School
Members' Statements

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Monfwi. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.

Residential Schools
Members' Statements

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, as a child, my summers were often spent traveling around British Columbia and Alberta with my family in our old Econoline van. Whenever we passed through Kamloops, my mom never failed to point out in a sombre voice the ominous brick building on the river, the residential school. As a child, I had no idea what that meant. My school experience was of an encouraging place full of books and wonder, where my biggest concern was a stolen eraser.

25 years later, after moving north, while I was waiting at the Greenstone building, I started speaking with an elder who was there for his settlement cheque. That, at the age of 29, was the first time I'd spoken to anyone about what had been done to "remove the Indian from the child", the first time I heard directly from a victim about the atrocities committed during the formation of the kind, benevolent Canada I'd grown up with, the first time I was aware of the lie I had been fed since birth.

Residential schools operated in Canada for over 120 years with Indigenous children taken from their families and loved ones, sent hundreds of kilometres away, and beaten and abused in the most horrific ways imaginable.

Last week, the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School was made by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. This discovery has shocked Canadians. However, how could anyone who's been paying attention be shocked?

The NWT had the highest percentage of students in residential schools in Canada. The legacy of this is huge, as many of our current social, health, and educational challenges faced in the Northwest Territories can be traced directly to the effects of over 100 years of residential schools.

Our needs are some of the greatest in Canada, yet our response is sorely lacking. No treatment centres for addictions; children still being taken from their parents by CFS; poverty mistaken for neglect; and systemic racism inherent throughout all our processes.

After hearing of the discovery in Kamloops, I feel we must initiate such an investigation in our own territory. 14 residential schools operated in the Northwest Territories with 14 more in Nunavut. If we truly want to have reconciliation in the North, we must return the stolen children to their homes.

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted.

Residential Schools
Members' Statements

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The technology used to find the children in Kamloops is the same as used to measure thickness on the ice roads, ground penetrating radar. Could equipment already in the territory be modified to look at the ground instead?

Alternatively, there are specific units that could be purchased for this work. One of the priorities of the 19th Assembly is to advance the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or UNDRIP. How can we begin this work when we haven't made any efforts to return the stolen children home or acknowledge the true extent of our issues? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.