Thanks, Madam Chair, and thanks, Gary, for that attempt. I have another function, but I'll get right into this, Madam Chair.
[Witness speaks in Cree]
I'm happy to be here thanking you all.
[Witness speaks in Cree]
I give thanks to the Creator for this day.
Also, we acknowledge the Algonquins, the Anishinaabeg peoples, and give them thanks as well.
To the members of the committee, I do have this written text, so we'll get right into this.
Madam Chair, members of the committee, friends, and relatives, thank you for inviting me here today to share the perspectives of the Assembly of First Nations on Bill C-262, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples act.
First nations across the country strongly support a legislative framework to advance the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and support Bill C-262. We have waited a long time for this. We continue to call on all parties in this House and on each and every parliamentarian to support Bill C-262.
At the end of my presentation, I will suggest a few amendments to enhance the text and to reflect the current text, but I want to start by making a few simple points.
The United Nations declaration doesn't create any new rights. Neither does Bill C-262. These rights are inherent, and they're pre-existing. The UN declaration affirms indigenous peoples' human rights. What we're talking about now is realizing those rights, implementing those rights, and enforcing those rights, and finding a better way to work together so that we don't have to spend millions of dollars and waste years fighting in courts instead of advancing reconciliation. Closing the socio-economic gap for first nations and building a stronger economy and a better Canada for us all is what this means.
This bill is about working with first nations to realize existing rights. It's about working with us to establish the laws, policies, and practices needed to respect our rights and our status as self-determining peoples, replacing the laws, policies, and practices that have denied our rights for decades and have led to the socio-economic gap we are working to overcome today. This bill is reconciliation in action—real reconciliation—and this is where the rubber meets the road and actions replace words.
The chiefs in assembly have passed numerous resolutions calling on the Assembly of First Nations to work with Canada to advance the full implementation of the declaration. They support this legislation. They support the co-development of a national action plan, as required in this bill and by call to action number 44 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action, which Canada has pledged repeatedly to fulfill.
Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Wilson-Raybould, and Parliamentary Secretary Yvonne Jones have all affirmed the government's support for Bill C-262.
Bill C-262 will provide momentum and a plan for implementing the UN declaration in Canada, working with first nations in an orderly and timely way. This is something that Canada has repeatedly committed itself to do under several UN resolutions, including the declaration itself.
Passing this bill will advance Canada, as well as first nations peoples, in many ways. It will implement key aspects of the TRC calls to action. It will see Canada move forward on existing international commitments regarding human rights. It will provide a framework for the federal government to work in partnership with first nations to ensure that Canada's laws, policies, and practices are revised to realize rights, recognize rights, and implement and enforce rights, rather than deny rights. Also, it will provide transparency and accountability for everyone by requiring an annual reporting to Parliament.
I want to spend a few minutes now to talk with you about free, prior, and informed consent. That seems to be a focus of concern, so I want to be very clear on that. I know that it's talked about federally and provincially and by industry, so I want to focus on that right up front.
FPIC—free, prior, and informed consent—was not created in the UN declaration. It was not created in this bill. It already exists in international law. It is an essential element of the right of all peoples, including indigenous peoples, to self-determination, which Canada has recognized for decades.
Consent is the essence of treaty-making between self-determining nations. First nations already have the right to participate in decisions that can affect our rights, property, cultures, and environment, and our capacity to exercise our right to self-determination.
We already have the right to determine our own priorities, and we cannot be denied our own means of subsistence. What's needed is a better process, one that is designed with first nations and involves our people from the start. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here. Free, prior, and informed consent exists around the world. There is already a lot of international jurisprudence to draw on.
A lot of people want to focus on that V-word, “veto”, but the word “veto” doesn't appear in the declaration. It isn't in this bill. The declaration acknowledges the interrelationships between the rights of all people and peoples. To those concerned about free, prior, and informed consent, I would say this: you simply cannot tell a people that they have no right to say no to what happens to them in their own territories.
Imagine a system where you can't say no. That's what we have had for more than a century under the Indian Act, and that's what has led us to this mess we're in today. First nations must be part of the regulatory processes and all the decision-making respecting anything that affects us.
Working with us to figure out what that looks like is not only unavoidable and not only the right thing to do, but it's the smart thing to do. It will lead to more balanced, fewer acrimonious and better decisions, fewer court battles, more timely decisions, and better outcomes for us all. If you want economic certainty and economic stability, embrace the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and embrace the support for Bill C-262 going forward.
First nations are already exercising our right to say yes and our right to say no in regard to major energy and natural resource projects. This is all part of the broader conversation that takes place every day between different governments about resource projects—federal governments, provincial governments, territorial governments, first nations governments, and municipal governments. We are already part of that national intergovernmental dialogue, but we have more work to do, and we'll continue to exercise our inherent jurisdiction, sovereignty, and treaty rights as equal partners, not as subservient or junior jurisdictions.
This committee will no doubt offer some comments to enhance Bill C-262 in light of recent developments. In closing, I'll leave behind some recommendations, and I'll touch briefly on them now.
In the preamble, the bill refers to “doctrines” of “superiority”. First, the AFN suggests specifically naming the doctrines of discovery and terra nullius. The text could read as follows:
Whereas all doctrines, including discovery and terra nullius, and all policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.
We also suggest some additional paragraphs in the preamble. Canada has repeated four principles to guide the approach to working with first nations: recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. Including those principles in this law would be a welcome addition to this bill. I also suggest that there is a value in highlighting the importance of treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements.
My suggestion for additional text for the preamble is already in the leave-behinds you have. It reads:
Whereas Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to relationships with Indigenous peoples that are based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership, which are essential elements in Canada's constitutional framework and international human rights law;
Whereas the standard of Crown conduct in all actions, including government litigation strategies, must be consistent with these elements; and
Whereas treaties...and other constructive arrangements, and the relationship they represent, are the basis for a strengthened partnership between Indigenous peoples and States.
I just note that this last proposal on treaties is already affirmed in the 15th preambular paragraph in the UN declaration.
Finally, I want to hold up and acknowledge Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash for his long-standing commitment both to the declaration and to ensuring federal legislation is brought forward.
I also wish to acknowledge first nations leadership and advocates over the past three decades, who have helped to bring us to this point: Grand Chief Willie Littlechild, Mr. Kenneth Deer, and Grand Chief Ed John. They're just a few of the many who have worked for decades to advance the declaration.
Passing this bill and implementing the declaration will build a stronger country for us all. It will advance reconciliation between Canada and first nations, and it will help to close the socio-economic gaps in the quality of life between first nations and the rest of Canada.
This legislation is something that every member of the House should support. I want to read something for you very quickly. In a very historic address to the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly on September 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the failure of Canada to fully respect the rights of indigenous peoples, and acknowledged that the UN declaration is not merely an aspirational document. He said:
We now have before us an opportunity to deliver true, meaningful, and lasting reconciliation between Canada and First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit peoples.
And as we embark upon that process of reconciliation, we are guided by the minimum standards adopted here, in this chamber, ten years ago this month.
I know that Canada has a complicated history with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We actively campaigned and voted against it, then endorsed it in the most half-hearted way possible, calling it an “aspirational document.”
The Declaration is not an aspirational document. It means much more than that to the Indigenous Peoples and others who worked so hard, for so long, to bring the Declaration to life.
In the words of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Declaration provides “the necessary principles, norms, and standards for reconciliation to flourish in twenty-first-century Canada.”
That's not an aspiration. That's a way forward.
Now I'll take your questions. Thanks.