House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before resuming debate, I wish to congratulate the hon. member for Saint-Jean. It is very difficult to speak other languages.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my party I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this act to implement the framework agreement on first nations land management.

This bill is a long overdue step forward in the process of returning to first nations control of the land that is rightfully theirs. It is also a major advancement to the eventual goal of first nations self-government.

The New Democratic Party has long supported first nations inherent right to self-government. We have supported the First Nations through this century while successive Liberal and Conservative governments have pursued shameful and reprehensible policies of assimilation.

The official policy of assimilation may be a thing of the past but it cannot be denied that aboriginal people are still an oppressed minority.

If we look at any social indicator, whether it be income, life span, disease rates or suicide rates, aboriginal people make up the bottom rung in virtually every category. These social problems are wounds that still have not been healed.

It is a testament to the strength of the first nations cultures that they have survived and persevered through all these generations of oppression.

I support this bill because it is a ground breaking step in giving first nations the rights they deserve and have so long been denied. Turning control of their lands over to first nations governments will go to a long way toward restoring self-sufficiency.

I would particularly like to extend my thanks and congratulations to the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, signatories to this framework agreement, and to Chief William Lathlin as well as former chief and now Grand Chief of MKO Francis Flett.

Both these first nations leaders have been tireless in their efforts to improve the lives of their people both in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the whole of the MKO region of northern Manitoba. Their leadership in bringing the Opaskwayak Cree Nation into this agreement was important to its progression to this stage.

I am sure members of this House will join me in congratulating Chief Lathlin as well as Grand Chief Flett and in wishing Grand Chief Flett all the best in his recovery from recent heart surgery.

The contributions of Chief Lathlin and Grand Chief Flett are particularly noteworthy in light of the efforts of the Reform Party and others with a right wing imperialistic agenda who have been trying to undermine the legitimacy of first nations government.

Like wolves in sheep's clothing, Reform cloaks its anti-first nations rhetoric in populist language. But Reform's true intention toward the first nations is clear. Reform's real intention is the assimilation of the first nations. That is why Reform constantly tries to undermine first nations governments.

The Reform Party and their right wing allies try to take extreme examples and try to paint all first nations governments with the same brush.

Chief Lathlin and Grand Chief Flett are two of the many excellent first nations leaders who proved the Reform Party's generalizations about first nations governments to be dead wrong.

This bill is a rare moment of fairness to the first nations by a government that has otherwise chosen to ignore them. I want to make it clear that I support the bill for the contributions it makes toward the eventual goal of self-government.

However, there is an important outstanding issue that the bill before us today does not address. The Dene people of northern Manitoba have a longstanding concern regarding their land entitlements in Nunavut. Long before Europeans set foot on this continent, the Dene hunted caribou on lands that will soon become part of Nunavut.

As members know, caribou herds migrate vast distances throughout the year. Traditionally the Dene were a nomadic people and followed the caribou herds.

One of the Canadian government's most abhorrent crimes against any first nation was when it forced the Dene into reserves back in the 1950s.

Forcing a nomadic people into a settled, sedentary way of living is social engineering of the worst kind and represented one of the lowest points of Canada's shameful policy of assimilation toward first nations.

The social problems caused were staggering and, as I have said in this House before, still require compensation from the federal government.

Besides these tragic social consequences, another outcome was that the Dene people were divided. Two bands, the Sayisi Dene First Nation and the Northlands First Nation ended up in Manitoba south of the 60th parallel.

I should not have to remind the House that caribou do not recognize provincial and territorial borders. Even though these two Dene bands reside in Manitoba, their traditional hunting ground extends north to the 60th parallel into the territory soon to be known as Nunavut.

This bill establishes a framework to transfer land management power to bands but what needs to be clarified and guaranteed is the Dene people's right to apply this framework in their traditional lands north of 60 as well as south. I am looking forward to addressing this shortcoming when the bill goes to committee.

The government should not take my accolade and support for this bill to mean that I think its duty toward first nations people will be met with this one piece of legislation. This is far from the case.

The social problems facing many first nations continue to exceed anything experienced in the rest of Canada and each problem requires the government's immediate attention. Housing conditions are third world standard in many communities, with no running water and inadequate sanitation. Disease levels are significantly higher than in the rest of Canada, with HIV, diabetes and kidney disease particularly serious problems. There is also a chronic shortage of qualified health care professionals.

Unemployment levels in many first nation communities are astronomical, exceeding 90% in some areas. These issues need to be properly addressed.

A report was recently released by MKO, the Manitoba ministry of family services and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada that looked into food and nutritional problems in isolated first nations communities. This report paints a distressing picture. It states that the high cost of perishable food and the inadequacy of social assistance food allowance to cover the cost means that the availability of fresh nutritious food in remote communities is very poor.

The impact on health in these first nations is massive. The report states that to cover the cost of nutritious food for a family of four will require a 35% increase in monthly social assistance food allowance. Adequate nutrition is a basic necessity that the government must ensure is provided for every first nation person. There is no reason why the conditions in first nations communities I have listed should exist in Canada. They are of third world standard and are totally unacceptable in a country of the relative wealth of Canada.

I recently sent a letter to the minister of Indian affairs requesting her to implement the recommendations of the MKO report. Today I have not received a response and I cannot help but question, despite the advances in this bill, whether the Liberal government has any serious intention of meeting its responsibilities to the first nations.

I take this opportunity to respond to some of the comments I heard from previous speakers, certainly from the member of the Reform Party.

With his comments about everyone in Canada being one people, I cannot help but wonder how veterans felt when they came back from the war and had to give up their treaty rights and their right to be part of their own first nations. The speeches by the governing authority given in residential schools in Regina commented on the fact that when these men came back from war they would want to be treated as equals and we just could not do that. No wonder we have the feelings we have in first nations today.

The concerns raised by the native women's group are valid and should be addressed to their satisfaction. I also believe that had there not been interference by previous governments in Canada in the past the equality they are fighting for would have happened already.

Reform's comments that the majority of aboriginal people do not want this process are just not valid.

Opposition parties have questioned this government on its patronage appointments, its wasted dollars, its misplaced priorities and even the credibility and integrity of its solicitor general. Would I suggest we throw away the right of Canadians to democracy and to elect their own representatives? Never. I will put my faith in Canadians to see this government for what it is, a government shirking its responsibilities to Canada and Canadians.

I trust the members of first nations are taking an active part in electing their leaders. Turning land management powers over to first nations is an important step toward self-government. I offer my support for this bill, but let us be clear that this is no substitute for tangible action to alleviate the horrific social conditions to which many first nations people are subject. There are still many wounds to be healed.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the member's speech and I heard the passion in her voice. I believe she believes that what she is saying is correct. It is important that what we say in debate be recorded in a factual manner and that we not mislead the people watching this debate or other members of parliament. Certain statements were made to Reform, its right wing agenda and its friends. I am not sure who she was talking about. She talked about there being a century of NDP support for the social agenda and for the first nations in Canada. She may have her terms of reference a bit out of whack. Maybe she went back a little further than the party does.

I will give an example of the real issue. There was an emergency meeting last night with aboriginal affairs committee members of the Senate and the House concerning the tragic situation that has developed in British Columbia. I am not here to stick up for the government or for the Reform Party. I attended that meeting last night as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. A Liberal member, a Bloc member and a Reform member were there but there were no NDP members.

If the member is going to tell the House that she supports first nations then let us see her at the committee meetings, at the drudgery and the work that there is no fun in, where there are no cameras and no glorious speeches.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have no problem addressing the fact that one member may not have been at one meeting. What is more important is an honest and true commitment to changing the position of the government toward aboriginal people. I will stand behind my party's position and my own position. I do not have to worry that the aboriginal people from my area and throughout Canada will question that. We have seen the proof come out of New Democratic Party members as well as governments. That does not happen.

If the member takes the right wing, imperialistic note to mean the Conservative Party, by all means he should go forth and take it. Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have had opportunities over the years to change the situation but they never did. It is time the government does that. It has been a long time coming. It has been happening because we have more New Democrats here to ensure that happens.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, some of the rhetoric I have heard from the member for Churchill is not worthy of an intelligent conversation. Prior to the last parliament in this House there was not a single piece of aboriginal legislation that did not get all-party consent in this place. Nobody ever challenged the status quo. There are do gooders and people who do good. I place myself in the latter category. I challenge the status quo which has led us to the reserves having the worst statistics in the nation.

The member for Churchill has blinders on in terms of thinking we cannot challenge the status quo and fix what is wrong with many of the aboriginal communities in Canada.

If it is wrong to challenge the fact that we do not have accountability in many areas, if it is wrong to challenge that we do not have a democracy in full flower in many of those communities, if it is wrong to say that equality is not something to strive for, if it is wrong to be opposed to sexual and other abuse which is rampant in some of these communities, if it is wrong to think that we can fix fetal alcohol syndrome, I would apologize to the member.

Those are all worthy goals. Members of my caucus and I are pursuing these things with vigour. We are getting better results than the all party cloak of silence that resided in this place prior to our arriving in the last parliament.

We are challenging what is wrong and we are starting to see major fixes. That is not to say that the signatories, the bands that are signatories to the legislation, fall into that category. In many respects I am quite sure they do not. Some of them may not at all. I do not want to be appearing to tarnish all as the same because they are not. One of the reasons the legislation exists is that these are some of the more progressive, wealthier bands that have a lot of private property concepts and other things going for them.

In many respects there are objectives in the legislation which I find admirable. I have some problems with the legislation and I will talk about them later. If the member wishes to comment on my comments, she is welcome.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, nobody is opposed to all the things the member mentioned. There is not a first nation leader in the country who is not striving for the same things. The difference between the Reform Party and the New Democratic Party is that I will not tell first nations people what they have to do. That has been the problem for too long.

If ever there is to be change within a community or a country, it needs to come from within. That is the truest strong change. That has been how democratic governments have progressed.

We sit here and complain. I tried to indicate that when I commented on patronage. We in Canada have had the good government we talk about for 131 years and we are still worrying about patronage and different things happening. Does that mean that aboriginal people, first nations people, should not have the right to go through a process of their own self-government because one party suggests that it knows best, that it knows the way? First nations people can make that decision and do it a heck of a lot better than we have done in the past.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I agree that 131 years have not brought anything close to equality of opportunity or equality of outcomes. It is partly because governments did not listen to the people. The B.C. Native Women's Society contacted us and said that we have to defeat this legislation. That is not failing to listen to the little person like we were accused of doing. That is taking very seriously the concerns of the person who will be affected by the legislation. The Reform Party is committed to that.

I resent any implication that we are not acting in the best interest of the people to be affected by the legislation. I challenge members from all other parties to attend the grassroots aboriginal meetings being held throughout Canada to find out what the grassroots aboriginals are saying.

First Nations Land Management Act
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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I assure the member from the Reform Party that I have spoken to a number of grassroots first nations people. I have some 26 first nations in my riding. I have family members, aunts, uncles and cousins, who are part of two of the first nations in Saskatchewan. I have been there and I have spoken to people there. I know these first nations have worked hard to improve their communities. I know that all other first nations will do the same. I believe that with my heart and soul. I know that is the right way to go for aboriginal people.

There will be problems here and there along the way the same as any democratic government has problems as it progresses over time. The first nations people have the right to make that decision. This is the best move for them. They have discussed it in numerous communities. They have talked about it with their people and want these changes so that they can continue on and become more self-sufficient. That is what is needed for all first nations. That is the true way to make change for first nations people. They should be given the right to control their own interests.

It is not right to suggest in any way, shape or form that the land to which first nations people are entitled under treaty rights is not really theirs or that it is not equality if they have treaty rights.

The hon. member mentioned women's rights. Nobody argues that. I absolutely support the right of first nations women to pursue the changes they want. They have that support and they will continue to have that support. As I indicated, I am sure they will make the changes that are needed because anybody who knows first nations women that have been involved over the years knows they are strong people who have worked hard to improve conditions in their communities.

First Nations Land Management Act
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1:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-49, an act providing for the ratification and the bringing into effect of the framework agreement on first nations land management.

This piece of legislation has been almost 10 years in the making beginning in 1989 as the lands revenue and trust review. That agreement encompassed a number of areas, land management being one of them. While that agreement fell through, a number of first nations persevered with negotiations for land management.

The bill was formerly introduced as Bill C-75 on December 10, 1996, but died on the order paper. Bill C-49, while similar to the original bill, has some important amendments to address the concerns of native women. I will discuss them in greater detail later.

I congratulate the 14 first nations that are signatories to the framework agreement. They are Westbank, Musqueam, Lheidli T'enneh, N'Quatqua and Squamish, all from British Columbia; Siksika in Alberta; Muskoday and Cowessess in Saskatchewan; the Opaskwayak Cree from Manitoba; the Nipissing and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island, the Chippewas of Mnjikaning and the Chippewas from Georgina Island, all from Ontario; and the Saint Mary's in New Brunswick. These first nations have worked hard to have this legislation reach this stage of the process and are anxious to see it become law.

Bill C-49 allows the 13 first nations who signed the framework on February 12, 1996 and the Saint Mary's from New Brunswick who joined in May 1998 to assume control of land management and move out from under the provisions of the Indian Act. This does not affect other first nations that are not signatories to the agreement. Nor does it diminish the authority of the Indian Act for areas other than land management.

The legislation is an incremental step toward self-government and should be a positive move for the affected bands as they have greater influence over economic development on their reserves. The framework agreement will allow the first nations the opportunity to manage their land and resources through the establishment of land codes.

The framework agreement may become a model for other such agreements on land management once the legislation passes and the first nations are given the opportunity to implement it. Thirty or forty first nations have already expressed an interest in the framework agreement. I expect many more to do so as they are able to see the benefits of the legislation.

We are all aware of the faults of the Indian Act. As I mentioned, the legislation will allow first nations to move out from under the restrictions of the Indian Act and provide opportunities for first nations to manage their own land and resources. This will be done through land codes that they will develop to meet their own requirements.

The first step for each of the first nations will be to develop that land code. It will outline the rules necessary for land management, covering such things as what land is affected by the land code, rules for use and occupation of the land, revenue collection, amendments and a dispute resolution process among other things.

Not only does this transfer authority from the federal government to the first nations, but through the land code it also encourages stronger community participation. Land codes must be ratified by the communities and voted on by first nation people living both on and off reserve. This is an onerous job but one that the first nations felt was very important and warranted the extra work.

It is worth mentioning that the land codes must be ratified by the community but not by the federal government. Following ratification each reserve must enter into an individual transfer agreement with Canada. The transfer agreement will include the development and operational funding to be paid by Canada to the first nation and the details on the transfer of administration. The community must ratify both the land code and the transfer agreement. First nations will manage their land and resources under Bill C-49 including the associated revenues, except for oil and gas revenues which remain a federal responsibility.

Only 14 first nations have signed the agreement, a very small percentage of the 633 first nations in Canada. One of the reasons for this small number relates to land management under the Indian Act. While it is possible under the Indian Act to request delegated authority from the federal government to manage lands, only 9 of the 633 first nations have done so. Dissatisfaction with the limitations of the delegated authority was the impetus behind the framework agreement and the legislation we are discussing today.

Another reason for the relatively small number of signatories to the agreement is concern by a number of first nations that these agreements would be similar to the proposed amendments to the Indian Act that have met with resistance. This agreement however is reserve specific, affecting only the bands listed in the agreement. Furthermore the agreement is not a treaty and does not affect treaty or constitutional rights of aboriginal people. The reserves remain a federal responsibility under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, and the lands continue to be protected from surrender of sale.

At the same time these 14 first nations will have the opportunity to manage their own land and the legal status to govern their own land and resources. The only difference from other land owners will be the inability to sell that property.

As I mentioned earlier, the legislation is long overdue and eagerly awaited by the first nations that are anxious to begin implementation. There are however some concerns regarding the legislation as outlined by the British Columbia Native Women's Society.

Although I have had some difficulty contacting the British Columbia Native Women's Society, it is my understanding of its position that it feels the legislation transfers responsibility for equality on reserve, particularly for native women upon the breakdown of marriage, from the federal government to first nations. It sees this as an abdication of federal power that demonstrates the government's lack of commitment to equality.

In addition, there is no minimum standard provided in the legislation for the division of property such as exists in provincial law upon the breakdown of marriage, which increases the possibility that inequality will not be dealt with in an acceptable manner perhaps by the first nations involved.

These are legitimate concerns that stem from the flaws of the Indian Act that established and perpetuated an inferior position for women in the legislation. The first nations that are signatories to this agreement listened to the concerns of the British Columbia Native Women's Society and drafted amendments to the framework agreement to address its reservations.

The amendments require the first nations to establish community process in their land codes regulating use, occupancy and possession of reserve land should a marriage breakdown occur. At the same time it places the onus on the first nations and their respective members to adequately provide regulations for division of matrimonial property. This ensures that the process meets the requirements of the first nations members and avoids the age old problem of having the federal government dictate to the first nations.

While I feel it would have been useful and informative to have met with the British Columbia Native Women's Society to discuss its concerns, my request for meetings were not answered. I look forward to hearing the society outline its position as we discuss the legislation in detail at committee.

While there are concerns with the piece of legislation, the objective or the impetus of Bill C-49 to allow first nations to move closer to economic independence is long overdue. As the Nisga'a treaty in British Columbia demonstrates, first nations want the opportunity to govern their lands and people and are prepared to accept the challenges of doing so.

The positive effects of such legislation will be evident as more first nations take steps toward self-reliance and independence.

The chiefs of the first nations with whom I have spoken have all expressed their support for this legislation and the opportunities it offers them and their respective first nations. As I have mentioned they are prepared to begin implementation of this bill once it completes the legislative process. Currently three first nations have land codes prepared and five more are in development.

I look forward to examining this legislation in committee. I welcome the opportunity to hear my colleagues' comments on this legislation, Bill C-49.

In summing up I would like to add a few points. The hon. member from the Bloc mentioned a concept which many of us take for granted, that of fee simple land ownership. I would dare to say that there are many people who sit within the halls of this parliament itself who do not understand the Indian Act. Certainly I am not pretending in any way, shape or form to be an expert on the Indian Act but I have read it and it is a terrible piece of legislation.

The whole concept of fee simple ownership that we take for granted is that one can actually own a piece of property. For instance the first nations reserves in Nova Scotia may have a piece of woodland of a couple of hundred acres that they may want to cut timber on but they do not have the ability to that. First they have to apply, they have to go on bended knee to the federal government to get permission to carry on work on property that they own but which is somehow being held in trust for them by the federal government.

This bill is about the whole concept of land ownership. It is about not having to apply to someone else if they want to have a gravel pit on their property, if they want to build a road to access timber resources, if they want to utilize those timber resources for the economic benefit of the reserve, if they want to look at the mining potential for the property. These are all things that private ownership takes for granted. It does not even think about because it is a foreign concept to think about it any other way, but first nations do not have that ability.

There are some problems with the bill and issues it does not address. However, it does address a very important point for economic renewal, the ability for first nations to have economic activity and bring themselves out from under the Indian Act and actually have some activity in Canada and take their place as equal citizens on the property which the rest of us take for granted.

First Nations Land Management Act
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1:30 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of comments and a question.

The British Columbia Native Women's Society is looking for the same type of rights to protect them in the event of a marriage breakdown as is currently offered by the provinces. They do not believe that protection is in place which is a serious concern.

The issue of comparing land management to fee simple ownership would be a little closer to reality if the land was not closer to fee common which means that it is not held individually. Therefore for individuals to make these quick and easy decisions that the hon. member talks about, of course it is not possible to make those kinds of decisions.

Municipalities must obtain permits to do just about anything or they must go to the people who live in the community. They are governed by regulations established by senior levels of government. To make their own regulations without submitting them anywhere else to see if they meet a basic standard for rights is not the way municipalities work.

Does the member support fee simple ownership since he seems to think it is the best way to handle these types of situations?

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1:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's question. It is a legitimate question. I heard a couple of questions in there so I would like to answer everything the member spoke about.

First of all the British Columbia Native Women's Society and the entrenchment of matrimonial rights under the legislation or under Indian affairs versus what is offered for protection under provincial legislation is a very important point. It is one that is going to require a great deal more study. However, the division of property on the breakdown of a marriage can be met within the land codes which are all voted on in a democratic process and come before both on reserve and off reserve members of each individual first nation.

I did not say that this legislation was perfect but it is a step in the right direction. Far too often in the history of this country we have looked at legislation, and all legislation is inherently flawed to some degree, but instead of moving forward and allowing 99% of the legislation to be good, we get hung up on 1% of it. This is the case.

The first nations are responsible themselves in their land codes to decide the division of property on the breakdown of a marriage. I expect they will do that in a democratic process, although there may be some room for abuse of that process.

The other issue is fee common ownership. That is a very good analogy. I used fee simple because fee simple is what most of us understand. The member is absolutely right about fee common.

Again a democratically elected chief and tribal council will decide what activity is going to be carried on. The whole idea of common ownership for the greater good is not one that all of us are familiar with. I am a private landowner and a sixth generation farmer. The whole idea of ownership of property is something that is inherent to my culture and the way I was brought up.

However, the idea of a common ownership of land is not completely foreign to us. There is no reason why they still cannot have democratic representation through common land ownership with the chief and the tribal councils being democratically elected.

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1:35 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about fee simple ownership. It is a rather critical sticking point with a lot of discussion in terms of how things should be structured to make them better.

In Campbell River on Vancouver Island, the community I live in, the Campbell River Band has a unique circumstance. When the agreement was signed by the band to put the four lane bypass through the reserve, a land transfer was effected. The bottom line is the reserve now has reserve land and a big section of fee simple land. The band had a business proposal that included all of the land. After several years it is now one of the major developments. It is a major shopping area in the community and serves the whole community. It is highly successful.

The difference to the band is that it has a much easier time administratively dealing with the fee simple land. It does not have to go through the minister, through the Indian Act and all of the red tape and bureaucracy. That is the upside. The downside is that there are taxation ramifications. In actual fact what I have heard from some who are in that business is they can spend so much avoiding taxes that they end up not running a very good business.

With the test of time we may see demonstrated that despite the rap it has received from what is essentially a collectivist static encumbrance placed upon land ownership by the Indian Act, fee simple ownership may turn out to be the way to go in the long run. Philosophically I agree with that.

I wonder if the member would like to comment on what he thinks about what I just said.

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1:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, again I think it is a pertinent point, the whole principle of fee simple ownership. However, it is not the case within this piece of legislation and it is protected within the legislation from reverting to fee simple ownership.

I will not speak for first nations as they will speak for themselves, but first nations may find that is the direction in which they want to head. They can incorporate that. Once there is some economic activity and the chance for advancement, jobs and everything that comes with economic activity on reserves, that whole idea of land ownership may be a principle or idea that will be more fully embraced by first nations. It may not. I am not trying to speak for them.

They have a system of government which has worked for a great deal of time. Many of us have a great culture the same as the first nations do and a lot of history that has evolved over a period of time. I would hesitate to say all Canadians will be governed in 100 years by the same governments and the same types of policies we have now because things change. Things may change in the future.

We are not dealing with the future but with the present and the possibility that something that is closer to fee simple ownership or fee common ownership will enable first nations to utilize their land without having to go to the federal government every time they want to carry out any type of economic activity. That is the situation now. Anything that takes us away from that situation is a good thing.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be speaking to Bill C-49, the first nations land management act.

The agreement that served as the impetus for this legislation allows the signatory first nations to opt out of the land management sections of the Indian Act and establish their own regime to manage their lands and resources. This is a form of self-government developed in full partnership with the first nations to promote self-management that will result in among other things improved economic development on reserves which the last speaker spent some time suggesting.

The government and its partners have worked to further improve this agreement to include another first nation, bringing the total to 14. It has also been improved by now including the application of the Atomic Energy Act and the use, occupation, possession and division of interests in first nation land in the case of a marriage or marriage breakdown.

This agreement is the result of a process that started in 1987 when the Mulroney government was in power. A previous version of the bill was introduced in the last parliament and passed second reading before the dissolution of parliament in April 1997.

I will be the first to admit that past federal governments operated in a less than admirable fashion when it came to our First Nations. However, as a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I have seen two ministers of Indian affairs who have been willing to work with the native communities to initiate policy at the behest of the first nations. These ministers have ensured that Canada will no longer work in an aloof paternalistic fashion to push policy that is not wanted and that does not address the needs of our native communities.

I cite the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the response of our Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to that report.

Bill C-49 is the result of native initiative. Two governments over 11 years have worked in partnership with the first nations, the provinces and other interested third parties to provide change. I congratulate all those involved for developing legislation that shows the value of partnership between our native communities and the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Bill C-49 provides a positive model for the future transfer of land management to other first nations.

As a result of other first nations showing an interest in entering this agreement, a provision has been included to permit others to be added to this bill through an order in council. However, this will not take place until a review of this regime is completed within four years of operation.

The language of the bill has been reviewed in accordance with the government's bijuralism policy and the provinces have been consulted.

Provisions have also been included to address the concerns raised by native women.

As background, in March 1997 the British Columbia Native Women's Society and two individual plaintiffs mentioned the framework agreement in a suit launched against the government in the federal court.

The plaintiffs claim that the federal government has failed to fulfill its fiduciary obligations to married Indian women with respect to the division of the matrimonial home upon the breakdown of a marriage. While the suit is in regards to the Indian Act, the plaintiffs also claim that a process should be included in the framework agreement to address this issue.

The bill does address this matter by requiring a mandatory community consultation process for the development of rules and procedures applicable on the breakdown of a marriage in relation to the use, occupancy and possession of first nation land and the division of interests in that land.

The positive benefits of this legislation are that it provides opportunities for the first nations to build experience and expertise, which will give them some empowerment. It fosters the development of environmental protection regimes which will be harmonized with federal and provincial regimes and will be negotiated and approved by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the first nations.

The legislation allows first nations to generate revenue through economic development. It ensures community decision making by requiring local approval of the land code which enhances accountability of chief and council to the membership. It protects third party interests by continuing contracts, terms and conditions that are currently in place and provides a dispute resolution forum for any disputes.

I would like to share with members comments made by the minister when Bill C-49 received first reading this past June. The minister said “This initiative is a key sectoral component, developed in full partnership with these first nations. These communities are leading the way in changes to land management by implementing a new land management regime and opting out of the Indian Act. This legislation will provide control at the local level and eliminate the involvement of my department in the day to day land management decisions and activities of these first nations”.

Once again we hear the word partnership from the minister. It is a word that is very welcome in the lexicon utilized in relations between Canada and its first nations.

Having worked with the minister on a number of issues in Ottawa and in the riding, I know that she takes this partnership very seriously and this legislation is a fine example of it.

The First Nations involved—the Westbank, Musqueam, Lheidle T'enneh, N'Quatqua, Squamish, Siksika, Muskoday, Cowessess, Opaskwayak Cree, Nippising, Mississaugas of Scugog Island, Chippewas of Georgina Island, Chippewas of Mnjikaning and Saint Mary's—realize that this partnership does exist and will work.

I might indicate that it is a far cry from the reaction to the suggestion some years ago from Prime Minister Trudeau that we scrap the Indian Act. Some of us will remember that the chiefs reacted negatively. The chiefs probably reacted negatively because they did not trust us and because they felt that by doing that they would lose their fiduciary right and any rights they had to inherent self-government.

I think we have come a long way from those days. I know the previous minister of Indian affairs tried by simple omission to allow first nations to make some decisions on their own despite the Indian Act.

According to the Indian Act, a farmer on a reserve cannot sell a cow without the permission of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

The then minister, Mr. Irwin, simply refused to make any decision on those matters and left it up to the first nations.

It is good to see, however, that this recognition, this respect and this provision of ownership and stewardship to the first nations finds a way around the fiduciary stranglehold of the Indian Act.

I look forward to Bill C-49 coming before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the near future. At that time I will enjoy discussing this bill with each of the first nations involved and with other interested parties to ensure that this sense of partnership is evident at every stage of this important piece of legislation.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested in some of the comments and remarks which the hon. member made. Certainly toward the end of his speech he mentioned the inherent right to self-government as being one of the key goals and objectives that we are seeking, to ensure it is recognized.

As we know, some of us think it was a missed opportunity when the Charlottetown deal fell through because that would have promoted or guaranteed that inherent right. I would like the member to comment on that.

There is another issue I would like the hon. member to comment on. In recent months we have been hearing speaker after speaker from the Reform Party challenging, denouncing and condemning native leaders and communities, implying that there is widespread, rampant corruption, almost an irresponsibility in terms of handling financial matters, as if they are not capable or not ready to take control of their own destiny with true self-government.

Upon hearing these things over the last few months, one cannot help but think of similar charges which were made about the leadership of the civil rights movement in the southern United States. As those people started to get very close to the prospect of true social justice, critics in the southern United States, from groups like the Reform Party, felt that the easiest way to challenge this kind of evolution in terms of human rights and civil rights was to denounce the leadership, to take potshots at the leadership, to criticise them and to try to convince people that that group of people was not ready to take their first struggling steps toward true participation.

I would like to hear the member's comments on both of those things: first, the failure of the Charlottetown deal, which might have taken some steps toward self-government for aboriginal people and, second, the obvious connection between other civil rights movements and the extreme right wing in those areas taking shots at the leadership of those movements to try to discredit them.