Mr. Speaker, today I rise to address the House on Bill C-107, the British Columbia Treaty Commission Act. I am extremely pleased to be joining my hon. colleagues in speaking in support of this legislation. It is imperative that we give the treaty commission the legal foundation and powers it needs to get on with the job of settling the dozens of land claims that are casting a cloud of uncertainty over British Columbia.
Settlement agreements acknowledge that claimant groups have some historic interest in the land which was occupied and used by their ancestors long before Europeans moved into the claim area. Equally as important, land claims settlements pave the way for a better economic future for the beneficiaries. They do so by providing a financial package to the claimant group and by ensuring a secure land base and certainty over resource ownership, all of which are critical to establishing a viable economic base.
The settlement of a land claim is not an end in itself, but a beginning. It is the beginning of a new era in which aboriginal people can regain control over their destiny, a destiny which has been taken from them. They can gain control of their economic future and reduce their dependence on government.
Hon. members have heard aboriginal leaders say time and again that self-government will be meaningless without sustainable economic development that is controlled by the aboriginal people themselves. On the other hand, the expansion of the aboriginal economy can help counteract the human and economic costs that for so many years and for so many generations have paralyzed First Nations communities across this great nation.
Economic development is critical to achieving the red book goal of strengthening aboriginal communities. Self-government, improved social services, better health care, more sensitive justice initiatives: the success of all of these efforts depends in part on strengthened local economies that provide aboriginal people with meaningful employment and reasonable levels of income.
There are many examples of the positive impact land claims settlements have had on aboriginal economies and standards of living. The Inuit of the Nunavik region are a case in point. Under the terms of the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement, the Inuit established the Makivik Corporation which among other things serves as a holding company for a wide range of businesses that are bringing tangible economic benefits to northern Quebec every day.
I quote from the Makivik Corporation's 1994-95 annual report in which third vice-president Mark Gordon, who is responsible for the economic development program, made the following statement: "There is a common theme that unites all of our initiatives. That theme can be summarized by one word: control". Control by the Inuit people of their own future, control to do good, to enhance the lives of Inuit people.
The Inuit of Nunavik have certainly taken control of their economic future. The Makivik Corporation has used compensation funds to invest in a wide range of successful businesses that are providing employment and income to Inuit beneficiaries.
Air Inuit and First Air, for example, provide critical transportation and delivery services both within Nunavik and between the north and other parts of Canada and Greenland. Both airlines are
major employers in the Nunavik region and both reported profitable years in 1994.
Makivik Corporation also owns the Kigaq Travel Agency which promotes travel in northern Quebec. Another Makivik subsidiary, Seaku Fisheries, is involved in commercial fisheries development. Among other things, Seaku manages Makivik's shrimp licence. In 1994, 43 Inuit fishermen from Nunavik were employed on shrimp fishing vessels with collective earnings of close to $700,000. The company also invested about $500,000 in 1994 in community based fishing projects.
Seaku owns 50 per cent of Unaaq Fisheries which trains fishermen and pursues fisheries business opportunities at the international level. In 1994, Unaaq International completed consulting contracts for the National Capital Commission, the United Nations Development Program, the Canadian International Development Agency and Industry Canada.
A newly created subsidiary of Makivik, Nunavik Arctic Foods, is commercializing Nunavik country foods, particularly caribou and ring seal meat. The food is harvested through traditional Inuit hunts, processed and packaged in four community processing centres and distributed throughout retail outlets throughout Nunavik. Studies have shown that during full scale operations of processing centres, 72 cents out of every dollar will remain in Nunavik.
Makivik has also entered into a joint venture with other Inuit development corporations to form a Panarctic Inuit logistics corporation. This new enterprise recently joined with Frontec Logistics Corporation to successfully bid on a $288 million contract to operate and maintain the north warning system for a five-year period ending in the year 2000. Among other things, the agreement between the two corporations provides for the recruitment, training and hiring of Inuit workers.
The Cree of James Bay region have also used their compensation dollars and other economic development funding to acquire and establish a very impressive portfolio of collectively owned businesses among other interests. The Cree holding company known as Creeco owns an airline and a construction company.
Using funds from their 1984 land claim settlement, the Inuvialuit of the western Arctic region have pursued a wide range of economic development initiatives under the umbrella of the Inuvialuit Development Corporation.
The most successful has been the Inuvialuit Petroleum Corporation which in 1994 realized an amazing 200 per cent return on the timely sale of most of its holdings in western Canada. The corporation closed the year with a $50 million investment portfolio and total assets of $117 million. The company has initiated a number of programs to provide direct benefits to Inuvialuit people, including employment training and development. It has an exciting future in the Canadian petroleum industry.
The Inuvialuit also co-own the Northern Transportation Company with another aboriginal business, the Nunasai Corporation of Nunavik. In 1994 the Northern Transportation Company was named business of the year by the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce. Over the 10 years that the business has been owned by aboriginal people, it has contributed more than $100 million in taxes, purchases and payrolls to the territorial economy.
Another successful Inuvialuit venture is the Umayst Corporation which markets musk-ox meat and wool. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation has also formed an international investment house that caters specifically to native groups around the world. Based on its track record, in 1993 the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation was able to secure an $87 million loan from the Bank of Montreal, part of which was used to repay a loan from the federal government. Clearly Canada's investment and land claim settlements is a sound one.
Settlement agreements often include specific provisions for economic development that go beyond land and resource ownership and financial compensation. For example, as a result of the Nunavut final agreement, the Inuit of Canada's eastern Arctic have been guaranteed preferred access to economic opportunities in the area of guiding, sports lodges and the commercial marketing of wildlife products. The final agreement also provides for increased Inuit participation in government employment and contracting within the settlement area and includes the right to negotiate employment, training and other benefits for the developers of major projects.
Similarly, the land claim settlements of the Gwich'in and Sahtu Dene and Metis recognize the need to expand the economic horizons for aboriginal people. The Sahtu agreement provides for economic development opportunities related to guiding, lodges, naturalist activities and commercial fishing. The Sahtu Dene and Metis will also be well positioned to take advantage of employment and business opportunities that will arise in the oil and gas sector as a result of the settlement agreement.
The Council for Yukon Indians' final agreement also enhances opportunities for Indian people to participate in the territorial economy. Both the federal and territorial governments have made commitments to contract with aboriginal companies to provide Yukon Indians with access to government employment.
The combination of land claim settlement agreements and other economic development initiatives have resulted in significant expansion and strengthening of the aboriginal economy in recent years. Twenty years ago a survey of aboriginal economic development in most regions of Canada would have revealed pockets of commercial activity heavily concentrated in natural resource based industries. Today there are literally thousands of aboriginal businesses across Canada operating in all sectors of the economy.
In my province of Saskatchewan, for instance, there are over 700 aboriginal owned and operated businesses enjoying tremendous economic success, doing well in the economy of Saskatchewan and indeed all of Canada. They provide employment to aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, paying the government tax revenue and all of the good things that go with sustained economic growth.
These aboriginal enterprises include industry firms, transportation and construction companies, retail and service outlets, manufacturing operations, management consultants, computer companies, arts and crafts enterprises, tourist outfitters and recreation oriented businesses.
Aboriginal businesses are also taking advantage of opportunities in new markets, such as authentic aboriginal tourism products which involve a combination of facilities and experiences that are uniquely aboriginal, experiences which are sought by many people from many nations.
Market research by the government indicates that authentic aboriginal tourism products have the potential to generate revenues of $1.6 billion annually in the Canadian economy. Not only will this benefit the aboriginal business but all businesses and enterprises across this nation.
Aboriginal business development is gathering momentum as First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples seek to gain control of their economic destinies. In a 1991 survey of aboriginal people, more than 18,000 respondents indicated that they own or operate a business and 34,000 others indicated their intention to start a business within two years.
Aboriginal people are proving to be astute business people. An independent study of 292 aboriginal firms that received financial assistance from Industry Canada revealed that 90 per cent of those firms were operating after two years. These businesses have proven to be good sources of employment for aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians alike. Of the 2,122 jobs created or maintained with support from Industry Canada, 1,486 were held by aboriginal people and 636 by non-aboriginal people.
In addition to the business ventures I mentioned earlier, which are a direct result of land claims, there are many other examples of successful aboriginal entrepreneurship.
In Saskatchewan the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, which represents nine First Nations, was the winner of the 1995 prestigious Aboriginal Economic Developer of the Year Award. The tribal council has developed an impressive economic development strategy that sets out a tremendous range of activities. Already a forestry company owned by the tribal council has generated 240 direct jobs.
In La Ronge, Saskatchewan, Kitsaki Development Corporation has business enterprises which gross over $30 million a year and provide well in excess of 250 full time jobs for aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike.
In The Pas, Manitoba the Opaskwayak Cree Nation owns seven profitable businesses and is developing more. The latest venture is an $8 million, 70,000 square foot hotel complex that will open in 1996. Another organization of Manitoba First Nations, the Southeast Resource Development Council recently opened a plant that will manufacture windows and doors for the nine First Nations in southeastern Alberta.
Next year the first aboriginal owned hydroelectric plant in Canada will open in the Northwest Territories. The $26 million Cascades station will be owned by the Dogrib Power Corporation and most of the 100 jobs created by the plant will go to local Dogrib people.
In Quebec the Mohawk Trading Company in Kanesatake markets office supplies, equipment, computers, software and furniture to a wide range of clients including federal departments, corporations like Pepsi-Cola and Colgate-Palmolive.
On the east coast the Labrador Inuit Development Corporation has signed a multi-million dollar contract to mine and export rare anorthosite crystal to Italy.
We are witnessing an increase in the entrepreneurial partnerships between aboriginal people and mainstream business communities. Such partnerships, joint ventures and strategic business alliances are essential if the aboriginal community is to capitalize on opportunities throughout the economy.
In northern Ontario, for example, the Mussel White Mine Development project involves an agreement between Placer Dome Mining and four First Nations. Under this agreement 60 jobs will be created at the mine site. The Long Lake First Nation in northern Ontario has also negotiated an agreement that provides for employment, job training and opportunities with Long Lac Forest Products:Buchanan Brothers. This agreement has resulted in 65 jobs for First Nations people.
Despite the impediment of unresolved land claims, British Columbia First Nations are also pursuing business opportunities. Since June 1995, for example, the Skeetchestn First Nation and the Chia-Na-Ta Corporation have been working together to grow ginsing on 544 acres of reserve land in the Kamloops area for export to China and Hong Kong. In return for providing financing and land for the project, the First Nation anticipates approximately 300 jobs and more than $14 million in profits over the 10-year agreement.
On Vancouver Island the Nuu-cha-nulth Tribal Council has turned a former residential school into a resort. The 56-room lodge is being operated as a franchise of the Best Western chain. About 70 per cent of its workforce is First Nations people.
Most of my comments today have illustrated how land claims can contribute to the development of aboriginal economies. But resolution of land claims is also vital to non-aboriginal peoples since it creates a climate of certainty and often leads to economic spin-offs in neighbouring non-aboriginal communities, as well as many jobs for non-aboriginal people.
Strengthening aboriginal communities provides new opportunities and wealth creation possibilities for all Canadians. It has been estimated that if aboriginal people were to achieve the employment and wage parity with other Canadians by the year 2000 it would boost our gross domestic product by a whopping 2.3 per cent. A stronger First Nations community means stronger regional economies and a stronger country.
Hon. members can rest assured that this government will continue to support business and economic development initiatives among aboriginal people. We will do so not simply for the economic benefits but as a litmus test of our beliefs in fairness, justice, and equality of opportunity, as we stated in the red book.
Over the years we have not paid the attention we ought to allowing aboriginal people to fully participate in the Canadian economy. We have not paid attention to the great opportunities we can experience by everybody working together. When we treat all people in this land with dignity and with respect, when we work together, when we do not see the colour of a person's skin, when we do not see the race of a person, when we do not make distinctions based on religion, when we reach cross that gulf that has been created to share and to work together, it is then that our nation can prosper.
These are times in which we hear many intolerant statements, many hurtful statements. However, these are times when we must be all the more vigilant in our fight for equality and dignity for all people.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to point out the economic gains that could be made for all people by settling some long-unfinished business.