Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the New Democrats, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-41, An Act to give effect to the Maanulth First Nations Final Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
What we are talking about today in the House represents a journey, and it truly is a journey of generations. When I spoke to the chiefs yesterday, they said this particular piece of work started in 1992. One can see that it has literally been years in the making.
I also want to acknowledge the fact that we are talking about five nations that have come together to bring this treaty to fruition. I want to name the nations and the chiefs, four of whom are here in Ottawa today. We have the Uchucklesaht, with Chief Charlie Cootes; the Ucluelet, with Chief Violet Mundy; the Toquaht, with Chief Anne Mack; and the Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k:tles7et'h', with Chief Councillor Therese Smith. We also have the Huu-ay-aht, with Chief Councillor Robert Dennis, who was not able to be here today.
It is important to name the chiefs because they are here to bear witness. They are here to see this historic moment unfolding in the House of Commons. This work is part of that reconciliation process that we have been talking about in the House over this last year, with the one-year anniversary of the apology for residential schools. This is part of that reconciliation journey.
I also want to acknowledge Chief Bert Mack from the Toquaht, who guided his nation as their hereditary chief to this point. I want to acknowledge the elders. In any first nations community, the elders are the very heart and soul of the community. They are the ones who provide the teachings and the guidance. They are the ones who walk with the leaders and they are the ones who provide the guidance to get the leaders to this place today. So I want to acknowledge those elders and raise my hands to the elders and their continuing guidance and wisdom.
We have only a very brief time to talk about this treaty today and about its importance both to the five nations and to their neighbours. However, I want to situate this treaty a little bit, because many people in Canada do not really understand the geography of British Columbia, and Vancouver Island in particular. These five nations' traditional territories are on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is truly some of the most beautiful territory in this country. It is a coastal temperate rainforest and it is very rich in land and sea resources.
In the history, these five nations have been in this territory for thousands and thousands of years. In fact, the teachings say that they have been there since the beginning of time. The rich culture, language and traditions mark that time back through many centuries.
I want to centre the treaty itself around the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I think the United Nations declaration could provide guidance for future treaties, for land claim settlements in this country. Although there are many articles that could have applied to this treaty, I want to quote from article 19, which says:
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
With Bill C-41, this very important piece of legislation, we have that free, prior and informed consent. The Maa-nulth nations have been at the table representing their people, making sure that their needs, concerns and wants were understood and were part of that treaty process. Because we have that free, prior and informed consent, we have a piece of legislation that is supported by the five Maa-nulth nations.
It is important to remember that context, because we know that we have other treaty negotiations going on in British Columbia and lands claims throughout the country. If we use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it may help inform these future agreements for other nations.
I also want to touch very briefly on some of the key points. I am going to quote from the Maa-nulth First Nations' own website, because I think their own words are important to have in the House.
What they say on their website is:
The Final Agreement includes a land package as well as funding in the form of a capital transfer, annual resource revenue sharing payments, and ongoing and time-limited funding for each Maa-nulth First Nation.... The Final Agreement also includes self-government provisions and defines each Maa-nulth First Nation's rights to resources such as wildlife, fish, timber and sub-surface minerals.
Although the treaty is not an answer to many challenges that are faced in our communities, it does provide a “tool box” for our people to make our own decisions on our own terms....
A treaty will bring certainty with respect to each Maa-nulth First Nation's Aboriginal rights through the Maa-nulth First Nations traditional territory. The treaty will provide modern governance tools that the Maa-nulth First Nations may use to build strong and workable relationships with other governments, including federal, provincial and local governments on the west coast of Vancouver Island....
[It will also] resolve long-standing issues regarding undefined Aboriginal rights and title, and bring certainty and economic benefits not only to the Maa-nulth First Nations, but also to the entire region.
That is a very important part, because what we know in many first nations communities is that they have the capability, the resources and the will to bring prosperity to their communities. What we need to do is get out of the way and provide the mechanisms through treaties for that right to self-determination, and economic benefits will not only accrue to the first nations in their traditional territories but will also accrue to their neighbours.
We have other examples in British Columbia where we know that, working in partnership, we can bring that prosperity both to the nation and to their neighbours. This treaty is an important aspect of bringing certainty to the nations and to their neighbours. That, in itself, is a cause for celebration.
I want to touch on a couple of other aspects of the final agreement. The final agreement certainly does involve land. It consists of approximately 24,550 hectares of treaty settlement land, including the former reserves. The Maa-nulth First Nation government will have law-making authorities over its land, although federal and provincial laws will continue to apply, along with current Maa-nulth First Nation laws.
There are many aspects of this treaty. Of course, I do not have time to cover them all, but I just want to touch on a couple, because the land aspect is very important. Many first nations will talk about their spiritual, physical, emotional ties to the land and how important it is that those traditional territories are respected. As other speakers have pointed out, we know that this is just a small fraction of the land that was part of the traditional territories of the five nations.
On Vancouver Island, we know forestry is the lifeblood of many of the communities. Under forestry, the Maa-nulth First Nations will own and manage the forest reserves, the forest resources on treaty settlement lands, consistent with provincial standards for private land.
I know elders have often spoken about the importance of culture and heritage, passing on the teachings to the next generation, but also the preservation of language. The language is the heartbeat of the culture. Without the language, it is oftentimes very difficult to transmit the culture. The elders can talk about how the words themselves represent that whole being.
The Maa-nulth First Nations may make laws on treaty settlement lands to conserve and protect Maa-nulth First Nations culture and language, to deal with ancient human remains, and to regulate access to Maa-nulth First Nations cultural heritage resources. Some of the Maa-nulth First Nations artifacts in the Royal British Columbia Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and Parks Canada collections will be transferred to the Maa-nulth First Nations.
There are many aspects of governance and education, but I want to briefly mention implementation. Implementation is an essential part. Implementation is, of course, covered in the final agreement.
Again, according to the words of the Maa-nulth themselves, they talk about “true implementation”. They say true implementation will mean:
Exercising self government by our Constitutions, laws, regulations and policies; Drawing down additional authorities in the Treaty as appropriate for that particular Nation.
Of course, we have seen other modern-day treaties were implementation has been a slow and painful process. I would hope that this is a new era with the implementation agreement that is set out in the final agreement, that we will not see the kinds of stumbling blocks that we have seen with other implementation agreements.
In closing, this is a great day to celebrate and to honour the work that the chiefs, their elders and the communities have done to bring this treaty to the House of Commons. I look forward to support from all parties and in the other place so that this treaty has rapid passage.