Thank you, Chairperson. I'm very happy to be here today and that I was asked to come speak with you. I'm really happy that I'm the first one who's able to talk about this document I presented here in Ottawa. I hope you are going to ask me questions about this document, about what we're going to be doing today. I'm really thankful that you invited me to speak about my thoughts on this. I'm really thankful, again, that I'm here. I'm telling you right now that this document is really big and it's going to help us, not only aboriginal people but the whole nation in Canada. I think it's going to help us a lot in the future. I'm going to tell you why it's like that.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Those were words of greeting on my part. I was hoping to have my mother with me today, because she wanted to participate and listen in to this important discussion. She was the one who insisted that I go to law school. She is the one who insisted that I continue to defend my people, my land, my territory, and the resources on those lands and territories, and she put it this way. From the outset, she said, if you do this, go to law school, learn about the laws of the country and the world, that will allow your brothers and sisters, those who have chosen to continue with their way of life, to be able to do so on their land, where they come from.
I think that was the balance that we searched for in our families. Some of us had to choose to go to school. Some of us preferred to stay on the land. I want to salute my brothers and sisters who did choose to stay on the land and continue with the Cree way of life. About 30% of Cree still live off the land through hunting, fishing, and trapping. That is why the Eeyou Istchee, as we call our territory, is so important to all of us.
I started the debate in the House of Commons over Bill C-262 by saying that indigenous peoples' rights are human rights. For a long time, over 30 years now, the international community and the international forums have treated indigenous rights as human rights. It's been three decades now. I think in this country whenever we speak about indigenous peoples, we should speak about their rights as human rights as well.
You perhaps may know that the Supreme Court is going in that direction. If you read the Tsilhqot'in case, the Supreme Court refers to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that we find in part I of our Constitution and section 35 rights that we find in part II of our Constitution as sister provisions. That's the word the Supreme Court uses, sister provisions. Both parts of our Constitution serve to limit the actions of governments, both provincial and federal. I think it's important to remember that.
I think it was important for me to start off by expressing the thought that the rights of indigenous peoples in this country are human rights.
I introduced Bill C-262 because I think, and we all agree around this table, that the time for reconciliation and justice for indigenous peoples in this country has come. I don't think there's anybody around this table who disagrees with that. The idea of a legislative framework does not necessarily come from me. Article 38 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls on member states to work on all measures possible to make sure that the ends of the declaration are met, including legislative measures. Article 38 of UNDRIP talks about that legislative measure.
As you all know as well, in the recent past, there was an important development in terms of reconciliation in this country, with the tabling of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report and the 94 calls to action. If you read carefully Bill C-262, you'll notice that clauses 4 and 5 are the legislative translation of calls to action 43 and 44.
In call to action 43, the commission called on us to fully adopt and implement the UN declaration as the framework for reconciliation in this country. In fact, it calls on the Government of Canada, the provinces, the territories, and the municipalities of this country to fully adopt and implement the UN declaration—they use both words “adopt” and “implement”—as the framework for reconciliation. Although all of the other calls to action are important, I think the fundamental and core call to action remains 43.
Under the heading “Reconciliation” in the calls to action, you find 43 and 44, and 44 talks about the national action plan that needs to be developed in co-operation with indigenous peoples of this country.
In fact, in the 94 calls to action, there are 16 references to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That's how important this document is for indigenous peoples in this country, but also for the almost 400 million indigenous individuals around the world who live in more than 70 countries on this planet. I think it was only appropriate that the first legislative step we need to take in that context of reconciliation and justice in this country will remain Bill C-262.
I also mentioned during the debate that I consider Bill C-262 as perhaps the most important legislation that this Parliament of Canada has had to consider in a long time. I want to take that opportunity to welcome the support of the government. I'm hoping that at the end of the day, at the end of the process, the official opposition, Her Majesty's loyal opposition, will also support Bill C-262 as a way forward for reconciliation and justice in this country.
I see that my time is running out, but there was one element that struck me during the debate. It came from the official opposition, whereby adopting this bill would create an uncertainty. As a matter of fact, Madam Chair, I think the opposite will happen. If there's one provision in our Constitution that has created that sort of uncertainty, it is section 35. What did we mean by “aboriginal rights”? We know a little about treaty rights and their clarity in the treaties, but what did we mean by “aboriginal rights”? Does it include the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples? Does it include my right to speak my language in the House of Commons?
Those are the kinds of uncertainties and ambiguities that the adoption of section 35 created. That's why we have ended up most of the time in the court systems, because there was no agreement over the content of aboriginal rights. I think this bill will clarify that. Indigenous peoples have a right to self-determination in this country. The human rights committee back then confirmed that, with articles of the human rights covenants that Canada had signed on to, the right to self-determination applies to indigenous peoples. That was determined as early as 1999.
Madam Chair, I'm looking forward to questions within the next hour, and I certainly hope that I can answer the questions that are put forth.