House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments. I agree with him that while it appears we are all in agreement in principle, it is important that in this place various views and concerns on a bill get aired, notwithstanding the general level of support for the bill.

The member used the word “reconciliation”, which is a good word to use in the context of the bill, but in my immediate thinking, reconciliation can mean two things. First, it can mean extending reconciliation for past wrongs, whether they involved the improper taking of land or issues related to the residential schools or any number of other issues. Second, it can mean reconciling the difference in views between our first nations, our aboriginal people, and mainstream Canada.

Would my colleague agree with me that there is a very high level of misunderstanding in the general population about treaties, aboriginal history, the depth of aboriginal people's connection to the land and the depth of their culture? The general population, innocently in most cases, does not understand their history, their context or their culture.

Does my colleague agree that through this process of discussion here in this place and further in committee we can help to raise that awareness and hopefully minimize the destructive debate that can sometimes happen when people do not understand the other side?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure. If we are trying to find the locus of the problem between aboriginal people and Canada, I am not sure that I would locate it in the general public. I would want to put more responsibility on those of us who sit in this place and on our governments. I do not think we have done the job that we should have been doing to make sure that these issues are resolved, that treaties are negotiated and that land claims are settled. I think the responsibility falls on our shoulders and on our governments' shoulders for not having paid appropriate attention to that over the years.

Many ordinary Canadians have a much better relationship with their aboriginal brothers and sisters and neighbours than many of us here in this place. They may be much more experienced about how to live out that kind of relationship appropriately and successfully than has ever been shown in this place.

We should be paying more attention to resolving these issues. I hope that by doing so we can get to the point of reconciliation and respect between the different cultures that are represented in this land between first nations cultures and the cultures of Canada. I think it is possible to do that, but we have lost an incredible amount of time over the years by not giving this issue the high place it deserves and by not dedicating ourselves to that process.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the legal processes that aboriginal members and communities have to go through to have a lot of their issues resolved can essentially be seen as somewhat of a Gordian knot. At the very least, it draws finite resources away from the needs of aboriginal communities.

It is absolutely heartbreaking to see the squalor and the destitution that too many aboriginal people live in, essentially without hope. In the worst possible cases, some of them take their own lives in acts of utter desperation.

Looking at this it seems to me that we could do a better job to make sure that those finite resources are not drawn off by the so-called Indian industry, a battery of lawyers that draws resources away from what is required in aboriginal communities.

What does my colleague suggest can be done to re-channel these resources away from the legal framework that is drawing them out with no real benefit to aboriginal members? Second, would his party support the abolishment of the Indian Act?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, we could go a long way to solving some of the problems that the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca talked about by negotiating in good faith and as expeditiously as possible the settlement of treaties and government arrangements for first nations. Those would go some way to addressing the problems and would do so outside the context of the paternalism and the colonialism represented by legislation such as the Indian Act. I think that is what the problems have been caused by for so many generations here in Canada.

We need to ensure that we take a nation to nation approach in our relationships with first nations. We have seen a modest step toward that with the kind of consultation that happened prior to the introduction of Bill C-30. We have seen other examples in some of the new treaties that are coming before us in this place, which have been negotiated in British Columbia. It is not an easy task to negotiate those treaties, but I think it is an important place to put our efforts in to see results. Resolving those issues, resolving specific claims and ensuring the treaties are in place will go a long way to dealing with many of the issues the member mentioned.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a supplemental, if the be-all and the end-all of the answer to these problems is the resolution of land claims, it would seem to me that in those areas where land claims have been resolved, that is, east of the Rockies, then conditions would be demonstrably better for aboriginal members than west of the Rockies, where for the most part they have not.

However, if we look at conditions on and off reserve for aboriginal people we will see that there is very little difference between east and west of the Rockies, which means that the resolution of land claims is not going to have the desired effect of somehow resolving the social and economic challenges that exist on reserve.

Does the member not think that the current governance structures in too many aboriginal communities remove the basic fundamental rights that human beings ought to have in being able to make decisions and hold their leaders to account? Does he not think that fundamental reform in governance structures for aboriginal people within aboriginal communities is absolutely essential for enabling aboriginal people to be the masters of their destiny?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to make the mistake that has been made too often in the Parliament of Canada and by our governments in making those kinds of decisions on behalf of aboriginal people. First nations are going to make those decisions. They are going to put forward those kinds of proposals. It is not for me to make those kinds of judgments that the hon. member was suggesting might be made.

I think that would be completely inappropriate. It would be continuing the legacy of paternalism and colonialism that we have seen. I, for one, do not want to go down that road. I will take my responsibility as a representative in this place seriously and look at the proposals that come from first nations with regard to governance and with regard to their issues, but I do not think it is my place to decide on their behalf what should be done in those instances.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

We will hear a short question from the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I asked the hon. member about was who speaks for aboriginal members in reserves such as those that straddle the Canada-U.S. border in Ontario and Quebec, for example, where there is gun-running and trafficking of weapons, drugs and human beings across the border by organized crime gangs that are primarily from the United States.

Who speaks for those aboriginal people who live on those reserves in that kind of environment? The RCMP cannot go into those communities because of so-called downloading responsibilities to aboriginal communities. As a result, the people who live in those communities, the law-abiding aboriginal people, are left in an environment where organized crime is acting in a predacious fashion within their communities. No one speaks for them. No one comes to their assistance. No one is helping them out because of the current structure.

How does the member propose to resolve that?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I asked for a short question. Now I will define how long the answer will be: 28 seconds.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Again, Mr. Speaker, I do not think it is my place to be deciding for those people how to approach those problems. They can do that effectively with their neighbours, with the folks who live near them, with the appropriate agencies and enforcement agencies, and with their own leadership. They can bring those issues forward and deal with them appropriately. I do not think it is up to me to impose a solution--

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I interrupt the member, but his time has expired.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

December 4th, 2007 / 4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed a public bill to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-30, An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues in the opposition as we participate in debating Bill C-30. It is an important bill, as I mentioned in answer to a question from the member for Burnaby—Douglas, and it appears to have agreement in principle in the House. Clearly, though, there are a number of concerns and hopefully they will be addressed in committee.

However, it is also important to raise some of those concerns in this chamber that we share and that the public has ready access to through transmission.

I represent the northern Ontario riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, with its approximately 24 first nations. I am very proud and happy to represent first nations from Manitoulin Island and the north shore of Lake Huron, up through Chapleau and Wawa and near Constance Lake and Hearst.

These are communities that by and large are very well run. In fact, the chief and councillors of one of the band councils have university degrees. This does not fit, sadly, the profile of first nations, which is all too often reported in the media, which by its nature tends to report bad news.

However, the good news is that first nations are successful and can be even more successful. Specific claims based on treaties and other historic precedents need to be resolved not only for the benefit of first nations but for the benefit of all Canadians, their children and grandchildren.

I agree with my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca that settling and improving the specific claims process is not the be-all and end-all. It is part of a mosaic of improvements that need to be made in our relationship with first nations, improvements that were well defined in the Kelowna accord, which sadly will languish until a future government, not a Conservative one, will deal with it.

There are issues around water and housing. There are issues about real human rights in our communities, not the non-consultative matrimonial property process that the government imposed on first nations. Happily, that process has been halted and first nations can do their own consultations and come up with solutions that make sense for them, solutions which they have come up with for generations, for eons of time, in fact.

Essentially the bill would take what is now the Indian Claims Commission and create a new tribunal, which would give it the teeth to make settlements. The commission, notwithstanding all of its good work, did not have the teeth to impose solutions. It could only make recommendations to the government. Of course, the government being a party to the dispute, it really was placed in a very awkward position.

A tribunal having legal authority to resolve disputes will make the process more transparent and fairer. I think of it as being similar to binding arbitration in hockey or baseball, where the parties have a process to come to a resolution more quickly and hopefully more transparently.

I would like to give members and those listening to the transmission an example of how the process in the past has been very unhelpful to first nations. I am thinking of Mississagi First Nation in my riding, a community located roughly midway between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie on the north shore of Lake Huron. People wonder why there are claims and why taxpayers are having to pay for the settlement of issues from centuries ago. I ask members to imagine a scenario in this community.

The scenario is that 100 or 150 years ago in that community the agent for the Crown made an arrangement which described a certain tract of land that would be the community's reserve. When the document got to England, it somehow was changed. I will not accuse anybody of changing things on purpose, but court decisions in the last 20 years in this case show that the document was changed. What was rendered as a postage-stamp sized piece of land for this community was in actual fact a much larger piece of land when the law was applied.

There was a lot of concern in the area over what this would mean, but ultimately, the right thing was done. Third parties were properly treated. I am happy to see that the government's press release talks about improving the processing of additions to reserve as a future item of business. The release talks about Bill C-30 and it talks about improving a number of other issues.

I am pleased to see that they plan to improve the processing of additions to reserves because the Mississagi First Nation has been waiting a long time for the land which it was awarded in consultation with the province subsequent to the court ruling. It is waiting for that land to be officially added, or I would say, returned to its reserve. I am hopeful that the cabinet will deal with that fairly soon because all the paperwork has long since been done.

I also had asked my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas about the innocent misunderstanding among the public about aboriginal issues, history and culture. I am not being pejorative at all; I am just pointing out that in general we do not teach in our primary and secondary schools much, if anything, about aboriginal history. I am talking about times past and I hope it is going to get better, but it still is not happening very much. We are not readily exposed to the depth of spirituality and culture in our first nations within our aboriginal people, Métis and Inuit included. I think it is very important.

In the case of a claim, our first nations face what I would refer to as a double jeopardy. On the one side they have faced a slow, ponderous process which typically takes years and years to resolve, and on the other side, through that process they face the misunderstanding in the general population about what is going on.

I would advise the House that sometime in the future I am drafting a bill which will ask the federal government to work with the provinces to promote and help develop a curriculum for primary and secondary schools which will help with the teaching of aboriginal history and culture. I think back to my high school times and I do not recall ever being told anything about aboriginal history in all of my years through primary school and secondary school. I imagine that is the case for all if not most of my colleagues. The bill will deal hopefully with the slow and ponderous part of that double jeopardy.

By the tribunal having an ability to make orders, I think it will stiffen the spines of all participants and on average should help speed up the entire process. In asking a question of one of our Bloc colleagues, I pointed out that in my understanding the provinces are not required to participate in any specific claim which comes before the tribunal. The province can choose to participate and say whatever happens out of the tribunal it will accept at the provincial level, or it can step back, wait for the tribunal process to continue and then deal with the result in whatever fashion is appropriate in the circumstances.

According to my information, a federal settlement in favour of a first nation does not automatically obligate a province should the tribunal determine in a particular case that a settlement should be awarded 80% of the fault, to use that word of the federal government, it is not going to say who the other 20% is. It could be any number of other stakeholders but for sure, and I am hopeful, it would be advantageous to the provinces to see this as potentially a very helpful process because we all want to see these settled.

Too often, the uncertainty over specific claims affects third parties. It affects municipalities that may be situated adjacent to a first nation. It can affect third parties who have land that may be within an area which is subject to a specific claim. The sooner these things can be settled, the sooner clouds of uncertainty can be removed from title that is otherwise put in question.

There is another community, the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, which for the longest time has been working on a Point Grondine settlement and an island settlement. I am hopeful that at some point in the not too distant future, should that claim not be resolved in the very near future, this new process will take over and will lead to a speedy resolution one way or the other, not to prejudge the outcome, although my hopes are that for all of Manitoulin and Wikwemikong the settlement be a good one for all.

I want to point out that while we happily receive this legislation, in spite of the track record thus far when it comes to first nations issues, I wish we were listening to some of our Conservative colleagues today on this issue. I think they should be on record as being supportive of this process. They should not leave their comments just to committee. While we want the bill to get to committee and get through on a timely basis, it does need a good airing, because there are such questions as who will decide on which judges will form the core group of the tribunal?

I would hope that our aboriginal communities, the AFN and others, will be consulted on who best understands the issues or who best will be impartial to the outcome so that at the very end of it all people will feel content with the result whichever way a particular decision is made. I am hopeful that the government will include our first nations leadership in its consultation on the appointment of the judges.

I would also want to make sure that this process ensures that research dollars are made available, as they are now but maybe even in a more substantial way to our communities. It will only help speed up the process if these communities, which are typically very small, have the capacity to do the research needed to support their case.

Lest there be any doubt, should a community win its claim, my understanding is that the funds advanced for research will come off the settlement, which may or may not be fair. That is for the stakeholders to decide. Regardless, there is an interest by the general population to see these claims being made completely with all the information available. That requires an ability in the community to do that research, to pull the information together. It cannot be done by a band administrator working by himself or herself with all the other jobs the administrator has. They need the resources to do this and I am very hopeful that the funds will be increased to assist our first nations in this regard.

I am also hopeful that the money to support the tribunal itself will not come out of the settlement funds. I think it would be a responsibility of the government to pay for the tribunal process itself, the salaries, the staffing, the overheads, out of the general revenues of the government, revenues that would logically be assigned to the department, but not out of funds set aside for the settlements themselves. The settlement dollars should be kept aside for that very purpose.

One of my colleagues asked whether the $150 million limit would pose a problem. It may or may not. My understanding is that, on average, settlements are in the neighbourhood of $10 million, give or take a few million. I am hopeful that the funds set aside will satisfy the claims as they come along and as they are settled. If not, the government will necessarily be obligated to increase that budget. That would be the nature of the process, as I understand it.

I would like to take a moment to mention one of the consequences for first nations when these things drag out. It is the concept of loss of use. People may wonder why taxpayers are paying a first nation for some land that they are not going to necessarily get back if that land has been sold off by a province to the federal government. It would be unusual for that land to be given back if it has been sold to third parties. Typically the solution, and this bill calls for a monetary solution to the problem, is there would be a monetary settlement.

If a first nation has not had the use of a tract of land for 150 years or 200 years because it was improperly taken or improperly surveyed or for whatever other reason, the first nation has not had the use of that land for all those decades. That could be loss of access for logging rights or for mineral rights. Others have accessed those minerals or the timber. Others have accessed the land for hunting and sport fishing or even commercial fishing when it comes to water.

There is a concept about the loss of use. Among the many elements to make up a settlement is that loss of use and the fact that over the decades and the hundreds of years the first nation has not had the ability to use that land. In most cases it has lost untold sums of money because resources were taken out from under it.

Some people may say that those things happened a long time ago and why should we be worried about them now. Well in fact, a deal is a deal. A deal was made between a particular first nation and the Crown. That deal was made in good faith at that time. For right or wrong reasons sometimes those deals, and I guess there would never be a good reason for not honouring a deal, but for different reasons, treaties were not honoured. Agreements between a first nation community and the Crown were not honoured.

It is incumbent upon us to reconcile the present with the past in a way that is fair, in a way which recognizes this loss of use, the inability to have access to resources not only for the first nations' own enjoyment, but for their own economic benefit, to help them pay for the services they need in their communities so that the communities have access to animals for food, hunting, fishing or furs. When lands were sold off without their permission and mainstream Canada moved in and urban growth moved in, in many cases that was a loss of use that can never be recovered. It is only fair that if a specific claim is a good claim and it can be proven by the community and looked at honestly and fairly and a settlement should be made, then it should be done on a timely basis for the benefit of all.

I would like to mention that in spite of a lot of news which, sadly, talks about high incarceration rates for our aboriginal people, high diabetes rates, low secondary school success rates, the June 29 day of protest which received a lot of news in some instances, behind all these stories which too often involve negative news, there are many more good news stories.

I would like to talk for a moment about two communities in my riding that are relevant to the claims process, the community of Serpent River First Nation, which is on the north shore of Lake Huron between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, and the city of Elliot Lake. These communities, less than a year ago, after a couple of years of negotiating entered into a memorandum of agreement. They would walk together going forward when it came to sharing the land base. First of all, the land base is the Serpent River First Nation's traditional land base in the Serpent River watershed. They have proof of that going back many millennia when it comes to burial sites and other markings in the earth which demonstrate that they were there long before European contact.

At the same time, the city of Elliot Lake was born out of the huge uranium industry, which started in the mid-1950s. At one time Elliot Lake was the world's uranium capital. This took place in the Serpent River First Nations territorial lands. Instead of fighting over this over the years, they got together, and they are looking forward.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, in my riding I have a reserve called the Pacheenaht. It is a small reserve, but there is epidemic suicide rates among children, poverty rates are astronomical, unemployment rates are enormous, health care indices are off the track and 70% of the people have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects.

This happens in a number of other reserves. I want to ask my hon. colleague, who gave a wonderful speech, this. First, what does he believe the Government of Canada should do to allow communities to address those problems? How do we prevent those problems? Does he think that part of the issue is to allow aboriginal people to have access to skills, education and work so they can provide for themselves and their communities, which in turn gives them a sense of self respect and pride?

One of the problems for remote aboriginal communities is the kids cannot get to school very easily. This is a huge problem. Another problem with aboriginal education is the offloading of educational responsibilities to communities, which do not have the capacity to provide for their children. It is creating a problem because the kids will fall through the cracks and they will not have the skills to allow them to be functional, integrated members of a 21st century economy, while still retaining their cultural and linguistic uniqueness.

How should the government work with aboriginal communities to allow them to have the same kinds of opportunities that we have?