Indigenous Human Remains and Cultural Property Repatriation Act

An Act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of Indigenous human remains and cultural property

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.


Bill Casey  Liberal

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


Second reading (Senate), as of May 30, 2019
(This bill did not become law.)


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.


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.


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

Bill C-68—Time Allocation MotionFisheries ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2019 / 10:50 a.m.
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Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the Senate there are a number of bills that are so important, just like this exact bill here, Bill C-68. There are also Bill C-88, Bill C-91, Bill C-92, Bill C-93, Bill C-391, Bill C-374, Bill C-369 and Bill CC-262. All these bills are being delayed by the Senate because they are taking far too long.

I was wondering if the hon. minister could tell us why the Conservative senators are delaying all these bills, delaying us from doing the job that Canadians have sent us here to do. They gave us a mandate in 2015, after a decade of darkness with the Conservatives, to repair the damage they had done to the environment and to indigenous communities and to make sure we get this job done.

Can the hon. minister talk a little bit about that, please?

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

February 19th, 2019 / 5:55 p.m.
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Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I was just sitting here listening to all the members of Parliament and thinking about what a wonderful place this is. We are talking about repatriation of indigenous artifacts, and I have heard members from all parties speak in support of that.

Members may not have noticed, but from time to time this place can be a bit partisan. However, tonight we are talking about the repatriation of indigenous artifacts, and I am grateful to every single member who has spoken in favour of it and helped us with it. A lot of members and a lot of senators have been involved in the drafting of the bill, amending it and making it as good as it is. I know that it is not perfect, but it is a very good step in my view and I thank everybody for that.

I want to thank Heather Stevens, a young Mi'kmaq woman at Millbrook First Nation near Truro, Nova Scotia. She inspired this by telling me about a Mi'kmaq artifact from Millbrook that was taken to Australia years ago, and they have tried to get it back. I talked to my assistant about what we could do. I am not sure whether it was his idea or mine, but we agreed that we would draft this bill, and that is all it was.

I want to thank Joel Henderson. If I were allowed to point out that he is in the gallery I would, but I am not allowed to point that out. He was my executive assistant and developed much of the bill. He made endless contacts, endless consultations with museums and the people involved every step of the way. We were dealing with indigenous peoples from all walks, MPs, senators, chiefs, community leaders and historians. It was a learning experience. It was an amazing journey to go through this and listen to our indigenous people talk about their artifacts and how important they are to them.

This was an amazing journey that started with a particular issue, which, as I mentioned, was a Mi'kmaq robe that ended up in a Melbourne museum. When I tabled the bill, I spoke for two minutes and 37 seconds. Three weeks later, the ambassador from Australia, Her Excellency Natasha Smith, came to my office and said that she had been in touch with that museum and was going to try to help us get it back. I asked why she was doing this. She said that they have indigenous artifacts that they want back in Australia that are very important to them.

I started to get an idea of how important this indigenous artifact issue is. It is not just a small thing. It is a big thing. Then someone pointed out that the bill, Bill C-391, was written up in China and in the Netherlands, and has been talked about in a lot of different countries. It was a journey of learning for me about how important artifacts are to indigenous peoples. It is important for reconciliation, as some members mentioned. It is important for history. It is important for their culture. It is important for the indigenous youth to be able to see how their ancestors lived, the things they were able to make, the talents they had and the wonderful abilities they brought forward. I want to thank all the members who were involved, and everybody who was involved.

Today is my birthday, so I want to thank everyone for coming to my little party. I am very grateful for this. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here and to be part of something like this. It is something that I will remember forever and I thank you all for it. Hopefully the bill will go forward and will make a difference for indigenous people everywhere, not just in Canada but in other countries. Other countries have contacted us and asked if they could use this as a template for legislation in their legislatures.

Thank you very much everybody. I do appreciate it.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

February 19th, 2019 / 5:45 p.m.
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Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to rise in the House and speak to this bill at second reading. Bill C-391, An Act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of Aboriginal cultural property, is something New Democrats are supporting.

It is very important for us to acknowledge that some of the historical events that have taken place have had injurious effect and harm that we need to address. In fact, we see it not only with regard to the specific things in museums and private collections, but also within pop culture and everything from cinema to other things where the cultural appropriation of a number of different objects and items has violated the culture of many different groups. It is unfortunate that this has taken place.

In fact, some of it even goes back to the Roman Empire. Cultural appropriation was of trophies during colonialism and other types of territorial occupations that have taken place to this day. Cultural appropriation involved everything from smaller, more easily carried objects to larger institutional statues and other types of materials and substances that were quite laborious to transport.

This bill, in second reading, is part of a larger discussion. I sit on the innovation committee, where we are studying copyright and doing the five-year review of the act. One of the important things we are looking at is copyright belonging to indigenous peoples. We had testimony as we went across the country related to how to go about protection and then inclusion, and we heard differences of opinion about copyright and also heard from cultures that have a different set of systems from the copyright system that we have through our existing colonial laws. That discussion is ongoing and is going to be one of the more interesting aspects of our report, which is now being compiled.

All political parties sit on this House of Commons committee, and we will discuss these issues. This committee has been functioning very well, not only in terms of how it operates in general but also specifically on the copyright issue in this component.

Today we are talking about Bill C-391, and it is appropriate that we will be addressing some of the things that have taken place in the past. However, the issue over copyright is that it is also about addressing things that are taking place right now and in the future.

What we need to understand is that with the cultural appropriations we have had and the historical events that have taken place on indigenous cultures and heritage, repatriating items is very important. People have had human rights violated when cultural heritage has been disturbed, stolen, excavated, exchanged, taken under duress, studied, exhumed and moved beyond the boundaries of their territories in Canada without free and prior consent.

It is important to talk about that, because many of the problems that we face are a result of unilateral action. It is not good enough for us to rely on the thought or the argument that it is just science or it is history or it is being done in order to share and exchange. Especially given the fact that it has been done unilaterally, that is not good enough for then and it is certainly not good enough for now. This bill looks to take those things and to restore the ownership that has been lost. Even funerary objects have been taken. We have seen cases of people's privacy and personal items being very much at stake.

It is important because Canada has signed on to the universal declaration with regard to indigenous rights and culture. We have had that in the past. In fact, it goes back to a time when laws and United Nations resolutions were passed in the 1970s and 1980s, which we were supposed to follow but did not.

It is good to see a bill that addresses the national front because international agreements certainly do not complete the circle of responsibility that is required. For us, as a country, to absolve ourselves of doing so without a legislative footprint is certainly not acceptable. Therefore, getting the bill to the next stage is important.

Some of my family history is from England. People had curio cabinets. They would place items and objects from distant lands on display privately or donate them to museums. It was seen as an attempt to showcase worldly visions of the British Empire and the elements that it touched. At one point it was quite significant across the globe. Treasure hunting and the appropriation of cultural items was seen as a social status, a way of displaying one's wealth and important position in society. We cannot forget this. It was a cultural component. Displaying things on a regular basis was seen as a family's social status and position in society. The way people arranged their homes was to showcase that element. That was often done at the expense of other people and done unilaterally without support.

Just because a family passes on an item, or a piece of art or whatever to a museum, a not-for-profit organization or a charitable organization does not take away from the responsibility we have in trying to make amends with those individuals and families that were injuriously affected by that. The possession-based element cannot be excused because an item, at the end of the day, ends up in a university setting, or a museum or a not-for-profit organization. Even if it is used in the private sector to attract tourism or some other economic activity does not excuse the fact that a restitution process is required. That is important not only for the credibility of the organization, but how we go about making amends and the long-term effect. This is one of the reasons I like this bill as a starting point.

Going back to the 1800s, there were attempts to establish some rules or controls on the appropriation of a number of different items, including even funerary objects, that were quite intimate to families, but this egregious situation still took place.

I look forward to the bill moving to the next stage.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

February 19th, 2019 / 5:35 p.m.
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Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-391, which has been proposed by the member for Cumberland—Colchester.

As my colleague previously stated, the bill is not perfect. There were some amendments to it that the Liberals should have taken into consideration at the committee stage. However, ultimately, reconciliation is important and is something that this side of the House takes very seriously. Repatriating indigenous human remains and cultural property is a crucial step in that process. It is also something that is very important to Canada's indigenous people, and I respect their desire to achieve this. Because of that, my colleagues and I can ultimately support the bill and its intended purpose.

I would like to provide some background on the bill we are discussing today, the aboriginal cultural property repatriation act.

It should be noted that aboriginal cultural property is defined in the bill as “objects of historical, social, ceremonial or cultural importance to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada”. If passed, the bill would require the Minister of Canadian Heritage to co-operate with first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada to develop and evaluate a national strategy on aboriginal cultural property repatriation.

This is important because many items of aboriginal cultural property were taken, purchased, traded and gathered by different groups, including missionaries, collectors, government agents and others, during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of these items are as precious as ancestral human skeletons and sacred objects. Many of these items have since been placed in museums and institutions, where they are on display or studied. For the most part, this was done without any consultation or approval from aboriginal communities. They were left out of the decision-making process. They are now requesting to be involved and in some cases to have the property returned to their people. This is not an unreasonable request.

The bill is an important step in supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, two things that those of us on this side of the House have supported. We believe in the importance of broadening Canadians' historical literacy and appreciation, and we support initiatives that educate and that celebrate Canadian history. This obviously includes the rich and important history and culture of Canada's aboriginal peoples.

The purpose and the important step toward reconciliation that would be facilitated through the bill has been reiterated by various stakeholders. Hearing from these stakeholders is an important part of the process and also of determining the appropriateness of legislation like this.

For instance, we heard Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade tell the CBC that his community has been working on repatriating several important artifacts. In reference to this piece of legislation, he said:

It has cultural significance and it has historical importance to have it back....

Having federal legislation will make it a little easier with the support of the federal government....

The committee had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Clément Chartier, the president of the Métis National Council, who stated:

Bill C-391 is a good first step for Canada to reconcile these injustices. It will serve to make way for indigenous peoples to reclaim their cultural property and to guide all involved in processes that should ultimately make everyone feel that this is the right course of action. The repatriation of aboriginal cultural property is going to speed up the process of cultural renewal for indigenous peoples. It will reflect a time Canadians should not be proud of, and support a time in which Canadians can take great pride.

The committee also heard from Ms. Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. She also stated her support for Bill C-391:

I will say that when I'm reading this bill, it indicates that artifacts can be used for educational purposes. This is very important, in my view. It is very important to us Inuit that Inuit artifacts be inside Nunavut, which they are not. They are housed somewhere else.

The young people should see their own way now in Canada.

That is an important point. The process would allow indigenous young people to actually see items and artifacts of significance from their history that reflect their heritage. They can learn from seeing these items with their own eyes and develop a strong sense of pride in their history and ancestors.

There are still steps needed to figure out how to deal with what was often mentioned by stakeholders during committee meetings, but taking this first step is important and significant and is one my colleagues and I are supportive of.

That being said, I would be remiss not to reiterate what my colleague has previously stated, which is that this bill must not in any way tamper with private property or force anyone to give up legally acquired artifacts. It is important that this concept be respected, even though we only have verbal assurances, because the bill does not specifically mention the protection of private property. Therefore, we are expecting that there would be no consequential changes to private property in Canada.

I need to bring this point up because even though we have been assured by the member for Cumberland—Colchester that this would not be the case, there are stakeholders who have voiced concerns about this. Because the Liberals were not in favour of amendments proposed by concerned stakeholders, it is important that verbal assurances be upheld on this point.

To conclude, I want to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward this bill. It is an important step in the right direction. I am happy to support this legislation, and I know that my colleagues are also in agreement. I think there are some important elements that need to be respected. Ultimately, I am pleased to support this bill, and I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this important subject.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

February 19th, 2019 / 5:25 p.m.
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Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the person responsible for Bill C-391, the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester.

The repatriation of cultural property and ancestral remains lost by indigenous communities under a range of circumstances is a significant issue for indigenous communities all across the country, as we have heard from several others in the House.

It is also an important factor in the relationship between those communities and cultural institutions in Canada and around the world, such as museums. I say “around the world” because important aspects of Canadian indigenous culture are not found just in Canadian collections; in fact, many important items were removed to foreign lands by explorers, missionaries and academics early in our history. I have an example of my own that came to a successful conclusion just recently, and I will touch on that issue in just a few moments. The se items exist in public and private institutions around the world in the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America.

How can a national strategy support this process of repatriation? The most important part of developing this type of strategy is to hear from all stakeholders who have experience with repatriation and hear what has worked for them and what has not, hearing about best practices from the people who have experience with this sort of procedure, including the government. We also need to hear from those who would engage in repatriation but do not feel they currently have the capacity to do so. Perhaps personal history for them dictates that they should have a say in what is going on, and we certainly do want to hear from them. We consider them as very important stakeholders in this process of repatriation.

Without prejudging what all the stakeholders might say, Bill C-391 needs to make sure the government, in developing a national strategy, has enough flexibility to listen to what it will hear during the consultations and what to take into account.

We are here to consider Bill C-391. The bill does not legislate rules for repatriation, of course. That is an important point, and one of the strengths, one of the great things about this particular bill.

We have heard from members of indigenous communities that they do not want the government to create the rules or add elements of bureaucracy to what should be a direct dialogue between them and the people involved directly in the repatriation, certain export experts and historians alike. This is a big part of the bill that opens up the dialogue to others and would allow the people who share a common history to have direct input.

Bill C-391 speaks to the role of the federal government in repatriation.

I would like to point out that the bill no longer includes a definition of what is meant by “aboriginal indigenous cultural property”. That is a very important point. It is a commonly used term, but it is not defined in law. It is not even defined in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Definitions can be complex things. No matter how comprehensive we try to make them, something will always be unintentionally excluded, or they become so general as to be meaningless or hard to interpret. As well, if we define in a piece of legislation a concept that is not defined elsewhere, people can still refer to it for reasons that were not intended. The result of removing the definition is that the scope of the strategy and what it covers would still be determined, but would be done together with stakeholders when strategy is developed, not ahead of the time when other people become involved. The bill would give the government enough flexibility to listen to stakeholders and to be guided by what it hears. That is essentially the spirit of what we are trying to achieve through Bill C-391.

I think we would all agree that these are the first steps in a long path toward reconciliation, a path that we are still on. Bill C-391 signals that next step.

I want to remind everyone here that it is not the kind of thing that took place in other countries at the time. It was based on collaboration and dialogue. The principles it advocated were negotiated solutions, taking place on a case-by-case basis.

What role has the government continued to play since the task force? The government introduced a category. Given the comprehensive range of consultations, to plan meaningful consultations, undertake them, analyze what is heard and develop the options for a strategy will take time. If all that had to happen within two years, the consultation phase of the process would be severely reduced, and this is too important an issue not to take the time to do it right.

I will talk about my situation once again. Back in the early 1800s, a situation took place that led us to today. We are talking about a situation just shy of 200 years ago. A native group was established on the Island of Newfoundland centuries ago called the legendary Beothuk. The last known Beothuk passed away in 1829. Her name was Shawnadithit. She passed away in St. John's. She succumbed to tuberculosis. She had members of her family involved in a situation that took place near the town of Buchans and Buchans Junction at Red Indian Lake.

In the mid-1820s, a group of explorers travelled up the Exploits River to seek out the natives. A confrontation took place and one individual Beothuk named Nonosbawsut was shot and killed by the explorers.

At that time, a lot of conflict was taking place and the Beothuks succumbed to that and also to disease. Two Beothuks were buried in that area. Cormack the explorer found the remains of the two Beothuk and he took their skulls back to Scotland, where he was from, for academic study. For close to 200 years, those skulls remained in that museum, not even on display.

Several years ago we had a ceremony commemorating the Beothuk and we brought up the idea of these skulls being repatriated. We contacted the Government of Scotland, through the U.K.'s Royal Museum, and asked it to repatriate the skulls. Within the last month, the Government of Scotland said it would do just that. It engaged the Government of Canada, after responding to a request from the Department of Canadian Heritage. Now we are embarking upon the journey for these skulls to come to Canada and then to Newfoundland. What we do at that point involves stakeholders.

As I mentioned, the spirit of Bill C-391 talks about the collaboration of stakeholders. Five indigenous groups within Newfoundland will have their say. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will have its say and all the people of Newfoundland and Labrador will have input into this.

What is the best way to commemorate the spirit and memory of the legendary Beothuk of our province, my province, the province of the member for St. John's East as well? This is incredibly important to us. Do we take the remains back to the place where they perished? Do we do an initial study? All these issues have to be discussed. What has happened here, what is the most essential component of this is that these people who lived in Newfoundland for centuries, the legendary Beothuk who unfortunately do not exist today, have to be commemorated in a way that is completely and utterly respectful to how they lived and how they would want to be remembered.

For that reason, I strongly endorse Bill C-391 and the spirt of what it would do. For the member for Cumberland—Colchester, this is a fine point, a cherry on the top of a fine career, I might add. He has established a fantastic bill and I congratulate him. Through the examples of the repatriation of the Beothuk remains, Bill C-391 should be supported by all of us. I am sure it would be supported by all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

February 19th, 2019 / 5:15 p.m.
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François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-391, an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of Aboriginal cultural property.

While I am on my feet, I would like to begin by acknowledging that the lands on which we are gathered here in Ottawa are part of the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

According to current knowledge, the lands of the greater Drummond area were transit points where the Abenaki, Mohican, Huron, Algonquin and even Iroquois peoples stopped to portage, camp or fish.

Yolande Allard of the Drummond historical society has prepared a map that very clearly indicates the various sites that were used and their Abenaki names all along the Saint-François River transportation network. She and the Drummond historical society have done an excellent job of helping us better understand how indigenous peoples used these lands.

This bill refers to a very important issue. We are finally beginning to recognize the historical events that led to the erosion of indigenous cultural heritage. That is why the return of seized objects is an important part of the healing process for communities and for reconciliation between the colonial state and indigenous peoples.

The connection between returning objects and healing and reconciliation is extremely important. We have been working on this issue for years, and it is very important to us.

The NDP will support this bill at second reading, but we do have some questions. For example, we would like to know who was consulted about this bill.

Any time a bill affects indigenous peoples, they must be the first to be consulted so they can provide guidance. We do not know exactly who was consulted as this bill was being drafted.

As I said, it is extremely important to enable indigenous peoples to preserve and protect their ancestral, religious and cultural property and to have access to that property.

The Government of Canada and foreign governments must respect the collective rights of indigenous peoples with respect to the return of ancestral remains and sacred, funerary and culturally important objects.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms this right, and the Government of Canada fully and unconditionally supported this declaration and plans on supporting Bill C-262. That bill was introduced by my New Democrat colleague, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. During the 41st Parliament, he also introduced Bill C-469, an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

That bill set out the fundamental restitution rights in international law and then became Bill C-262 when it was introduced in 2016. The bill is now at committee stage, and we are confident that it will be improved and strengthened.

My colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou is working with the government to make sure that the bill truly reflects the objective of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Radio-Canada recently published an article online about the repatriation of indigenous property and how it keeps a culture alive. It was interesting to see how Sandy Raphaël, an indigenous woman who is the heritage and culture director of the Mashteuiatsh band council, felt when she was able to repatriate some cultural property.

I will read a few excerpts from the article.

Why repatriate?

Sandy Raphaël remembers exactly how she felt when she saw some objects that belonged to her nation, such as drums, tumplines and a moosehide coat, at the National Museum of the American Indian, or NMAI, in Washington.

This is what Ms. Raphaël said:

It is quite moving to see the beauty of these objects, their life, their history, because they were made by our people. If they could speak, I would want them to tell me their story. I already had a sense of attachment to them.

A little further on, Sandy Raphaël states the following:

Seven grade nine students from the community, accompanied by Sandy Raphaël, went to the museum in June 2013. The young people returned with shining eyes, feeling even prouder of their identity.

I am reading out these excerpts to show why it is important to repatriate the cultural objects of indigenous peoples. It will give them back their identity, their culture and their history. That is extremely rewarding.

Studies have shown that young people who have access to strong cultural components, such as their language, ceremonies, ancestral property and education, are less likely to commit suicide, drop out of school, become addicts or engage in other harmful behaviour. It is clear that these elements and the repatriation of cultural property are important.

Bill C-391 is a step in the right direction. There is currently no federal legislation designed to facilitate the return of property stolen from indigenous communities. That is why it is important to pass this bill. As I already mentioned, Bill C-391 will have a positive impact on many members of Canada's indigenous communities.

A law to facilitate the repatriation of property will help indigenous youth connect with their culture and their language. Young people are the leaders of tomorrow. It is important that they are familiar with this identity and culture, so it is in our interest to give them the tools they need to thrive. In the case of indigenous youth, we also need to make sure that they connect with their culture by facilitating the repatriation of property.

The return of stolen cultural artifacts will also empower women and help restore the traditional balance between men and women. These artifacts teach about identity, the cultural nature of gender, roles in the community and the personal behaviours that enable individuals to define themselves. That is also a very important benefit.

The repatriation of property will also enable two-spirit people to reclaim their heritage.

However, I have some concerns about the bill. First, the bill does not contain any enforcement measures. It talks only about promoting and encouraging, and that is problem. Second, the implementation is not cohesive enough. There are so many stakeholders that there could be inconsistences and contradictions. Fourth, some communities are unable to conserve their artifacts even if they want to and will be forced to give them to museums because of budgetary constraints. There are no financial resources allocated to help preserve these precious and sometimes fragile artifacts. Fifth, the bill does not take into account the complexity of the repatriation of cultural heritage. Furthermore, the bill does not propose any concrete solutions in cases where organizations refuse to return legitimate property. Finally, indigenous peoples were not consulted enough during the drafting of this bill, and something needs to be done about that.

I am sure that the corrections needed to improve this bill can be made when it is examined in committee.

The House resumed from November 28, 2018, consideration of the motion that Bill C-391, An Act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of Aboriginal cultural property, be read the third time and passed.

Aboriginal Cultural Property Repatriation ActPrivate Members' Business

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

November 28th, 2018 / 6:25 p.m.
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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 / 6:15 p.m.
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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 / 6:10 p.m.
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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 p.m.
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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 / 5:55 p.m.
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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 / 5:40 p.m.
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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.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-391, An Act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of Aboriginal cultural property, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.