House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Canadian Wheat Board Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canadian Wheat Board Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canadian Wheat Board Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canadian Wheat Board Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canadian Wheat Board Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canadian Wheat Board Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Canadian Wheat Board Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

At the request of the deputy government whip, the vote on this motion will be deferred until the conclusion of Government Orders tomorrow.

On the Order: Government Orders:

December 12, 1996-The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development-Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of Bill C-79, an act to permit certain modifications in the application of the Indian Act to bands that desire them.

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
Government Orders

February 18th, 1997 / 12:30 p.m.

Sault Ste. Marie
Ontario

Liberal

Ron Irwin Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved:

That Bill C-79, an act to permit certain modifications in the application of the Indian Act to bands that desire them, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Mr. Speaker, let me first thank my hon. colleagues for considering the motion to move this important piece of legislation to committee for study before second reading.

From the outset this government has sought to form a new relationship with First Nations, a relationship founded on the cornerstone of self-government. We have made significant progress toward that goal and look forward to the day when the inherent right of aboriginal peoples to self-government is fully implemented throughout this country.

While we are working to reach that goal we must also remove existing impediments to the social, economic and political development of First Nations. Some of the provisions of the Indian Act are such impediments.

As self-government negotiations are completed and ratified, and we are currently involved in about 80 different self-government negotiations across the country, the Indian Act will have less and less application to First Nations and no application to First Nations which have concluded their self-government agreements. But self-government will not come overnight and until these negotiations are completed and all First Nations are again self-governing, the Indian Act will continue to be the governing legislation.

For many years the Indian Act has occupied a unique place in the minds and lives of First Nations. It has been seen as both unwanted and necessary, as both offensive and protective, as both a prison and a shield.

In its chapter on the Indian Act, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples quotes Harold Cardinal, a Cree leader who eloquently sums up the ambivalent feelings that many First Nations have toward this act. Cardinal says: "No society with even pretensions to being just can long tolerate such a piece of legislation, but we would rather continue to live in bondage under the inequitable Indian Act than surrender our sacred rights".

This has been a dilemma. Until now, to move away from the oppression of the act could also have meant moving out from under its protection and from its recognition that First Nations have a unique legal position in Canada which includes a special relationship with the federal government. Not surprisingly, there has been great reluctance to change the status quo, yet the status quo cannot and should not be sustained.

This situation had to change. The approach had to be different. That is why we have introduced the Indian Act optional modification act. The bill takes a step away from the Indian Act but it does not distance First Nations from their rights under the act, nor does it distance the federal government from its responsibility to First Nations. But just so there will still be no room for confusion or misunderstanding, we have included a non-derogation clause in the bill to emphasize that the bill should not be interpreted to reduce protection of aboriginal and treaty rights given by section 35 of the Constitution, including the inherent right of self-government.

We also recognize that not all First Nations will want to adopt the provisions of this new act. First Nations will want to study this legislation and understand its implications. That is why the entire bill is optional. Those who choose to opt in will be able to apply the provisions of this legislation to local governance and their day to day business. The current Indian Act will continue to apply to First Nations who choose not to opt in. It will also apply to all First Nations in areas where the proposed act is silent.

Why are we providing this alternative to the Indian Act? Why are we proposing the first major initiative with respect to the Indian Act in 45 years? The answer is simple: fairness requires it; justice requires it; circumstances require it. We have no other choice.

The Indian Act reflects an earlier time, a time when First Nations were treated as wards of the state. It was a time when non-aboriginal governments did not trust First Nations to manage their own affairs and to run their own lives. It was a time when big brother in Ottawa was given the authority to intrude and regulate the most minute aspects of the lives of First Nations. It comes from a time when aboriginal religious and cultural beliefs were suppressed and aboriginal demands for justice and land claim settlements were opposed.

But today is a very different time. Does it make any sense in this day and age that I as minister should have the authority to operate farms on First Nation lands, purchase and distribute seeds and decide how to spend the profits? The Indian Act says that I can without the consent of First Nations and without any notice. The Indian Act also gives me the power to dispose of wild rice and dead or fallen timber on First Nations land without their permission. On the prairies, First Nations farmers cannot even legally sell their wheat or other agricultural produce without my consent.

This is absolutely ridiculous and should not be tolerated. This is not the way to engender self-sufficiency. This is not the way to foster a spirit of economic independence. This is not the way to conduct relations with First Nations in this country.

The simple fact is that an option is necessary. It is necessary to get the government out of the areas that should be within the exclusive domain of First Nations. It is necessary to remove barriers so First Nations can create their own opportunities and build their own futures. It is long overdue.

No government should make these sorts of changes to a specific group in society without consulting them and without offering them every opportunity for input. That is why we have consulted widely and why we propose to consult even more broadly through the committee study. That is why we are making this legislation optional.

There is nothing radical in what we propose. The optional modifications are minor but taken collectively they would increase the power of First Nations while reducing the powers of both the minister and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

The approach is incremental, to act where there is a base of support and consult where there is not. That is the best way to proceed and that is the way we are going. First Nations and governments agree that discussion and dialogue must continue for that very reason.

It is appropriate that this bill should be referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development before second reading. This referral to committee is important because it allows us to remain open to further changes to Bill C-79. If we were to go the normal parliamentary route and refer the bill to committee after second reading, there would be a perception of greater limits on the extent of amendments that could be made at committee. It is important not to leave that impression.

We believe there is a need for open public discussion. We want the committee to have the freedom to conduct the broadest possible consultation and to have maximum flexibility in its handling of these proposals. By sending this bill to committee now, there will be an opportunity to hold in depth hearings and to consider further additions to and deletions from the bill.

It is time for this House to consider the establishment of a more formal mechanism, an annual review of the Indian Act by the standing committee through which First Nations may bring forward their concerns about particular aspects of the act. In the meantime the government will continue to focus its energies on implementing the inherent right of aboriginal self-government, settling land claims and improving socioeconomic conditions.

The Indian Act optional modification act will give more power to First Nations which will make it easier to get things done. It represents not a destination but a means to take us there.

I have had this job for three years. I thought that the trail of tears aboriginal people have travelled down for hundreds of years was just that, a trail. It is not a trail. On the way back they thought it was a trail but it is a wall. I see aboriginal leaders across this country

almost taking spikes in their hands and driving into that wall to get over it. We have to destroy that wall. I do not care if the UN has said for three years in a row that Canada is the best country to live in. Until we have destroyed that wall, until we can bring aboriginal people back to where they were at the time of the first encounter, we do not deserve that title. This is one way to a better and more equitable future that we can all be proud of as Canadians.

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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would say right off that the minister's plan of action is somewhat incoherent. I will elaborate a little later.

To announce today that this bill is going to amend the Indian Act, which the government has been saying it wants to get rid of for the past three years now, and to say that consultations were very broad, when 550 of 600 native communities in Canada are opposed, is a bit misleading.

I would say first off that the Bloc Quebecois will oppose this bill and the fast track approach. Things are not being speeded up to give the committee a better opportunity to introduce amendments, but to have the bill passed quickly.

I also find it odd that the bill is before the House on the very day the budget is being presented. There is a whole circus underway outside the House, and everyone is focussing on the budget and not on this bill. I think the minister has created a smoke screen. There is a historical context. Before we know where we are going, we have to establish where we are. We have to set out the background.

Before the Europeans came to North America, as the great capitals of the 14th and 15th centuries, like London and Paris, gained international stature, they had no idea that there was another continent with a native population spread across its entirety. There was no problem, because the two continents perhaps had no knowledge of each other.

The problems began at the moment of contact. I am talking about the period that goes from the 16th century to the 19th century. Curiosity and mutual mistrust are normal when two civilizations first meet. Neither knows what the other wants and what the others are up to. There is a period of adjustment. Gifts are exchanges, items are traded-a bit like today's diplomacy. That is the way it was at the time.

These relations evolved. Eventually, relations were established between the First Nations and the Europeans in a wide range of areas, including not only trade but also military co-operation and coalitions. This marked the beginning of the whole treaty era.

Of course, on one side there were the Europeans, vested with the authority of their king and equipped with their seals to stamp on the treaties they signed, while the aboriginal peoples, on the other side, had a totally different philosophy.

In fact, I have a few lines to read you because references are often made to the wampum and I think it is important to explain what it is. The aboriginal peoples' philosophy is clearly explained. Their equivalent to the royal seal was a wampum exchange.

A white wampum background symbolizes the purity of the agreement. Two rows of purple beads represent the spirits of our respective ancestors.

They had respect not only for their own ancestors, but also for the ancestors of those they were dealing with.

Between these two rows are three wampum beads symbolizing peace, friendship and respect. The two rows represent parallel paths, two boats moving side by side on the same river. One is a birch bark canoe, representing the aboriginal people, with their laws, customs and traditions, and the other is a ship, representing the white people, with their laws, customs and traditions. We travel together, but in our own boats. Neither shall try to steer the other's boat.

That was the aboriginal peoples' philosophy, a far cry from that of the Europeans who were thinking in terms of terra nullius , land waiting to be conquered. The treaties were signed in good faith by the aboriginal people. They may not have stamped a royal seal on them, because the custom in those days was to exchange wampum.

Then there was the royal proclamation, and, again, the paternalistic tone the minister uses was very prevalent at the time.

Let me read you an excerpt of the royal proclamation: "And since it is fair, reasonable and essential to our interests-the crown's interests-and to the safety of our colonies-the crown's colonies-that the various nations of savages-as they were called back then-with whom we have some contact and who live under our protection, be neither disturbed nor bothered regarding the ownership of such parts of our domains or territories that were neither bequeathed to us, nor bought by us, these areas are reserved for their use as hunting grounds-" and so on.

This gives an idea of the tone. What is important however, is that, at the time, native people felt this was from nation to nation. They considered that the king was dealing on those terms, even though the tone was definitely paternalistic.

It is in regard to the issue of protection that the federal government resorted to subtleties and developed its scheme to assimilate native people.

In the 19th century, the quasi-equality began to erode. The famous immigration policy was in effect, and boats full of people kept arriving on the continent. By 1812, there were ten times more new immigrants than natives, because the latter had been decimated by various diseases.

The fur trade was also suffering badly. So, the colonies, the Dominion, no longer needed the manpower provided by native people for the fur trade. Things began to change. The economy's new sectors were the forest, wood, agriculture and mining industries.

Then the natives started to be perceived as people who should be removed. With the new economy, native people became an obstacle to the federal government, and I dare say that, given the measures that are being taken and the paternalistic attitudes of this government-they are almost hereditary in government-things have not changed much. The idea that Europeans were superior continued to develop.

The minister is telling us that he will ram through these amendments to the Indian Act. Why is he doing that, if not because he has some authority and is making full use of it in deciding the future of Canada's native people? There are some 500,000 native people in Canada. The minister is saying: "I have the authority. I know you are against this measure, but I will do what is good for you". Things have not changed much since the early days of the colonies.

At the time, the subtlety was in using the famous protection of the royal proclamation, which, for the government, for the Dominion, became a domination-assimilation process. And then the machinery of assimilation kicked in.

In 1849, government, democratic institutions, did something terrible: they created residential schools. The government began taking children from native bands and putting them in residential schools in order to stamp out their culture and their language, so that they could be assimilated with immigrants, who were ten times more numerous. White people outnumbered native people ten to one at the time.

In 1867, a date we keep hearing in all the praise coming from the Liberal party and from all the federalist parties, the Constitution of Canada was signed by the Fathers of Confederation, but no natives were present. In fact, the then newly elected Prime Minister said he wanted to do away with the band system and completely assimilate Indians into the Dominion.

So now we can see a little better why the government at the time felt it had to stamp out the native system of government. It was at this point that the Indian Act, which is completely consistent with Confederation, was introduced in order to regulate all aspects of native people's lives. Not only were children placed in residential schools but, as well, native peoples were told: "Your governments will no longer operate like that. You will elect them in the manner we tell you. We will drive you from your lands sometimes and, if there is no game in one location, we will send you somewhere else. We will decide". In addition, if there were important minerals in a particular location, the government said: "There is no longer any game in this location, so we are going to send you elsewhere", using that excuse to move them so they could make money.

Things went on this way. These displacements were considered to be "in the national interest" at the time.

In 1969, the present Prime Minister, then Minister of Indian Affairs, presented his white paper. It was the same thing all over again: the machinery of assimilation continued forward. He said the Indian Act would have to be abolished. We are hearing the same thing from the minister today. This was the equality they were talking about. Once again, native peoples rose up.

Finally, the native peoples took charge of their destiny. There was an international movement and, relying on the legal aspect, natives began to say: "There are people elsewhere on the planet who are victims just like us". Finally, the Supreme Court and the superior courts in each of the provinces kept handing down decisions in favour of native peoples, with the result that, in 1982, the government had to add to the Canadian Constitution section 35, which protects their ancestral rights.

This is the tradition in which the minister follows. He has not kept the promises in the red book. Furthermore, David Nahwegahbow and Russell Diabo, who wrote the book themselves, said: "They broke their promises, so we are withdrawing".

There were phoney consultations, as I have said. In addition, 550 aboriginal communities want nothing to do with this bill, but the minister is forging ahead anyway, confronting the opposition parties, the official opposition and the Reform Party, and flying in the face of the philosophy contained in the Erasmus-Dussault report.

History will judge the minister. It is not too late for him to do something. If he withdraws his bill, perhaps history will remember him as someone progressive, but if he goes ahead, he will be seen as part of the machinery of assimilation like all the others.

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12:55 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased again to speak to Bill C-79.

I attended the news conference when the minister introduced this legislation. I was not impressed then and I now have had the chance to study the bill and I am still not impressed.

I listened with interest to the minister's concluding remarks. He talked about the need to destroy the wall. Yes, there probably is a

wall there called the Indian Act. The only way it will be destroyed is to repeal the Indian Act.

However, I do not think that is a good analogy. I think this is a pit. It is a pit that we have put the aboriginal people into and they cannot get out. Now we are providing another pit, we are giving them a choice between two pits by introducing Bill C-79.

After the minister spoke at the news conference, Assembly of First Nations Chief Ovid Mercredi spoke on behalf of 500 Indian bands which oppose this legislation. He said "we do not like Indian act No. 1, why should we like Indian act No. 2?". He was referring to this. He referred to the Indian Act as a cage. He said "why should we be happy because the government says `look at the new cage we made for you?"'

The minister of Indian affairs promised to amend the Indian Act. Bill C-79 is not an amendment to the Indian Act. It is an act that allows Indian bands to opt out of the current Indian Act and into a new one.

Specifically, Bill C-79 removes the need for ministerial approval for the sale of agricultural products and certain artefacts. It is not clear whether they can also bypass the Canadian Wheat Board, which we were debating earlier this morning. The question should be answered as to whether they would have to comply with the regulations of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Additional bylaw making powers are conferred on band councils. Fines levied for violation of the Indian Act, the regulations or band bylaws are increased to $5,000 and are payable directly to band councils. None of this revenue needs to be accounted for nor does it have any effect on the amount of tax dollars flowing into the community. Again, we need an answer. We need to know why this is so.

Bill C-79 allows bands to create a voluntary ticketing scheme in order to expedite law enforcement.

Also by virtue of Bill C-79 the minister, rather than the governor in council, is given the opportunity to set aside elections. The term of office for a chief and council is extended from two to three years. This will not make many of the native people I know who are living under anti-democratic band councils very happy.

The minister is authorized to enter into agreements with band councils for educational purposes. It seems this is already happening. Is the minister simply putting into legislation what is already happening today, legitimizing it?

The minister's authority for road construction and repair is removed in Bill C-79. However, the bill does not say who will be responsible and liable for public safety on these roads and bridges under band control. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

Bands are now given the authority to manage natural resources on band held land. However, the revenue flowing from these resources is once again unaccounted for. Nor will this revenue reduce the amount of grants and contributions flowing from the federal government. The fundamental relationship between crown and aboriginal peoples is not changed.

Bill C-79 includes a non-derogation clause. Aboriginal treaty rights remain protected under section 35 of the Constitution. Nothing in Bill C-79 affects taxation, Indian registration, band membership or the protection of reserve lands. Bill C-79 is like its cousin, Bill C-75.

First Nations land management which was introduced December 10, 1996 creates two categories of bands with special status for those who opt into Bill C-79.

Bill C-79 does not meet our party's litmus test for equality, financial accountability or democratic accountability at the band level. Those are the three tests we measure legislation with.

Bill C-79 is the first bill introduced by the minister that is not an initiative of the previous Tory administration. Bill C-79 does not fulfil the minister's promise to amend the Indian Act. Bill C-79 stands on its own. It is not an amendment to the present Indian Act.

Bill C-79 was rushed to fulfil a promise and respond to the royal commission on aboriginal peoples. Review by justice officials is suspect because changes were being made until the evening before it was tabled.

The Assembly of First Nations claims that only 100 of the 600 First Nations support Bill C-79. Bill C-79 does not bring democratic equality, and raises serious concerns with powers granted to chiefs and councillors.

Bill C-79 does not bring financial accountability and reduces the minister's scrutiny. The auditor general is still excluded from auditing band books, just like he is excluded from scrutinizing the Canadian Wheat Board.

Bill C-79 will probably be constitutionally challenged as a consequence of this opting in provision. It will create a bureaucratic nightmare and a field day for lawyers and consultants. That is a major concern of ours.

Like Bill C-75, it lets the minister off the hook and allows him to wash his hands rather than take on those elements of the Indian Act that warrant amendments and/or repeal.

Canadians, both native and non-native, were looking for leadership and vision. They got neither. Why is the minister afraid of giving equality a try? Here are some of the crucial steps we need to take toward equality. When I talk about equality, it does not mean assimilation.

The Indian Act must be repealed and replaced with legislation that will move us closer to true equality. Maybe we should call it

the equality for Indians act. We need to agree on a definition of self-government, something that has not happened.

The majority of Canadians, including grassroots Indian people, will support aboriginal self-government as long as the federal government's relationship with Indian reserves is similar to the relationship between provinces and municipalities. Most of Canada's aboriginal people-there are about 500,000 of them-already live in municipalities under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government retains responsibility for about 350,000 treaty Indians currently living on reserves or crown land across Canada.

Treaty Indians deserve the same rights and freedoms and should share the same duties and responsibilities enjoyed by the tens of millions of municipal residents across the entire country.

For self-government to work, Canadian law, including the charter of rights and freedoms, must apply equally to aboriginal people and Indian governments. We cannot have two systems.

Local Indian governments will never be truly democratic nor financially accountable until and unless a normal local government to taxpayer relationship is established. The federal government must make treaty entitlements payable in part directly to individual treaty Indians living on reserves. The local band administration could then establish a local tax system to pay for local services. Government payments for welfare and housing could easily be transferred in this manner. All treaty entitlements and benefits should be considered a taxable benefit in accordance with the Income Tax Act.

Every treaty Indian should pay income taxes, excise taxes and the GST, just like every other Canadian. Every treaty Indian entitled to compensation benefits or services promised by a treaty should have the choice of receiving those entitlements directly from the federal government or through local Indian governments and should be able to exercise this option at any time.

Both the federal government and the Indians should fully honour the commitments they made to each other in the treaties. Land claim settlements should be negotiated publicly. They should outline specific terms. They should be final. They should conclude within a specific timeframe and they should be affordable to Canada and the provinces. All reserve or settlement lands should remain part of a sovereign Canada.

There should be public discourse on the value and extent of all land claims. That should be the first step in addressing Indian land claims. For the equality alternative to work, every treaty Indian entitled to land under the formula articulated in each treaty should have the choice of taking personal possession of the property or having the land held in common and administered by the local Indian government.

Any treaty Indian who wishes to permanently move off the reserve should have the option to negotiate with the government a personal compensation package to help with the transition to a new job and a new life living off the reserve. The compensation should constitute a fair exchange for treaty entitlements.

Bill C-79 creates two classes of natives. It will make the equality and accountability issues worse, not better. Like Bill C-75, it will become a bureaucratic and constitutional nightmare, further dividing natives and non-natives, creating a money pit for lawyers and consultants. The best thing we could do is to let Bill C-79 die on the Order Paper.

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Julian Reed Halton—Peel, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is an ancient Oriental proverb that most of us know by heart: the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Three and a half years ago the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development took the first step, the second step and the third step and moved into an area that had not been tackled with a view to making great progress, as he has in the last three and a half years. The minister must be commended for his vision, determination, hard work and the level of consultation that he has had over these years with every Indian band in Canada.

It is a privilege for me to speak to the motion on Bill C-79, which is designed to refer the bill to committee for further input, consultation and possibly for further amendment. The bill addresses concerns too long ignored and inefficiencies too long endured. It presents First Nations with an option. If they want they can remove themselves from certain parts of the Indian Act or they can choose to continue under its provisions.

The design of the bill is to reduce the powers of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and put more authority for the day to day management of their affairs into the hands of the First Nations.

Some have suggested that the government has not adequately consulted before introducing this legislation. Those people would like to see more delay, more paper shuffling, more hand wringing, with a view to living with the status quo. That may be good enough for some members, but it is not good enough for the First Nations. It is not good enough for the minister. It is not good enough for the government.

The truth is that the Government of Canada has been trying to improve the Indian Act not just for one year, two years or three years. It has been trying to fix it for 50 years. Minor tinkering began almost immediately after the Indian Act was passed in 1876. Since then there have been a number of attempts to make the act more relevant, more just and more responsive.

The first major series of amendments came in 1951, following a report by a joint committee of the House and the Senate. These amendments were far reaching, but they still did not change the fundamentally paternalistic nature of the original act. While the minister's powers were reduced, they still remained extensive and intrusive.

Efforts were made again in 1960 with a commentary on the Indian Act prepared for a joint committee. This report was not taken up and the act remained unchanged.

In 1969 extensive consultations took place examining the whole relationship between the government and the First Nations. In their submission the United Interior Tribes of British Columbia said something which everyone then and everyone now knows to be true. "The Indian Act is definitely not the answer to the problems of the Indians of today". That was in 1969. Just as the Indian Act was failing First Nations then, it continues to do so today.

The Indian Act was revisited in 1970 when the Alberta chiefs released their citizens plus report. That report recommended amending but not abolishing the Indian Act. No amendments were made and the status quo continued.

In 1982 the House established a parliamentary task force on Indian self-government. This task force included, as ex officio or liaison members, representatives from the National Aboriginal Association as well as the Native Women's Association. It tabled its report, commonly known as the Penner report, in November 1983.

If implemented, that report would have fundamentally altered the relationship between First Nations and the federal government. The Indian Act would have become largely irrelevant, but again there were few results to show for the effort and the Indian Act remained in place.

Further consultations were held with chiefs across the country and the government did produce legislation in 1984. Unfortunately First Nations opposed that bill and the legislation died after second reading.

The government of the day introduced another bill, C-31, the very next year. That legislation dealt with several specific provisions of the Indian Act which discriminated on the basis of gender and made the application of the act much more equitable. That legislation passed but the underlying problems of the act remained unchanged.

In 1986, the auditor general conducted the first comprehensive audit of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. That report focused on lands, revenues and trusts, areas governed by the Indian Act. As a result of the auditor general's report, the department undertook an extensive review of these areas, culminating in the government's introduction of Bill C-115. The amendments proposed by that bill grew out of recommendations by the Kamloops band in British Columbia.

These recommendations had been studied by the government and band councils and were then referred to all chiefs, provinces and MPs for comment. From April to December 1986, further consultations were held with bands, organizations, provinces and federal officials. These amendments, known as the Kamloops amendments, were finally passed into law in 1988.

It was also in 1988 that Bill C-122 was introduced. This legislation was aimed at a very narrow issue with respect to the Indian Act emerging from a report of the standing joint committee on regulations. That bill did not proceed beyond first reading.

Further modifications were made to the Indian Act in 1988 through Bill C-123, which dealt with the provision of support for minors and Bill C-150 which cleared up a technical error which was discovered in 1985 Indian Act.

We come to the present time. I have gone into some detail with respect to the past efforts to alter the Indian Act because it is important to put the Indian Act optional modification into perspective. The legislation before the House has its genesis in many years of frustration, many years of study. Government after government has revisited this issue. Government after government has consulted, debated, reviewed and considered. The Indian Act has become one of the most studied pieces of legislation in our history. However, all of that study has produced few results.

We find ourselves in 1997 with an act that has remained largely unchanged since 1951. We find ourselves with an act that First Nations understandably find demeaning. We find ourselves with an act that treats First Nations as wards of the state and which gives the minister authority to intervene and intrude in the lives of First Nations' communities.

The time has come to provide an alternative, to begin to step away from the paternalism of the Indian Act. Before introducing this legislation we conducted our own consultations with First Nations and I will briefly review that process.

The minister first raised the idea at the Alberta chiefs summit in March 1995. The next month he wrote to every chief, councillor and leader of First Nations organizations asking for their views and suggestions about changing the act, the one step at a time along that journey as described in the Chinese proverb.

Based on numerous discussions with First Nations and the input he received, in September 1995 a package of proposed-

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
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1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Lincoln)

Excuse me, would the hon. member conclude as your time is up.

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Julian Reed Halton—Peel, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to hold up the progress of the House.

In conclusion, the minister has carried this vision along this journey and these amendments which are very important will go to committee, will be discussed and if necessary will be amended. We hope that the minister's dream will be realized.

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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering about the timing of this bill, but I hear my colleague for Halton-Peel referring in his conclusion to the fact that the minister has finished his journey.

Yet this bill, Bill C-79, merely amends the act of which we all are ashamed, the Indian Act. This act infantilizes aboriginal people, makes them into incapable minors. It imposes upon them a government system which, to all intents and purposes, has been such that some of them have lost their own system of government, or are unable to make use of it. With this bill, the native peoples have been more or less forced, in a roundabout way, to accept that.

What I find the most shocking in this bill is the nastiness of its nature. It holds out a few little goodies and forces band councils who want them to accept the principle of this hated act, an act which is, in their eyes, a symbol of subserviency.

This bill is shocking for other reasons as well. It is also shocking because no one among those who addressed the aboriginal question, as a commission or otherwise, has thought that not only the solution, but the beginning of the path toward a solution, lay with amendments to the Indian Act.

Yet the red book, with its generosity, its understanding, its compassion, with all the illusions that it held out, never made any reference to even minor amendments to the Indian Act. Now we find the minister wanting to be able, on the eve of an election, to say: "Mission accomplished". There is one thing you can be certain of: he will not be able to count on us to help him be able to say that.

The native people of Canada-if I may use that term-have a lot of grievances. I have long had an interest in these matters. I was a minister in the Lévesque government when René Lévesque gave official recognition in the National Assembly to the ten Indian and Inuit nations. This arose out of a process begun in 1983 when representatives of the aboriginal groups were brought together and certain proposals were advanced. Not all were judged to be enough, but this did mark the beginning of a process of change.

Obviously, as on the one hand the Indian Act was supreme, and on the other a process of transformation was initiated, beginning on the federal level with the Penner commission and later with the Erasmus-Dussault commission, the native people of Quebec chose to respond: "Very nice of you to offer, but we will continue to call for recognition on the federal level of the rights we feel we are entitled to". In Quebec it was felt this was a valid option.

But what has happened since then? Not long ago we had the Erasmus-Dussault report which is far removed, I would say light years removed, from Bill C-79. We hear nothing about this report. We do not know where it has been shelved, and what we see now is this pitiful excuse for a bill which hardly deserves to be called even an attempt to deal with aboriginal issues.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, the Parti Quebecois, which later formed the government, worked hard on preparing proposals for aboriginal people, proposals that were made to the various groups, to the leaders of aboriginal communities. What we have managed to do is create an opportunity for change that would get rid of the Indian Act once and for all and let each community, moving at its own pace, take over the management of its resources, develop its economy and become aware of the need to protect the environment beyond the limits of its territory, and I am sure aboriginal people in Quebec are starting to understand.

They are starting to realize that it will be in their best interests to negotiate with the government of a Quebec that is sovereign, because if they wait for Canada to deliver on its futuristic promises, they will never get anywhere.

Even today, and this is not something to brag about because much remains to be done about improving the circumstances of aboriginal people, but anyone who is aware of these issues knows perfectly well that aboriginal people are much better off in Quebec than anywhere else, whether we are talking about knowledge and retention of mother tongue, demographics, education or the poverty rate.

We also had the James Bay agreement signed by Robert Bourassa which remains a model of its kind. In spite of the unhappy events in Oka, which I will not discuss here, there is no comparison between the relationship between Quebecers and aboriginal people, although coloured by a past which both sides have to live with, and what we see elsewhere.

It is unfortunate that this government, instead of making real progress on aboriginal issues, and we can draw a parallel here with the national question, preferred to take the easy way out, an easy way I would call pernicious because it will force aboriginal communities to go along with the fundamental principles of the Indian Act if they want to take advantage of certain changes.

I may add that it is rather unusual that this bill is optional. It will be up to the band and the band council to decide, and once they decide to go along with the new legislation, they cannot go back.

Now this can cause major divisions, and here again, the settlement process will remain in the hands of those who administer the Indian Act. Instead of improving, the situation has become even more complex and the future does not look very promising.

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Dauphin—Swan River
Manitoba

Liberal

Marlene Cowling Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on sending the Indian Act optional modification act to committee before second reading. The minister has already outlined the contents of this legislation. He has referred to the government's overall objective to reduce federal control over the lives of First Nations people.

This legislation does not replace or amend the Indian Act. Rather, it provides an option to parts of it. First Nations can decide for themselves whether to opt for its provisions or to remain under the terms of the Indian Act.

Eventually the Indian Act will no longer be needed. It is outdated. It is paternalistic. It is cumbersome and costly. It gives the minister powers that he does not need. I anticipate that by the time the last nail is driven into the coffin of the Indian Act, very few First Nations will still be affected by it. That is because this government has set in progress a pattern of building self-government from the ground up. So this legislation must be seen within a larger context of the government's efforts to promote the inherent right of self-government of aboriginal peoples.

Over the long history of the relationship between governments and aboriginal peoples we have seen an ebb and flow of self-government. It is not a happy history. It demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of past governments. They did not appreciate the sophistication of aboriginal cultures and forms of government. The history of legislation concerning First Nations demonstrates a degree of arrogance and paternalism that causes us today to shake our heads and wonder how governments could have been so narrow minded, insensitive and unfair.

There are five statutes that provide the framework for First Nations policy during the past 200 years. The first was the royal proclamation in 1763 which separated Indian lands from those that formed the colonies. It initiated a process by which Indian land could be purchased. Second was the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes in Canada Act of 1857. Third was the the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869. Theses acts endeavoured to remove all distinctions between Indians and non-Indians.

Fourth was the Indian Act of 1876, the first to bear that title. It consolidated previous legislation and introduced new provisions. Fifth was the Indian Act of 1951 which followed the recommendation of a joint committee of this House and the other place. It introduced major reforms, including the reduction of powers exercised by the government. Those are the principal statutes but in between these key dates many amendments have been introduced that have had a profound impact on the day to day lives of First Nations peoples.

I will look at some recurring themes within those statutes and regulations. When we look at the way in which the rules have been changed at the whim of successive administrations, this House will get a better idea of why we now want to give First Nations the option to get government off their backs. One of the most important themes is the basic question who is an Indian. By 1876 the definition was someone of Indian blood, or in the case of mixed marriages the definition was a non-Indian woman married to an Indian man.

The 1951 act replaced the notion of Indian blood with the notion of registration. Registered Indians had the right to band membership and could live on reserve. Indian women who married non-Indian men were not recognized as Indians. This was not changed until the Indian Act was amended in 1985.

But the issue of who is an Indian also includes whether the government has a right to decide, whether the government has a right to take away the rights and privileges of an individual Indian. This was the objective of the Gradual Civilization Act passed in 1857. It introduced the notion of enfranchisement. An Indian adult male could obtain the franchise but he would lose his Indian status.

Over the years the government sought to encourage Indians to give up their status by promising them land which they would hold as individuals, not as members of a band. In 1857 the government promised up to 50 acres. How many Indians fell for this? How many were willing to lose their Indian status in return for enfranchisement and private ownership on reserve land? Between 1857 and the passage of the Indian Act 19 years later, only one.

This method of encouraging Indians to give up their traditional ways was not working, so in 1876 the law was changed. In a breathtaking piece of paternalism, enfranchisement was imposed automatically on any Indian who earned a university degree or who became a doctor, a lawyer or a clergyman. Compulsory enfranchisement for all Indians over 21 was taken in and out of legislation frequently over the next 43 years. In 1933 it was again reintroduced and it stayed in effect until the act was revised in 1951.

What we have here is a record of arbitrary decisions on the part of former governments to try to destroy the fabric of First Nations by removing Indian status from some of the most prominent members of the First Nations communities. This is part of the legacy of the Indian Act. This arbitrary power extends to other spheres.

In fact, much of the concern about the enfranchisement issue arose out of another broad area of concern: land. The history of government relations with First Nations with respect to land shows an alarming degree of high-handed imposition of government will. Individual land holdings on reserves were instituted in 1876. Residents received a location ticket from the superintendent general; otherwise reserve residents would not be considered to be lawfully holding their individual plots of land. The superintendent general could order that a reserve be surveyed and divided into lots and then require that band members obtain location tickets.

By 1884 a male Indian holding a location ticket could bequeath property to family members, including his wife, but the wife had to be living with him at the time of his death and she had to be of good moral character. Who decided whether she was of good character? Government authorities.

It was the government, not the band council that would decide how moneys from the surrender and sale of reserve lands and other resources would be spent. It was the superintendent general, not the band council who decided whether non-Indians could reside on or use reserve lands.

The governor in council could allow leases to be issued for surface rights on Indian reserves. There was no need to get approval from a band council. According to the changes established in 1919 the owners of the land would have to be compensated, but by 1938 even this provision was dropped.

In 1941 Indians were prohibited from selling agricultural produce, furs and wild animals. To this day the Indian Act contains a provision prohibiting the sale of agricultural products by western Indians without official permission.

Changes to the act in 1951 removed many of the most glaring inequities surrounding land. Expropriation powers were significantly reduced. Administration of Indian estates was brought more into line with provincial laws. But many of the old rules remain.

Today we shake our heads and wonder how governments of the day could be so imperious and paternalistic. But the day will come when Canadians will wonder why they continued to keep so many restrictions in the Indian Act in the latter half of the 20th century. That is why the government has introduced the legislation before us as an option to get out from under some of the old rules, to start a new era without paternalism.

I urge all members to join me in voting to send this legislation to committee for further study.