Evidence of meeting #79 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 funding.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chief Herb Norwegian  Grand Chief, Dehcho First Nations
Harry St. Denis  Chief, Wolf Lake First Nation
Wayne McKenzie  Chief, Timiskaming First Nation
Cam Stewart  Director, Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Centre of Manitoba
Patricia Myran  Assistant Director, Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Centre of Manitoba
Douglas Eyford  Lawyer, Eyford Macaulay LLP, As an Individual
Glenn Archie  Head Negotiator, Flood Claims Negotiations, Mishkosiminiziibiing First Nation

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I'm sorry about the delay. We had a vote.

We're only two minutes late. I'll have people convene.

I see we have a presenter by video conference. Good morning. Welcome.

11 a.m.

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian Grand Chief, Dehcho First Nations

Good morning.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

It must be very early for you. Where are you calling from?

11 a.m.

Grand Chief, Dehcho First Nations

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian

I'm calling from Yellowknife.

October 26th, 2017 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We're going to begin our 79th meeting, and I'll begin by recognizing that we're on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

First nations welcomed settlers. They helped us survive in a beautiful country, and we built what is considered to be the best country in the world. But the very people who helped the settlers have some injustices. They have things that we must address. One of the vehicles is through the land claims and the processes we use to try to address past harms and mistakes. That's why the committee, the MPs, decided to study land claims, both specific and comprehensive, to look at self-governance, modern treaties, and what's working and what's not.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are undertaking a study on specific claims and comprehensive land claims agreements.

We have panellists in front of us and at a distance. Welcome to our committee.

The process, quickly, is that you have 10 minutes, or less, to present. You're not obligated to take the full 10 minutes. It will give us a better chance to ask you more specific questions, because we go into rounds of questioning afterwards. I'll give you hints closer to the end of your time to give you an idea of whether you have to cut your presentation short.

We have in front of us Peter Di Gangi from the Algonquin Nation Secretariat . With him are Chief Wayne McKenzie from Timiscaming First Nation and Chief Harry St. Denis from Wolf Lake First Nation. By video conference, we have, from the Dehcho First Nations, Herb Norwegian, grand chief for the region. We were in Yellowknife on Monday, so I'm glad you could join us by video conference.

If there are no objections, I'll go by the list on the sheet. Herb, you have a pressing matter. Do you want to go second? How many presenters do we have?

11:05 a.m.

Grand Chief, Dehcho First Nations

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian

Sure, I'll go second. That's fine.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

All right.

For the group here with the Algonquin, do you have one presentation?

11:05 a.m.

Chief Harry St. Denis Chief, Wolf Lake First Nation

We have one presentation. Chief McKenzie and I are going to split it.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Very good. Go ahead, then. You have 10 minutes.

11:05 a.m.

Chief Wayne McKenzie Chief, Timiskaming First Nation

[Witness speaks in Algonquin]

I'll get right into our presentation.

Good morning, Chairperson and committee members. Welcome to Algonquin territory.

Yesterday we sent a long and detailed report to the clerk of the committee, which we ask you to review carefully. It contains much more important information than we are able to give today.

We are the Algonquin Nation Secretariat, which represents three Algonquin communities, Timiskaming, Wolf Lake, and Barriere Lake. Our territories are in Ontario and Quebec, from the headwater of the Ottawa River at Cabonga, across to the Dumoine, Kipawa, and Timiskaming watersheds. You have a map on which you can see all the Ottawa River basin and the location of the communities.

We assert unceded aboriginal title and rights to our traditional lands. We are within the Indian territory set out by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. We are parties to treaties with the British crown, made at Oswegatchie and Kahnawake in 1760 and Niagara in 1764, which recognized our title.

Our rights have never been extinguished by treaty or any other lawful means. It is important to add that we have never mandated any other group to negotiate our rights. There is much unfinished business between our people and Canada. Timiskaming received a reserve in 1854 but later lost more than 90% of its land because of boundary changes and shady surrenders. Barriere Lake did not receive a reserve until 1962, and even then it was only 59 acres, barely enough for housing. Wolf Lake, even though it has been recognized as a band by Canada since the 1800s, still has no reserve lands for community purposes. Our communities have specific and comprehensive claims. Despite years of trying, we have still not settled the land question.

Federal claim policies are a barrier to reconciliation. The main reason we have not been able to move toward reconciliation is the federal claims policies. The biggest problem is the conflict of interest. These claims are against the crown, but the crown is also the judge, jury, and banker. There have been efforts to make the specific claims policy more independent with the creation of the Specific Claims Tribunal, but in the comprehensive claims process, there is no independence at all. The only hope of escaping the government's conflict of interest is to go to court, which is risky and expensive.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UNDRIP, gives a solution to resolve this conflict of interest. Article 27 says it shall establish “a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process...to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples”. Article 28 says that we should get fair compensation for our lands. If the government is serious about implementing UNDRIP, it can start with articles 27 and 28.

We have raised these issues and recommended solutions many times in many forms, but nothing seems to change. Now here we are with another study. We have to wonder where it will end, but we have to come here today because resolution of these claims is essential to our legal, economic, and cultural survival.

Turning to specific claims, in September, the Minister of Justice and INAC announced the federal government's commitment to completely overhaul the policy in co-operation with the first nations. We welcomed this, but we wonder where it will lead. We hope it is an honest effort to create an independent process that will give us justice.

For the committee's benefit, we strongly recommend the following:

We need a truly independent claims process. The Government of Canada must be removed from the assessment of claims against itself. This allows for continued conflict of interest and works against reconciliation.

Alternative arrangements for funding claims research and negotiations are also needed.

In the interim, while discussions are taking place to reform the policy, Canada should provide proper resources for INAC and the first nations to develop and negotiate specific claims. Canada's funding policies need to change to facilitate access to the tribunal, not create barriers. If Canada appeals a tribunal decision, it should provide funding for the first nations to ensure that they have a proper hearing.

11:10 a.m.

Chief, Wolf Lake First Nation

Chief Harry St. Denis

In contrast, I'm going to speak a bit about the comprehensive claims. Since I don't have too much time, I want to refer you to a legal review that was done by Mark Stevenson and Albert Peeling in 2002. The report identified the following areas where the comprehensive claims fell short: the requirement for extinguishment of aboriginal title instead of reconciliation; the refusal to pay compensation for past infringements; the demand that section 91.24 reserve lands be removed and replaced with fee simple lands; and inadequate interim measures to protect aboriginal interests until an agreement is reached.

The huge gap between the comprehensive claims policy and the law has only increased since then, especially since the Supreme Court's decision in the Tsilhqot'in.

There are other problems with the policy. Loan funding makes first nations vulnerable once they are tens of millions of dollars in debt. There's the insistence that first nation citizens and businesses give up their tax exemptions as a price for reaching a final agreement. There are very loose rules for eligibility, which in the case of the Algonquins of Ontario claim, has allowed for thousands of non-Algonquins to negotiate away our title and rights.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Harry.

11:15 a.m.

Chief, Wolf Lake First Nation

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I see there may be interest from the MPs to look at a special extension of time.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Madam Chair, in the English version, we have both Chief St. Denis and Chief McKenzie as having separate slots according to the notice of meeting. My assumption is that they both get 10 minutes.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

There was clarification on that this morning, but with the committee's approval, we could look to extend it.

Are there any objections? No.

Chief St. Denis, if you'd like, why don't you take some time and go through your recommendations one by one? We don't mean to rush you. We understood that you had one presentation.

Please, take some time.

11:15 a.m.

Chief, Wolf Lake First Nation

Chief Harry St. Denis

Thank you, Madam Chair and committee members.

This is a very important issue, especially for the Algonquin Nation. It's an issue that we have been dealing with for at least 20 or 25 years, trying to get changes to the comprehensive claims policy.

We have made different attempts over the years, different recommendations to different governments. Before the Liberal government, of course, there was the Conservative government. Never have any of our recommendations been taken seriously or at least included. We've also made presentations to Mr. Eyford, who was the last one to review the comprehensive claims policy, and again, none of our recommendations were included in his report.

It is a very serious issue, especially these days with all the talk of reconciliation with the governments. You can't reconcile anything without reconciling the land issue. It's a fundamental aspect of our culture, our language, everything. It's also a fundamental aspect of our future in terms of economic development opportunities. Like everyone else, we need to have a say in what happens on our traditional territory.

I want to quote the right honourable Prime Minister. Any time he opens a meeting with first nations people, he always says:

I'd like to recognize the Algonquin Nation, on whose traditional territory we are gathering. We acknowledge them as the past, present, and future caretakers of this land.

How can we be the present and future caretakers of this land when we don't have a say, when we are expected to give up our title to the land of the future generations?

That is a direct quote from the right honourable Prime Minister, so if there's going to be some true reconciliation between the first nations peoples and the rest of Canada, it has to start on the basis of respect, respect that it is our territory, that we did not give it away. We did not sign treaties.

We have not authorized anybody else to negotiate on our behalf. Even though the Algonquins of Ontario are negotiating currently with the federal government and the Government of Ontario for the Ontario portion of Algonquin territory, because we are located on the Quebec side today does not mean that we don't have interests on the Ontario side. We have aboriginal title to parts of Ontario currently being negotiated by the Algonquins of Ontario, which includes people who have not had any intermarriage with Algonquin people for 200 years, and sometimes up to 300 years. They're going to be signing away title on our behalf.

Even if you take the situation with Chaudière Falls, that's up for negotiations as well with the Algonquins of Ontario. Of all those people, about 7,000 of them altogether right now, only 2,000 are registered Algonquins. They're going to be signing away title.

I use as an example the Chaudière Falls, Akikodjiwan, which was, and still is, a sacred site for the Algonquin people—all Algonquin people, not just the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn. We all used that site at one point in the past, and we should all have a say before anything is signed away, especially title for the Algonquin people.

I will end it there. I want to save some room for questions.

Thank you, Madam Chair and members, for giving me a bit more time.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

We now go to Grand Chief Herb Norwegian from the Dehcho First Nations.

Welcome.

11:20 a.m.

Grand Chief, Dehcho First Nations

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian

Welcome to the great Dehcho. I heard that you people were here in the Yellowknife territory. I'm sorry I missed you. I was at a National Energy Board hearing in Fort Simpson on a pipeline crossing that is being disrupted because of leaks and things that are happening to it. That was rather important. My apologies.

I want to thank you for allowing me to speak to the committee. My name is Herb Norwegian. I am the grand chief of the Dehcho First Nations. The Dehcho territory is right smack in the middle of the Mackenzie River basin. We are situated west of Yellowknife and east of Whitehorse, right along the Yukon border. Our communities consist of 10 major communities in our territory. Our population is roughly 4,000.

We've been negotiating our claim with Canada since early 1990. The Dene and Métis from right down the valley got together back in the early 1980s. We were trying to get a claim agreement with the Mulroney government at that time. Things were moving right along, up until the whole question of extinguishment and certainty was put on the table. I think the claim was almost 90% complete. Then extinguishment came to the table and our people rejected it. They were not in a position to talk about extinguishment. As a result, the agreement in principle fell apart, and as a result of that, a number of regional groups broke off and, within a year or so, reached an agreement for themselves. The Tlicho, the Gwich'in, the Sahtu—various regions within the Dene Nation—reached agreement. There are still two or three other outstanding claims in the Dene Nation, and the Dehcho is one of them.

Our territory makes up roughly 220,000 square kilometres of land on both sides of the Mackenzie River. Over the last years since 1999, we have been able to bring together all our communities and again put a very serious position on the table. Our position is unique, because we bring together the Dene and the Métis. The Métis are related to the Dene—they are descendants of the Dene—and we stand together on all issues. We've been moving along quite well over the last few years. A number of things were created as a result of the work we've done and good, strong direction from our elders.

One thing we created was a framework agreement on how we are going to move forward and how we will work together and what the rules of engagement would be with Canada and of course the provincial kind of government at the table, which was the territorial agreement.

That agreement was signed. Following it, there were a couple of really good agreements that came out of it. One was the interim measures agreement.

The interim measures agreement was a creative piece of work. What we wanted to do was to make sure that the land was tied up. As we were negotiating, and we saw it in many different cases in which first nations were negotiating, and as the leaders were at the table, governments were literally giving land permits, licences. When the first nations were ready to sign final agreements, they found that most of the lands had been given out to third parties. We didn't want this to happen, so we created an interim measures agreement. In the interim measures agreement, what we also used was an order in council to withdraw lands throughout the Dehcho territory. Roughly 46% of our territory has been tied up in land withdrawals. We've been quite busy.

We also have a national park in our territory, adjacent to the Yukon border. Over the years we've been quite busy with that, because the park itself is controlled and managed by the Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada. We have a joint arrangement. We also have other agreements that are in place, where we have some very sensitive areas that we have held onto through the protected area strategy. It's been very creative, but close to 50% of our traditional territory is tied up in some form of protection.

We had been motoring right along and negotiating with Canada up until, I believe, in 1996, when the Conservative government came on board. We weren't using the comprehensive claim policy at that time. We were using a very well thought-out approach. There was going to be no discussion of surrender. We were talking about there being a coal management and jurisdiction arrangement on land.

We were moving right along, and then the election came along, and not too long after that the federal negotiator came to the table from Ottawa with a new mandate and put the position to the table. He literally said that there was a new game in town. From here on in, all of the discussions that took place would be put behind us, and now we would use the comprehensive claim policy to negotiate. That was a shock for us, but we were able to then regroup and look at the policy itself. In the meantime, we were still moving along and wanting to get the whole claim issue done, because we had already had the framework agreement in place. Roughly 48% of our territory was tied up in land withdrawals or protected areas.

Along with that, what we had also done was create a Dehcho land use plan. Today it's still very much alive and we're waiting for an agreement. It was a plan that was probably one of the first ones in the country, because it's a public plan where we have Canada, the territorial government, and the first nations group sitting together and working on a very detailed plan for our territory. It's been very creative for the last little while. We had all of this work on the table, and along comes this new approach, and so then we were able to figure out a way to get around that. We took the position that we didn't want to discuss extinguishment, and that the whole certainty thing had to be put aside, and only then would we start moving, and it didn't take long for us to start moving again.

It was roughly 10 years ago that we had this disruption. Today, we continue to negotiate, and we left the whole thing of extinguishment behind. Today we are now about 95% complete with our negotiations.

The big issue right now is, with the federal election completed and the territorial government election also having happened, we were ready to move and complete that last piece of work until the territorial government came back to us. They sat at the table, also. For the longest time, our position has always been that this is a treaty matter, it's an aboriginal title issue, and the discussion, when it comes to land and rights, has to be bilateral between Canada and the Dehcho.

We were working on that premise, and then there was a series of agreements that took place here in the Northwest Territories, one of them being the devolution of agreement where authority was transferred from the Department of Indian Affairs to the Northwest Territories government. All of a sudden, now we had a government who was enjoying the little authority that was given to them, and so they created some problems and told us that they are now our government and they want to be heard. It's one of those things where we're standing off. They want to come to the table. There's no movement. There hasn't been any movement for the last four months.

That's where we are right now. We're standing.

I see your signal, but this just goes on forever. I could hyperventilate on this stuff.

Thank you very much.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I can understand that it's hard to cover something in 10 minutes that has been negotiated for over 10, 20, or 30 years.

11:30 a.m.

Grand Chief, Dehcho First Nations

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We have had the question as to what the purpose is of doing this again, as we've done it over and over.

The purpose is to bring it to the forefront of the government's eye. We as parliamentarians will submit a report that Parliament receives, and then we'll have the department respond. It brings the process forward again. Let's hope we will see positive steps as we find the new path forward together.

Let's get on to questioning.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Is there one more presenter?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

No, we're done.

For clarification, the Algonquin Nation Secretariat has three individuals here. They indicated one presentation, with two speakers.

The first round of questioning goes to MP Amos.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Meegwetch to all of our witnesses from the north and from the south. I would particularly like to thank our Algonquin hosts since it is their land, and I appreciate how they framed that.

As the member for Pontiac, of course I have had the opportunity to chat at length with Chief St. Denis, and I recall our last conversation, mostly on the issue of regulatory reform.

Chief McKenzie, it is really great to have you here as well, and to be able to discuss.

My colleague, Mr. Bossio, has been generous enough to afford me his time to ask questions today, so I hope we can have a bit more of a sustained conversation.

It is my hope and desire that in the years to come, starting in the near future and moving into the medium term, we will be able to bring about a process that reconciles all of the Algonquin Nation with all aspects of the crown—provincial and federal—so that we can move towards a brighter chapter in crown-Algonquin relations. There is so much work to be done. There is so much trust to be regained. The mountain is high. I don't make that statement lightly. It's going to take good faith on all sides.

Let us set aside the comprehensive claims policy as an approach. It clearly hasn't worked for the Algonquin. That has not been a success. You have outlined many criticisms you have, and I share a number of them.

I would like to ask both Chief McKenzie and Chief St. Denis to reflect on what an Algonquin-specific process looks like. If the federal government were to invent something brand new that was going to work specifically for the Algonquin, what would it look like from your perspective? Clearly there is not one unique Algonquin perspective, but if there were to be a better way of going about it, in the context of the Algonquin Nation, in the context of overlapping territorial claims, what would that look like, specifically?

I would love your opening comments on this. This is also an open invitation to a dialogue in written form because I would really like to get to the bottom of what could work.