Evidence of meeting #8 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sara.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo  National Chief, Assembly of First Nations
Pat Marcel  Chairman, Elders Council, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
Joshua McNeely  Ikanawtiket Regional Facilitator, Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Conservative James Bezan

I call this meeting to order. We have a quorum.

This is meeting eight of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We're continuing, of course, with our review of the Species at Risk Act.

We have a number of witnesses with us today. We want to welcome to the table National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo from the Assembly of First Nations. We have the chairman of the Elders Council, Pat Marcel, from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. We have Joshua McNeely, who is the regional facilitator, from the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council.

I want to welcome all three witnesses to the table. As I instructed earlier, you have 10 minutes each for your opening comments.

National Chief Atleo, could you start us off?

3:35 p.m.

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

To the committee, thank you so much for accepting our request to provide a submission here. We do, of course, have our full submission. Our apologies; we only have it in English. I will provide an overview of our full submission. It does include 27 recommendations. We are very appreciative of the invitation to offer up some thoughts. I'll cover the main highlights over the next 10 minutes. I'll move very quickly through this.

Of course we feel very strongly about this five-year review that's occurring, and that we as first nations in fact have lots to offer, not only to this conversation but to this country. We have a close relationship with the land, and repeatedly offer to share what it is that our people know about the environment, with the hope that our knowledge will assist others to improve the quality of life for all.

We need to register an early concern about the lack of consultation or engagement directly with first nations thus far in considering and proposing changes to the Species at Risk Act. First nations have, as you know, a historic, current, and ongoing relationship with Canada's species, as important functions of our aboriginal right for food, social, and ceremonial purposes...many of which were captured in the treaties, the oldest of which was forged over 260 years ago and helped to in fact found the country of Canada as a whole. Our aboriginal and treaty rights include the right to practice hunting, fishing, harvesting, and trapping.

Many first nations are now currently engaged in applying state-of-the-art mapping technology to their collections of aboriginal traditional knowledge and locations of traditional and sacred sites in support of sustainable community development and planning. These are excellent developments that are occurring, which I've had some experience with personally.

We know as well--all of us--of the link to our people's food and other medicines. I want to articulate to the committee the impact that will very often occur on the lands and on the grounds when our people are pursuing their food and sustenance--for example, species such as the caribou in the north. There is a need for first nations to be involved. When there isn't involvement and when our people are out on the land, we see evidence of conflict both between nations when it's not clear, or when our people are not involved at the front end, or between first nations and other jurisdictions.

So that idea of having great clarity between a recognition of first nations treaty rights and title rights, and the interaction with other jurisdictions, is something that, through this five-year review, there's a real opportunity to address.

In moving forward, we submit that it's necessary for governments to recognize first nations jurisdiction and ownership over lands as an integral component of title.

In the written submission, it covers six general areas. I would like to very quickly highlight those six areas.

First of all, on the administration of SARA, first nations submit that the listing of species is an infringement on first nations right or treaty right that requires justification on the part of the crown. First nations are fully aware that the extinction of a species is really the extinguishment of the right to food, social, and ceremonial rights. For the purposes of SARA, first nations suggest that we must be included in the administration of the act. I again go back to the essence of what the original treaties that helped to forge and form this country were always about—mutual recognition and respect.

Provisions are made for consultation with the INAC minister in subsections 59(5) and 71(2). While these provisions address the minister's responsibility for reserve lands, they are not sufficient to allow the minister the opportunity to address the broader interests of first nations. SARA has affected more than first nations land. It has affected the opportunities for first nations to pursue traditional, cultural, ceremonial, and economic activities. Examples can be brought to bear in that area. The current provisions of SARA provide insufficient coordination with the minister over the use of reserve lands. We recommend that is something that must be addressed.

Secondly, with the NACOSAR council, the minister has sole discretion to select members to an advisory council for the purposes of section 8.1 and the discretion to determine what constitutes an appropriate aboriginal organization. It's important for us to emphasize that there must be specific recognition of aboriginal peoples as it is articulated in section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.

The term “aboriginal organization” is clearly defined within the act and is limited to the legitimate aboriginal rights holders and national organizations. In our view, NACOSAR would function better if it recognized the three distinct peoples in the Canadian Constitution—first nations, Inuit, and Métis—and went to the appropriate bodies that are representative of those three distinct groups. We, of course, are here as the Assembly of First Nations supporting the recognition of first nations governments.

Third is the engagement of first nations in aboriginal traditional knowledge. SARA does not speak to government's intention regarding the recognition of first nation governments as among the various orders of government. Our interpretation, or how we receive that, is that there is a presumption in the legislation that first nations governments are not so considered in the terminology of various orders of government, and that becomes a challenge or an issue for us.

There are also concerns regarding the reference to wildlife management boards. SARA is unclear which boards would be involved and how they would be involved and what their purposes are.

The recognition of traditional knowledge, to be very clear, is historic and long overdue. It is very much welcome, but more must be done to ensure that traditional knowledge is protected from misappropriation, theft, misuse, and being placed in the public domain.

There are a number of international instruments that speak to the issue of traditional knowledge. We can look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and I'm pleased to see that the government is moving toward endorsing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. All three of these international covenants speak to the protection or recognition of traditional knowledge.

It's important to note the tremendous variety of traditional knowledge. We recommend that government move to work more directly with first nations governments when it comes to traditional knowledge. Many first nations have implemented their own governance tools to protect such knowledge and have established processes or protocols on how such knowledge can be accessed or used. That is a specific suggestion in that area.

One of the main recommendations in our submission is the creation of a first nation-specific advisory body. We submit that consideration should be given to the establishment of advisory committees under subsection 9(1) of SARA to assist the minister in the administration of the act and to provide advice to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council from a first nations perspective. What we're suggesting is a move away from the closed-door discussions between federal, provincial, and territorial authorities, and to recognize the jurisdiction and value that first nations bring and to engage them fully. Otherwise, we would submit that if first nations are not a party, there is a high probability of a breach of aboriginal or treaty rights. A committee under subsection 9(1) could offer advice and recommendations on issues pertaining to first nations inherent or treaty rights.

Quickly, the fourth piece in our submission I want to touch upon is stewardship action planning. Current program structure really does not reflect the reality that first nations lands are home to an estimated 40% of listed species in Canada. Reserves governed by treaty and the Indian Act are unique and unlike any other lands in Canada. We strongly reiterate the strong suggestion of the need for consultation with first nations and for government to act in good faith prior to any imposition or potential infringement upon first nations. Carefully crafted stewardship agreements could in fact be very beneficial and achieve the goals of conservation. There is a need, as there has always been, to support the building of capacity for and amongst first nations to complete the work in this area, and in other areas that apply.

First nations must compete for funding to build capacity and other species at risk work by applying to the aboriginal funds for species at risk. My comment here is that it's an arbitrary process with little or no aboriginal participation or engagement. Committee members, the theme continues to be the need for direct and full first nations involvement.

I also have a few quick comments on the listing process. The imposition of SARA prohibitions infringe upon first nations socio-economic activities directly or indirectly, such as commercial or food fisheries, which I alluded to earlier, and other community events or spiritual practices relating to observances, offerings, or memorial services. So there's a gap here that we suggest needs to be filled, where first nations are substantially left out of the listing process.

The suggestion here is for an amendment to subsection 36(2) to recognize the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development as the minister responsible for Indians and lands reserved for Indians. Subsection 36(2) must be amended to reflect the reality of the minister's responsibility for first nations and to make sure that the relevant sections of SARA include consultation. This speaks to our treaty rights and title, and indicates that first nations are seeking that government-to-government approach.

I have two points to close on.

First is compensation. Again, we call on the federal government to work with first nations directly and we call for an amendment to subsection 64(2) to provide for compensation where losses are suffered as a result of any extraordinary impact. Here there are legitimate concerns about potential infringement, and we reiterate the need for first nations to be directly involved.

Lastly, to close, there is the issue of enforcement measures. The repeated requests of communities to be involved in sentencing have not been picked up but have been ignored by the Canadian Wildlife Service's enforcement branch. The theme here is the need for first nations to be fully engaged, right from beginning through the entire process, all the way to enforcement.

There is so much more that first nations have to offer. There is tremendous potential in the areas I've described. First nations are willing to be full partners in moving forward.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you, National Chief. I appreciate those opening comments.

Elder Marcel, please begin your opening statement.

3:45 p.m.

Pat Marcel Chairman, Elders Council, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Pat Marcel, elder and former chief of the ACFN. I address you today because of my grave concern, and the concern of my first nation, about the effects of industrial development, primarily oil sands development, on the woodland caribou and the wood bison habitat within the traditional lands of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the neighbouring first nations in the region. For your records, we have provided the committee with a paper on woodland caribou by Dr. Cormack Gates, written in the western scientific framework.

I'm here to talk to you as a traditional scientist about my knowledge of how we are losing the woodland caribou and the bison in our traditional lands. I'm also here to advise you there has already been significant impact on our first nation from oil sands mining, yet very little, if any, crown consultation has been initiated by the Government of Canada on these impacts.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today, because I feel the federal government is not living up to its responsibilities to consult on important matters such as the loss of bison and woodland caribou. These animals were a large part of our traditional livelihood and they were promised protection under our treaty rights.

Mr. Chairman, I was born and raised on the land. Ever since I can remember our people were nomadic and travelled after the herds wherever they moved. Until I started school I lived with my grandfather, who taught me a lot of the things I still cherish today. When I look at the woodland caribou, the perception is that every opportunity we get we are there to harvest. In the last 30 or 40 years, we knew there was a big decline in the woodland caribou, because the harvesters were reporting to the chief. We have not harvested any woodland caribou, as far as I know, for the last 40 years, yet the herd is disappearing. The impact of development that's completely wiping out their habitat is the reason.

The woodland caribou, according to some of the scientists, will not be in the boreal forest in northeastern Alberta within 100 years. That's pretty scary stuff. Even though we were not harvesting, it doesn't mean we weren't still protecting that herd. To put a herd like that to great risk in the name of development is something I cannot understand.

The Grand Chief alluded to all this development we're talking about being done without consultation. The Government of Alberta has the power to go ahead and cut down many trees, clear-cut everything, in northeastern Alberta.

Yet if I come to a body such as this, what kind of recommendations am I going to see? Am I going to go back and tell the chief and council that we are going to be part of something that's going to be developed in the future? We think right now it's not very good to be in the situation we're in, with absolutely no voice. The only voice we can have is threats to go to court and so on.

Now, when you talk about consultation, consultation is between two nations with equal representation, working with trust and belief in each other. If we don't have that, then we will really be lost.

The caribou is important, but the loss of habitat that is causing the great loss of all these animals is the reason for it. I'm sure most of you have seen Fort McMurray. I've seen you there, and in Fort Chipewyan as well. You know what I'm talking about when you see the total devastation of the oil sands mines and of SAGD into every corner of northeastern Alberta. We're now squeezed onto our reservations. What claim we had to traditional lands, Alberta says, no, you do not have access or claim to traditional lands. But that's not what it says in the treaty. That will be for another day of battle, I am sure.

On the importance of bison, that is really for me a tricky thing to deal with, because you have a national park, Wood Buffalo National Park, that has a herd of 5,000 bison. Anytime any animals escapes from that park, anybody is allowed to kill or harvest those bison. From my own travels in that area, I've seen helicopters being used to harvest bison and to haul them to the roads. It's not a very traditional way of doing business, or hunting.

The thing I really bring to this committee is that there's a herd that is close to one of our reserves that is being threatened right now by development. A couple of SAGD companies are there, and they admit that the bison are there on their leases. What is going to happen is that this herd will be completely harvested or cleaned out one way or another if you put roads in there. The only thing that's saving the bison right now is there is no way to get to them, and because they've been hunted to an extent where they're very spooked, they'll run at any sound.

But they have no protection whatsoever. Alberta refuses to say that they should be doing something about that herd. They say they belong to Wood Buffalo National Park, but that's not the case. That herd has been there for thousands of years outside of Wood Buffalo National Park.

I bring it up to the parks people and say, “Do a DNA test. Do something.” But it's nobody's intent to do anything. It is, again, first nations raising a concern, beating our heads against the wall. I don't know what it takes to get some help, for people to come not only to the rescue of these animals, but to protect some habitat, because the bison and the woodland caribou are so threatened. What has to happen? Is there going to be a habitat established where these two species can exist in the future? I certainly hope for this.

In summary, I would like to repeat that we are losing or have lost these two important species from our traditional livelihood. Yet despite numerous requests and demands from our first nation, there has been no crown consultation on this and other important issues.

Thank you for your time.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you, Mr. Marcel.

Mr. McNeely, the floor is yours.

3:55 p.m.

Joshua McNeely Ikanawtiket Regional Facilitator, Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for allowing us to come and present on a very important matter to us.

The Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council, MAPC, is the Maritimes region intergovernmental leaders forum of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council, the Native Council of Nova Scotia, and the Native Council of Prince Edward Island, which represent aboriginal peoples who continue on traditional ancestral homelands--i.e., not displaced to Indian Act reserves. These are throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, respectfully. MAPC and our partner native councils are affiliated nationally through the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. I believe the committee is going to be hearing from the congress at a later date.

We've been around with the species at risk file since the early days in the nineties with Bill C-65, Bill C-33, and finally to Bill C-5, which was assented to in 2002. MAPC was a part of the first ministers round table on the Species at Risk Act in 2006. Through our Ikanawtiket aboriginal environmental respect organization, MAPC has also participated throughout the six main steps of the SARA process, commenting on numerous species assessments, proposed SARA listings, draft socio-economic impact statements, regulatory impact analysis statements, proposed recovery strategies, and proposed action plans.

We have also been directly involved in several recovery teams, as well as advanced the species at risk file in many various other activities of MAPC and our partner native councils, such as through our Maritime Aboriginal Aquatics Resources Secretariat and our aboriginal communal commercial fishing entities; as a regular topic of conversation when in consultations with federal or provincial governments on numerous natural resource issues, such as access, permits, proposed regulations, proposed management plans, and eco-certifications, to name a few; aboriginal community involvement in species at risk stewardship and education projects; and with our youth, who will be the leaders of the future, and preparing them through a species at risk workshop about how the process we currently have works.

MAPC also follows developments under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity with the intent to be more informed partners under the various aspects of the Canadian biodiversity strategy, such as our Species at Risk Act. MAPC follows, as best we can on our own, international and national developments on conservation, sustainable development, access and benefit sharing, and aboriginal people's involvement in these. MAPC promotes the convention and is a 2010 International Year of Biodiversity partner and an International Union for the Conservation of Nature Countdown 2010 partner.

In preparing this brief--I gave you the long version of the brief, it's only eight pages--I kept it very simple. It's from that we drew on this long history with the Species at Risk Act and our wide breadth of knowledge and involvement to highlight the importance of SARA to our Maritimes region aboriginal communities.

I make only a few recommendations on SARA itself, the majority of the recommendations being for a better implementation of SARA. These are centred on broader biodiversity discussions and actions on conservation, sustainable development, access and benefit sharing, and reconciliation with our aboriginal peoples.

As a whole, SARA is actually very well written, we find. But when viewed strictly from a legal point of view, SARA can seem quite daunting. SARA is unique among Canadian legislation, in that it requires rapid Governor in Council action on every species assessed by the independent scientific body, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and if no decision is made within the short prescribed time, then the act requires the minister to amend the SARA list in accordance with the species assessment.

This puts SARA outside of political timelines, and at the same time prioritizes SARA listing recommendations within the bureaucracy. Both have proven problematic, especially under the uncertainties typically generated in our minority government situation. Canada continues to face court challenges for missing SARA deadlines or leaving out important information in order to meet a SARA deadline.

However, MAPC views the Species at Risk Act as a prime opportunity to learn about our biodiversity and our cumulative human impacts, and foster a new ethic of respect for our natural world. That is what Elder Marcel was talking about: an ethic, a respect. Through several other actions, including reconciliation with aboriginal peoples, Canada can dramatically improve the implementation of the Species at Risk Act.

However, SARA will fail if it is considered to be a stand-alone act or not considered to be in the forefront in all government departments, industry business plans, educational strategies, consumer purchases, and international negotiations. SARA is as much about a beginning for Canadians to understand and respect biodiversity as it is an act to save a portion of that most critically endangered biodiversity.

SARA must be considered and implemented in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Canada’s response, the Canadian biodiversity strategy. SARA can be both a learning tool and a point of entry for Canadians to address broader biodiversity issues, and doing so will lessen our need for a Species at Risk Act.

A meaningful SARA is an act that, through its prohibitions and its tight timelines, forces all levels and all sectors to be:

Conscious of the intrinsic value of biological diversity and of the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values of biological diversity and its components....Affirming that the conservation of biological diversity is a common concern of humankind,

That's taken right from our convention.

Through its inclusion of aboriginal peoples, industry, academics, all levels of government, and the public, and its flexibility to use new ideas and partnerships to address biodiversity issues, SARA can foster:

a society that lives and develops as part of nature, values the diversity of life, takes no more than can be replenished and leaves to future generations a nurturing and dynamic world, rich in biodiversity

That's taken from our Canadian biodiversity strategy.

With one eye, we see that SARA is only a small part to meet Canada’s commitments under the convention. But with the other eye, we see that SARA, as a strong piece of national legislation integrated into all other manifestations of law, policy, and decision-making, can be a banner under which Canada implements the convention. With both eyes open, we see that SARA is a powerful tool for average Canadians to begin to understand biodiversity and our cumulative impacts, and to work together toward a new and better future.

The question being asked by the standing committee is how do we improve SARA? MAPC maintains that the answer is not in rewriting sections. MAPC respectfully recommends to the standing committee that the best way to improve SARA is to improve the conditions under which SARA is implemented.

For example--I have seven recommendations--first would be the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I was very happy to hear that in the throne speech. I'm happy that Canada is moving in that direction.

Next is to adopt a national policy on sustainable development, not just a handful of departmental strategies on sustainable development but a national policy--a way to rethink how we conduct our business in Canada.

Canada should begin more detailed discussions, and in some cases begin discussions, with aboriginal peoples on access and benefit sharing. This idea of access and benefit sharing of genetic resources and traditional knowledge is one of the main pillars of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Those discussions are very limited so far in Canada, and we border on bio-piracy if we do not sit down and address the issues.

Develop, with other levels of government, national, regional, and local forums to broadly discuss biodiversity with all sectors. One such opportunity in our region would be the eastern Scotian Shelf integrated management plan.

Support an aboriginal review of the Convention on Biological Diversity and directly input into its implementation. This was something that was talked about in our biodiversity strategy. We've yet to see, since 1996, any movement whatsoever on this.

Actively encourage broader participation in the Species at Risk Act at all levels, including in assessments, consultations, socio-economic impact analyses, regulatory impact analysis statements, recovery strategies, and action plans. Aside from needing more aboriginal peoples participation, SARA desperately needs sociologists, marketing professionals, economists, and others who can better relate the public and industry to the Species At Risk Act.

Address the conclusions and recommendations of the 2006 Stratos formative evaluation of federal species at risk programs and the 2005 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development regarding the Canadian biodiversity strategy.

With regard to the wording of SARA, MAPC maintains and is adamant that SARA must retain section 8.1, regarding the National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk, and subsection 18(1), regarding the aboriginal traditional knowledge subcommittee of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, as well as sections relevant to the need to consult with aboriginal peoples affected during the various stages of the SARA process.

The breadth and intent of the SARA preamble should be maintained as integral to the implementation of the act.

Thank you very much.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you, Mr. McNeely.

We'll go to our first round of questioning.

Mr. McGuinty, you have seven minutes.

4:05 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Thanks, Chair.

Thank you very much, gentlemen, for being here this afternoon.

Chief Atleo, unfortunately we didn't receive a copy of your brief. It's not in both languages, I'm told, so forgive me if I've misinterpreted, in the copious notes I've taken, what you said.

Do I take it from the number of recommendations you made--I took down about 12 bullet points--that you are suggesting, generally speaking, that first nations peoples are not subject to the jurisdiction of SARA?

You opened, I think, by saying, for example, that the Government of Canada should not be able to list, or presumably delist, species at risk without aboriginal acquiescence. Are you really saying, as the Grand Chief here now, that aboriginal peoples are not submitting, or should not be submitting, to SARA's authority?

4:10 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

As National Chief, I have a responsibility to advocate for and support the assertion of treaty rights and aboriginal title and rights of first nation governments. So I look to the leaders of such a first nations government, who are suggesting that our people have not been at the table.

We've not helped to shape in a real way how the legislation is drafted, delivered, executed, or implemented. It relegates first nations to an advisory role when in fact, as I've said repeatedly in my submission, this is about recognizing the jurisdiction of first nations governments. I alluded to the fact that one of the implications of non-recognition of first nations jurisdiction is resulting conflict about recognition of the application.

It's not just this act. You could take fisheries or any other acts out there. I just came from a court case on the Fisheries Act and its application in first nations, and the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the recognition of our right to those fisheries.

So I think there is a question--it's left to legal scholars, which I am not--around constitutionality and the rule of law application of statutes. But principle here is about a shared interest and respect for the environment and for the protection of species, as other panellists have said here.

The reason I also embrace the notion of this country moving towards embracing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is because of the need for recognition of a government-to-government process.

We look at the act to see if it reflects that. Our suggestion here is that it must be strengthened in that respect. So I think these are constructive suggestions that are being made about ways in which that can occur. But underlying that is really the term that's been used here, which is a respect for the relationship.

I suggest very strongly that the original treaties, as was alluded to in the submission, should continually forge the foundation upon which we build our working relationships. As National Chief, I not only see the need to recognize first nations jurisdiction, but I would suggest legislation like this results in conflict between first nations, and between first nations and other jurisdictions.

The point about the park is an excellent one. It's another example of an externally imposed set of conditions, whether it's legislative or, in this case, a park, and how those conditions have impacted the involvement of the first nations jurisdictions to the point of even accessing a food source. I get these phone calls, as other leaders do in the far north, particularly when people are trying to put food on the table.

So I think the question is not only what you've asked around the application of jurisdiction or whether one group submits to it or not. I think it's a much bigger conversation than that.

4:10 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Thank you, Chief. If I understand you clearly, you're calling for symmetry between treaty rights and existing federal statutes in this area. I'm going to wait for your brief to get the details, if I could.

I'd like to turn to Elder Marcel for a second.

Elder Marcel, I'd like to congratulate you and thank you for coming here to tell us what you're seeing first-hand on the ground.

Just two weeks ago, we in the official opposition were deeply disturbed when my colleague Mr. Scarpaleggia put a question about water quality to the minister in the House of Commons during question period. And the minister referred--for the first time in my professional life, because I've never heard anyone, certainly not a Minister of the Environment, do this before--to scientific findings as “allegations”. It was a stunning moment, I think, in Canadian environmental political history. I'd never seen it before, and haven't seen it anywhere else.

Can you tell me, in your experience, are we as a federal government, this federal government, properly enforcing--if you know, or if you are in a position to tell us--the existing standards, whether they're under the Species at Risk Act, the Fisheries Act, or elsewhere? You made a very, very passionate and compelling case.

4:10 p.m.

Chairman, Elders Council, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

Pat Marcel

I'd have to say that the federal government is not enforcing any of the rules that everybody else works by in Fort McMurray. The Alberta government sets out the rules and gives the approvals. Once that happens, all the things that should be protected by the federal government go down the drain.

Everything that we live by, we live by harvesting off the lands. The lands that I'm talking about are totally devastated. I no longer eat the fish from the Athabasca River. We still use fish from the greater lake, Lake Athabasca. That advisory came down, to not eat fish more than once a month, a long time ago. That was brought down by the Alberta government.

When you look at everything else that we use for food, such as moose and ducks, everything is polluted. When you start seeing scary pictures of 1,600 ducks all covered with tar and drowned on the Syncrude site, that's only the tip of the iceberg. That 1,600 should have been something more like in the thousands, more than 1,600.

Some of our people work on those tailing ponds. When they're working there, they don't report all the animals that they've seen die there. They have a job to worry about. They have a family to feed.

When I say that, it's because I feel that we have no voice. The voice that should be dictating how the rules should be played out there is the federal government's; it has the final say. My chief and council will come to the federal government because by treaty you have to be there to protect the lands, the traditional lands of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Right now, everything is totally devastated. I am not kidding. There's no more fur there to be had, no more muskrat. You couldn't find ten rats on my reserve, when we used to take out something like 40,000 or 50,000 in the spring of the year.

4:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you, Elder Marcel. I'm going to have to cut you off there. Mr. McGuinty's time has expired.

I do ask that all witnesses be succinct in their responses to members, because they have only a limited amount of time.

Mr. Bigras, you have seven minutes.

4:15 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First, I want to thank the witnesses for being here.

To sum up what you said—and correct me if I am wrong—you are not calling for a major overhaul of the act. I understand that you are recommending a few amendments, including some to section 36.2 to place more of an emphasis on the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. There are, however, difficulties in terms of applicability.

I understand that you presented two major issues. The first being the consideration given to aboriginal traditional knowledge in government decisions and COSEWIC's recommendations. The second issue is also of interest to me.

I listened to what you said in response to Mr. McGuinty's question as to whether you asked that the communities not be subject to SARA's authority. But I did not understand what you meant. Nations and first nations want equal representation in terms of nation-to-nation and government-to-government relationships. That seems to be what you are asking for today.

For instance, when I see that the National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk has to appear separately before the committee in the course of meetings on COSEWIC, that it is not taking part in the discussions, and that those discussions are taking place behind closed doors between the provinces and the federal government, I think it speaks volumes about the place and consideration given to first nations in the decision-making process.

Is that not what you are asking us for today, for consideration to be given to first nations and for their full and total participation in the discussions, in other words, a nation-to-nation relationship?

4:20 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

Well, to be succinct, yes. Nation to nation, government to government, acknowledge and support and respect the treaties.

Also, we have to remember, and be reminded, that none of us created the Indian Act or reserve system or the status/non-status system. We inherited that. It was acknowledged by all parties, by the federal government in the apology in the summer of 2008, that historic approaches that were unilateral, and externally imposed, did not work. Not only that, they caused great trauma and great harm.

So what we hear from the elders and from indigenous peoples across all of the country is that we must be full partners going forward. I think that's the spirit of the space that we're entering into, a period of reconciliation between and amongst our peoples and between and amongst indigenous peoples and governments.

What better area than the area of species at risk in caring and concern for the environment? I grew up with those teachings with my late grandfather. We can't take the seals like we did when I was a kid because of the poisonings. In my territories, 27 of the rivers are gone. It doesn't matter where we go. Indigenous peoples are everywhere. We're throughout the entire country. We have that close relationship. It makes sense. In fact, it adds, as I said right at the outset, tremendous value.

I believe not only are there strong constitutional recognitions of treaty and title rights issues; I think what we're missing here is incredible potential, which is yet to be tapped in a way that would benefit all and benefit the environment.

That was a little bit more than succinct.

4:20 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

After discussing jurisdiction, I want to get into traditional knowledge. When you read the act, it is clear that section 15(2) is, among other things, supposed to ensure that aboriginal traditional knowledge is taken into consideration in preparing species' status reports. So the act provides for that consideration.

In actual fact, how do you see aboriginal traditional knowledge being taken into consideration in terms of assessment and species' status reports? Is there a problem? I would imagine there is. How can we ensure that aboriginal traditional knowledge is indeed taken into consideration in assessment reports?

4:20 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

Again, just to reiterate, I think it's about recognition. It does flow back to the recognition of the jurisdiction. Over 633 first nations governments, all working to rebuild their nations, are coming out from a legacy of disconnection and internal conflict and divide, perpetrated in large part by children being taken from their homes and not having the opportunity to spend time with grandparents out on the land, with the environment. I think it's incumbent on us, in the spirit of reconciliation, in the spirit of the residential school effects, to move back to full inclusion and involvement.

To reiterate the suggestion we made on the point that you're asking about, we have examples of first nations who have implemented their own governance tools to protect such knowledge and to establish processes or protocols on how such knowledge can be accessed or used. We would suggest that this is a way to recognize, and embrace and involve, and respect the protocols of not only the knowledge that first nations hold but the implementation of the treaties.

We have to remember that we're in an exercise of helping to rebuild families and communities here, with the recognition that governments, through legislation and policy, unleashed tools that divided. We need to recognize, throughout all of our work, that in fact we're supporting the rebuilding of nations and communities. We have to respect the history that we heard the elder articulate here.

So with great respect, I'm just suggesting that there's still a strong link between the jurisdictional recognition aspect.

4:20 p.m.

Ikanawtiket Regional Facilitator, Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council

Joshua McNeely

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife has a number of scientists on it. The aboriginal traditional knowledge subcommittee is a committee of 12, and they review all assessments. The work that the COSEWIC does is a lot of library work, of reviewing reports and talking to a few people. The work of the ATK subcommittee is a lot of going out onto the land, talking to elders, having meetings. It's a lot of that initial research, if you will.

The COSEWIC does not have the money for that initial research, and you alluded to section 15(2). It's a totally different world when it comes to accessing or learning about traditional knowledge.

One area where we can improve that is to better create contracts with the government, or what have you, to learn traditional knowledge. We've been trying that on the east coast with our Atlantic salmon. There's an instance where several of our aboriginal communities went to work with COSEWIC and worked with the traditional knowledge subcommittee to learn more about salmon or to share more about the salmon for that assessment, which is coming up in the fall. However, we run into the problem of working as an intermediary. The federal government and the legal and intellectual property rights qualifications that the government requires of us is a huge roadblock to sharing our traditional knowledge about the salmon when it's very clear that we want to, we want to be a part of that assessment and to help in that assessment with COSEWIC. But it's an intermediary of the federal government that is the stumbling block because of this relationship we have had over the years with the federal government.

4:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you.

Your time has expired.

Ms. Duncan, it's your turn.

4:25 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I also want to thank all three of you for being here. We've been waiting for quite some time to hear from you, and it's very appreciated that all three of you took the time from your busy schedules. I wish we had a whole day or more days with you. That's the frustration of our committee, that we have so much on our plates. We value every word that you're giving and appreciate your written briefs. We look forward to receiving the Grand Chief's brief as well.

I want to say at the outset, Mr. McNeely, that I really appreciated your drawing the connections between the biodiversity convention, the obligations of the federal government with regard to the biodiversity convention, and SARA. I have heard from a number of organizations that are hoping they can also appear and draw that connection, so I appreciate your bringing that to our attention as well as mentioning the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how they are connected.

It's very interesting to hear the testimonies together. When you piece them together, I think you're making a really cogent case for the contradiction in the fact that in implementing the obligations under the biodiversity convention, the federal government, in its wisdom or otherwise, has enacted the separate act to protect endangered species, but it appears to be disassociated from all the other powers of the federal government to intervene to protect species at risk and their habitats.

Mr. Marcel, on behalf of his first nation, I think, is making that very clear through his case study of the woodland bison and the woodland caribou in that area. So we have a scenario where we have—and I draw this to what Grand Chief Atleo is saying—the problem of the timing and the respect due to the first nations as an order of government, not just some organization or other entity that simply advises.

I look to the case that Elder Marcel has raised, and I look at additional documents that have been filed by the federal government. In 2008 the Government of Canada identified that all caribou herds in Alberta were non-self-sustaining, that the impacts were seen most in Alberta, that the declines were the result of cumulative impacts on the caribou range, and that the expansion of the oil sands was having a critical impact on caribou and possibly could be contravening SARA.

The problem we see is that the federal government has transferred over to the provincial government responsibility for making the decision on what kind of habitat will be designated for this species when, in fact, as Grand Chief Atleo has pointed out, there's a very clear relationship between Canada's first nations peoples and the Inuit and the Métis and species that are of value to those first nations.

That raises a bigger question. Are the delays we're seeing in the implementation of the designation of habitat for these species at risk associated with the federal government failing to intervene when the first nations are asking them to intervene, when there are project approvals? I'm wondering if in your experience you are seeing some kind of a contradiction or a problem in the delay at the point in time when first nations are being consulted.

What's happening in the relationship between...? There may be species that are about to be listed, which you would like or not like to be listed. There are recommendations that habitat should be protected. There are delays and in fact violations of the act inasmuch as they aren't keeping with those deadlines, and yet, in the meantime, there are projects going forward that may impact the continuance of that species or of the habitat.

It's a big question, but I think you're raising some interesting questions about the place of the first nations peoples in the delivery of this act. It sounds as though there's frustration that even where there are designated committees, you're only being partially consulted and maybe too late in the game.

I'm wondering if you could speak to that, about the relationship between developments that are going forward, other federal responsibilities, and the delivery of responsibilities under this act.

4:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Ms. Duncan has used over four minutes of her time, so there are only a few minutes left.

Were you directing that to anyone specific, Ms. Duncan?

4:30 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I would like to hear from all three of the witnesses, because I think they've raised a very clear question. They feel that their role under this act is perhaps not being respected in the way that it should be, and they have raised specific issues about impacts of particular projects on species at risk. I welcome their recommendations on how we should be pursuing this.

4:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative James Bezan

We have only a couple of minutes left, so if everybody could make a brief comment, I'd appreciate that.

4:30 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

Thank you for the question.

Just to suggest what's needed, we've listed a number of sections that we suggest be amended to include that consultation must occur with affected first nations—of course, that means in a timely fashion.

We've also suggested the recognition of a relationship with the crown through the INAC minister in a formal manner, because of the connection with reserve lands, these being federal in nature.

I link back to the previous question and the suggestion of a first nations-specific advisory body as a place to help address and deal with timing and implementation issues that are being raised here.

4:30 p.m.

Chairman, Elders Council, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

Pat Marcel

I've been involved in a lot of organizations in the Fort McMurray area, all of these organizations that monitor the environment. The government really holds them to task--or so it seems--to make sure that everything is protected, and that no species will be lost and stuff like that.

Now, that power that I'm talking about, that they have, is an organization that is 47 members at a table. We were there at one time. I had formed an elders committee as they requested. When I started working with my elders on that committee, the government and industry didn't know what to do with us. The knowledge that they have....

I told them that the knowledge they were talking about in oil sands development and what they were doing was 50 to 60 years old. The knowledge I was talking about was thousands of years old. There's a big difference.

So if you really want to look at the environment and what's happening and make sure that it's sustainable development and if you want to save the species, talk to the people who've been there and who have used these resources for thousands of years.

Don't go to an academic and say, “Well, okay, this guy knows.” The way he knows is that he read it someplace else. That's how he knows. The way I know is that I lived that life--for 72 years.

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

Ikanawtiket Regional Facilitator, Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council

Joshua McNeely

The socio-economic impact analysis statement is key and is a missing component in the SARA. Under the cabinet directive for streamlining regulations, Canada has to produce the SEIS and the regulatory impact analysis statement, which largely takes from that socio-economic impact analysis statement.

But if you read the latest one that came out, I think it was this past January, the government rejected the three populations of winter skate. When you read through that regulatory impact analysis statement, it's an economic statement. There's no social part in it, there's no cultural part in it. If you go to your departments, the Department of the Environment and DFO, and ask them how many social economists or whatever they have, they have economists who can tell you how much it's going to cost in landings for fish or how many jobs it's going to cost, but they can't tell you the social benefits of listing or not listing a species.

It's very tough. Internationally, there are a lot of measures to do this, though we haven't yet done it with our Species at Risk Act.