Great. Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I'm used to presenting for five minutes, so I'll be fast, and I'll give my co-panellists the remainder of my time.
First of all, thank you very much for the invitation to be here this afternoon. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce deeply appreciates it. I'm Susanna Cluff-Clyburne, obviously, and amongst my files at the Canadian chamber is the indigenous affairs file. I too wish to acknowledge, as I'm sure has been done previously this afternoon, the fact that we're meeting on unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
The Canadian chamber is not a newcomer to the examination of relationships between business and indigenous peoples. I've had the opportunity to meet several of the members of this committee to talk about our work in the past and in the present as well. Our members know that indigenous peoples, the youngest and fastest-growing segment of Canada's population, hold the promise of being a social and economic powerhouse if they have the same opportunities available to them as all Canadians do.
Over the past several years, Canadian chamber members have given us the mandate and resources to examine public policy tools and business practices that would improve indigenous peoples' participation in, and increase their benefits from, our economy. Indigenous peoples in what is now Canada once enjoyed strong, nation-to-nation, social, military, and commercial alliances with European colonists. Had it not been for the co-operation of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples—for example, during the War of 1812—Canada might not exist, and that was before the Indian Act, residential schools, and a spate of policies and programs aimed at assimilating indigenous peoples.
It wasn't just government policies that caused harm. Canada's businesses have often fallen short on seeking respectful relationships with indigenous peoples. Governments, businesses, and all Canadians need to do the hard work necessary to restore these nation-to-nation, partner-to-partner relationships throughout Canada. They're critical to the well-being of each and every one of us.
In its final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon Canadian businesses to adopt the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for their relationships. Many of our members are doing so and had respectful, mutually beneficial relationships prior to the declaration's existence. Our members support Bill C-262. It's time that indigenous rights took their proper place in Canadian laws and regulations.
Our members also support the objectives of the approach being taken by the government, first, with its review of the laws and policies affecting indigenous peoples, and more recently, with the process to recognize and implement indigenous rights.
However—and unfortunately, there is a however—our members are frustrated with the lack of a formal process to allow for their perspectives to be heard as the government moves forward. The environment has become extremely complex on the issue of reconciliation, and our repeated requests to be part of the reconciliation conversation have, to date, fallen on deaf ears.
Last year, we were encouraged when it was indicated that the government's review of laws and policies would include a formal process to seek the input of stakeholders, including business. The government's engagement process for the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights does not have the rigour we had expected and hoped for, for such an important issue. Those stakeholders not invited to face-to-face round tables can provide their perspectives through an email address or a Canada Post address. However, the engagement guide is still not available online—that's as of this morning—and the deadline for providing input is not clear. I was able to obtain the guide by contacting an ADM at Indigenous and Northern Affairs. That's the only way I could get it.
Canada's businesses and other stakeholders, as well as indigenous rights holders, need a principles-based, reliable, consistent framework for the governance of their relationships. Until then, we will all continue to rely on a project-by-project approach, based on what we can negotiate and not necessarily on the correct principles. Too often, as it is today, the ultimate outcome will be determined by the courts, and this is not in anyone's interests.
Improving indigenous peoples' engagement in our economy is in every Canadian's interest. Companies that have worked hard to establish and now enjoy strong relationships with indigenous communities are the most vocal on the benefits of doing so.
It's not clear to Canada's businesses and those who invest in them what the government's commitments to reconciliation with indigenous peoples mean for them. A clear, rigorous stakeholder engagement process would greatly assist. The sooner it's clear what the government's commitments mean for Canada's businesses, the better positioned they will be to deliver on sustainable economic reconciliation and the quality-of-life benefits that often accompany it.
Thanks again for the opportunity to be here this afternoon.