Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to address this House today to inform you that I and the party which I represent, the Bloc Quebecois, will be very pleased to support Bill C-16 for several reasons.
I would like to tell you that since I became Indian Affairs critic for the Official Opposition, this is probably the issue on which I have spent the most time. The procedure followed in this case is fairly typical and representative of what I intend to do from now on with government bills on Indian affairs.
This bill has many implications, and I will come back to them shortly. The people of Sahtu, who are very pleasant to deal with, came to meet me in my office; we went over the whole agreement as such and I was very glad to learn that the government had agreed to support Bill C-16 which would quickly implement an agreement reached on September 6.
Of course, representations were made from many quarters. As I said, those people are very pleasant to deal with and very persistent. This agreement is the result of a long struggle. From 1982 to 1991 or 1992, these people tried to negotiate it, but there were other agreements before, starting in 1921, formal agreements and also less formal agreements between the Whites at the time and the people of Sahtu.
So this agreement is very good for them and for us. The seniors, called elders, were very much involved. For them this agreement is very important for future generations and I think that they will be very satisfied.
The president, George Cleary, also came to my office with his delegation. As I just said, those people were persistent and I think that the agreement they have today is very worthwhile. I also hope that all members of this House will ensure that this bill can take effect fairly soon. Among the local associations that made representations to us are the Déline band of Fort Franklin, the Déline sub-band, the Fort Norman band, the Colville Lake band and the Fort Good Hope band.
Of course, these are important centres of social and economic activity in that region of the Mackenzie Valley and those people have communities within those socio-economic centres and they are all included in the agreement.
Speaking of local associations represented, there are also the Metis Nation of the Northwest Territories, local 60 in Fort Norman, local 59 and local 54; these are Metis groups that worked on this agreement and signed it. The agreement will affect some 1,755 Metis and Dene. The figures vary a little. Some talk about 2,000 but there is a general consensus that the agreement will affect between 1,700 and 2,000 people.
Of course, Sahtu-it is important to know this-is the big lake in northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. The word means big bear in the Dene language. So right off the bat it is important to realize the significance of the words.
Earlier I talked about the 1921 treaty. It may have been the start of a more traditional system of management between the Whites and the Natives, and we see that this is now taking the form of a land claims treaty that is not in fact a self-government treaty. I could come back to that a little later.
The territory itself represents about 75 per cent of the area occupied by Nova Scotia. So it is a huge territory, to say the least, and it is already limited by other Native agreements. In particular, the Sahtu Tribal Council's current territory is limited to the northeast by the recently-signed Nunavut agreement and to the north by the Inuvialuit treaty.
I will now tell you the history of the five communities because I think it is important. The Colville Lake community lives on the ancestral lands of the Slave Dene. It was founded in 1962 and it is the only community in the Northwest Territories where everything is made out of roundwood logs, Madam Speaker. It is still typically, a very rustic, very nice, good-sized village. I did not visit it but I saw pictures, and everything is built out of roundwood logs.
Déline, which was founded in 1825 by Sir John Franklin, is also called Fort Franklin. It was Lord Franklin's winter headquarters. When oil was discovered in Norman Wells-I will come back to that later-in the 1920s, it was close to transportation routes and became a major trading post. At that time, the people of Bear Lake were still leading a nomadic existence, following a tradition which is several thousand years old. They travelled across their hunting grounds in pursuit of the animals they wanted to trap and hunt.
It is only since the 1960s and the early 1970s that the Dene have been living in Déline year-round. When these people became a little more sedentary in the 1970s, they built the village of Déline where they now live.
Fort Norman has long had great seasonal importance to the Dene. The Northwest Company was active in the 18th century. The trading post founded at Fort Norman in 1810 has been permanently occupied since 1872. It was then a trading post which became a permanent village in 1872.
Fort Good Hope is the oldest trading post of the Lower Mackenzie Valley. Although it lies inside the territory of the Northern Slave Dene, the Gwich'in and the Mountain, the Mackenzie Delta Inuit used to go there. So another important community is affected by this agreement.
Norman Wells was the first community in the Northwest Territories to depend exclusively on the development of non-renewable resources. It is where the first traces of oil were discovered. It is a place where the oil development reaches its full extent. In 1818 and 1819, oil was discovered in commercial quantities. In 1847, the collapse of oil prices created problems for the village.
Imperial and Canada are joint owners of operating oilfields. The Can Oil trail was laid out during World War II so that Norman Wells could send its premium-quality light oil, a strategic resource, to the Alaska Highway and to southern cities. Norman Wells is also the northern end of the oil pipeline going from the Northwest Territories to Zama in Alberta.
I said earlier that the agreement was signed on September 6, 1993, in Fort Norman. According to our experts and researchers, the agreement is indeed protected by the Constitution as a modern treaty, in compliance with section 35. I said that between 1,700 and 2,000 Dene of the Sahtu region will be covered by the agreement and will be represented by the Sahtu Tribal Council.
In the region where those rights will apply, the agreement was approved by 85 per cent of the Dene and by 99 per cent of the Metis, while the rate of participation was close to 90 per cent.
You can see the efforts made by these people, who live in the very large territory of 280,000 square kilometres covered by the agreement. Such high participation and approval rates demonstrate how important the agreement is to those people, as well as their very positive attitude towards it.
I want to discuss the content of the agreement as regards the use of land and water. The Dene-Metis from the Sahtu region on the one hand, and the government on the other hand, will be equally represented on the land use planning boards regulating the use of land and water, and they will also be represented on an environmental council in the case of development proposals for the region. This is very important to these people.
I explained earlier the importance of traditions such as fishing, hunting, trapping, etc. Now, we also realize that, with the emergence of their new economy, these people want to try to reconcile in an effective way their new and former cultures. I am pleased to see that the government has acted on their claim regarding this aspect and that these people's representation will be equivalent to that of the government regarding any expansion project, and also that, in the field of environment, they will have the opportunity to provide an important input.
I want to point out that it is a land claim agreement-later I might give more details on the territory covered and on the agreement itself-which does not put an end to what are commonly referred to as self-government agreements. These are two very different things. In fact, the annex to the agreement before us today contains some draft agreement on eventual negotiations relating to the issue of self-government.
As you know, a number of things can be the object of a transfer of jurisdiction between the Crown and Indian bands. Very few such transfers are in the process of being made right now, but the agreement provides for that possibility regarding a number of issues, including education, justice, health care and police services. Indeed, now that a land claim has resulted in a formal agreement, once these people have developed their resources and built a solid base for their economic development, they will want to look at what issues eventual negotiations on self-government might include.
Again, this agreement does not put an end to self-government. In fact, I think that it is a starting point for self-government, because if there is no land claim, if there is no land on which to base future claims for transfers of jurisdiction, it is very difficult to look at the issue of self-government. Consequently, this is one thing which is taken care of with the conclusion of the agreement.
We are also pleased to see that the Sahtu Tribal Council will participate in any constitutional conference on the reform of the Northwest Territories' constitution. An arbitration board is about to be set up to avoid having to go to the courts and therefore avoid delays which can sometimes be very long and costly for these nations.
The Metis and Dene now get ownership title for over 41,000 square kilometres, of which 1,800 include mines and minerals. This is very important. This is a territory these people now own exclusively. Some compensation could even be awarded in cases of expropriation.
In other words, should the government decide, although I heard the minister say it was unlikely that the government would be interested in acquiring land and decide to expropriate, but should this ever happen, these people made sure the agreement contained clauses under which compensation would consist of equivalent lands. This is very important to them. If the
government tries to expropriate 2,000 or 3,000 of the 41,000 square kilometres covered by the agreement, it will have to compensate by giving them the same amount of land somewhere else.
This is a very important point. The 41,000 square kilometres are not only part of the settlement but also belong to the Sahtu municipal lands. In other words, the five or six communities I mentioned earlier as well as other groups living in small villages are not only given lands immediately adjacent to their territory or villages but are also given ownership of all adjacent lands within the 41,000 square kilometres. On 1,800 square kilometres, rights to sub-surface resources the mineral rights will be included.
As far as financial compensation is concerned, I think it is a good settlement, both for the Crown and for the aboriginal people. They will receive a tax-free financial settlement in the amount of $75 million annually, over a period of 15 years. Every year, participants will receive 7.5 per cent of the first two million dollars of royalties on resources received by the government for that year, and 1.5 per cent of additional royalties on resources in the Mackenzie Valley.
There is a financial settlement and royalties on resources as well. Of course a percentage goes to the Crown, but the Sahtu tribal council benefits from it as well.
I think this is good for the economic development of the Dene and the Metis in that part of the country. For them, the settlement was a prerequisite for economic development and self-government, and the rest will follow. The financial compensation package is a case in point.
As for the other clauses in the agreement which I intend to discuss, we shall see that, on the economic development side, these people are ready to take control of their lives.
The main focus of the department of Indian affairs may well be to help aboriginal tribes and nations to take control of their lives and get rid of the dependency spirit fostered by the Indian Act.
I think that today we are witnessing a first step by aboriginal people toward economic development and, eventually, self-government.
Incidently, in Quebec we have some very good examples where this has been successful. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity nor, in fact, much time to compare the two agreements, but Quebec has set a good example, with its Cree and Naskapi legislation and the James Bay agreement, and I think we can say quite honestly that we pioneered the introduction of a degree of self-government around land claim settlements. I believe this bill is very similar in its treatment of the Metis and Dene in the Northwest Territories.
As far as the agreement itself is concerned, I will briefly discuss a few important points. I mentioned the wild life aspect and the possibility that these people would be represented on a kind of tribunal and consulted on environmental and economic development issues.
To them, wildlife is extremely important. As I pointed out, for thousands of years, until the beginning of the twentieth century, these people followed the caribou herds and other game. They were nomads. Their life style and habits were based on animal resources. The agreement contains provisions on wildlife, and we are very glad to see the agreement reflects their culture and the position of the Bloc Quebecois on the important jurisdictional aspects that must be included in this kind of bill.
So the Renewable Resources Board will be composed of an equal number of Dene, Metis and government representatives and will manage wildlife in the region covered by the settlement. They will obtain specific rights concerning the management of wildlife, including the exclusive right to trap throughout the region covered by the agreement, the right to hunt, economic opportunities concerning the use of camps, guiding naturalist activities and commercial fishing.
Some people who are neither Dene nor Metis have lived in the region for some time. They will now have to reach an agreement with the band council in order to pursue their commercial activities. The agreement also mentions the importance for the band council of ensuring that wildlife is managed not only for subsistence but also on a commercial basis. Furthermore, the agreement provides that those who harm the environment by taking too many caribou or fish or who misuse the fishing or hunting equipment at their disposal will have to compensate the band council.
The agreement does not infringe on the ancestral political, social or other rights which the Dene or Metis may have. The Dene and Metis living in the region can register under the terms of this agreement. We know that there may be people who have lived on that territory from generation to generation but were not registered under the Indian Act; the agreement contains special provisions whereby these Dene and Metis can register within a certain period-I will not mention exactly any passage or provision, but they are indeed included in the agreement.
As for the native people or Canadian citizens living in the Mackenzie Valley, the valley covered by the agreement, who are not registered and are neither Dene nor Metis, the agreement allows them to register provided that a Sahtu community adopts them. It is important to emphasize that the agreement does not throw out people who have lived on the territory for a long time, as if to say to them: "You are not Dene, you are not Metis, you have to leave the territory". The agreement allows these people
to stay provided that they are accepted by one of the Sahtu communities.
The Sahtu lands will be private, not reserves, and that is important. I mentioned earlier that, since its inception, the Indian Act has made the Indians very dependent. The agreement before us frees the Indians from this dependence and gives them enough economic power and land to exercise their full autonomy. Although the agreement on self-government will come later, we note that this is a step in the right direction. We are pleased to see that the land will be private and not reserves.
Federal, territorial and municipal laws will apply and, in case of conflict, the agreement will prevail. That is important; it is another step to self-government and it says: "The agreement between you and us will protect you". For example, if there is conflict between a municipal by-law and the agreement, the agreement will prevail. The agreement will not set up a hermetically sealed territory. By that, I mean that we are not building a Berlin wall around a territory and saying that no one can go there.
We are pleased to see that, as far as the public is concerned, the agreement contains provisions allowing the public access to the region.
However, if someone has in mind to start up a business within this territory, then naturally this is another matter. Under the current provisions the public will be allowed access to Sahtu land in order to reach an adjacent territory. Dealing with a territory covering 280,000 square kilometres, you cannot expect someone to make a detour around this vast expanse to reach an adjacent territory.
Therefore, members of the public wishing to travel through this region will have no problem doing so. Naturally they will have to comply with the regulations and designated areas. The agreement even contains provisions stipulating that members of the public will be able to hunt migratory birds, provided of course they comply with certain conditions to be determined by the band council.
Regarding access for developers, those who are already in the area will be able to remain there, subject, as always, to the approval of the band council. Indeed, this approval will be required, and even a right to appeal is provided.
One example of this arose when the lands in the Sahtu region were being selected. As you know, outfitters who have long been operating in this region need vast expanses of land to carry out their outfitting operations.
These outfitters renegotiated all of their systems and territories with the Sahtu and Metis band council, and agreements are now in place which allow these outfitters to continue using Sahtu lands.
Federal departments have been represented and consulted on countless occasions during the negotiation process. The same holds true for the government of the Northwest Territories which was part of the federal negotiating team.
As we can see, nothing was taken for granted. All parties, the federal and territorial governments as well as the representatives of the Sahtu band council, approached the task at hand very seriously and no one was left out of the process. The agreement meets with the approval of all parties.
The Sahtu were even consulted when the time came to draft the land claims bill. They told us so themselves. They will also be consulted on the drafting of the future Mackenzie Valley resources management legislation.
The territory in question does not take in all of the Mackenzie Valley. Therefore, it is extremely important, to them and to us, that it be made clear that when legislation, whether economic or social, is drafted for the rest of the Mackenzie Valley, they will be consulted. The agreement states that they will be consulted, that they will be abled to express their views and even participate in the process.
On certain reserves, the Dene themselves make the decision whether or not to allow exploration or resource development. They are not required to follow a particular course of action. Of course, within the 1,800 square kilometres referred to earlier, a band council can decide at any time to allow exploration, the conduct of a feasibility study or a geological study and, if there are resources in the subsoil, mining, quarrying, and so on.
This is all allowed under the provisions of the agreement before us.
As for present and future titles holders, they will have to negotiate with the Dene and Metis the use they want to make of those lands and waters. That is totally consistent with the principle of the agreement before us.
To wrap up regarding the contents of the agreement, negotiations were held from 1982 to 1990 to come to this agreement. Today, to become law, it will require unanimous consent from this House. So, I hope that, for the sake of expediency, we will have unanimous consent.
Other consensus were reached before coming to the product before us and I would like to mention some of the groups that have been consulted and various public consultation processes involved.
So, groups were consulted. Proper consideration was given to this. The people and organizations I am about to mention have taken part in the discussions to some extent. The Northwest Territories Chamber of Mines was one of them, as well as the Mining Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the North West Territory Wild Life
Federation, the Mackenzie Mountains outfitters-those who need large areas for their outfitting operations, as I said earlier-and the Ingraham Trail Association. Consultations took many forms. It was mentioned earlier that the agreement was approved by federal government. The agreement was signed by the federal government as well as the territorial government. The public meeting in Yellowknife was held as part of this consultation process.
Communities were toured extensively. I was saying earlier that the agreement applies to an area of 281,000 square kilometres. You can imagine it was no small task to go and see 2,000 people who live in that area. But the results were highly conclusive, as I said earlier, with a positive vote from 85 per cent of the Dene and 99 per cent of the Metis.
Information brochures were distributed. Municipalities were involved in the lands screening process. A serious job has been done.
I would like to open a parenthesis here because the outlay of money required makes Canadian taxpayers jump. In fact, many people have commented to me, and I am sure that similar remarks were made to the hon. minister, that the department of Indian affairs was perhaps one of the least hit by cuts. Not only were there no cuts, but its budget has actually increased.
We must also understand what led to the Indian Act. I often tend to use the same example, namely an Indian village or reserve nearby. How much money goes to the village if we look at who built the town hall? Who built the hospital? Who built the schools? Who is in charge of the roads? Who is in charge of the water supply system? If we look at all this and at the money coming from various departments, we see that the department of Indian affairs looks after the reserve.
Although the amounts may look outrageously high, it must be understood that, as a trustee under the Indian Act, the federal government must look after the quality of life of the Natives who live on these reserves.
There are many other reasons why the budget was not cut. Yes, the budget has grown but so has the Native population. It does not mean that we want to remain a trustee forever. I think we all have an effort to make in this regard and, after listening to the minister's comments on this subject, I feel that he, too, wants to revoke the Indian Act as quickly as possible.
How will we proceed? We have a typical example before us today. Without the Dene and the Metis achieving self-government, which will come later, we can still see that it is a step in the right direction. The money the government was going to spend on these bands should be reduced to allow for its gradual withdrawal and to let Natives control their own economic development and achieve full self-government in the long term.
We now understand why, in a public finance management context, the department may not have been hit by cutbacks. There is also the whole notion that, since the government wants Natives to take control of their own destiny, it will have to invest the amounts resulting from that decision and allowing us to initiate a negotiating process. That is what I tell people to explain why we in the Bloc Quebecois see an increase in the Indian Affairs budget. We must also remember that, historically, we exploited the lands and resources of these people and confined them to parcels of land representing perhaps 1 per cent of the area they used to occupy.
In closing, a last word on their languages and cultures because I think it is important.
The Eskimo and Dene languages are not at all related. Even though these nations have long lived close from one another, we recognize that the two cultures are distinct. Even though these people have been hunting, trapping and fishing forever, we recognize their respective specificity regarding the land they occupied. They have such precise expressions relating to nature that there is indeed a separation between the two languages. For example, the Eskimo language has 60 terms for "snow". That language has all kinds of variations and nuances regarding snow. Because of this degree of specificity, it is understandable that the languages are not necessarily compatible, depending on what part of the territory one lives in.
As for culture, these people are fishermen; they have always been close to nature, and the agreement before us today will bring them closer to an economic development which will enable them to manage their own natural resources. I think that the agreement ensures a happy union between the two cultures, and that it reflects a deep respect for their traditions and heritage. It could be the start of an economic development somewhat closer to our own culture.
For all these reasons, and after a thorough review of the agreement, the legislation and the representations made by the Metis and Dene, I am pleased to say that the Bloc Quebecois supports Bill C-16. I hope that all members will share our view, so that we can speed up the implementation of this agreement.