Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the hon. minister for being present during the debate on this bill. It is good that the sponsor of a bill is present, particularly during a debate in which contentious issues are involved. I want to thank him for being here.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate on Bill C-34 which is the Yukon self-government bill. As do many of my colleagues, I have a particular interest in this proposed legislation. During my life and my career I have had an opportunity to work directly with native people in a number of different areas.
As a labour foreman on a hydro electric project in the territories, as an ombudsman for the Alberta region of the department of Indian affairs under Harold Cardinal and as a business consultant I have seen the problems of these people firsthand and I have spoken with them. I have lived some of the problems that they experience. I have experienced directly the discrimination that they have experienced, particularly the discrimination that has been levelled at them through the interpretation and the enactment of the Indian act along with the changes that have occurred to that act from time to time over the years.
Therefore what I say today, I speak at least in part from my experience and empathy for the plight of these people. The Dog Rib Indians of the territories I found were some of the hardest working and capable individuals I have ever worked with. They were more than willing to work under adverse conditions of weather and isolation when the jobs were available. However,
the opportunity to work was not always there. When this occurs, these willing and capable people go unemployed.
I was appointed ombudsman for the province of Alberta under the direction of Harold Cardinal who was a regional director general for the department of Indian affairs for a period of time. Mr. Cardinal was a prominent leader in Canada and president of the Alberta Indian Association for a number of years.
It was under his leadership that what is known in the Indian communities today as the red paper was developed as a direct result of the white paper of the Prime Minister when he was a department of Indian affairs minister. It wanted to assimilate the Indian people into Canadian society and wanted to eliminate their reserve lands.
Grand Chief Norman Yellowbird, a friend and associate of mine, delivered that red paper developed by the Indian Association of Alberta to the Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau, at the time.
I have had a close look at some of the problems and some of the challenges faced by Indian people and I have heard directly from them their concerns and their viewpoints on these problems.
As a consultant I have received many complaints from band members accusing their band leaders of corruption and expending funds improperly. Those same complaints have been brought to my attention since I have become a member of Parliament. The department of Indian affairs seldom, if ever, looks into those complaints. It has not looked into them before and the feedback I am getting from some of my aboriginal associates indicates that they are not being looked into today.
Instead, the department apparently chooses to ignore the concerns of the aboriginal people at the grassroots level and proceed with negotiation self-government arguments with some of the same council leaders who have been accused of fraudulent and suspect practices. I am not suggesting for a moment that involves the leaders who were involved in this agreement.
I point out the trials and tribulations faced by many Indian people at the grassroots level that have come to my attention through my experience with them.
I, like many Canadians, want to see Canada's aboriginal peoples given every reasonable opportunity to become economically and politically independent. I want to see their dignity restored by ending the cycle of dependency that has become so customary within aboriginal communities.
It is no secret that the aboriginal population is among the most disadvantaged of all Canadians. Life expectancy is about eight years shorter than average. Death by suicide is about two and a half times more common and the unemployment rates are several times the Canadian average.
I do not believe that Bill C-34, Yukon self-government, is the answer to the numerous problems plaguing aboriginal peoples and particularly if that is to become the model for the other settlements, claims and requests for self-government that are being made by so many of the bands across the country. I am not confident that the aboriginal people will not be subjected by a new form of government under their council leaders to an autocratic form of government that will deny them the rights they now receive under the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I believe a gradual and progressive approach must be taken to ease the dependency of the aboriginal people and to provide them with the opportunity to fully understand the terms and implications of self-government.
During the Charlottetown accord I spoke to many of my aboriginal friends and I asked them what they thought about that. Of course they disagreed and they voted against the Charlottetown accord because they did not feel that they were included. They did not understand many of the provisions. There was not the dialogue that I think is necessary when we get into these kinds of negotiations. It must be suitable and understood by the grassroots people.
I would recommend and support a movement toward autonomy which could be initiated with self-determination that institutes possession and control of their land. I agree with that. I do not support or accept Bill C-34 to establish self-government for the Yukon First Nation.
The concept of self-government is too vague in this document and there are no real specifics that provide a definitive meaning to this term. I cannot support self-government until the term is clearly and emphatically defined so the aboriginal people understand, so Canadians understand and so there are no misconceptions about the type of agreement the federal government is entering into.
Right now there are too many questions unanswered, too many terms undefined and too many t s not crossed and too many i s not dotted.
What does self-government mean? Self-government is a phrase whose history predates its application to aboriginal governments in Canada. The British used the term when they arrived at the conclusion that one of their colonies was ready for autonomy. Aboriginal self-government has been the subject of many definitions in Canada. We have heard it from many politicians in the past. Some have defined it as being more or less municipal government covering the relative autonomous
administration of programs and services that find their roots in the authority of the federal and provincial governments.
Alternately, self-government has been envisioned by many aboriginal people as a creature of aboriginal authority, of the legitimate authority of distinct aboriginal peoples to make their laws, to sign their institutions and govern themselves as they see fit.
One aboriginal author writes: "The right to self-government goes much beyond entitlement to practice our own culture, traditional customs, religion and languages or the right to determine the development of our own identity. It includes constitutionally protected powers over our lives, our lands and our resources, as well as the right to determine the nature of our ongoing relationship with the federal and provincial governments in Canada".
Not only is there divergent views of what self-government means between the federal government and the aboriginal people, the comments of Howard Adams, an aboriginal person and university professor of native studies, lead me to believe that this term may vary between the aboriginal leaders themselves and what he calls the rank and file aboriginal people.
This is not unlike the Canadian situation in which the people of Canada have one definition of democracy and the government has another. I think we all know and have witnessed what happens when those in power allow their views to supersede the views of their constituents.
In an article published in the Native Studies Review in 1992 Mr. Adams says, referring to the Charlottetown referendum: "The negotiations on the constitution were not relevant or meaningful to the rank and file of aboriginal people. For these people it was an unknown and an unheard of matter because the negotiations involved only a few elite leaders and their organizations".
As one of my colleagues has mentioned many of the aboriginal women's groups from across the country have expressed concern about the protection that might have been lost under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had the constitutional accord been passed.
Mr. Adams states that from his experience in speaking at remote Metis and Indian communities he learned: "These distant people had absolutely no knowledge about the Constitution and the negotiations. Consequently they had no concern or involvement whatsoever".
I am concerned that this is still true today. I am concerned that the aboriginal people, those at the grassroots, do not understand nor are they aware of the agreements their band leaders are negotiating on their behalf. There has been no indication that this has occurred in this particular agreement.
The details of what self-government will mean to them or the powers they may be subjected to have not been explained and therefore they have not had the opportunity to decide if self- government is what they want. This is referring back to the constitutional discussions.
Mr. Adams also believes that during the constitutional talks the leaders involved did not really understand what was transpiring: "It was continuous confusion and vagueness due to lack of clarity in terminology and concepts such as self-government".
Again, how can we be sure that the council leaders were fully aware of what they were signing and particularly the long term consequences?
An October 25, 1991 article in the Vancouver Sun reports: ``Canada's aboriginal people are front and centre in the debate over the Constitution. Their demands for constitutional recognition, self-government and land claims played a major role in blocking changes that would have allowed Quebec to sign the Constitution''.
Mr. Adams states that the negotiations were nothing more than staged media events that provided an opportunity for the previous government to improve its so-called human rights concerns for aboriginal people and to help take the focus off the threat of Quebec's cession.
Further, he believes for the self-government negotiations to have produced an authentic agreement there should have been greater participation by the masses in which the indigenous ideas and perspectives would have emerged.
Nothing in Bill C-34 leads me to believe that the government is any further ahead in defining the term self-government, that the agreement is a genuine reflection of what aboriginal people want and that the motives for entering the agreement are strictly legitimate.
According to an article on March 29, 1994 in the Globe and Mail the federal government has spent more than $50 million on self-government negotiations with native groups over the past seven years, yet it has produced only one agreement: ``About 400 native communities have entered self-government talks but most have abandoned the process because it is long, bureaucratic, limited and legalistic''. This according to the Globe and Mail was the finding of a federal audit.
The audit apparently described a host of weaknesses in the federal policy for negotiating self-government deals at the community level and concluded that the process is long, cumbersome and expensive.
Federal payments to native groups for the negotiations have jumped by 500 per cent since the process began in the 1986-87 fiscal year. The department of Indian affairs has given $30 million to aboriginal groups for the talks and has spent a further $20 million on internal operating costs. The department has spent $50 million creating a cottage industry around these negotiations in which lawyers and political leaders are the only
ones who have benefited while the deplorable living conditions of the individual aboriginal person have not changed as a result of the expenditure of these funds.