Evidence of meeting #3 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was chiefs.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Perry Bellegarde  National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

We'll get under way, if everyone is ready.

Welcome everybody. I'm glad to be back. I think this is perhaps our third meeting of this committee.

I would like to make a special welcome today to our guests from the Assembly of First Nations. National Chief Perry Bellegarde is here, with his chief of staff Dale LeClair, and his adviser, Max FineDay.

I understand that you're going to give us a presentation, for which we're very grateful. We think we'll have that be around 20 minutes or so, if that suits you. We can stretch it either way, if you need to. Then we're going to create an opportunity for some good discussion and questions from the committee members afterwards.

Before we get under way, I would like to acknowledge that we're meeting with our committee today on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin Nation.

With that, we can get under way.

February 23rd, 2016 / 3:30 p.m.

Chief Perry Bellegarde National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

[Witness speaks in Cree]

In Cree, Mr. Chairman, I basically said that I'm very happy to be here. I acknowledged the men and women, all my friends around the table, and gave a heartfelt thank you for the welcome here.

I have a bit of a presentation to go through on behalf of our Assembly of First Nations, so I'll get right to it. You each have a copy of it in your kit.

When I was asked to be here, and to focus on certain agenda items and certain topics, but to focus more on “misconception training”—that's what people wanted to get into—I said, okay, I can prepare a package to talk about structure, governance, inherent rights, treaty rights, some constitutional dialogue on the time frames of things that impacted on us as first nations people, some of the recent Supreme Court decisions, and our recent December 10 meeting, where the Prime Minister committed to a certain number of things. That's the outline of what I want to get into here this afternoon.

The AFN, our Assembly of First Nations, is a national advocacy organization representing 634 first nations across Canada with 58 different indigenous languages. You can name a reserve, any reserve....

In British Columbia there are 203 first nations. In Alberta you have 47. In Saskatchewan you have 74. In Manitoba you have 67. In Ontario you have 134, and in Quebec 42. On the east coast there are 30-plus first nations, with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs. In the NWT you have 40-plus first nations. Yukon has 14. In total you have 634 first nations, with 58 different languages that are unique. I stress that.

The Assembly of First Nations is made up of those different nations, different tribes. Some have pre-Confederation treaties. Some have numbered treaties, Victorian treaties. Some have modern-day treaties. Some are inside the Indian Act and some are outside the Indian Act. So it's about knowing who you're working with, the background, the politics.

At the AFN we have 10 regional chiefs, one from every province, who sit with me as my executive. Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, from la belle province du Québec, sits with me, along with Regional Chief Day from Ontario. We all sit together monthly. We have quarterly meetings, but we also bring together our chiefs of Canada twice a year: three days in December and three days in July.

The national chief is elected by the 634 chiefs every three years. I go to the polls in July 2018, so you're stuck with me for the next number of years. I don't plan on going anywhere.

At the AFN we also have resolutions. Our chiefs give us mandates, resolutions, and direction, political direction. We also have chiefs committees. With 10 regional chiefs, I hand out portfolios. For example, we're having an education forum. That's the portfolio of Regional Chief Bobby Cameron from Saskatchewan. You have 500 people at the Delta today talking about education and the path forward, about legislation. Who holds the pen if we draft legislation so that there's stable funding in place for schools, and O and M operations on the reserve? All of these things are being talked about. In health care it's Regional Chief Day. We have chiefs committees on health and on education. That's our structure as the Assembly of First Nations.

Now, a lot of people will say—on this slide here, I've applied it myself from Little Black Bear—that we put the Creator on top, and then the people. All of the people, on reserve and off reserve, get to vote for our chief and council at Little Black Bear. Because of the Supreme Court of Canada's Corbiere decision, no matter where you reside, whether you live in Ottawa, Toronto, Regina, or Vancouver.... When there's an election at Little Black Bear, I have the right to go home and vote. There's no exclusion. That's the Corbiere decision. Our chiefs and councils represent all their membership. That's the first point I'll make. Little Black Bear is one reserve out of those 634.

Then we belong to a thing called an agency, File Hills Agency, five reserves that work together back home. We provide our stand-alone police service agreement back home. We have health care services. We work together as five reserves: Star Blanket, Okanese, Peepeekisis, Little Black Bear, and Carry the Kettle. There's no election there, but we work together to provide services.

Then we belong to a thing called the tribal council, the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council. There are 11 reserves that work together as a tribal council back in Saskatchewan. Again, they get together, the chiefs and council, and elect a tribal chief or tribal chair, whatever you want to call it. There are services and programs, a little bit of politics sometimes, and advocacy. That's what it is.

Then there's FSIN. Little Black Bear belongs to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. There are 74 reserves in Saskatchewan, and they work together politically under that umbrella.

Little Black Bear as well belongs to the Assembly of First Nations, 634 first nations.

I take the time to explain this because wherever you're from, as members of Parliament, you might have first nations in your territory. Apply that to them. They'll have a similar structure. They'll have a similar way of being organized. Whether you're from northern Ontario, Quebec, or B.C., it's similar. You just have to know the structure.

The AFN, I say, is on the bottom, not on top. That's how I explain these things. It's an advocacy organization. It's respectful of the diversity. It's responsive to the needs that have been identified by our chiefs and leaders across Canada, and it's relevant as a national organization for bringing about policy and legislative change.

Then I also put to the side Little Black Bear as a signatory to Treaty 4. We're part of the Victorian treaties, the numbered treaties. I put that there just to show you. When we talk about inherent rights and treaty rights and self-determination, I use that as an example. We might be 4.5% of Canada's population as indigenous peoples, but we're not ethnic minorities. We're indigenous peoples with the inherent right to self-determination. We have our own languages, our own laws, our own lands, our own people, and our own identifiable forms of government, the five elements you need in international law for that right to self-determination to be recognized and respected. We have them.

That was exercised when we entered into this nation-to-nation relationship with the crown in right of Canada, the crown in right of Great Britain. Because of the 1982 patriation of the Constitution, it is now the crown in right of Canada. That's for treaties, nation to nation. We always used to say that nations make treaties; treaties do not make nations. Now, because we agree to coexist and share the land and resource wealth, we're all treaty people: everyone in this room, including me, we're all treaty people.

That treaty relationship we hold onto very dearly. That sovereign, that relationship with the crown is something we respect very greatly, because it's a covenant. That sanctity of contract, that sanctity of agreement is something we hold very dearly as indigenous peoples. It is like the shaking of a hand, the coming together of indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples, when you see a treaty medallion. You see that on the medallion it says for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow. Queen Victoria is on the back of that medallion. But as well, it is the Creator watching. That's why we say it's a covenant. Ceremonies were utilized in the consecration of that nation-to-nation agreement.

In Treaty 4, in treaties, the nations there are the Cree peoples, the Nakota Assiniboine peoples, and the Saulteaux/Anishinabe Ojibwa peoples. Three different nations or tribes are signatories to Treaty 4. There are 34 first nations chiefs.

That's a little bit of the overview in terms of structure. Just think about all your own first nations now.

There's the issue of portability of rights we have to get our heads around. I'm not a treaty Indian just because I live on the reserve. Portability of rights and portability of services and programs all have to be contemplated now. I have the right to vote for my chief and council. Now 50% of our people reside off reserve, off the community. That's an important point to raise.

As I said to our officials this morning at the Delta, when we talk about Indian control of Indian education and the need to invest in proper schools on the reserve, and making sure that on the one hand there are math, science, literacy, and numeracy, what's equally important on the other hand are your languages and your sense of tradition. There are two systems. Our children walk in both worlds. We need to balance that. But bear in mind as well that we need to work with provincial governments, because 50% of our people reside off the reserve, in cities, so it's about influencing those systems in the cities and towns as well. What we need to work on is twofold. Put that as itself now.

The next slide is on the time frame. These things are important because they're part of Canada's Constitution. All these things that I'm going to be talking about are part of it. I start the timeline with this thing called the doctrine of discovery. It's very important.

It's very important, and I call it an illegal and racist doctrine. That's what I say. There are terms that I'm using now called “assumed Crown sovereignty” and “assumed Crown jurisdiction”, because that doctrine of discovery is coming under fire not only nationally, but internationally, within the United Nations, which is why we're trying to get an audience with Pope Francis.

This is a whole story unto itself, this doctrine of discovery, but you can start with that piece. From there, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 is very important, because the crown recognized first nations title to land and territory. It's a very important piece of legislation or, if you will, our agreement. That's part of Canada's addendums to the Constitution.

Next, I talk about the nation-to-nation relationship and the treaty-making process. There are the pre-Confederation treaties, the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior treaties, and the numbered treaties. John A. Macdonald was the prime minister of the day. He realized that he didn't have title to the territory lands, so he devised an instrument called treaties, and he tasked Alexander Morris, on behalf of the crown, the Queen, to go out and cut a deal with the Indians out west. Alexander Morris was the treaty commissioner. It was a very high office. That was the making of the treaties in the 1800s.

I've put the residential schools next, which were established in the 1800s. This is a very important timeline. It's a very important piece of work that had a negative impact on indigenous peoples.

Then, of course, there's the BNA Act. Why have I put that there? Because of section 91(24): the federal government is responsible for Indians and Indian lands. It doesn't say “Indians on Indian lands”. It just says Indians and Indian lands. That's further recognition of title.

Then I talk about the Imperial Order in Council of 1870. It's part of Canada's Constitution. Basically, in English words, it says that for what lands are taken up for settlement in the Northwest Territories—it doesn't say “Indians” or “first nations”, but uses the word “aborigines”—they are supposed to be compensated on a fair and equitable basis when lands are taken up for settlement. That's a very important piece of work, that 1870 order in council.

Then there's the Indian Act of 1876, which we still have to this day. Why I've put it there is that right up until 1951 it was illegal for Indians to get access to legal counsel. We couldn't have access to a lawyer until 1951. We couldn't leave the reserve without a permit until 1951. The Indian Act is a big challenge for us now, but it's still there.

Between the residential school system and the Indian Act, between those two things, you can see the hurt and the harm that have been done to our people, including breaking up our governance system and imposing two-year elective systems, throwing out the clan mothers, throwing out our hereditary chiefs, and throwing out our traditional chiefs. All of our ways of governing ourselves were no good, and you imposed a two-year elective system, this Indian Act. So the challenges in 2016 and beyond are about what we do now to move beyond the Indian Act. That's the big challenge for us.

There's the NRTA of 1930. People want to talk about a national energy strategy. People want to talk about resource revenue sharing. The natural resources transfer agreement was unilaterally passed in 1930 by the federal government, passed in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. They had total control in their provincial boundaries over the oil, the coal, the potash, the uranium, the trees, the water, everything. It was unilaterally done in section 10 in 1930: “subject to existing trusts, this will be done”. We've always maintained that there's a crown/federal fiduciary trust obligation.

In 1974 the modern treaty-making process kicked in because of the Calder decision, as well as the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and all those things. Then in 1982, the patriation of the Constitution, section 35, existing aboriginal treaty rights are recognized and affirmed: a full box of rights or empty box of rights, and what process to utilize to fill that up: a political process and/or legal process? Then, of course, there's the UN declaration of 2007.

The timeline is very important. Just to get our heads around the constitutional framework, that is why we say there's a crown federal fiduciary trust obligation to Indians and first nations people. That's there.

Legally now, there were the recent Delgamuukw and Sparrow Supreme Court of Canada decisions. All members of Parliament should know all these cases. All 338 members of Parliament should know the things I'm talking about: Delgamuukw, Sparrow, the Haida, Mikisew Cree, the Marshall decision on the east coast, the treaty right to commercial fish. This is the first time ever that the Supreme Court of Canada went back and made an addendum to its initial ruling because of Marshall. I just flag these ones, some of the high-level ones. Then, of course, there is Tsilhqot’in around aboriginal rights and title.

The judicial branch of government is saying something very clearly when it comes to rights recognition, aboriginal rights and title, treaty rights. How many Supreme Court of Canada decisions were we winning? We see that. That shows you this right here.

We say these are all rights that are minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of indigenous people, no question. The issue is that the judicial branch is saying this, but the legislative and the executive branches of governments are not keeping up with the policy and legislative changes as dictated by this one over here. That's the challenge moving forward. That the legislative and the executive branches of governments have to keep up with what the judicial branch is saying, and that means policy and legislative changes. So, put that on the shelf now.

Before October 19, we campaigned very hard in the sense of getting our issues onto all the party platform agendas, every one. I tried to get on the caucuses. I've been to the Liberal caucus. I've been to the NDP caucus. I talked to as many members of Parliament from the Conservatives as I could. I went to the Green caucus. There were a couple of people. Educating and making them aware of what the issues are in closing the gap, this was what we used. This was before October 19.

There are six themes: strengthening first nations, families, and communities; sharing equitable funding, in other words lifting the 2% funding cap that's been there for 20 years; upholding aboriginal treaty rights; respecting the environment, which means looking at Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, and more involvement on resource projects across Canada, the Energy Board; revitalizing indigenous languages; and implementing the TRC calls to action.

That was before October 19. We had the Prime Minister come to our chiefs assembly in December. He committed to five items. You can see the reflection, you can see the mirror almost, if you will, to what we put as priority items as indigenous peoples.

First, a national inquiry be committed to the chiefs of Canada. That's ongoing. It's in the preconsultation phase now. Three ministers are leading that good process.

Second, making significant investments in education is very important. How do you get out of poverty? Good quality education.

Third, he talked about removing the 2% funding cap that's been in place, which is a cap on potential, a cap on growth. The fiscal frameworks that exist now through the contribution agreements don't keep up with inflation, don't keep up with the rising population. The fastest growing segment in Canada is young first nation men and women. It's not based on needs, so the gap that needs to be closed is huge. We talked about moving that and moving toward long-term sustainable funding relationships with the crown so that there's predictability.

Fourth, he talked about implementing the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is very important, along with a full federal law review of imposed legislation.

I expand that one to include not only federal laws but also policies, because a comprehensive claims policy, the specific claims policy, the inherent right to self-government policy, and the additions-to-reserve policy haven't been updated in 20-plus years, and they're based on flawed views on termination of rights and title, not recognition of rights and title, as referenced in those Supreme Court of Canada decisions.

There has to be not only a federal law review but a federal law and policy review to get into line with what your own Supreme Court is saying. So, there is much work to do going forward.

This, friends and relatives, is just an overview.

I want to show, from one reserve's perspective—my home reserve where I grew up, Little Black Bear—how it all fits in going forward. On March 22 we're hoping these key strategic investments will be made in all these areas to close the gap.

With regard to the gap I am referring to, on the United Nations human development index, Canada is rated sixth. When you apply the same indices to indigenous peoples, we're 63rd. That's what needs to be addressed.

More and more Canadians are saying that it is not right, and we have to make the investments in education and training. Dealing with 130 boil-water advisories, potable water, and overcrowded housing—all those negative stats—are what that gap represents, and people are getting it. That's what we have to work on collectively together.

Mr. Chairman, that's my Indian Studies 101. That's my misconceptions training or whatever. There is a lot more we could have gone into, but that's where I want to leave it right now, and there might be questions or comments from around the table.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thanks very much, Grand Chief. You provided us with exactly what we asked for, which was a thorough and unvarnished assessment of where we are now, and the work that lies ahead, so thanks very much for that.

We're going to follow the process we've set up for this committee for questions and answers. It may seem a little formal, but it's to ensure that everyone around the table gets a fair chance to ask a question.

We have developed a speaking order and we're going to just leap right into that with Michael McLeod as the first questioner.

I'll just say that each question in this first round has exactly seven minutes for the question and the answer, and I'll try to police that a little bit.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

First of all, thank you for coming to make your presentation to us. It was very informative.

I come from the Northwest Territories where, as you probably know, half the population is indigenous, 11 different languages are spoken, and many aboriginal governments are in the process of settling land claims or have settled them and are working towards self-government. There are many challenges on that front. The north has very different conditions from those on reserve. We also face other challenges, such as the high cost of living and things of that nature, including travel in an area that's very difficult.

In December at your Special Chiefs Assembly, you talked about a nation-to-nation renewed type of arrangement. Our Prime Minister also stated:

It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations Peoples. One that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation

As I talk to the different people in this government, MPs, and different party members, I get a sense that there are all kinds of different interpretations. I'm also getting that sense from aboriginal people and aboriginal governments.

I want to ask you what that term, which you used and the Prime Minister used, means to you. What did you expect when you heard that, and how do you see that working with indigenous peoples across the country, especially in your community of Little Black Bear First Nation?

3:55 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

That's a great question. You could apply it to each of the 634 reserves. I met with three chiefs this morning and asked them if they were a nation. Some chiefs will say yes. Others will get it and say no. We're part of the Cree Nation. But we've got Cree in Quebec, in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Nehiyaw peoples. You have Woodland Crees, Swampy Crees, Plains Crees. There are different dialects, but we're all part of that.

If you're talking about nation to nation, we're not structured by nations. Some chiefs want to go down that road. The Dene Nation gets together. The Dene peoples will get organized as Dene. The Mi'kmaq people on the east coast are organized as a Mi'kmaq people if you go by the nations, by the language. That's the ideal. We're not there yet.

Treaty areas are coming now. The agencies and tribal councils are creatures of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. We didn't come together and say let's form a tribal council as Indians. That didn't happen. It came together because of the Department of Indian Affairs and their district INAC offices at that time. We have to break away from the colonization and get back to ourselves, the nation to nation. Some nations will go back by their language and get together and get organized in that way. Other areas will look at treaty territories coming together.

There are options. We should maintain and reserve the right to proceed at our own pace. Once we get organized, then we need to start engaging the crown to move beyond the Indian Act. That's what it means to me, keeping in mind that whole vision to work towards a nation-to-nation collective. We're not structured and organized by nations. We have 634 first nations under the Indian Act, bands in some cases. We have to move beyond that. That's the challenge right now, and we're all at different levels. So it's going to take some time to get there. That's why I showed you the structure. I wanted to give you a little understanding that we as indigenous peoples have to break beyond the Indian Act and organize ourselves in the best way to serve our needs.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thanks, Michael, and thank you, Chief.

The next question is coming from Cathy.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you, National Chief. That was a great overview and refresher. It's really important information to start our committee's first formal meeting.

I want to focus on a specific area that I think is important to all of Canada but also to the communities you represent. This is the area of natural resources development. I want to pick up on your suggestion regarding the indigenous licence, but I also want to ask you to frame it. I'll look at, for example, Kinder Morgan. It goes through the interior of British Columbia, and there is great desire in some quarters for this project to move ahead. If there was a process in place, I think there would be great enthusiasm. Of course, it hits the coast and I think it would be an understatement to say that in that area the enthusiasm diminishes sharply. I would like you to expand on the concept you talked about, with some emphasis on how it relates to varying opinions. I think there are many examples. How do you create an indigenous licence when lots of people are very enthusiastic and others are much less so?

4 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

That's a good question.

We just finished a two-day energy forum a couple of weeks ago in Vancouver. We brought people together. Minister Carr, the natural resources minister, was there, first time ever; great. Representatives from the provinces were there. First nations leaders were there, chiefs. Industry leaders from pipelines and from oil and gas companies were there. Environmentalists were there. Clean energy officials were there, as were CEOs from solar and wind. We tried to create a space and a table for dialogue. There are different interests, no question.

The comment about indigenous licence ties in to the duty to consult and accommodate. The indigenous licence ties in to free, prior, and informed consent within the United Nations declaration. That's what I'm referring to when I say indigenous licence. First nations people, because of their right to self-determination, are tied in. If that right is respected, that means they'll be able to say yes or no to projects. That's where it rests. We have to be involved.

The message was simple. Before you try to build anything—industry or provincial governments—build a respectful relationship with indigenous leaders and indigenous peoples. Build a respectful relationship before you build anything. That was the message.

This indigenous licence ties in with those two things, the duty to consult and accommodate. The crown has the obligation to do that. It's not industry; it's the crown's obligation. They have to do a better job of that. Right now industry is wondering what they should do, what the rules are. They don't know.

That's where that ties in—

4 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

I guess it's my practical health care nurse saying, you know, at the end of the day, there's great enthusiasm and great anger, and I'm not sure how we ultimately get to an alignment on that piece.

4 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

It's dialogue in a respectful way, which is the best way. It's bringing people together. You're not always going to get agreement. There's so much diversity. But if we can respect each others' perspectives and points of view and have that dialogue, that respectful engagement, we might find common ground.

As I've always pointed out, we have rights as indigenous peoples, but we also have responsibilities for the land and water. I gave my perspective about an indigenous world there as well, about how we're all tied together. We're all related.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

You've gone through a very tragic history in terms of policies over time. British Columbia, of course, is working toward settling agreements. For example, there are agreements that need to be settled. I think they're working in a fair direction. But by virtue of need, I guess, they are impacting third party private businesses or people.

Would you agree that in terms of the crown, in this case Canada, there should be a philosophy of avoid, mitigate, or compensate? I'm not saying we don't have to do this. We do very much have to do it. But should there be some philosophy around...? I think we'd bring all Canada along if we created the least hardship for third party interests.

Does that seem like a reasonable concept the crown should have as they negotiate these agreements?

4:05 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

It's all of the above. That's part of it.

Again, under the existing frameworks that we have, when you talk about British Columbia.... Even when I meet with the premiers, I ask them to set up a bilateral process with chiefs and leaders in their respective provinces so they have access. Do the 203 chiefs meet with Premier Christy Clark on a regular basis? They do. Do they have any issues about the duty to consult the tables on resource revenue sharing; duty to consult and accommodate; free, prior, and informed consent to create economic certainty? They should have those tables and processes established.

I've also asked the premiers not to issue a licence or permit to industries if the CEO of the company does not have an engagement strategy with first nations people in terms of procurement, employment, or benefit sharing. If they don't, then don't issue them a licence or permit. You'll see that the industries will start banging on first nations leaders' doors to establish a respectful relationship.

On your point about third party interests and the crown compensating, you'd look at everything you can to make peace in the valley, so to speak, as long as things are done in a respectful way, rights aren't trampled on, aren't put to the side, that people are looked after. I always say it this way: first nations people, of course, want to be part of the economy and of course want to create wealth and jobs and have great employment opportunities, but not at the expense of the environment. It's about balancing long-term sustainable economic development strategies.

Even talking to the Chilcotin chiefs, they don't want an environment footprint this big. They want something smaller and maintainable. I've talked to those chiefs. I've been up into the Chilcotin territory in B.C., and that's what they say: respect the long-term sustainable economic development strategies.

First nations people want to be part of that. They want inclusion, but not at any cost.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

I'm afraid that we're over seven minutes now.

In my enthusiasm to hear this great dialogue, I left Michael with two minutes still in his question. If there is time left over in anyone's question, I'll leave you the option. We'll put it back on the clock and we'll go through the list again, or you can choose to take the two minutes.

I want to offer you that two minutes, if you'd like them, Michael.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

I had one more question that I wanted to ask. It's about the land claims process.

We have a number of aboriginal governments that are engaged in the land claims process, and the process up to now, through the policies that are in place, is not allowing for any flexibility.

I want to hear your views on moving forward with the new type of collaborative intentions that this government has brought forward, and if you have any suggestions on how we can improve the process going forward.

4:05 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

Just on that point again, remember the federal law and policy review? Comprehensive claims has to be part of that. It has to be updated, and again, there has to be a process established for that to happen. That's going to take some time. However, that's where that rests, because that comprehensive policy was put in place and it was based on termination of aboriginal rights and title, not recognition. That's what has to change.

There has to be a process established, and there has to be proper authorities and mandates given to the representatives who are negotiating things on behalf of the crown and first nations government. If they had the proper terms of reference, authority, and mandates, based on a proper policy, based on recognition of title and rights, you'd get a lot more done.

That's my comment.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you both

Charlie, please.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you so much, Chief, for coming today.

I represent communities of Treaty 9, a little bit of lands from Robinson-Huron, and then my Algonquin communities that have never signed any treaties and they're very active in my region. I'm very proud to work with them.

There are a number of issues I want to get to. I don't want to sound curt, but I want to focus in on them because this is a rare opportunity for discussion.

I want to start off with this. AFN was a signatory to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Part of that was the creation of the independent assessment process, which is supposed to be non-adversarial and a way of bringing closure.

We've seen the St. Anne survivors. Evidence was suppressed. The hearings were jigged. There were narratives that had lies. They've been in provincial court twice, and I believe they're going back a third time. Now we have the administrative split. We have the issue of the day scholars. All of this is getting wrapped up really quickly.

My question for you, as one of the signatories, is whether you believe that this IAP cannot be shut down until we get a clear answer on the justice to these cases that has been denied in such an egregious fashion. What are the AFN's views on how we deal with this, with the timelines on the closing of the IAP process?

4:10 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

Charlie, I think we need a political resolution to the issue, as opposed to a legal one. It takes too damn long. The survivors and the victims need justice sooner than later.

We've supported the day scholars' class action suit politically. There should be justice for them. We've talked about the split as well, and we support that there be a political resolution to that issue. We want to bring that to the Minister of INAC as soon as possible. She has made similar statements that this should be resolved, that those 1,000-plus students that have been excluded should not be excluded and there should not have to be a lengthy legal process. It's almost like the crown is trying to limit its financial liability and obligations, which is not right. It speaks against the apology, and it speaks against reconciliation. That's not acceptable.

Those are the two points that we have to find political resolution for sooner than later.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you. What concerns me is that if a legal process that's supposed to be arm's-length needs a political process to intervene in the legal process, there is something wrong with that legal process. Are there lessons that need to be learned from the fact the Department of Justice undermined these rights time and time again?

4:10 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

Nothing is ever perfect, I always say. We learn from things, and we make sure they don't happen again. That's the way I look at it.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

I want to ask you about the important thing of closing the gap in the communities. The federal government has a 6% escalator in health, the transfers to the province. None of the communities I represent even came close to that, with a 2% cap. Even then they were down below 2% many times. If we're going to take this off after 20 years it will leave a massive hole in infrastructure, in health, and in education. What is the bare minimum escalator we need to ensure the monies are going to flow and we're not going to get another shell game of promises one year and then the money will be slowly drawn back. The provinces have clear escalators. What would you say is the escalator we need not only to meet the needs, but also to start to close the gap that's been created because of the 2% cap?

4:10 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

That's a great question. When we met with the Minister of Finance...this year, because we're trying to influence the federal budget that is coming out March 22, we can't say, “here's the 7% escalator that we need this year“. We're trying to influence every department, INAC, Health, ESDC, Heritage, languages, and everyone else. There are seven or eight key departments. The operative word is “investments”. Investments are needed in all those key areas to close the gap. What the percentage is, I'm not sure yet. I don't have the answer to that.

What's more important is the work I've requested for next year. I've asked that there be put in place a fiscal framework working committee between the AFN and the crown so we get to the right number, and we can get the proper assessment, the proper analysis, and the proper escalator so that the gap starts closing. At the end of the day, that's really what's going to matter, if we start moving from 63, up to 60, to 50, to 40, and eventually get to six like everybody else. There is going to be a substantial amount of investment dollars needed—I'm going to say billions—in the federal budget this year. Then establish a proper process to work to the proper fiscal agreement next year. That's what we asked to be put in place.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Fair enough. I think we have to codify this in the long term so that promises one year won't be forgotten in year two.

It was great, that little primer on Delgamuukw, and Haida, and the Otaki River. These obligations are clear. I'm concerned about Site C, because the Minister of Environment today said she's been consulting indigenous communities that are affected. I haven't heard of anybody on the ground that's been consulted. There are about 20-plus fisheries permits that are being rammed through right now. You've spoken up on Site C. Has anyone in the ministry talked to you about what needs to be done to resolve the outstanding concerns of the communities about the impact of Site C on their traditional territory?

4:15 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde

Not yet. We have mandates from our chiefs to slow down Site C, and we're supporting the chiefs up there. That's our position as the AFN, to slow it down. That's hydro and it's clean, but even having a clean energy project affects inherent rights and treaty rights. That's not acceptable. We've supported the chiefs and the leadership in that area to slow things down, do the proper consultations, and get them involved. I can say no it hasn't happened with me. There's still a lot of work to do regarding Site C.