Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation Act

An Act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of Aboriginal cultural property

Sponsor

Bill Casey  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Third reading (House), as of Nov. 28, 2018

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Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the development and implementation of a national strategy to enable the return of Indigenous human remains and cultural property to the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 6, 2018 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-391, An Act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of Aboriginal cultural property

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

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.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 5:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member not only for his recent remarks, but for seeing an opportunity to bring this bill forward to the House. It can have a positive impact on the lives, the memories and the cultural heritage of the indigenous groups in his riding. I think it will have a similar fate in my province.

Does the member have plans with respect to how he will to procedurally get this bill, if it is passed in this chamber, through the next stages? Also, what is the importance of having this heard tonight rather than in the winter so we can get the bill passed?

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member because he helped us move this forward. I have beseeched our House leader, who has been very co-operative and helpful. I know she will be really helpful going forward and help us get this through. It is important that we get it through in time for it to go through the Senate, through the process and be there for the whole world to see.

One of the amazing things are the articles that have been written around the world about this private member's bill. I am so proud of that. However, I did not realize when we started how meaningful this issue was to indigenous people. If we can help, it will not only help in Canada but it will help in many other areas.

The secretary-general of the Commonwealth Association of Museums contacted us to asked if it could be used as a model for legislation in other countries. It represents 52 countries, so perhaps it will go many places and benefit many indigenous peoples.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, we were really happy earlier this year when the member and the Liberal Party voted in favour of Bill C-262, which was brought forward by the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. It essentially seeks to ensure that all of Canada's laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Of course, a big part of that is returning cultural property.

Does the member have any thoughts to share with the House on how his private member's bill can work with Bill C-262 and really advance the cause toward reconciliation?

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 5:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, the thing I have learned through this process is that repatriation of artifacts is reconciliation. That is reconciliation in its most tangible, meaningful form. It is reconciliation for young indigenous people who can see what their ancestors did, the talents and abilities they had, the ways they made these artifacts. It is reconciliation for seniors who remember some of these artifacts and the people who made them. It is the ultimate step in reconciliation in a very tangible way, and I am proud to be part of that.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 5:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-391. I thank the hon. member for bringing his private member's bill to the House for us to consider.

I have a keen interest in the subject matter of the bill. I have great respect for the history, and I greatly enjoyed learning more about it, as we studied it through the committee.

The bill is well-intentioned, and I will be supporting it. However, I believe there were some issues that could have been addressed that would have made the bill even better.

I have great respect for the important role artifacts play in fostering appreciation for history. They are a tangible and irreplaceable link to our past. It is one thing to read about history in a book, but it is another to see the historical objects created by another person living in a different era. Historical objects bring history to life. They provide a window into how things were and how people lived. They remind us that the historical figures we read about really existed in flesh and blood.

If we want future generations to truly understand how their present is linked to our country's past, we need to ensure these objects are not lost. They are not just an invaluable means through which to remember the past; they are the way we can learn to live how they lived. They are also a key to understanding the present. I strongly believe that their protection and preservation should be a priority of any government.

The bill seeks to establish a framework through which aboriginal peoples can reacquire these invaluable links to their proud histories. It would implement a mechanism through which any first nation, Inuit or Métis community could acquire or reacquire aboriginal cultural property to which they would have a strong attachment. It would also implement a means through which they could reacquire human remains. This was an important part of the study that we found was missing to begin with and the significance it had to aboriginal people. It would encourage owners, custodians or trustees of aboriginal cultural property to return such property to aboriginal peoples and support them in the process. This is a laudable goal.

In my riding of Bow River, we have Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park. I was very happy that its representative, Clement Doore, was able to join us at committee and offer valuable testimony. Blackfoot Crossing maintains a collection of many incredible historical objects. It provides a great educational service to its community. It also provides an economic benefit by attracting visitors and promoting tourism in the region. I was fortunate enough to visit and receive a guided tour last year. I was greatly impressed by the wealth of history and knowledge on display. I believe it is an example of a success story that deserves to be emulated more broadly in our country.

Despite being well-intentioned, I strongly believe that parts of the legislation should have been clarified and could have been improved. The government members rejected our amendment that would have ensured that the public interest would be considered in the repatriation strategy. The intent was to ensure that artifacts would be available to Canadians in a way that would enhance knowledge and appreciation of aboriginal culture. Including this language explicitly in the bill would have strengthened it considerably. Access to history is always in the public interest. As I noted, we cannot comprehend the present without understanding the past.

I again point to Blackfoot Crossing in my riding as a great success in this regard. It is located on a historic site of great significance to the Blackfoot confederacy, where thousands gathered for the signing of Treaty No. 7. It is available to the general public, and I can assure anyone interested in visiting that it offers a fantastic educational experience.

The bill should have also included language noting how important it was that the strategy adequately preserve and protect the quality and integrity of aboriginal property. The heritage committee heard about the challenges the museum industry faced in attracting staff. For a variety of reasons, there are not enough professional curatorial staff in Canada.

Many artifacts are fragile and require a good deal of expertise to preserve. Operating costs related to the preservation of historical objects can also be a real challenge for smaller museums. We heard in committee that the Haida museum, for example, had some difficulties due to its remote location. This bill should have been amended to reflect this reality.

I was lucky to have been able to visit the Haida nation and see some of its historical treasures. It is isolated and far removed from most of the Canadian population, but it is significant and most people should be able to see it and travel there. However, it is remote.

We need some manner of safeguard in place to ensure that these tangible links to history are not lost to future generations. We need to help with the cost to preserve and maintain these aboriginal artifacts. It was a mistake not to include this explicitly in the bill.

We also failed to ensure the legislation did not have unintended consequences for aboriginal artists and creators. I own several pieces of tremendous artwork produced by Siksika artists who live in my riding. This industry yields great economic benefits in many indigenous communities and helps foster appreciation for their cultures. It should not be jeopardized in any way.

The bill must not dampen enthusiasm for the incredible work produced by aboriginal artists by suggesting one's purchase might someday be repatriated. That would be a very unfortunate, unintended consequence. Again, the Liberals rejected our amendment to the legislation that would have guarded against any such unintended consequences. I am not sure why they rejected it.

I was very disappointed to learn that the Canadian Museums Association was not consulted during the drafting of the bill. Perhaps some of these issues could have been highlighted at an earlier stage in the process had consultation taken place. We did eventually receive a written brief from the CMA in committee. We attempted to include some of its counsel in the bill through amendments, but again the government rejected them.

The CMA has done great work and has a great working relationship with first nations. Its input was valuable and should not have been disregarded in this way.

We want to continue to ensure that Canadians understand and appreciate the first peoples of Canada, while respecting property and the great significance of these historical objects to aboriginal peoples.

As I noted, I will be supporting the legislation, but I remain deeply disappointed that amendments were rejected that could have made it much stronger and better.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 6 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and join in the debate on Bill C-391, brought in by the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester. I appreciate the initiative and the thought behind the bill. It is an issue that needs to be talked about and brought into force with some measure of the law.

I am very honoured to come from a region of the country that has a very deep and rich first nations heritage, which is still ongoing, as do many parts of Canada. It is a vast land. When we are talking about first nations, Métis and Inuit, their cultures are as diverse as any we would find around the world. We cannot speak about them just as one set of peoples. They have a lot of diversity and a lot of different cultural practices. When I look at the Cowichan Valley and the Cowichan people, who are the largest first nation band in British Columbia, I am very honoured to have some long-standing relationships with many members, including the chief.

I look at some of the well-known archaeological sites. They abound in the Cowichan Valley and in many of the islands that form the southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the Mainland.

One in particular is the Ye'yumnuts village near Duncan, which is about to become a living indigenous history lesson. It is a 2.4 hectare meadow, which, in collaboration with Cowichan tribes, will be used as an open air classroom. They have found a lot of different tools. The site is more than 2,000 years old and it is estimated that the Cowichan people lived there for about 600 years and then used the area as a burial ground for another 600 years. They have found tools that originate from the Fraser Valley and even jade tools that come from the Fraser Canyon and sharp cutting rocks that originate from as far away as Oregon, which speaks to the flourishing trade routes that existed among all the different nations in the Pacific Northwest.

We can go out near Salt Spring Island to Grace Islet. We had some controversy there about three to four years ago when someone was trying to build a house on the island, even though there was knowledge that there were at least 15 different individual burial sites marked by cairns there. It was only through intervention by the Government of B.C. that the construction on that island was stopped. It is now under the protection of the Nature Conservancy, which is working with local first nations to preserve the area and to bring it back to its natural state.

I look at Galiano Island, specifically the campground at Montague Harbour, that is sitting on an old midden heap, where for thousands of years all of the clamshells were deposited. We are talking about hundreds of years of clamshells being deposited in one area and all of the various tools that were used to harvest them.

I have a friend who is an archaeologist by profession. I remember one year, when we were camping at Montague Harbour, being able to walk down the beach. Pretty much every couple of minutes, she was pointing out different stone tools. Once we got an eye for them, we could see them everywhere. They were pieces of rock that had been hit upon with different instruments to make them into different cutting surfaces, and they are everywhere.

We derive a lot of education from museums around the world. We would not know about some of the long lost civilizations such as the Sumerians, ancient Babylonia and the ancient pharaohs in Egypt if it were not for museums. They serve a purpose. The main difference, when we are talking about first nations cultural pieces and tools, is that they are not gone. They are still with us. In fact, I attended the elders gathering, which the Cowichan hosted in British Columbia this year, and the main theme was “We are still here”.

We know that most indigenous ethnology collections found in Canadian and foreign museums in universities today were taken by missionaries, government agents, amateur and professional collectors and anthropologists and that that was done without the informed or prior consent of the people. It was theft, and in many cases the stealing of these tools and ceremonial devices was a way to crush their culture, to try to take away their traditions and try to subsume those nations into the white person's culture, as we have tried to do so many times in this country. That is the main difference.

I am really happy that the member has brought forward this bill. If I could offer some constructive criticism, I would point out that when we look at the language in the bill, we still see words like “encourage”, “support” and “provide”. We could have used more forceful language to bring this bill into harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

That said, it is good to see that the minister will have to report to Parliament because of clause 4. It remains to be seen how well the government provide funding as a result of legislation, but I certainly hope, if this bill does make it to royal assent and becomes one of the statutes of Canada, the government would see fit to take this issue with the seriousness it deserves.

I mentioned the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is important to highlight that because the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou has spent a large part of his life working on this particular issue. Everyone in the House can take great pride in Bill C-262, which seeks to bring the laws of Canada into harmony with the United Nations declaration. The fact that government members and a majority of members in the House voted for the bill and sent it off to the other place represents a very historic moment. If Parliament, both the House of Commons and the Senate, and later the Crown represented by the Governor General, assent to this particular piece of legislation, a key article of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, article 12, reads as follows:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.

2. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.

Bill C-262 was certainly the very important first step. If we agree to that bill as a whole, then we would be agreeing to article 12 as well. Bill C-391 would establish the framework for exactly how this is to be done.

There is always room for improvement in legislation, but I will commend the member for Cumberland—Colchester for his private member's bill reaching third reading stage. That is a rare feat. I appreciate the thought behind the bill and I will be voting to send it to the other place. I hope the hon. senators will give it their due consideration.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, thank you.

I will only speak very briefly. I really want to rise in support of Bill C-391, an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of indigenous cultural property, mainly to explain why I handed my spot to the member for Cumberland—Colchester so this could pass quickly through this place and go to the next place before the next election.

For those who follow the Order Paper closely, they may have noticed that my motion, Motion No. 196, was meant to be heard tonight. It is important to people in my community and deals with cultural diversity in the online world. However, I do understand that to get things through this place and on to the other place takes some time, especially when we come up against an election.

The reason it is so important to people in my riding is that Beothuk remains are still held by the National Museum of Scotland. Newfoundland and Labrador have made attempts to have those remains repatriated. The Government of Canada had to step in to fulfill an obligation under European and Scottish law to make a national request for the return of those remains. That was done less than a year ago, and we would so love to have the additional support of the House and Senate to allow the Beothuk remains to be returned and to reside, most likely, at The Rooms, which is a museum in my riding of St. John's—East.

I would be very interested to hear the comments of any other members in this place.

That includes the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, if he wishes to take the floor. If he agrees to speak for just a few minutes, we might be able to get this bill to the other place before the Christmas break.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 6:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak to this bill on the repatriation of indigenous cultural property. I had the opportunity to sit on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage with my colleagues. We wanted to better understand the bill and improve it.

That is why this evening I would like to rise to speak to Bill C-391, an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of indigenous human remains and cultural property.

The Conservative Party had amendments for this bill. We tabled five amendments that we felt would have improved the bill. We were assured at committee by the member for Cumberland—Colchester, the sponsor of this bill, that the bill would not interfere with private property rights. As long as the Liberals are true to their word on that, we plan to support this bill even though, unfortunately, at committee the Liberals demonstrated that they were being closed-minded. For example, they rejected the suggestions of the Canadian Museum of History before even reading them.

We felt that the amendments we brought forward at committee were substantive and would have significantly improved and better defined the scope of the bill. While we do not believe this is a perfect bill, what I gathered from the testimony we heard from experts and, importantly, aboriginal Canadians, leads me to believe that this is desired by our indigenous people. Indeed, the repatriation of indigenous human remains and cultural property is one of the many steps we must take toward reconciliation, as mentioned earlier today in the House.

Before going any further, I want to note that the repatriation of indigenous cultural property is part of a broader movement. I would like to point out to the House that France has committed to a similar process for the restitution of African heritage. French historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr have studied the conditions under which works held in French museums could eventually be repatriated to Africa.

Obviously, this has to be done in an orderly fashion, and that is why, when we were debating the bill in order to improve it, we had concerns. Unfortunately, those concerns were not taken into consideration by the Liberal government. We believe that these improvements would have helped clarify the intent of the bill's sponsor. As I mentioned earlier, the intent is not to interfere with private property rights, which are a fundamental right.

Before going to the positive reasons why I support this bill, it is important to consider the concerns and debate around this bill. Even with regard to something we ultimately support, it is important to consider all sides. On one hand, 1 am pleased that the sponsor of the bill verbally reassured the House that the intent of the bill is not to tamper with private property, or to force anyone to give us legally acquired artifacts.

During the first round of debate on this bill, the member for Cumberland—Colchester said:

Madam Speaker, we have done wide-ranging consultations. Our focus is on having a system that can help a small community like Millbrook First Nation in my riding deal with the issues of transportation, restoration, storage, display, and so on. Right now there is no process. Communities are on their own if they identify an artifact. They have done that but they have no help and there is no place to turn to.

Certainly, I am open to anything that will make the bill better, to deal with these issues that we have both brought up, but the intent is not to force anybody to give up legally acquired artifacts.

We can see that the intent of the bill's author is clear. Unfortunately, we do not find this clarification in the bill, because the amendment we were willing to support were rejected by the Liberals.

While the bill does not mention the protection of private property, 1 have been assured that the bill ultimately will not make any changes to private property rights in Canada.

Some stakeholders did signal their concern about these rights, and the Liberal government was not very open toward the amendments proposed by stakeholders, such as museums. Members know the key role that they played in this process and in what is happening in France. On this topic, while I do not believe that the bill infringes on private property in any way, I hope that once it comes into effect, there will be none of the unintended consequences that we see all too often, and that we can continue to keep private property, one of the most sacred rights in a democracy, in mind.

There was also some concerns regarding the scope and jurisdiction of the bill.

A representative from the Canadian Museum of History told the committee that he and his colleagues wondered whether the bill is supposed to apply to national requests, international requests or possibly both.

There are two questions here, namely whether the property in question is public or private property, and whether it is located in Canada or outside Canada. We would have liked to clarify these elements in the bill, based on the recommendation of museum experts. Unfortunately, once again, the Liberals ignored these important clarifications and rejected our amendments.

The wording in the bill before us today, which will eventually be examined by the other chamber, whose members sometimes examine bills for flaws, does not clearly specify whether the bill applies to national or international requests or, as I mentioned, whether it applies to property held in public or private institutions. We had some suggestions regarding these options, but the government did not consider them.

The experts from the Canadian Museum of History said that they had proposed some options for these two cases, along with their observations. They hoped that the observations would be helpful to the committee members, but once again, the Liberals did not even consider these recommendations. In fact, they did not even read them. In my opinion, when we are discussing a piece of legislation, it is important to listen to the witnesses and, above all, to consider the undesirable effects of bills.

We recognize that over centuries, museums, collectors and churches have taken objects during ceremonies. However, this needs to be done in an orderly fashion, and unfortunately, that is not the case. This is what we heard from a member of the indigenous community of northern Alberta:

Working together collectively to have these items repatriated is an empowering mechanism that will be a vital component to build the journey toward reconciliation so that our future generations can have the dignity and pride that our ancestors and grandparents had taken away from them.

This shows the importance of all the collections that are held in museums but are not necessarily accessible.

Preserving culture is important. We support the spirit of the bill, but unfortunately, since the Liberals rejected the amendments, the bill remains vague, which means we are not sending the Senate a polished gem, but merely an intention that needs to be clarified. That said, given that I agree with the principle, I will be supporting this bill.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise tonight in the House of Commons and contribute my voice to the debate on Bill C-391, an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of aboriginal cultural property.

I will begin by thanking the sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester. In his comments this evening, he noted that he recently celebrated 30 years since he was first elected as a parliamentarian in this place. Currently, he is a member of the government party, and he has been a member of the governing party a few different times throughout the years. Some of those governing parties went by different names over the years, including the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1988 to 1993, and then its legacy party, the Conservative Party of Canada, for a time as well. I believe he also sat as an independent, which makes it a quadfecta in terms of sitting as a member of various parties within this place. I want to thank him for bringing forward this piece of legislation and for bringing it to third reading here tonight.

I also want to thank some of the previous speakers, particularly the member for Bow River. He is also a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. I thought his comments were particularly insightful. He brought about some of the concerns he had with the legislation. While he supports the bill, he still expressed the concerns he has and some of the unintended consequences that often come to be with this type of bill. His thoughtful commentary and the constructive criticism of his concerns on the bill were worthwhile, and I thank the member for bringing those forward in this debate.

When we talk about the preservation of artifacts and human remains, my mind is drawn to many of the great cultural institutions in our ridings and across the country that have, at their core, the effort of preserving and enhancing the memories that we have of our history. In my riding of Perth—Wellington, I am always delighted to attend events at the two significant museums in my ridings, those being the Stratford Perth Museum located just outside of Stratford, Ontario, officially in Perth south, as well as the Wellington County Museum, which is officially just outside of my riding but nonetheless covers the Wellington portion of my riding.

Both of those institutions have made a distinct and concerted effort over the past number of years to ensure the preservation of the indigenous history that has spanned our country. In some cases, it has touched on the local geographic area that is now known as Perth and Wellington counties as well as the communities within them. They appropriately preserve and are respectful of the important indigenous cultures that have been in Canada over many millennia. That history is enhanced and preserved, not just for our generation, but for the generations that come after ours as well.

The bill has at its heart a few measures that would be included in a potential strategy. The bill calls for the implementation of a strategy to preserve these artifacts and provide that they could be repatriated to the appropriate location within Canada, within the appropriate first nations, Inuit or Métis community.

What the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester came across when he was in his riding, an indigenous artifact that had found itself in Australia, and the connections that were made to try to return that artifact to its rightful home in the indigenous community, is a great example. The measures contained in the bill, and there are five, would help to facilitate the production of such a national strategy.

The first measure would implement a mechanism by which any first nation, Inuit or Métis community or organization may acquire or reacquire aboriginal cultural property to which it has a strong attachment. I would suggest there is some ambiguity in this measure, particularly in the phraseology of “strong attachment”, which could be open to interpretation. I would suggest that as the strategy is developed and as the departmental and governmental officials undertake the construction of this national strategy, they bear this in mind and ensure there are strong indicators for the strong attachment that an indigenous community or organization may have to a particular artifact so there is not too much of a grey zone when analyzing these measures.

The second measure would encourage owners, custodians or trustees of aboriginal cultural property to return such property to aboriginal peoples and to support them in the process. I think this is a worthwhile measure and a worthwhile conversation as well. One of the things that we as non-indigenous Canadians often find is that we may not necessarily understand the significance of a particular artifact or the significance of a particular piece of aboriginal or indigenous history. Having this measure included within the strategy would spark that conversation, that discussion and dialogue on the significance of a particular artifact that ought to be at least considered to be returned to a more appropriate venue such as an indigenous community, a first nations, Métis or Inuit community.

The third measure would support the recognition that preservation of aboriginal cultural property and access to that property for educational and ceremonial purposes as principles of equal importance. Talking about the educational and the ceremonial purposes is extremely important because we are still learning. Unfortunately, we have had terrible examples in our history, such as the Indian residential schools. It is indeed a dark mark on our history, but having the ability to learn from those mistakes, learn from where we as a country have not treated aboriginal people with the care and respect they deserve, and the absolute tragedy of that aspect of our history is one that we as Canadians cannot forget. The focus on the recognition of preservation in the light of educational and ceremonial purposes is very important as we debate the bill and as the national strategy is eventually created.

The fourth measure is to encourage the consideration of traditional ways of knowing rather than relying on strict documentary evidence in relation to the repatriation of aboriginal cultural property. This goes to some of the traditional cultural ways in which indigenous communities operate. There may not be written evidence of the ownership of a particular artifact. Nonetheless, there is traditional knowledge within indigenous communities that an artifact or a piece of history does have that connection. I would hope that the national strategy, when it is developed down the road, would be able to take into account that traditional way of knowing as is referenced in the bill.

The fifth aspect is to provide a forum for the resolution of conflicting claims that is respectful of aboriginal traditional processes and forms of ownership and where claimants are self-represented. This is important because there will be disagreements among individuals and perhaps among indigenous communities themselves as to whether or not there are significant connections. Having a forum to help to adjudicate, but also help to resolve in a non-confrontational way would be exceptionally important in terms of the development of this national strategy. There would be some concern, in my view, about whether or not that particular aspect would require a royal recommendation, but that would be an aspect for down the road after the national strategy is created and is developed.

At committee, as referenced by the member for Bow River, amendments were suggested by the official opposition. Unfortunately, those were not accepted. Those recommendations and amendments would have improved the bill, but we as the official opposition will nonetheless be supportive of the bill at third reading and sending it to the other place for further debate. The Senate is its own independent body and senators may wish to consider the amendments that were proposed by our official opposition at committee stage. That is their right and their prerogative as an equal legislative body to do so.

I will conclude with an important quotation from the former shadow minister for Canadian Heritage, the Hon. Peter Van Loan, who stated:

The aboriginal communities of Canada are truly our first peoples. As such, aboriginal culture is important to all Canadians for its role in informing us who we are, what our roots are, and how that has contributed to making Canada the extraordinary country we are today.

I recognize that my time is at an end. Once again, I want to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward Bill C-391 and for the opportunity to participate in this important debate.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

November 28th, 2018 / 6:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this important private member's bill. Like my colleagues who have also spoken to it today, and other colleagues from the Liberals, I am not sure if the NDP has spoken on this, we will be supporting this bill.

This bill, Bill C-391, the aboriginal cultural property repatriation act, introduced by our colleague from Cumberland—Colchester just recently, talks about aboriginal culture being repatriated to museums and other proper owners here in Canada.

In what I call my past life, before I joined this wonderful place, I used to be in the hotel business. One of my activities was as a supporter and a member of the board of directors of the Alberta Aviation Museum. Therefore, of course I appreciate the member bringing forward an important bill that would strengthen our ties to our past through the repatriation of some aboriginal artwork or artifacts and also give Canadians better access to enjoy the artwork.

The Alberta Aviation Museum is located in part of downtown Edmonton in the very last surviving dual hangar left over from the British Commonwealth training program. I bring that up because they were scattered across Canada, from Victoria all the way out to Newfoundland. There is a new-found interest among first nations in aviation, to the point where there is a school in Ontario called the Tyendinaga Aerodrome. It is the First Peoples' Aviation Technology. There is almost a rush to join the First Peoples' Aviation Technology to learn to fly. What is interesting about this is that the aerodrome is based at one of the very last surviving single hangars left over from the air training program. I thought I would tie them together. It is interesting to see the first nations getting into the high-demand aviation industry.

We were fortunate at the aviation museum in Alberta to have a wonderful collection. We had an F-86 Canadair Sabre. What is interesting about that Sabre is it was the first plane in Canada to break the sound barrier. We also had a Mosquito, which was interesting. The reason I tie it into the repatriation is because Canada does not allow Canadian-owned or Canadian-built planes to be sold out of the country.

Unfortunately, I am down to my last minute. Therefore, I will skip the story of the Mosquito unfortunately and talk about why we support this bill. It would “implement a mechanism by which any First Nation, Inuit or Métis community or organization may acquire or reacquire” aboriginal cultural property that has a strong attachment. This is part of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought about by the previous Conservative government and also supported in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well, in articles 11 and 12. There are a lot of great things about this bill.

I apologize to my colleague for not being able speak for the full 10 minutes on it. I think I am out of time. However, I want to thank him for bringing it forward. There is a lot of good that would come from this bill. I look forward to it passing at committee, passing in this House, and all the wonderful things that the bill would do.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2018 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I regret that I was not in the chamber while you were reading the start of the motion. I still voted, and I know that was not in order. I would ask for the unanimous consent of the House to have my vote count in support of this bill.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2018 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I actually was in the lobby and heard the motion being read by you. I was actually with the government whip. My apologies to the House for missing it. I did vote. I did hear the reading of it. I believe it was counted. I also ask for unanimous consent that my vote stand.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

May 30th, 2018 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-391, the Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation Act.

I have a keen interest in the subject matter of this bill. I have great respect for history and greatly enjoy learning more about it. I will try to keep my remarks brief and to the point. I liked it when Diefenbaker said, “don't get me started on history, because then you shall know the meaning of eternity.” I will continue in that spirit.

This bill is well-intentioned, and I will be supporting it. However, I do believe it has a couple of flaws that should be amended at committee.

I have great respect for the important role artifacts play in fostering an appreciation for history. They are a tangible and irreplaceable link to our past. It is one thing to read about history in a book. It is another to actually see a historical object created by another person living in a different era, like in the time of the Greek Acropolis, or the terracotta warriors in China, or the Machu Picchu of the Incas. To see those things in person, to see the artifacts, to see the real things that people created centuries and centuries ago makes such a difference.

Historical objects help bring history to life. They provide a window into how others really lived. They remind us that the historical figures we read about really existed in the flesh and blood. If we want future generations to truly understand how their present is linked to our country's past, we need to make sure these objects are not lost.

They are are not just an invaluable means through which to remember the past. They are also a key to understanding the present. I strongly believe that their protection and preservation should be a priority of the government.

This bill seeks to establish a framework through which aboriginal peoples of Canada can reacquire these invaluable links to their proud histories. It would implement a mechanism through which any first nation, Inuit, or Métis community or organization may acquire or reacquire aboriginal cultural property to which it has a strong attachment. It would encourage owners, custodians or trustees of aboriginal cultural property to return such property to aboriginal peoples and support them in the process. This is a laudable goal.

In my riding of Bow River, we have Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park. They maintain a collection of many incredible historical objects and provide a great educational service to their community there. They also provide an economic benefit by attracting visitors and promoting tourism in the region. I was fortunate enough to visit and receive a guided tour of it last year. I was greatly impressed by the wealth of history and knowledge on display. I believe they are an example of a success story that deserves to be emulated more broadly.

Despite being well-intentioned, I do think that several parts of this legislation could be clarified, and possibly improved. First, we need to ensure that the public interest is considered so that artifacts are available to Canadians in a way that enhances knowledge and appreciation of aboriginal culture. Access to history is always in the public interest. As I noted, we cannot comprehend the present without understanding the past.

I again point to the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park in my riding as a great success in this regard. It is located on a historic site of great significance to the Blackfoot Confederacy, where thousands gathered on September 22, 1877, for the signing of Treaty No. 7. This historical site is visited by thousands of people annually. I can assure anyone who is interested in visiting that it offers a fantastic educational experience in aboriginal history.

I also believe that this bill should ensure that consideration is given to how best to adequately preserve and protect the quality and integrity of aboriginal property. At the heritage committee, we have heard about the challenges the museum industry faces in attracting qualified staff. For a variety of reasons there are not enough professional curatorial staff in Canada. Many artifacts are fragile and require a good deal of expertise to be handled and preserved.

Operating costs related to the preservation of historical objects can also be a real challenge for smaller historical museums. The Haida Museum, which I was fortunate enough to visit, has some difficulties due to its remote location. It has a fantastic collection, but very few people get to see it.

This legislation should be amended to reflect this reality. We need some sort of safeguard in place to ensure that these tangible links to history are not lost to future generations.

We also need to make sure that the legislation does not have unintended consequences for aboriginal artists and creators. I own several pieces of tremendous artwork produced by Siksika artists in my riding. This industry yields great economic benefits in many indigenous communities, and helps to foster appreciation for their cultures. It should not be jeopardized in any way. The bill must not dampen enthusiasm for the incredible work produced by aboriginal artists by suggesting that what one has purchased might some day be repatriated. That would be a very unfortunate unintended consequence.

Finally, I note that in his previous remarks on this legislation, the member for Cumberland—Colchester said that the bill's intent is not to force people to give up their artifacts. I do not believe this is made explicit in the bill's language, which should be amended to clarify this point.

I was also disappointed to learn that the Canadian Museum Association was not consulted during the drafting of the bill. This is a great organization in our country with tremendous knowledge. Perhaps some of these issues could have been highlighted at an earlier stage in the process had that consultation taken place. The Canadian Museum Association has a great working relationship with first nations. Its input could be very valuable going forward.

I would also echo the comments of my colleague from York—Simcoe that this legislation must strive to develop a framework that builds on common interests to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

We want to continue to ensure that Canadians understand and appreciate the first peoples of Canada. With their artifacts in appropriate locations, handled scientifically and correctly, this could happen. We would then be respecting property and the great significance of these historical objects to the aboriginal people themselves.

As I noted, I will be supporting this legislation, but I hope to see it amended significantly at committee to ensure that it does not result in unintended consequences.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

May 30th, 2018 / 5:35 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am divided right now talking about this important bill. I want to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing it forward. This bill would create a national strategy on aboriginal cultural property repatriation.

I appreciate the intent of the bill, and I will be supporting it. However, I am also very concerned about the weakness of the language in the bill. It says things such as “to promote and support the return” and “encourage owners”, which would leave this bill as an option for people.

There is an important conversation that needs to happen in this country about what it means to be looking at reconciliation and the history of Canada. We know that the protection of cultural property touches many aspects of policy development, and this raises the risk that inconsistencies may happen and even that contradictory actions may potentially be taken if there is no coordinating mechanism. That is one of the biggest concerns I have. There is nothing here that is actually going to deal with this very important issue.

I had a wise person in my riding once tell me that for him, one of the best things about being indigenous was that the history of the culture was that they did not leave much behind. There were things like totem poles, but the actual impact on the environment was very balanced and limited.

I know that in indigenous communities across the country, their cultures are alive and active, and some communities are working very hard to bring back culture in their communities.

The history of this country is such that the human rights of indigenous people have been violated and often continue to be violated. Cultural heritage has been disturbed, stolen, excavated, exchanged, and taken under duress, and this is important when we talk about this bill. It is important to recognize that indigenous people were studied and bodies were exhumed and moved out of their territories and Canada without free, prior, and informed consent. That is the important thing we are speaking of today, as we saw with the passing of Bill C-262. In this day and age of reconciliation, it must be a key part of the conversation. How are we looking at what it means for indigenous communities to have free, prior, and informed consent? How are we are looking at the history of Canada and what has happened, and how are we making things change?

The University of Winnipeg, for example, currently has the remains of 145 indigenous people stored on its campus. It is concerning that the remnants of the first people of this country are left in places where they are not taken care of in a proper way.

In the riding I represent, North Island—Powell River, whenever remains are found, there is a working process with the indigenous community to make sure that those remains are treated respectfully. When we look at this bill, we have to be looking at that as well.

It makes me think of a community in my riding, the Klahoose First Nation, which is currently undertaking to find ancestors across the world. Recently, an ancestor was located in a Lower Mainland institution. The community came together and worked very hard. They wrote:

When it came time to transfer the ancestor from a cardboard box to the cedar box prepared by the Klahoose Nation we were guided into a private room. This is an incredibly spiritual and honourable undertaking: a precious moment as we handle the remains, bless them, brush and cradle them with cedar and tobacco, and then pray for peace to surround them on the journey to their final resting place.

However, when they walked into the room, what they saw was a cardboard box, which was home to their ancestor for more than 50 years. It had a single word written on it: “skull”.

One of the things this bill does not really look at is how to move forward in a respectful way to make sure that the remains of loved ones are returned home to their communities and that when that process happens, it is in the most thoughtful way possible.

The sad reality is that the history of Canada is steeped in colonialism. In the region I represent, many communities participate in the potlatch system to this day. The potlatch system was a way of redistributing wealth. It was a way of making sure that people were looked after. It was a very sacred process, and it was one of governance. That is really important. It was not a celebration. It was a way of governing. It was a way of making sure that there was fairness and that no one was left behind. People were respected for their generosity.

We know that in 1885, when the ceremony was made illegal, authorities took items away, including totem poles, regalia, and sacred family items. It is hard to explain the impact on the communities. These were the ways they governed themselves. These were the ways they dealt with conflict. These were the ways they acknowledged when people were moving from one phase of life to another. Therefore, it had a huge impact having all of those things gone.

I want to talk about the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre in my riding, which has done a lot of work repatriating artifacts to their community. One of its main objectives is “to recover from other institutions and individuals, artifacts and records of cultural, artistic and historical value to the Kwakwaka’wakw people.” This cultural centre has activities for schools to educate young people about the history of the area. It has a carving and education centre where they continue to train people in methods that have been passed down from generation to generation. It works hard on language preservation. There is also archival footage in the lower gallery theatre, where people can see some of the recordings that were taken so long ago.

In 1975, the hereditary and elected chiefs founded the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre so they could begin negotiating the return of their potlatch artifacts and regalia. In 1979, the society had things finally returned home and several months later, opened the doors and allowed the community to come in and engage with those things. It also encouraged the public to come and learn more about their history. It is important that they continue to do that work and find things all over the world that are from their cultural territory.

There are challenges trying to get those things back. The capacity of many indigenous communities to store and care for objects is extremely limited. Some museums work very hard with communities to make sure that they have access to these items.

Recently, a community in my riding, Homalco, took elders and young people to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, where they saw masks from the late 1800s that are now stored there. They also saw baskets and other pieces of regalia. It was a really meaningful moment for those young people to see how long their history was, to see what the masks looked like, and to interact with the elders to learn the stories of the things that have been passed down. It is good to see those relationships happening, but there is so much more that can be done.

Professor Jack Lohman, chief executive officer of the Royal British Columbia Museum, said the following:

My last issue concerns the slow progress being made toward reconciliation. Our museum displays are still riddled with stereotypical display information, displays of indigenous life emphasizing and privileging white history over indigenous history. Repatriation is inadequately funded. Our museum culture is still predominantly white.

I understand the intention of this bill, and I appreciate it. It is important work. I think it is time in this country of Canada that we start to focus more on the impact than the intention, that we talk with indigenous communities and make sure we recognize the vibrancy in those communities, the history, and what it means when a person has things from their ancestors, their parents' parents' parents, and loved ones sitting in a box somewhere far away and there is no pressure to have those things returned. What does it mean to communities when they get those things back home? This is something we have to look at.

I look forward to supporting this bill. I wish I saw a little more emphasis on money. I understand that in a private member's bill, we cannot talk about money, but I want to make sure that this plan actually has a discussion about that. I saw nothing in there that said there would be a plan that comes forward from this national strategy that would include some of the heavy financial commitments that would have to be made to do this and do this right.