Evidence of meeting #35 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was kahnawake.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Bartholomew J. Tsannie  Chief, Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation
Anne Robillard  General Manager, Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership
Clinton Phillips  Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake
Debbie Morris  Associate Director, Lands Unit, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake
Diane McDonald  Land-Use Coordinator, Prince Albert Grand Council
Paul Denechezhe  Councillor, Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Colleagues, I'm going to call to order this 35th meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Today, colleagues, as you know, we have a number of witnesses before us.

I'll first recognize Ms. Crowder on a point of order.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thank you.

I didn't see it on the agenda, but I had brought forward a motion asking the committee to study the following: [T]he subject matter of the sections of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, which directly fall within the mandate of this committee, namely Part 3, Division 5, Fisheries Act; Part 4, Division 46, First Nations Land Management Act; Part 4, Division 49, First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act.

I just wondered why it wasn't on the agenda, because I had thought there was adequate time on the notice of motion. That's all. I'd be happy to deal with it later in the agenda, because we have guests.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Yes, it would probably be best to move it later on, if you're fine with that. A member can move a motion at whatever time, as long as he or she has given due notice. I didn't realize you had wanted time set aside for that. But you've indicated it's something you want to do, and I think we will probably have time today.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Okay, perfect.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

I can't speak on behalf of what might come, but I have a full expectation of that happening.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Sure. It's just that it wasn't on the agenda. That's the only reason—

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Sure, yes. We have a number of motions that have served notice and we just don't ever know when they're going to be moved, unless committee members, in fact, notify the chair. But thank you. I think there'll be time.

The meeting today is pursuant to our study on land use and sustainable economic development. We do have representatives here from the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, Hatchet Lake and the Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership, as well as the Prince Albert Grand Council.

We always start with the opening statements, and then we have several rounds of questioning. I think we'll have a fair bit of time.

Who is leading off today? Have you determined that among yourselves?

Chief, we'll turn it over to you, then. We'll have your opening statement, then we'll turn to your colleagues who may have additional opening statements.

May 15th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.

Chief Bartholomew J. Tsannie Chief, Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation

First, I want to say good afternoon to everyone.

I want to thank you for having us and for the opportunity to be heard today. We are looking forward to our discussion and some questions after the opening comments.

My name is Bart Tsannie. I am the chief of the Hatchet Lake First Nation, which is in northern Saskatchewan, in the Athabasca region. We're about 724 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Our first spoken language is Dene. Our people continue to live off the land and rely on the caribou for sustenance and cultural and traditional practices.

I am here with you today with my colleagues: Elder Jean Tsannie; the band councillor, Paul Denechezhe; our economic director, Anne Robillard; and the Athabasca land use coordinator, Diane McDonald.

Anne Robillard will present the economic development portion of our presentation, whereas I will briefly touch on land-use issues and how they tie into the social and economic aspects on and off reserve.

My colleague Diane McDonald will assist me with part of my presentation.

In our community in the Athabasca region, we understand that in most developed countries a secure land base is the key to the economy, equitable investments, revenues, and business partnerships on many other scales, including access to and extraction of our natural resources in the Athabasca region.

To improve current federal policies and practices for sustainable development and our economic opportunities, we need to work together with our neighbouring Denesuline communities on regional land-use planning and economic development as a priority in the Athabasca region.

In the early 1990s, northern Saskatchewan held joint panel reviews on uranium development focusing on the Athabasca region. A provincial government framework was to address a number of elements: communications and consultation, environmental planning, financial planning, employment planning, community and economic development, and the regulatory framework. This framework is not working today.

In Saskatchewan, public policy is failing to address these fundamental issues to achieve a balance in regard to the social and economic characteristics of our changing community in such areas as market conditions and the world price of uranium; the insufficient funding for improving the education and skill levels of the population; community social infrastructure; regional economic infrastructure, such as highways, etc.; financial services, such as development funds and revenue sharing; the high cost of living in poverty; and institutional conditions, such as local government facilities, etc.

In 1999 we entered into an impact management agreement with Cameco and AREVA in our regional communities in Athabasca as a result of the 1990s joint panel reviews, as we are the communities primarily impacted in Athabasca. The existing IMA is a community-company agreement, which addresses only some of the communication, environmental, social, and economic issues raised by our communities during the hearings of the 1990s, which are still ongoing concerns today. The initiatives supported by the IMA are shown in the table in the text of my remarks, a copy of which you have.

We want to offer some specific recommendations, based on our own experiences as leaders, to improve the living conditions and standards in our community.

We note that the B.C. government and first nations lead the way in the good, fair, and appropriate equitable partnerships. But our Athabasca communities, as the primary impacted communities, continue to live in poverty while multinational corporations benefit from our land and resources. To address these fundamental issues, we require great financial commitments by government and industry to continue to work collectively and create more modern partnerships so our people will have the economic sovereignty and prosperity needed to address the third-world living conditions we are faced with, including social programs and initiatives. These funds will need to include, but not be limited to, the following: local and regional funding commitments for participation in the duty to consult, accommodate, and reconcile; local and regional land-use planning initiative funding capacity; local and regional direct partnership agreements with government and industry, and the modernization of the benefit-sharing agreements, including negotiation funds and resource revenue sharing; local and regional infrastructure funding; local and regional training funds; and local and regional funding for social and cultural programs for youth and elders.

In land-use planning, we have formed a partnership with our Denesuline communities in developing a regional land use plan to manage the land and its resources. The Athabasca land use and management plan has been developed without the support for approval of the provincial government or the federal government. We request that the committee to take this matter seriously and assist us in revising the draft land use plan to make the necessary changes in light of the current changing world. We request assistance in funding, approving, and implementing our Athabasca land use plan. We want to prosper in our communities and manage the lands on reserve and off reserve in good partnership with both the federal and provincial governments.

With good governance, good management, and sound regulatory regimes and policies, we can prosper nation to nation and maximize the benefits and opportunities for promoting community development, and can direct input for business opportunities in a sustainable and balanced approach to the environment.

Land-use planning is one way of addressing aboriginal and first nations' treaty rights infringements from the development activities. It's a tool for good governance and decision-making; a good tool for management of the lands and resource use; a good tool to address the duty to consult, accommodate, and reconcile; a good environmental standard for protecting the environment and the people's health; and great for business opportunities and partnerships.

We want to stress that we have been stewards of our land for thousands of years and we want to ensure the continuation of the abundance of life we have shared with the Creator for many generations.

Millions of dollars have been allocated to deal with cleaning up the abandoned mines the most northern region of the Athabasca. These legacy mines have caused many barriers and hardships for our people to this day, but society seems to forget that we are the ones who faced the unknowns of uranium mining and their contamination to the environment, wildlife, fish, and our health, without any compensation.

And with the lack of business opportunities to maximize regional benefits from the cleanup, the Saskatchewan Research Council continues to promote out-of-province companies as the primary beneficiaries of the opportunities. Our people continue to be ignored and disrespected in many ways. We want this committee to address the matter before the environmental assessment is approved for the cleanup, meaning working with our people on a regional level.

Having said this, we also require full capacity for meaningful participation in the environmental assessment processes for these types of projects. The streamlining of environmental assessment processes does not address the duty of the crown to consult, accommodate, and reconcile. We require fair participation in these processes with meaningful participation in managing our land and resources for future generations.

The on-reserve Uranium Mine Ownership Act is currently undergoing proposed changes by the current government. The proposed changes should include the participation of our people. Our people should be consulted on this matter, and we request being included in the planning and discussions of the proposed changes, which may have a huge impact on our communities, and our aboriginal and treaty rights.

Lastly, I want to express that, according to the United Nations declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, Canada needs to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples of Canada.

In closing, together we can do this and build a solid treaty, walk, share our passion, and make Canada stronger to move forward in building a good relationship with our Denesuline into the 21st century.

Again, Marci Chogh. Thanks for the opportunity for us here today to present our issue.

Thank you very much.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, chief.

Anne, we'll turn to you now, and then we'll go over the Chief Phillips.

3:45 p.m.

Anne Robillard General Manager, Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership

Thank you, Chair.

Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the formation of the Athabasca Basin Development Limited Partnership is one of the many ways in which the first nations in the Athabasca region have approached economic development. The Athabasca Basin Development Limited Partnership, known as ABDLP, is an excellent example of an aboriginal success story. It was formed in 2002 to pursue mining service opportunities in uranium mines. It was formed as the result of the determination of community leaders to fully participate in mining activities in their traditional areas.

The keys to the formation of this include community unity and an impact benefit agreement with the mining companies, partnership, and persistence. After several years, the company's expertise became transferrable to other geographic areas, which has led to expansion outside the region. ABDLP has a vision to be the leading entrepreneurial aboriginal-owned investment company in Canada.

As for ABDLP's ownership and governance, three first nations—Hatchet Lake, Black Lake, and Fond du Lac—own 70% of the company, while four non-first nations—Wollaston Lake, Uranium City, Camsell Portage, and Stony Rapids—own the remainder. Of the company’s five-member board of governance, first nations comprise the majority, including me as a chairperson.

Regarding ABDLP's successes, the partnership has ownership in nine companies, ranging from 30% to 100% ownership. These nine companies have their own governance structure to provide services to the mining and exploration sector, or government. We have investments in drilling underground, mining securities, construction, aviation, logistics, road maintenance, electrical, and labour supply. Our investments have provided services in commodities such as uranium, potash, oil sands, iron ore, diamonds, and gold. Consolidated revenues from investments in 2012 will exceed $90 million. The unit value in our investments has increased from $100 per unit to pretty well over $350,000 per unit in 10 years. Our investments have worked for mining exploration companies in four provinces and one territory. Total employment from all investments has exceeded 1,300, and no fewer than 200 aboriginal people are employed. We have partnered with other first nations in some of our investments. ABDLP was the inaugural winner of the Skookum Jim Award in 2008 and won provincial awards, including best new venture and best aboriginal partnership. ABDLP has also consistently reinvested its profits to fuel its growth while maintaining its distributions to unit holders.

The seven first nation communities in the Athabasca region are the only communities in Saskatchewan without all-weather road access. All the uranium mines in the Athabasca region have year-round access to their sites. As for the all-weather roads initiative, currently, Wollaston Lake is served by a provincially owned barge and an ice-road. Black Lake and Stony Rapids are served by seasonal overland roads, and Fond du Lac is served by a two-month road and a private barge in the summer. For over 10 years the building of an all-weather road to Wollaston Lake has been proposed, a road of some 107 kilometres, as well as completion of the road to Stony Rapids and Black Lake, of some 185 kilometres, and the building of an all-weather road to Fond du Lac, of some 85 kilometres, as well as support by ferry to cross one kilometre of the river.

On the Athabasca region's contribution to Canada, I would point out that all of Canada's uranium is produced in the Athabasca region, accounting for 20% plus of the world's supply, making it the number-two producer in the world. Communities situated in Athabasca make it feasible for airlines to deliver scheduled service, for trucking companies to make regular trips to the region, and for hotels and stores to be established. All of this is vitally important to exploration companies, which would be at a tremendous disadvantage if services were not available for their various exploration cycles. Indeed, Athabasca communities endure harsh living conditions on a daily basis, but the required services for that help create better infrastructure for industry over time. The region also hosts world-class fishing lodges, and communities have a current and future workforce only a short distance from the resource sector.

Why should roads be built? Athabasca is a positive contributor to Canada and to the province of Saskatchewan. The ice roads are becoming less reliable. A significant hydro project in Black Lake would be enhanced by road access. Exploration costs can be reduced, which can lead to mines. We have community populations that are young and growing. Health will be improved. Costs are unacceptably high, potentially higher than in northern territories. Youth could access recreation opportunities much more easily. And the rest of Canada has roads that have proven that they are positive for society.

Where is the government? No less than three times in the past ten years the provincial and/or federal governments have made financial commitments to the roads, and governments agree the roads are needed. Of the three times commitments were made, either governments could not make an agreement or government did not follow up on their commitment.

Governments were encouraged during the fiscal stimulus program to build roads to which no commitment was made. Currently the status is that the provincial government has committed to building the road to Wollaston Lake by 2013 and has essentially withdrawn from its commitment.

Marci Chogh. Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you so much.

We'll turn now to Chief Phillips for his opening statement.

3:50 p.m.

Chief Clinton Phillips Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

I'm a little bit nervous here, so have a little bit of patience. Now I know how O.J. Simpson felt.

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

We hope this will be a little more friendly. There is no reason to be nervous. We're all friendly and we certainly want to thank each one of you for coming.

3:50 p.m.

Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Chief Clinton Phillips

I've prepared an introduction followed by a three-page presentation, and I guess a question and answer period will follow that.

I'd like to introduce my associate director of lands, Mrs. Debbie Morris.

I ask for your patience beforehand, because I've been elected for almost three years now and I've held the lands portfolio for all of three weeks. This is all very new to me.

On behalf of the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, located near Montreal on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, l, Chief Clinton Phillips, will submit the following presentation outlining the challenges we face as a community with regard to land management and economic development issues. To begin, I will provide a brief historical overview of Kahnawake from an economic and land management perspective.

Both before and since European contact with my ancestors on Turtle Island, there has been a rich and distinct trade history that resulted in the unrivalled control of the eastern seaboard by the Iroquois Confederacy, of which the Mohawks are the eastern nation. Primarily the Dutch, British, and French settlers participated in trade relations with the Mohawks for a variety of goods.

A treaty relationship between colonial governments and the Mohawks was a device that encouraged further settlement and geographic expansion for the colonists. The necessity for trade with the Mohawks was crucial for European survival.

Later on, as allies of the crown, the Mohawks generally and the Mohawks of Kahnawake specifically aligned with both the French and British crowns. Our men have given their lives in service to the crown, and we were respected for our abilities. In modern times, our community has provided servicemen and women in the forces of both Canada and the United States.

The strategic geographic location of Kahnawake settlements has resulted in a varied economic history, from the successful fur trade monopoly in the 1600s to subsistence and commercial agriculture in the early 1900s, including the cultivation of tobacco. These were important sources of economic vitality. We lived through the seigneurial land tenure system and the resulting mismanagement of our traditional territory under the French regime, and the subsequent reservation system under the British and Canadian regimes. These experiences forever reduced our historical land base and our economic opportunities and hindered our prosperity within our land; yet they did not stop our strong will to survive.

Once government policy had eroded our land base, Kahnawakero:non were forced to seek employment within the carpentry and iron-working industries. Many a city skyline can identify buildings erected through Mohawk ingenuity and the drive to build a better life for our families, better opportunities for our children, and security for our future.

For over 100 years, Kahnawake men have travelled long distances to support their families, away from them for weeks at a time, sometimes taking their families with them away from home, away from what they knew. The iron-working industry remained the primary source of income for Kahnawake families throughout the 20th century.

By the 1980's, economic recession in the United States had limited the number of jobs available in the industries most identified with my community. The travellers had become weary, wanting an opportunity to prosper while remaining in our community.

Since then, my community has struggled with the inability to develop our lands for economic investment because of outdated, paternalistic Canadian government policies that limit and in most cases stop economic development; for example the Addition to Reserves or ATR policy, which continually provides time-related roadblocks that can last beyond five to ten years, in some cases—years when our land remains out of our control, years when economic development cannot occur, and ultimately years when we are denied prosperity.

We are currently in discussion with both the federal and provincial governments to transfer lands adjacent to the current reserve that have already been agreed to. This and any future opportunity cannot and should not be subject to the aforementioned paternalistic ATR process, which apparently is the only method to transfer the land—land that is ours, land that was never given up, land that will sit dormant and idle until the “Great White Father” decides to “give it back”. This is totally unacceptable.

Another land issue that continues to plague my community results from 100-year leases made between the federal government and third-party interests, leases that occupy acres of land with no consultation and minimal compensation. This is slowly changing, but the damage has been done. There are other land management issues in Kahnawake that can be addressed, but this timeframe is just too limited.

In conclusion, Kahnawake's economic prosperity, rich social and family values, and maintenance of our traditional heritage are legacies demonstrating the strength and perseverance handed down from our ancestors.

The policies did not succeed. The reservation system did not succeed. The residential school system did not succeed. And any attempt at economic strangulation will not succeed.

Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Chief.

I should just note that my wife is part Mohawk. And certainly there is a long history of building buildings throughout the United States, and I know that is a history that many in your community continue to this day.

4 p.m.

Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Chief Clinton Phillips

Including my father....

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Is that right? That's quite remarkable.

Anyway, that's just a personal anecdote, and certainly you're among family, in some respects. It's good to have you again, all of you. Thank you for taking the time today.

Ms. Crowder, we'll turn to you for the first seven minutes.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank our witnesses for coming forward and to thank Chief Tsannie for mentioning the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Part of what underlies this discussion is the absence of free, prior, and informed consent, which is an important part of the UN declaration.

I want to start with Chief Phillips for a moment.

Just so you know the timeframe we're dealing with, I have seven minutes, which includes our exchange.

4 p.m.

Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Chief Clinton Phillips

Hello. How are you? What's new?

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I'm good.

We should talk about family before we get into these questions, but that's not possible.

I have a report from April 5, 2012, “Reserve Land and First Nations Development”. It is a summary of a report that was done at Kahnawake on land management. There are a couple of points I want to raise from the report. I think it highlights the difficulties you are challenged with.

One of them is the number of certificates of possession and how that limits chief and council and the elders from saying what they're able to have happen on a land. I want you to comment on that.

The second thing I want you to comment on is this. This is just an example of the relationship with what was then called Indian and Northern Affairs and now called Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It says:To illustrate the current state of land-related affairs, Kahnawá:ke representatives explained that a land transfer was rejected by INAC because of a wrong band number, so the transfer was sent back to the INAC local office to fix it, and five years later it still hasn't been fixed.

And that was just simply a wrong band number.

So I wonder if you could talk about the impediments within the bureaucracy, within the framework, that get in the way of your ability to move forward on economic development.

4 p.m.

Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Chief Clinton Phillips

With the current system of titles and certificates of possession, in Kahnawake 85% of our lands are private lands, due to whatever happened in the past. We have large parcels of land that people have acquired because there is money in Kahnawake today. People are able to buy 50 acres, 30 acres, 60 acres, whatever, and I believe, at last count, we had over 5,000 certificates of possession.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Do you have any ability to manage that? Can you set bylaws, zoning, those kinds of things, on those CPs?

4 p.m.

Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Chief Clinton Phillips

Currently in Kahnawake we have no zoning laws whatsoever. So you can have a beautiful house and then have a pig farm as your neighbour. There's no zoning.

There is a movement currently. A zoning law was requested by a community member and we do have in our community what we call the community decision-making process, where laws are created and enacted, and zoning is one thing that is coming up. It's huge. It's going to be gigantic. We're probably looking at a two-year timeframe from start to completion for that zoning law. So we're not there yet, but hopefully we will be there really soon, because there are too many issues.

Every issue in Kahnawake has to do with lands and lack of lands that we can access. Personally, in my family, my grandmother inherited land with her siblings, and because of undivided interests and the family, her grandparents' lot now has about 50 owners at last count. So somebody has to buy somebody out. And who's going to win? This undivided interest is just not working for us; it's just creating more of a headache, more layers on that onion.

People have lived 50 years and not seen an inheritance that should rightfully be theirs. My grandmother is gone. My mother inherited hers. My mother is 70. Is she going to see it in her lifetime? I don't know.

That's just one little hurdle that we face in Kahnawake on a regular basis.

Debbie, as the land unit's associate director would maybe be able to add more to that, if she would like.

4 p.m.

Debbie Morris Associate Director, Lands Unit, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

There are many problems created by this very thing, over and above the undivided interest. You have to keep in mind that we have a lot of contaminated lands in Kahnawake, which makes them unusable. When you go there and you take a look, these lands are beautiful to our people who are building homes right beside a contaminated dump site, and we fear for their health. They're drawing the water from the ground, they're bathing their children with this water, they're washing their clothing, and cooking with this water. So how can we help our people to prosper? I know I'm getting off the subject of the—