House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was community.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-24, an act to implement an agreement between the Mohawks of Kanesatake and Her Majesty in right of Canada respecting governance of certain lands by the Mohawks of Kanesatake and to amend an act in consequence, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act
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10:05 a.m.

Kenora—Rainy River
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act
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10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act
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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act
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10:05 a.m.

Kenora—Rainy River
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, many Canadians will remember the summer of 1990. Oka acted as a national wake-up call. It sent a clear signal that as a country we had to take concrete action to ensure that the concerns of people like the Mohawks of Kanesatake were not only heard but acted upon.

This is precisely what the Government of Canada and the Mohawks of Kanesatake have been doing ever since the barricades came down.

For example, talks are currently underway between current grand chief James Gabriel, his council, the mayor of Oka and his municipal council to negotiate a harmonization of Kanesatake laws and Oka bylaws on neighbouring lands in the village of Oka as required by Bill S-24.

With incremental steps, we have proven that together the path of negotiation and reconciliation is the best option for all parties involved. Bill S-24 would raise the bar another notch and would continue our work to resolve the outstanding issues confronting the Mohawk people of Kanesatake.

Bill S-24, and the agreement it would implement, would formally recognize an interim land base for the Mohawks of Kanesatake. It would not be a permanent land base because the agreement in no way represents a final resolution of land issues for Kanesatake. It is entirely possible that additional lands may in the future be brought under the agreement should both parties agree.

While the agreement is limited in its scope, it nevertheless represents a major breakthrough. Kanesatake Mohawk lands would now fall under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867. It is something the Mohawks of Kanesatake have sought for many years. The legislation would prevent the lands from falling under the Indian Act, something they are determined to avoid. They fully realize that other first nations are trying to extricate themselves from the cumbersome provisions of the act.

It was for this very reason that I recently launched national consultations on first nations governance. Although Bill S-24 was developed before consultations on governance reform got underway, it is entirely consistent with the thrust of our initiative.

These measures set the stage for further negotiations on a range of substantive issues. They are the first crucial step in the ongoing process of ensuring peace and prosperity for the community. In the end that is our overarching objective no matter which side of the negotiating table we sit on.

The legislation sets out a framework by which the two communities would be able to peacefully co-exist, paving the way for economic and social development and an improved quality of life for all the people living in and around the area.

The legislation is a tremendous accomplishment and a tribute to the hard work and tenacity of all parties involved, most particularly, the Mohawks of Kanesatake. The future is as bright and promising as the young democracy that has taken hold in Kanesatake since the barricades came down and that we as legislators are helping to shape. This achievement should be celebrated not just in the halls of parliament but across the country.

I would like to thank our colleagues in the Senate for their part in the review and adoption of Bill S-24. I urge all hon. members to follow the example of the Mohawk people of Kanesatake who acted in good faith to achieve this landmark agreement by voting to adopt the historic legislation.

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10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to rise and speak today to Bill S-24, the Kanesatake interim land base governance act.

As my colleagues have stated previously at second reading and in committee, the Canadian Alliance will be supporting the bill. We believe the intent of the bill is correct and that it is one small incremental step in correcting a long outstanding issue for the Kanesatake Mohawks.

I will however use this opportunity to again express our concern over the manner in which the government and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development brought the bill to the House of Commons.

My first concern, and I say it respectfully to the minister, is the way in which the minister brought the bill to the House. It was tabled in the other place first. My colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan stated it previously but I believe the minister's comments during the Senate committee hearings are worth repeating.

On April 25 the minister stated:

Without being too derogatory to my own colleagues in the House, maybe things will go better if I send them here first. Perhaps that is a good trend to continue. We will test it for a while. We have other pieces of legislation that will be coming your way in the next year that we may have some discussions about and consider, with the approval of the House leadership.

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you will agree with me when I state that I and many members on both sides of the House find this attitude and this approach completely unacceptable.

The second matter I am concerned with is that without the insistence of the official opposition party, the Canadian Alliance, the bill would have been rushed through with rather undue haste without committee hearings and therefore without the opportunity to hear from concerned Kanesatake community members who oppose the bill. When there is opposition for various reasons, we need to hear from those who are opposing. Maybe we could learn from them as well.

Lastly I wish to state for the record that although we will be supporting Bill S-24, we have concerns over the process that was used in the handling of the bill through the negotiation in that territory and, in particular, the manner in which the community was not fully involved.

I fully realize that no process is perfect and that not everyone will be satisfied with the end results. However, the government and particularly the minister having responsibility need to reflect for the future on the inadequacies of this process and improve upon it for all future negotiations so that there is co-operation among parties on these matters.

Many community members feel that they were not a part of this important process. I would like to take this opportunity to read into the record excerpts from a letter that was received from a Kanesatake community member following the committee hearings. I would like to thank him and others who have attempted input in this manner. This letter was addressed to the chair of the standing committee in Ottawa and states:

Good day to you, please allow me to introduce myself, my name is Eugene Nicholas, member of the Kanesatake band, No. 0690074401, province of Quebec.

It has come to my attention that there are hearings being conducted on the Kanesatake Land Governance Agreement, referred to as: Bill S-24. I would like to extend you an invitation to our community, to give the community members a chance to voice their concerns and opinions/facts before the Standing Committee, before Bill S-24 is passed as law.

I am concerned with these proceedings because of a lack of information and input from the community level. We are not consulted or given the facts behind this agreement. Our Leaders and negotiators have neglected to properly inform and consult the population on all matters pertaining to this accord. We have not publicly debated the contents of this said agreement in which constructive and positive measures can be suggested in regards to our community.

I view the entire arrangement as questionable.

Last year when the agreement was to be initialled, no one from the community was invited/advised or told to be present for such a historical signing, other than the Chiefs of the Council, INAC representative Walter Walling, and Mr. Eric Maldoff, federal negotiator.

Last year, Mr. Robert Nault was in our community to sign or initial this agreement, and ironically it was done on Aboriginal Day, where our members were celebrating in the Pines area. Mr. Walter Walling of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, was seen riding in a Kanesatake Police Vehicle, making sure that trouble makers (opposition to the agreement) were not in the area! Why was he doing this? Is it in the Federal Government's interest to have their public servants do community police work, or is it to cover up the fact that the Minister was here and that we were not permitted to attend this event because it was supposed to remain a secret? In other facts where the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs provided funds to hire an individual to privately investigate our police officers. I found this to be quite odd. Does the federal department (INAC) other than the Solicitor General, provide discretionary funds for this?

We were not allowed to speak to the media because Mr. Eric Maldoff issued a media blackout, which meant that we could not give our opinions to the public, and they call this a free country? Only James Gabriel and anyone who favoured the agreement, was heard or published.

I urge you to hear the community speak for themselves, they deserve a chance to be heard and it is their right, after all it is a human right. Also, you will know the truth about this issue.

I strongly encourage the Standing Committee to come to Kanesatake to see for yourselves.

Yours in Peace and Friendship, Eugene Kanatiio Nicholas, Band Registry No. 0690074401

I would like that letter on the record.

In concluding, I would like to thank the Liberal members who stated to our chief critic of aboriginal affairs that they were pleased to have met those who were dissenting. They said it was good to hear other points of view. They indicated in committee that they were pleased to have met and listened to those community members, one represented by this letter, and to have had the opportunity to hear other viewpoints on this very important legislation. I believe they have realized it is imperative that the parliamentary process not be subject to whims, to just moving things through too quickly at the whim of any particular minister.

I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate and anticipate that we will have continued involvement in the future, hopefully in constructive ways, as the minister brings matters like this forward.

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10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill S-24, the Kanesatake interim land base governance act, is to implement an historic agreement which recognizes, for the first time, a land base for the Mohawks of Kanesatake, as well as the powers to exercise jurisdiction over these lands.

It is important to point out that the word interim is used precisely because there is the possibility of other lands being added in future, with the consent of both parties.

Bill S-24 will make it possible to settle Mohawk property rights, thereby reducing the economic uncertainty surrounding the ownership and use of the area's lands and resources.

Our position is based on a careful analysis of the situation as a whole. In addition, on May 14, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois and the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, our party's aboriginal affairs critic, met with the Kanesatake Mohawk band council and its Grand Chief, James Gabriel.

This agreement is the outcome of long months of negotiation and is evidence of the desire to create a peaceful and positive atmosphere between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples, following on the disturbing events of 1990 to which the minister referred.

The Bloc Quebecois' favourable position on this bill is indicative of our party's openness to the comprehensive claims of aboriginal peoples and is part of the constructive dialogue our party has maintained with the first nations for quite some time now.

The Mohawks' present land base has always been kept as public lands, rather than reserve lands as defined in the Indian Act. For this reason, the band council did not have the same legal tools at its disposal as other first nations for controlling and ensuring the development of its own land base, or for preventing these lands from being used for purposes contrary to their interests.

On June 21, 2000, negotiators for the Kanesatake Mohawks and the government signed an historic agreement with respect to Kanesatake governance of the interim land base.

This agreement constitutes the first legal recognition by the Government of Canada of the ability of the Mohawks of Kanesatake to determine and control the use of their interim land base.

The effect of the agreement is to transfer to the Mohawks of Kanesatake lands over which they will exercise full authority, thus putting an end to years of legal uncertainty.

It is worthy pointing out that this very uncertainty was one of the key causes of the Oka crisis in 1990. The powder keg was set off, hon. members will recall, by the expansion of a golf course onto land claimed by the Mohawks.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Kanesatake Mohawk lands would fall under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which gives the Government of Canada exclusive legislative power over Indians and lands reserved for the Indians.

According to the agreement, however, the lands covered by the agreement do not become a reserve within the meaning of the Indian Act, but belong to the band council, which thus obtains jurisdiction with respect to the maintenance of law and order. These lands are therefore guaranteed clear legal status along with protection from coming under the cumbersome and restrictive land management provisions of the present Indian Act.

The agreement with the Government of Canada will empower the Mohawk community to adopt its own laws and regulations relating to the land occupied by it. The band council will be able to enact laws relating to waste management, building inspection, zoning and wildlife protection and management. It can also regulate traffic.

In addition, the agreement gives Kanesatake the right to appoint its own judges, once there is an agreement on the relationship between these judges and the Quebec justice system. The agreement provides as well that laws passed by Kanesatake will have to be harmonized with those in force in the neighbouring village of Oka.

However, the harmonization process is reciprocal, according to the bill. It depends on the good will and co-operation of the two communities. A framework is established for discussions between native and non-native officials.

In order to understand the need for harmonization, it is vital to know that all sections of Kanesatake land are not contiguous and that 57 parcels of the lands of the Mohawks of Kanesatake are located in the town of Oka.

Another important aspect of the agreement is the fact that it was concluded without prejudice to any right of the Mohawks of Kanesatake, be they ancestral or treaty rights and without prejudice to the land claims pertaining to the Seigneurie du Lac des Deux-Montagnes.

These issues are still under negotiation between the Government of Canada and Kanesatake. This is not a general agreement on self-government or a treaty. It is a unique agreement on land management that reflects the circumstances of Kanesatake.

Despite some opposition from June 21, 2000 until the eve of the ratification vote, on October 14, 2000, the band council led an intensive information and consultation campaign. It held several public meetings and organized over 50 workshops to explain the scope and impact of the agreement. The ratification vote on the land governance agreement took place in Kanesatake on October 14, 2000.

Community members were also asked to approve a code on the exercise of government powers. This code provides that the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake will act as a transparent and responsible government, in the best interests of the community. It also sets the rules of procedure and conduct that relate to the accountability of governing authorities and to conflicts of interests. The vote was very close with 239 voting in favour of the agreement and 237 voting against it.

As Grand Chief James Gabriel pointed out, such a close result was indicative of the energetic debate in his community, without calling into question the legitimacy of the agreement. He said that “It is always healthy to have differing views. Let us not forget that we have traditionalists on our territory who do not participate in these votes, because they do not think they are legitimate. I truly respect their choice”.

On December 14, 2000, the result of the ratification vote was confirmed through a recount by the Hon. Lawrence Poitras, a retired chief justice of the Quebec superior court, who conducted the independent judicial control of the ratification vote and procedure. The judge concluded that these aspects of the process had been perfectly proper.

The historic agreement was therefore officially signed in Ottawa on December 21, 2000 and must now be approved by an act of the Parliament of Canada in order to take effect, which is what we are aiming for today.

It is important to recall that these are federal lands and that, for this reason, tripartite discussions involving Quebec, Ottawa and Kanesatake were not held. However, I am pleased to point out that the government of Quebec was consulted and informed about the agreement and gave its general approval, as did the municipality of Oka.

The Bloc Quebecois also examined the proposed legislation carefully and heartily endorse it. We support this initiative and are proud to share in what is an historic moment for the Kanesatake Mohawk nation, which will now have the necessary tools for its own development.

In closing, the Bloc Quebecois wishes to point out that it supports the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. These call for an approach based on the concept of self-government, which acknowledges aboriginal governments as a level of government with jurisdiction over questions concerning governance and the welfare of their people.

In addition, the entire royal commission report was based on recognition of the aboriginal peoples as an independent nation occupying a unique place within Canada.

The agreement respecting Kanesatake governance fully reflects the spirit of the conclusions and recommendations of the Erasmus-Dussault report, which is why we are pleased to facilitate speedy passage of the bill.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on behalf of our party's critic, the member for Winnipeg North Centre, who spoke at length on the bill. I will at points reflect upon the comments he previously made.

I will emphasize exactly what the bill is about, because unless one happened to be part of the standing committee on aboriginal affairs or was somehow involved with the Senate discussions, we in the House really did not hear a whole lot about it. This is really somewhat of a shame considering its major achievement. It is truly a major achievement in Canadian history to see this type of bill come forth. It reflects the true interests of the people of Kanesatake and of process taken, which started some time ago.

At this time I want to congratulate Chief James Gabriel and the people of Kanesatake for their efforts and their work. I also want to congratulate all those who made a point of taking part in the voting process. We heard the numbers earlier. If I heard them correctly, I think it was 237 to 239, although I may be a little off. However, when I heard them I was really quite impressed because it shows that the people did care.

At this point I want to comment on a problem I think we have within the House, which relates to the situation of voting, and sometimes the misunderstandings we have in the communities. It is inherent upon us as a House, when we are talking about issues that pertain to specific first nations communities, to acknowledge that all people in those communities do not have the same opportunity of education and economic opportunities. As a result they cannot always get to Ottawa or to other places to get their points across. It is inherent on us, when dealing with a specific first nation, to make the point of taking our hearings into those communities. That is what we should do as a parliament.

I did not go through this process in my community on an issue that pertained to specific bands in my riding, which was northern flood agreement. With all my heart and soul I wanted us to hold those meetings there or at least have our hearings videotaped, so the people in the communities could be a part of the process. What is more important is that we hold the meetings so that all people in the communities have the opportunity to come out, voice their opinions and to make an informed decision.

When we have a vote of 237 to 239, we should never have any question about someone not having all the information. We should recognize the vote was taken and the decision was made. I do not always like the outcome of elections, especially close calls. If I had my druthers, the mix in the House would be a whole lot different. The bottom line is I accept the process of having elections. A vote takes place and one accepts the result. One can fight against the parts disagreed with and support those that are good for the people.

Recognizing that the vote indicated the support of the chief, the council and those people who wanted that process in Kanesatake, we should also support it. As a parliament we need to support the bill. I would love to see it supported unanimously in the House as a show of acknowledgement to first nations people that we respect their right of decision.

As indicated, the bill will not put the first nation of Kanesatake under the Indian Act. The people of Kanesatake will have a separate process in place for their community. Because of their unique position, they have had some opportunities that other first nations have not. They have had the opportunity of not being totally under the thumb of the government. This has given them an opportunity to expand in areas where other first nations people could not. We see that independence in their decision making.

One of the areas noted, which was instrumental in putting the extra push to the bill, was the issue of the land use. The people in that area did not have an opportunity to make a decision on what they wanted for their area. That was the additional incentive to push for this. They wanted control over what was happening with their land, while recognizing that the environmental laws of Canada would still fall into place and be in force in Kanesatake. However, they would be able to use the land as they wished.

At this point I would like to tie the issue of wanting control over their land to what happens with the land in Canada, if we do not make sure that we stay in control of it under free trade agreements. A very instrumental first nations leader from, I believe, Manitoba made a comment one time that trade agreements would make Indians of us all because we would not have control of it.

The fight that the people of Kanesatake have had has just emphasized that even more for me. They did not have control over their land and needed to make sure they put rules and legislation in place that would give them that right. I want us to pay attention to the words of that aboriginal leader who said trade agreements would make Indians of everybody and that we should see the struggles that they had. That will be us in the years to come if we do not make sure we as Canadians have control over our land.

I would like to impress upon the minister that point, but certainly more on his government. I would like to commend him for the process on the bill and encourage him.

When he was making his comments he spoke of his new initiative with the first nations peoples. He and I both know that the first nations leaders in Manitoba are not acceptant of his process. I would like to emphasize to him that they have good reason not to be acceptant. This process was dumped on them with the suggestion that this was the way we were going to do it, once again without the involvement of those first nations leaders. They were not happy about that.

Again, I do not like the outcomes of all the elections sometimes, but the bottom line is I accept that in first nations communities, even though there is unhappiness sometimes over the outcomes of them, and I impress this upon my colleagues from the Alliance, the point is chiefs in council for the most part are elected. When they are elected we must give them the right to make the decisions for their people. If the chiefs in Manitoba are not acceptant of the process, then I suggest to the minister that he needs to consult with them to make sure the process which will take place is one that they are okay with. I do not think that has happened.

I have nothing but good results in my discussions with the chiefs in Manitoba, certainly with the first nations communities in my riding. There is good and bad, we do not always agree but that is life. I have my thoughts and they have theirs, but they represent the people of their first nations. I acknowledge that and so should the minister. He needs to acknowledge that this is the position they want to take. It is their first nations communities and he really needs to take that into consideration.

I will not go into all the intricacies of the bill. That has been done a number of times. I do not think we want to delay the process. I know the people in Kanesatake want the bill to go through. We in the New Democratic Party want it to go through. We support it and I would encourage all my colleagues in the House to show respect for the first nations people who have made the decision on the process they want to take. Members should acknowledge that with a show of respect by supporting the decision they have made.

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10:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Churchill spoke about a very important aspect of the bill, that was the closeness of the vote. She enlarged on that somewhat and discussed the fact that although the vote was very close, it was a democratic vote. I have heard comments from some of the speakers which cast aspersions on that.

My question concerns a vote that was taken in her riding on the northern flood agreement where a number of communities were very close to being in a tie situation. There were a number of aspersions cast that the process may not have been correct, but at the end of the day the vote was accepted. The fact remains that we have to accept the votes for what they are, regardless if they are close or one person away from deciding a tying vote.

Could the member enlarge on what happened with the northern flood agreement and on the fact that the vote was close but ended in an agreement? There may be people, and the member may be one, who were not in complete agreement with everything that went on, but that at the end of the day we moved forward.

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the case of my riding, it was not an extremely close vote like the Kanesatake vote. It was the questioning as to the process, directed under Indian affairs. A lot of the problems over the years have been because it has been directed by Indian affairs.

We have had years and years of policy and implementation of different processes under Indian affairs. As a result, the first nations people have not had the same opportunities we have. Non-aboriginal people may not vote throughout Canada, but none of them can ever argue with the fact that they have opportunities for education, economic opportunities and to be with their families, in most cases year after year. They do not have the history of first nations people who have been taken from their homes or children have been taken away from their parents.

First nations people have not had the opportunity to evolve as a society and as a nation the same way we have because they were under the thumb of the government. They lost a lot of years of evolving through what I consider a democratic process.

I firmly hope that each and every first nation will accept, over time, the democratic system in Canada, because quite frankly I am happy with it. I would suggest that something like proportional representation is a better route to go within our election system. I would prefer if we are going to have a Senate that it be elected, but the bottom line is we can make those decisions.

We need to give first nations people the very same opportunities we have all had. We need to give them the opportunity to fail as well as succeed. If they happen to fail in some instances, it does not mean the process is wrong and it does not mean they do not have the right. They just need the same time and the same opportunities we have had to evolve through a process of forming their society as they would like to form it.

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10:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I was intrigued with the answer the member just gave my colleague. She mentioned two things.

First, she talked about closeness of vote, that a majority is a majority. However, as the member knows, there are times when we say a majority is not a majority. The people of Quebec certainly would argue that, and there are other issues we discover within leadership races and major decisions, where people look at the majority in relation to the problem. I wonder if there is something there that should be looked at.

Second, she mentioned concerns with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and the Indian Act. Yesterday the committee heard the legal advisor to the national chief, Mr. Mercredi, express devout concerns about how aboriginals were being treated, and rightly so, regarding a lack of consultation and involvement. I would appreciate the member's views on those issues.

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10:45 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will take this opportunity to say with pride that Mr. Mercredi is originally from my riding. His parents live in my riding. As well, the former grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, was from my riding. I mention that to give some indication of the type of riding I have the pleasure of representing.

Residents of my riding have the benefit of knowing that two of their members have gone on to represent the first nations people of Canada. As a result, I think the people of the riding have benefited.

With regard to the treatment of first nations people, there is no question that it has been absolutely terrible. I grew up in Lebret, a very tiny community in southern Saskatchewan, which had a residential school. In my years of living there I hardly knew a child who attended that school because it was in a segregated area. A lot of aboriginal people lived in the community where I grew up, so I believe I have an understanding of the situations that first nations people live through.

My father actually managed one of what were called the Indian and Metis farms in Saskatchewan. I had the opportunity to see the differences when first nations people are given the opportunity for employment, the differences that can take place in their lives and their children's lives for years to come.

A number of families that had the opportunity to work on farms or at other jobs and to be paid fairly and to live in adequate housing have gone on to see their children educated. Many of those children have become productive people within our country.

We have failed in a lot of areas. Those farms were not the norm. There was the odd one here and there throughout Canada, though I only know of the ones in Saskatchewan. We have failed to give economic opportunities to first nations people. It is very hard to do that on the type of reserve system we have. It will take a lot of years to change that system but those changes will never happen if we do not put enough dollars into proper housing, into proper sewers and water and into schools that are big enough to hold the number of students in them.

A lot of schools in my riding were built to hold only so many children and they probably need room for another hundred. Those children do not have the opportunity of going five miles down the road to the next farming community to go to another school. Most of the reserves are off somewhere so they try to cram people into the schools in order to give them the educational opportunities.

The government must be seriously committed to following through on the recommendations of the royal commission on aboriginal peoples and to putting enough dollars into housing. Anybody who thinks for one second that first nations people do not look after their housing should know that they get the bare minimum standard of housing. Their houses in no way compare to the houses we have in our communities. Their houses would never have been allowed in our communities.

The communities do not have adequate firefighting services and the firefighting services it does have is paid for through its global budgets. When I hear Alliance members talk about wasted dollars in first nations communities, I would suggest to them that if their municipalities had to do everything aboriginal communities had to do with their dollars they would be here screaming and hollering too.

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10:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I speak directly to the Kanesatake interim land base governance act, a bill which came from the Senate to this House, I will make a quick reference to the words of the member for Churchill. I have always enjoyed listening to the member speak. She brings a certain clarity and a personal reference to the subject that a lot of other members simply do not bring.

Although I have never been in complete agreement with everything the member says, she speaks from her heart and with a wide knowledge of the subject. That knowledge could certainly be listened to by a lot of members in the House and influence a lot of party policies that are dedicated and manufactured in the House.

The Mohawks of Kanesatake, also known as Oka, live on a tract of land roughly 50 kilometres west of Montreal. On these lands which have been set aside for the Mohawks but do not constitute a reserve live both aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. It is extremely important when discussing the bill to understand that we are not in any way, shape or form talking about an Indian reserve.

In 1990 the problem of unresolved aboriginal land claims erupted in the Oka crisis. The Mohawks erected barricades to block roads. In response to a request from the Quebec government, the federal government sent Canadian forces to help resolve the confrontation. In the conflict that ensued one Quebec officer died.

We cannot say those words lightly in the House. The reason I say them at all is to give a little history lesson to everyone in this place. We need to look back at where we were in 1990 and come ahead to where we are today. This may not be the perfect agreement. It may not suit every member of the House. However the reality is that light years from where we were in 1990.

We are on the eve of signing an agreement so that we can step forward into the reality of the 21st century. It is long overdue. Over the past 10 years the Mohawk of Kanesatake have worked with the Government of Canada to resolve questions and grievances regarding land use.

In March 1991 the Mohawks and the federal government agreed on an agenda for negotiations within the community of Kanesatake. I must point out that since 1991 the Mohawks of Kanesatake have switched from a traditional system to an elective democratic system that includes off territory voters. They did so because they felt that everyone who has an interest in Kanesatake should be able to participate in the elections.

That being said, a lot of progress has been made over the past 10 years. In 1994 the memorandum of understanding over land purchases was signed between the Mohawks and the federal government. In 1997 the federal government made land purchases in the name of Kanesatake, and the Mohawks established their own police station.

On December 21, 2000, a new land governance agreement was signed between the Kanesatake and the federal government. Bill S-24 represents the culmination of negotiations engaged in over the past 10 years. The bill did not suddenly appear before us. The bill has taken over a decade to go from where it was to where we are today. The bill is a critical milestone for the community of Kanesatake.

Bill S-24 would provide legal recognition of the land base for the Mohawks and would include powers of law making, policing and other services. The agreement with respect to Kanesatake governance of the interim land base was ratified through a legitimate democratic process by a majority, albeit a slim one, 239 to 237, but a majority nevertheless. An independent legal review of the ratification process and recount of the vote results, both conducted by a former chief justice of the Quebec superior court, confirmed that the process was conducted in a fair and open manner.

Bill S-24 would ensure that the Kanesatake Mohawk interim land base constitutes lands reserved for the Indians pursuant to the constitution but not as a reserve under the Indian Act.

Bill S-24 would also provide a framework for the exercise of jurisdiction and establish principles for the harmonious use and development of those lands.

Under the legislation the Mohawks of Kanesatake would have legal capacity to acquire and hold property, enter into contracts, borrow, expend and invest money, and be party to legal proceedings.

The Mohawks would also exercise power to make laws formerly made at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. It must be pointed out that laws made by the Mohawks of Kanesatake could not be less stringent than municipal or provincial laws already in existence.

These laws would affect health and qualify of life, protection and management of fish and wildlife, disorderly conduct and nuisance, prevention of trespass, residency, fire safety and fire prevention, local works, zoning, waste management and public sanitation, traffic regulation and the appointment of judges.

While violators of any of these laws would be punishable by the Mohawk of Kanesatake, fines or imprisonment terms may not exceed limits established in subsection 787(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada. Subclause 8(1) of the bill specifies that a Kanesatake Mohawk is not governed by the Indian Act.

Before the Mohawk of Kanesatake can enact the legal powers accorded to them by Bill S-24, they must adopt a land governance code that sets out the law of the land. The code shall establish the rule of law, land use rules, conflict of interest rules, rights of appeal and redress, and procedures to amend the code. Furthermore a land use plan must precede any form of commercial or industrial activity. Storage or transportation of hazardous materials or waste disposal can happen.

Bill S-24 stipulates that Kanesatake Mohawk land should be consistent with federal standards and can exceed in strictness provincial standards. It must be pointed out that although environmental standards can exceed in strictness provincial environmental standards, they must be equivalent to or exceed standards already in place.

Before substantial land use practices can be changed, Bill S-24 establishes the process by which Kanesatake land use rules should be harmonized with the land laws of the municipality of Oka. This task will be an onerous one and is an onerous one, considering that the entire land area affected by the bill and inhabited by the Mohawk comprises many small parcels of land occupied by both aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents.

Bill S-24 addresses the issue of governance but does not include debate regarding first nation treaty rights or other outstanding disputes and grievances. Neither does it represent settlement of a land claim.

In conclusion, the PC Party supports the legislation. Bill S-24 has been 10 years in the making and there has been appropriate consultation with the third parties involved. We would have appreciated more time to look at the bill and have more witnesses appear before committee. However sending legislation through the Senate first has become commonplace for the Liberal government. The House should not be here to simply rubber stamp a piece of legislation but should be actively involved in it.

I will clarify this point because I do not want my colleagues in the Senate to think I do not approve of legislation coming from the Senate. That is what makes the Senate a more appropriate vehicle of governance in Canada and gives it legitimacy. We should be seeking more legitimacy for the Senate.

That being said, we are supportive of the will of the Mohawk of Kanesatake and the extensive consultations that have been carried out with the community of Kanesatake. As critic for Indian affairs and northern development in the last parliament, the 36th parliament—

Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair has a bit of a dilemma. Does the member for South Shore want to wrap it all up within a minute or would he prefer to conclude his remarks after question period?

Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will conclude after question period.