Evidence of meeting #71 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 negotiations.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chief Constant Awashish  Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw
Eleanor Bernard  Executive Director, Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey
Martin Dufour  Chief, Band Council, Essipit Innu First Nation
Marc Chaloult  Coordinator, Treaty and Public Affairs, Essipit Innu First Nation

8:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I call the meeting to order. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and a motion passed by this committee on a study of specific and comprehensive land claims agreements, this is our third city in a cross-country tour to talk to experts, community members, and political representatives on land claims, specific and comprehensive.

We normally recognize the historical lands and the peoples that were here because we're beginning a process, finally, of Canada looking at truth and reconciliation on a broader scale. We are on the homeland of the Wendat. I come from the Prairies, where the history is that many people moved through the area as they migrated with the buffalo. I'd just like to recognize that this is the homeland.

We're going to start. We have, in the first panel, Eleanor Bernard from the Mi'kmaw, from Nova Scotia. We also have Constant Awashish, who's the grand chief.

Welcome. We're very happy that you found a way to come, despite the big storms last night, and that you're here. Thank you.

Please go ahead. You have 10 minutes to present, and then after the presentations are done, we'll have an opportunity for questions from the MPs around the table. Thank you.

8:05 a.m.

Grand Chief Constant Awashish Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Honourable members of this committee, good morning.

[The witness speaks Atikamekw]

My name is Constant Awashish. I am the Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation.

I only received this invitation last Friday. I would like to make a comment, without animosity. We tabled a brief, but we would have liked it to be longer. We did what we could despite the short notice. I will try to inform you as best I can to help you in your work.

The Atikamekw Nation has 7,700 members, and I am their Grand Chief. Our nation has been negotiating with governments since 1979, close to 40 years. The topic of today's study is comprehensive land claims negotiations. The members and politicians of the Atikamekw nation often wonder whether there is a real will to come to an agreement with us, since there are always new developments that arise during the negotiations.

Our natural resources and territories are being exploited, and this is increasing. That has always been the case, and that has not slowed down at all since 1979. We deplore that fact.

After several meetings with our members, and several surveys, we concluded that comprehensive negotiations are still relevant and still important in the eyes of the communities of the Atikamekw Nation.

We believe that comprehensive negotiations will give us the tools we need to develop as a nation and as a first people of this country.

You are aware of the economic and social situation of most of the first nations of Canada. In your work you have probably been made aware of indigenous reality and the Atikamekw Nation is no exception. In our communities, unemployment rates are high, a lot of people must resort to social assistance, and there are almost no jobs. Despite the fact that our natural resources are exploited on our territory, there are very few spinoff benefits for our communities.

When a resource is developed there is a value added chain. Despite that, no jobs are created for us, and the profits and fees often go to the government. For centuries, the Atikamekw nation has received nothing. That is a situation we deplore as members of this country, Canada. I do not think that the situation is viable in the long term.

That is the viewpoint of the Atikamekw Nation on that, and this is a message I have been delivering for three years now.

In speaking about the Atikamekw Nation, I am also speaking about all of the first nations. I think that in order to have a prosperous country or province, indigenous nations must also prosper.

We are all interrelated economically. As I already mentioned, if a first nation develops economically, if it has a good rate of progress and employability, if there is a lot of work there and if it can develop its own natural resources in its own way, there will be economic benefits for the neighbouring regions and towns, which will lead to economic benefits for the province, which will also be felt in Canada. I think that is today's reality. We must invest in first nations to give them an opportunity to develop their economies. They have to have the opportunity of shaping their own destinies.

There has been much talk of reconciliation over the past few years. In my opinion, reconciliation implies recognizing mistakes. As we speak, that is almost done. Now there has to be an acknowledgement of mistakes regarding economic development. What are we going to offer first nations so that they may develop their economies? How are we going to allow them to participate or contribute to the economic development of the province or country? That is the message I have been trying to deliver from the outset.

As Grand Chief, I am often asked what we will do if we manage to conclude an agreement or a treaty and if we have our territory, our self-government, and some funding. I am asked how we will develop our territory. One thing is certain and that is that we cannot pick up and leave with our territory. That is why, on the topic of developing our territory, I always mention the interrelationship among all of the people of Canada. We want to develop our territory precisely in order to make a greater contribution to the evolution of this country. To get there we have to be given the means to do so. The Atikamekw Nation believes that the best way to get there is through a treaty.

For the Atikamekw Nation, the important thing is to arrive at something concrete. Soon we will have been negotiating for 40 years. The duration of those negotiations is perplexing to the nation. That is an issue that must be solved. In my opinion, to correct things, we have to bring politicians closer to the negotiating table. Often, we play a game of cat and mouse. We ask for certain things from our negotiators, they propose objectives and recommendations at the negotiating table. But when they arrive at the table, the door is closed and they are told that that is not part of the mandate. Where is the negotiation in that? In my opinion, the politicians need to pull up a chair and come closer to the negotiating table to make things move more quickly.

That is the intention of the Atikamekw Nation this year. Our objective is to settle this matter by the month of June 2018.

Within the Atikamekw Nation, there is increasing disillusionment with regard to the duration of negotiations and the will of governments. The month of June 2018 will be very important for us, as we will decide whether to continue the negotiations or simply to use pressure tactics to accelerate the process and pursue our objective, which is the sovereignty of our territory. As I said, this would be a last resort, and what we want is pure and simple participation from the government. We want the government to truly commit, one hundred percent, to the negotiations, so that we may be given the means to contribute to the development and growth of the country that is today known as Canada.

8:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

We will now move to Eleanor.

Welcome. We look forward to your presentation. You can start when you're ready to go.

8:15 a.m.

Eleanor Bernard Executive Director, Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey

[Witness speaks in Mi'kmaq]

Good morning, my name is Eleanor Bernard. I am the executive director for Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey. I have been in this position for 15 years.

Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey is a regional management organization, with a self-government agreement in education in Nova Scotia. Twelve of the 13 Mi'kmaq bands in Nova Scotia are part of MK. As a part of the MK bands, they exercise jurisdiction over education in their communities. The Mi'kmaq Education Act requires the negotiation of a funding agreement. To date, each one of these agreements have been for five years.

MK has experienced a wide variety of issues in negotiating the funding agreement. The issues that are experienced by the MK in negotiating the five-year funding agreements are the following. There's the failure to commence new negotiations on a timely basis; they've always been late. There's also a failure of the federal negotiators to obtain a mandate to negotiate. They come to the table and never have a mandate, or at least have never presented us with a mandate. Also, the turnover of negotiators during negotiations has been really high.

As a part of the agreement clearly states, negotiations are to begin within the time frame that should provide enough time to conclude the negotiations before the current agreement expires. In the last 15 years, there have been several extensions to the MK agreement because the federal negotiators do not have a mandate from the government. Currently, we're in negotiations for a new funding agreement. That expired on March 31, 2016. We're still in negotiations. If there is no funding agreement in place, the legislation dies as of April 1, 2018.

There have also been several negotiators. That caused another delay in the conclusion of negotiations. During one of the past negotiations, the federal government has switched negotiators five times in the course of negotiations. This has caused so many delays as we've always had to start from scratch with the new negotiator.

It is also particularly troublesome when the federal government agrees, and indicates in an agreement, that they will provide funding for the MK with their proportionate share of enhanced funding that the government provides to other first nations' communities, and doesn't abide by these sections of the funding agreement. Of the $3.6996 billion promised in budget 2016, MK has been informed we are eligible for only three out of the 10 subactivities. That is a proportionate share of less than 30% of the total budget. It is our opinion that success is being punished. And when I say “success”, across the country MK bands have an 87.6% graduation rate, and this has been consistent in the last number of years.

Then there is the situation where they forget to send funding in the quarterly instalments of the grant. There have been several occasions where the federal government has forgotten to send money to the MK. It's just a simple matter that the region forgot us. Our payments are late getting to us, and therefore the communities suffer, resulting in their having to cash-manage education until the government finally sends us our payments.

I have my website at the bottom of this document and all of this information is on our website. Our annual report, which we do regularly, always passed in on time, is on our website.

We also have capital as a part of our funding agreement. Each community would not have been able to rebuild or build a school in their community alone, so the chiefs in our area have taken on the task of pooling their capital dollars to build at least one school where it's needed in a five-year period.

One of our largest communities, Eskasoni, which is where I'm from, has 1,100 students, out of our 2,900 total nominal roll. That school was built in the 1970s, so in the next funding agreement we will need to rebuild Eskasoni, and we're not getting any extra capital dollars. The money we are able to pool for capital is approximately $1.6 million per year over the five years, totalling—you guys can do the math—about $7 million. That's not going to build or replace a school in Eskasoni.

We have success. Not only are our students graduating in high numbers; they're also graduating within their age-appropriate level. We have all these charts, all this data collected, and our data is improving yearly. Our communities are now familiar with data collection and the reasons we're collecting data and we're doing very well in that area.

We're also improving in our literacy and numeracy rates. Our rates are not as high as we would like them to be. We have a lot more work to do. I don't think the work ever ends in education, for me anyway. The bottom line for us is the best interests of our students.

It's really appropriate that I'm here this week to tell you all about this because it is going to be residential school survivors' day, Orange Shirt Day, and every child matters.

[Witness speaks in Mi'kmaq]

Thank you.

8:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

We're moving into the question period.

We will start with MP Bossio.

8:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you both for coming here today. I know it was on short notice. We appreciate your taking the time.

It is unfortunate that the notice was so short that you weren't able to provide the brief that you would have liked to, and that we could have benefited from.

We've said this previously. It's not too late. If you could please provide a brief, we can still make it part of the committee's testimony. It would assist us in the creation of our report. You probably have until mid- to the end of October.

I'd like to have a better understanding of the historical perspective, Grand Chief Awashish, to get a sense of some of the injustice that's happened through the negotiating process. It's a comprehensive land treaty that you're negotiating, I assume.

8:25 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

Yes. We're doing a land claim,

of global negotiations.

We've been doing so for almost four years now. Pretty much as Ms. Bernard said, it's always been a problem for many reasons. One of them, as she mentioned, is the change of negotiators on both sides. The provincial or federal government is always changing the negotiator. They always have to learn the file, to start over every time. I don't know if it's on purpose. I don't want to say it's on purpose. I always hope for good faith, but sometimes it's very questionable.

8:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Are you negotiating as we speak?

8:25 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

We are negotiating right now.

8:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

How long have these specific negotiators been engaged in the most recent file?

8:25 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

For this specific one, it's been over a year.

8:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

It's been a year, so you're just really starting again.

8:25 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

We're just starting again.

8:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

They've just come up to speed, I assume, in that year.

8:25 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

Yes. I know the negotiation has been going for 40 years, so there's a lot of work already done, but sometimes the approach is different from one negotiator to another. There's always the problem of mandate too. The negotiator doesn't always have the mandate to go further with what he can do.

As an example, we talk about full property on a settled land and we ask for that much, and we tell our negotiator to go ask for this for this and that reason. When he goes to the table for negotiations, on the other side, the answer is always, “But we don't have the mandate.” What are we doing here? Are we negotiating or are we just signing a Virgin, Bell, or a Vidéotron contract in the end?

It's all the same from coast to coast. It's the same approach, even though we have different issues and different social development levels. I think it's very important. That's what I was trying to explain earlier. We need the politics to get closer, because we don't want it to continue for another 15, 20, or 40 years. I don't know how long it could take. The politics need to get closer to the negotiation table so that we can close this matter and not leave it to the next generation.

8:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

What is the size of the claim?

8:30 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

It's 88 square kilometres.

8:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Whereabouts is it located?

8:30 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

It's in the centre of Quebec.

8:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

The nature of the development that's already occurred or that could potentially occur, is it all natural resources?

8:30 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

It's natural resources. Now there's more mining development.

8:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Is there also farming?

8:30 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw

Grand Chief Constant Awashish

There's farming in the south, but mostly it's forestry. Let's say our land has been cut at least once or twice since the creation of this industry.

8:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

I assume the negotiator has only been from INAC.

8:30 a.m.

Grand Chief, Conseil de la nation Atikamekw