Evidence of meeting #77 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 agreements.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sam Gargan  Sub-Chief and Mayor of Fort Providence, Deh Gah Got'ie First Nations
Bill Enge  President, North Slave Métis Alliance
Christopher Devlin  Legal Counsel, North Slave Métis Alliance
Wilbert Kochon  Chief, Behdzi Ahda First Nation
Joseph Kochon  Chief Negotiator, Behdzi Ahda First Nation
Jake Heron  Chief Negotiator, Northwest Territory Métis Nation
Duane Ningaqsiq Smith  Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation
Bill Erasmus  National Chief, Dene Nation
Chief George Mackenzie  Grand Chief, Tlicho Government
Bertha Rabesca Zoe  Legal Counsel, Tlicho Government
Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan  Grand Chief and President, Gwich'in Tribal Council
Ethel Blondin-Andrew  Chairperson, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated
Robert R. McLeod  Premier, Government of the Northwest Territories

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

Now we move to the questioning portion, and we start with MP Michael McLeod.

October 23rd, 2017 / 9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thanks to everybody who presented here today. I know some of you have travelled quite a distance to be here to sit in front of our committee and talk about our study on specific claims and land claims.

I've heard, I think from all of you over the last while, as to some of the challenges, especially in Colville Lake, where we know the negotiator from the federal government leaves Ottawa on Monday morning, gets to Yellowknife, stays overnight, flies to Norman Wells the next day, overnights, and flies again. By the time he gets to Colville, it's Wednesday. He negotiates on Wednesday afternoon and part of Thursday, then he has to make his way back to Ottawa. It takes five days, and you get maybe a day out of it.

We have, certainly, a lot of challenges, but I'm very interested in how things are working, especially with the two land claims that were settled. I saw two in Inuvialuit. Has it done what you expected it to do? Has the framework that you negotiated this claim under allowed you to be where you wanted to be?

The second question is to all of you. What are you envisioning? Where do you expect to end up as a self-governing aboriginal or indigenous government? I keep hearing many, many things, challenges with aboriginal governments that have settled. They still have many issues over housing and economic chapters. There are so many things that seem to still be there, so maybe talk about the land claims, and then maybe talk about where you want to be with self-government.

We'll start on this end and just work that way.

9:45 a.m.

Chief Negotiator, Behdzi Ahda First Nation

Joseph Kochon

For the land claims, the self-government framework is straightforward. We mentioned that we're having a problem from the top to the bottom. The Prime Minister is saying all the right things, that he wants to work with indigenous people, but then it's not trickling down to the workforce.

It's making it really difficult when we're sitting down with negotiators. They don't even have a new mandate. Today they're still functioning under the Conservative government's mandate, and they said they don't have a new mandate from the Liberal government, which makes it really frustrating. That's the problem we see, that it's not really hitting the ground. That's on the framework.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Go ahead, Duane.

9:45 a.m.

Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation

Duane Ningaqsiq Smith

Throughout my very brief statement I touched on quite a few areas where there needs to be improvement, Michael.

Where do I start? We're expecting the same types of services that all Canadians take for granted in southern Canada. You look at the health and education, at the outcomes of those. Why do we continue to have these difficulties? You heard from my colleagues, in their presentation earlier, in regard to a health example. We've stressed certain areas within the federal government's final agreement as well as ours, the IFA, on where it's still lacking in regard to implementation.

We have to keep in mind that these modern-day treaties are living documents. We can't be expected to sign them and go away, expecting a we're-done-so-leave-us-alone mentality. It's signing on to a relationship for us to work with each other on a day-to-day basis for the implementation of these treaties, for them to be successful to the extent that they can be.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Can I just ask you, then...? What we just heard from North Slave Métis points to the fact that land claims policies and models are totally outdated and should be changed. Are you of the opinion that the model is okay, but the implementation is wrong? Is that what you are saying?

If it were up to you, would you have scrapped the whole model and developed a new one, if you were at the starting gate again?

9:50 a.m.

Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation

Duane Ningaqsiq Smith

If I were starting at the gate, my whole region would be mine. The compromise that we gave up.... Some people may not believe it, but we are an unceded region, as you've heard from other areas within Canada. It's not for me to say whether what we negotiate is right or wrong. It's what I have to live with and to implement, and I can't allow that to be diminished on a daily basis.

9:50 a.m.

Chief Negotiator, Northwest Territory Métis Nation

Jake Heron

Just quickly, I have a couple of things. One is, of course, that the Isaac report sets the basis for a new relationship, and presumably with the implementation of some of those recommendations we'll be able to get to an agreement. We all know that the challenge in the South Slave is that we are amongst two or three groups that have interests in the South Slave area. In that context, we are still optimistic that with overlap discussions we could, in fact, reach an agreement.

The other thing, with what we envision, is that we have an evolutionary arrangement that is somewhat different from the other models. I think we all recognize that the model of geographic confinement, as far as section 35 rights are concerned, is not a good model. We are endeavouring to ensure that our section 35 rights get implemented beyond what the historical settlement line is, so that our rights are recognized and we continue to harvest under section 35 and not extinguish those rights.

Thank you.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

That wraps up our time.

Now we are moving to MP Viersen.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to our guests today, as well.

My question is for Mr. Smith. You mentioned parks, just briefly. Could you just go back to that and expand on that issue a little? I was just googling your land claim, and there is a big national park in it, three of them. It looks like a beautiful place. How have the expectations from both sides played out?

9:50 a.m.

Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation

Duane Ningaqsiq Smith

We have three large national parks within my region. It's the first modern treaty to establish a national park with the federal government, as well. All of those combined are roughly 50,000 square kilometres. We have five bird sanctuaries in my region. We have a national historic site. We have the only two marine protected areas in the northern part of Canada, which we established. We also have the Pingo Landmark, for the geographical significance of these unique features that are only in Canada.

It's been 33 years and going, and there are certain sections of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement that make reference to how parks should be managed together, and with this, it's still not a success story. We are still struggling with capacity and training. The Pingo Landmark has no resources allocated to it. There isn't a visitor centre. There is no staff. There is nothing. What was the purpose of having this created if Canada is not going to contribute toward its...?

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

In Alberta right now, we are working on taking parts of our eastern slopes out of circulation—that's how I put it. One of the things I get frustrated with is that we have this protection of the land from Albertans, rather than protection of the land for Albertans. I'm just wondering if that has been your experience as well, with parks in your area.

9:55 a.m.

Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation

Duane Ningaqsiq Smith

The national parks themselves have all been created, in collaboration with us, for various reasons: for their unique beauty, their significance, and/or the preservation and sustainability of the ecosystem within that area. We have worked closely in that regard, and we continue to do that in regard to other potential marine protected areas within our region, as well. Again, there have to be adequate resources and funds to properly manage these sites so they can work properly.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

I was looking at some of the pictures on Google. Has there been an opportunity to share these beautiful places with the world, bringing people in from around the world?

I know right upstairs there's a sign saying that the northern lights are going to be good tonight, or there's a fifty-fifty chance, that kind of thing. Has Parks Canada been working with you to develop some of those things?

9:55 a.m.

Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation

Duane Ningaqsiq Smith

That's another area where there's a lack of consistency and strategic planning, as you're suggesting, should be put in place. That's what we'd like to work with them on. Their budget in our region has not increased in 14 years so they're dealing with dollars from way back then. How far can those reach?

You're starting to see the frustration from my region in regard to the lack of consistency from the federal side on the implementation of land claims. I'm trying to be strategic and come up with solutions where we can work together to implement our land claims.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

One of the things that Michael brings up often at this committee is that a comprehensive land claim allows development to happen and resources to come to your region. Has that happened since you signed the agreement?

Some of the markers we look at are things like, has housing improved, are there fewer children going to bed hungry, has the suicide rate changed? If we were to mark some of these things on a graph, would we see a change in the graph for the better after the agreements were signed? I know everybody says implementation continues to be a problem, but has there been a change in any of those things?

9:55 a.m.

Chief Negotiator, Behdzi Ahda First Nation

Joseph Kochon

There have been some big changes since we signed the comprehensive land claim agreement. Our community was able to enter into an arrangement with the oil companies. We found a partner, we drilled for gas, we explored, and we found subsurface resources. We've built up our capacity that way, and we've built up our heavy equipment. As a result, we're capable of building roads. We're building our own roads. In the last five years, we've built our airport. There have been some good things that came out of having the land claim agreement.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Smith, would you say that overall the agreement has been a good thing?

9:55 a.m.

Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation

Duane Ningaqsiq Smith

I would say it's provided us with some security, but as they touched on earlier, the statistics are not moving up or improving to the degree that they could and should be.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Does everybody know what a pingo is? It's a geological formation that is unusual. It has an ice core that grows and diminishes. A quarter of the world's pingos are in your territory. That's just a little geological fact. As a geologist, I think we have an important obligation to educate ourselves.

We'll start with MP Harvey.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

I'll allow Mr. Heron to ask his question since he never got to it.

10 a.m.

Chief Negotiator, Northwest Territory Métis Nation

Jake Heron

As you know, we don't have a settled agreement. One of the benefits of being a johnny-come-lately, I guess, is with the evolution of the laws, the times progressing, and the aboriginal people moving forward with respect to their own education and well-being in their participation in the Canadian economy. One can say that—I've said it publicly and I've said it privately—we, the Métis, are a distinct group in the Northwest Territories.

You can look at us statistically. On a per capita basis, we probably have the most private businesses and we're probably the best educated. Also, we're active members of the community. We're contributing members to the community, just as other people are, but on a per capita basis I think we can easily demonstrate that leadership the Métis have always had as that go-between in terms of the first nations and the non-aboriginal people. We've played a vital role in the development of the north, and we continue to do so today.

With the advent of agreements, looking at other agreements, and seeing what has happened, and with the evolution over time, comes the opportunity to make something better as Canadians and aboriginal Canadians and to fulfill the obligations that we see are necessary for us to move forward and become decolonized and productive citizens—we've been productive citizens, notwithstanding that.

I think we need a little more consideration for some financial aspects, an appreciation for revenue sharing, and recognition. We have done things ourselves as leaders. That's not to say that we don't need help, but I think that maybe the independence has made us the kind of people we are today. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be securing things that are going to act as multipliers in the economic sense.

10 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

I'm going to start with Chief Kochon and go across the panel.

In terms of land claim settlements and the ability of indigenous nations to see overlap in the way their land claims fit together—we touched on this during the first hour this morning—how important is that? In your opinion, how does that work? How does that ability of first nation communities to overlap in their claims fit together?

10 a.m.

Chief, Behdzi Ahda First Nation

Chief Wilbert Kochon

A long time ago, there were a lot of agreements made before the land claims. I've always stood by our land claims with the Inuvialuit and the Gwich'in where our past leaders or elders have always shared land through hunting, but when there are economics, that's when the line is drawn.

We have always worked with the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit. It's pretty obvious that they're different people and different groups that all want jurisdiction on all lands, but the one important thing for our people is to always use the land for its traditional uses. That's one important thing: we are part of the land.

Just to make it clear to you, when we say we're part of the land, you have to be out there to understand what I'm really talking about. It was important to our elders, so they made agreements without paper, and we have always kept to that. For the overlaps, we're still working on that to make agreements. We have done that with all the leaders whenever the time comes up.