moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Madam Speaker, it is an extreme pleasure for me to rise again and talk about my private member's bill, now entitled “Indigenous Human Remains and Cultural Property Repatriation Act”.
I want to thank the seconder, the very distinguished member for St. John's East, who has not only helped me to ensure the bill gets through in the appropriate time, but who will also speak to it again tonight.
This private member's bill has taken me down a road I did not expect to go down when it was first adopted.
Just a few days ago, I celebrated the 30th anniversary of my first election, but I still marvel at what can happen in this place. It is an amazing place that can do amazing things.
Although I did not realize how important my private member's bill was when we first drafted it, it has turned out to be very meaningful to a lot of people, and I think it will have a positive effect.
I started it as a result of a visit I made to the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre, a first nations museum in my riding. I was admiring a beautiful robe in a glass case. While doing so, the curator told me that it was not the real robe, that the real robe is in Australia. She said that it was purchased legally and legitimately by a person in the 1800s and it was taken there in 1852. Now it is residing in a museum in Australia. When I asked if we had tried to get it back, she said that some efforts had been made, but there was no ability to get it back.
At that time, I thought perhaps we could draw up a private member's bill to ask the government to establish a structure so small first nations bands, like Millbrook band near Truro, Nova Scotia, could have somebody to turn to to get help if it wanted to get back one of its original artifacts. Therefore, we drafted Bill C-391, thinking it would be a little innocuous bill that might help first nations get their artifacts back if they became available.
When I tabled the bill, I spoke for two minutes and 37 seconds if I am not mistaken. However, I did not know the Australian ambassador heard about it somehow. She took action. We did not ask her to do this and we did not expect her to it. That was not my intention.
At that time, Her Excellency Natasha Smith took it upon herself to contact the museum in Australia to see if it could begin negotiations to get the robe back to Millbrook. I could not believe that happened. She came to see me a few weeks later and told me what steps she had taken. I will be forever in her debt for doing that.
Her Excellency Natasha Smith and Brittany Noakes worked hard on this. They made a connection with the Melbourne Museum, where the robe resides. In the end, it turned out that the young aboriginal woman from the first nation in my riding, Heather Stevens, was negotiating with a young first nations person in Melbourne, Australia. That was so meaningful. It was not Canada to Australia. It was first nation to first nation, 15,000 kilometres apart. Negotiations are under way and hopefully some day the robe will come back.
Heather Stephens, the manager and curator of the Millbrook Heritage Centre, is dealing with Genevieve Grieves, the manager of first people's department in the museum in Melbourne. To me, that is part of the magic of this whole process, that those two people have connected and are negotiating and discussing how this can all happen.
I want to thank all the people who have been involved in this, all the people who have helped and all the people in the first nations right across the country who have contributed ideas and thoughts. They really made me understand how important artifacts were to their people.
It is more than just an artifact. It is their history, it is their people, it is the spirit of their people. I do not pretend to be able to capture the entire meaning that artifacts have to first nations peoples, but I know it is so important for them to have them back. I am so pleased to be a part of a process that will help them achieve the goal of getting artifacts back to their proper homes.
I want to thank the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, especially the chair, the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, who helped to get the bill through the committee in the proper way and in a timely fashion. Thoughtful amendments were made to the legislation that improved and strengthened it.
Also, through this process, those of us who really do not have a lot to do with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have a better understanding of it. This bill complies with that declaration and I think it will be an important part of Canada's process to move ahead on the United Nations declaration.
The other thing that has amazed me is that we have had responses from all over the world on this. It is just a private member's bill. I had no idea where it was going to go. However, it was pointed out to me that it was written up in the Netherlands. The article was all in Dutch, but I know it is right because my name was spelled right. That was the only way I could tell. It includes a picture of the artifact from Millbrook. There was also an article written in China. It was the same thing, my name was spelled right again, and the picture of the artifact and Millbrook was in it.
We have been contacted by the commonwealth museum in Britain about the importance of the bill and how it might be used as a model down the road in other countries. There are so many countries that want their artifacts back. I noticed last week, I think, that France decided it would repatriate some incredible artifacts back to countries in Africa.
We are part of a worldwide effort to repatriate artifacts to indigenous peoples. I am certainly pleased and proud to be a part of it. I hope my bill does go through. I think we have support from all the parties, and I appreciate that very much.
I so much appreciate the support from my caucus and my House leader, who helped ensure we got this in, in a timely fashion. I will work with members if there are amendments, or they want changes or need interpretations. I appreciate it going through report stage the way it has. I am now pleased to have it at third reading.
I want to thank everybody who has been involved with this. It has been an incredible journey. It has taught me a lot. It has taught me a lot about indigenous peoples and the values they have, which I have come to really appreciate more than I did in the past. However, it is all through talking with indigenous peoples and museums about indigenous artifacts.
One indigenous lady said that this was not just a robe in Australia, that this robe represented the spirit of all the indigenous peoples who made it, all the people who handled it and all the people who cared for it until it changed hands and went into European hands and then to Australia, where it has been ever since. I will never forget that conversation. It was certainly meaningful and meant a lot to me.
Again, I thank everyone who has supported it and has helped get it to where it is.