No. I have arrived. I got off the DC-3 and I walked around Dawson City.
The first nations welcomed me with open arms and took me on a long tour. The high point was probably fishing on the Yukon River, which is an extraordinary crystalline blue green, because the water comes from glaciers. I was told the water contains many minerals, which account for its colour.
It was really extraordinary. We caught a 20 lb salmon. I have pictures to prove it, because people say fishers exaggerate the size of their catch. I can tell you personally that we caught a 20 lb fish. The native people had killed a moose, and we were given a wonderful welcome to native festivities in Dawson City. It was unfortunate though that my daughter does not like game.
I was involved in an unfortunate incident. I got caught with a bag from McDonald's after the official supper. I had to explain to the grand chief hosting us that the contents were for my daughter and not me, of course, because I had eaten my fill of this wonderful meal.
I would also like to recall the social contract at the time. We told these people as we did others elsewhere in Canada that we were taking their land because we needed the natural resources: the forests, mines and oil. And then we told them that we would send them to communities on little parcels of land and would look after their survival, their education, their health, their economic development and so on.
Today, people tend to forget that. People tend to say “The Indian affairs budget is huge. We are paying for these people and we are tired of paying for them”. However, we forget the social contract of the time, and I have made it my duty to refer to it in each debate. We have to realize that we took 95% of the land on this continent and plunked these people down on 5% of it. We did the same thing in the Yukon too.
We also made grand laws at the time, or what we thought were grand laws. We systematically regulated the lives of the native peoples. That was the Indian Act. We—and I think this includes the federal government—are beginning to realize that not only is this legislation outmoded, but there is barely any explanation for its still being applied today. People do not even own their homes. When someone dies, a decision has to be made about whom it will go to next. There are no rights of succession. The act contains some provisions that are hard to apply in today's reality. The sole solution is self-government, and the aboriginal nations of the Yukon, like those elsewhere, understand this.
I remember very clearly that, when we were voting on this act, when we were discussing the bill on the Yukon, representatives of the 14 aboriginal nations were up there in the gallery, awaiting the historic moment. At that time, they had been actively involved for 21 years in working toward an agreement with the federal government. Finally, in November or December of 1994, an agreement was reached and people were very pleased with it.
Now, I would like to give you an overview of the progress in negotiations. As I have said, and have just referred to again a few minutes ago, there are 14 aboriginal communities in the Yukon. It is important for me to refer to the document, because not only is it rather complex, but also the names themselves are often complicated. People are wondering what we said. And it not easy for me either. At this point in my speech, I must take a more formal look at the legislation. I also wish to salute these communities, because they are all friends of mine.
The Little Salmon-Carmacks and Selkirk first nations both signed self-government agreements on July 21.
About the December 1994 agreements I referred to earlier, I should point out that six of the 14 aboriginal communities had signed their final agreements. People thought that the issues of self-government and territorial claims had been settled. Since then, we have continued to make progress. The agreements involving the two communities I just mentioned came into effect on October 1, 1997. These communities joined those that had already signed agreements.
The federal government and the Tr'on dek Hwech'in first nation, from the wonderful, historic city of Dawson, which I just described when relating my perilous experiences, concluded negotiations on self-government on May 24. It is expected that agreements will be concluded by the end of the year, and that they will be ratified in early 1998.
Negotiations with the Dena Council of Ross River are in the preliminary stages. I remember that, at the time, there was a particular issue. The Kaska Dena community was very close to the B.C. border and people were wondering whether most of the reserve was located in British Columbia instead of the Yukon. These people had a lot of reservations about how things were conducted. They were the minority among aboriginals in the Yukon. They were not very inclined to get fully involved in negotiations on self-government. I notice today that at least they have gone beyond the preliminary stage.
It was expected that the council would submit shortly a 120% selection of lands. They decided to increase the area covered by the claim to 120%, and the government expects that the lands selected will include large areas with a high mineral potential. So there is this high potential, and as I was saying also, the Yukon is rich in oil and gas.
Perhaps the first nations in the Yukon have found a way to give real meaning to self-government by having a land claim base that is large enough to ensure their self-sufficiency.
Negotiations with the Liard first nation are under way and deal with the selection of rural lands with a high oil, gas and forestry potential. The bill we are considering today has a certain impact on every native land claim. We will have to be careful with this.
Negotiations with the Liard first nation are almost concluded and will cover what are called mining and community lands. I know that the federal government wishes to conclude the negotiations by March.
As for the first nation of Carcross-Tagish, meetings are now under way. Right now, negotiations are focussing on rural lands. Agreements have been signed on a certain number of claims. The first nation should soon be submitting claims regarding specific sites. It is anticipated that negotiations with respect to self-government should be over by year's end. The final agreement should be signed by March 1998.
Negotiations for the final agreement regarding land claims and the agreement with respect to self-government for the first nation of White River have almost been concluded. It is expected that negotiations will be wrapped up in December 1998.
The first nation of Kluane submitted land claims slightly in excess of the allowable area. The final agreement, including the land claims aspect, is 62% complete, and the agreement with respect to self-government has been 85% worked out. This means that a few details remain to be wrapped up before the final agreement is signed.
Negotiations on the Ta'an Kwach'an council's final land claims agreement and agreement with respect to self-government have to all intents and purposes been concluded. They cannot be finalized, however, until the problem of the band's separation from the first nation of Kwanlin Dun is resolved. There is a dispute over this. What they want is to divide the reserve in two, or to take steps to provide land for the second community other than the lands it currently shares with the other aboriginal nation.
As for the Kwanlin Dun first nation, there have been no negotiations since June 1996. Last June, the first nation submitted a proposal that falls outside the frame of reference established by the definitive umbrella agreement. There was a definitive umbrella agreement intended to cover all of the question of negotiation, the parameters and the guidelines, but they did not want to fit into it. Negotiations are, therefore, still under way.
The aboriginal communities which have not yet signed agreements are the first nations of Champagne and Aishihik, Nacho Nyak Dun, the Tlingit of the Teslin area, and the first nation of the Gwitch'in Vuntut. We still have some work to do with them.
I felt it was important to give a progress report on each negotiation process, because we have certain misgivings. We are certainly in agreement with any bill that encourages decentralization. When the government decides to turn all of the matter of gas and oil over to the Yukon Territory, we are in agreement.
I would remind you that we are among those who decry the encroachment of the federal government onto areas of territorial and provincial jurisdiction. Unfortunately, and I do not want to bring the Quebec situation into this, we are becoming aware that the throne speech and the position this government is taking show that there is encroachment, particularly in Quebec.
The Bloc Quebecois will, of course, support any bill encouraging decentralization. We are the only sovereignist group in this House, and anything that smacks of decentralization fits in very well with our philosophy. Likewise, any kind of centralization does not fit in with our philosophy.
I was telling you that we had concerns, and they are the following. The people who have already signed agreements are pretty much the masters of their lands, including use of the lands themselves and their surface and subsurface resources, forests, etc. But for those who have not yet signed, there may be a little problem.
The native peoples, in their great wisdom, once again, have decided that they will not resort to blackmail by saying: “We want to block the bill”. They are saying that they are in agreement. There has also been a change in government. There is today an NDP government in the Yukon, which is much more open to native issues. Apparently, the native peoples have a very good relationship with the Yukon government. That government promised it would not allow operating permits on lands claimed by native peoples, because of all the responsibilities that will be transferred.
I was telling you that we had a concern, and it is the fact that the bill does not deal with this issue. The federal government has a fiduciary relationship with native peoples, and permits to extract oil and gas on lands claimed by native peoples cannot be allowed before there is a final agreement on native self-government and land claims.
So it is unfortunate that there is no provision for this in the bill. We will, however, vote for the bill, even in the absence of this provision. We will be decide whether we should move amendments in the standing committee.
After discussions were held with the Yukon government, and especially with the governments and potential governments of the Yukon first nations, they all told us that they were in agreement with the bill and that they hoped that the Yukon government would keep its word. You know that these are people who have heard a lot of promises over the centuries and that these promises have often been broken.
I therefore urge the Yukon government to respect its undertaking not to issue mining licences to companies on lands included in native claims.
For my part, I urge the federal government—I see the parliamentary secretary is here—to finalize the agreements with the people in the Yukon. As soon as the land bases for all the Yukon first nations have been worked out and responsibility for self-government turned over to the 14 Yukon nations, attention can then be given to how mining licences are issued. We hope that the Yukon first nations will finally be able to benefit from the subsoil and surface wealth of the land they are now occupying or have occupied from time immemorial. I therefore urge the federal government to step up negotiations and the Yukon government to keep its promise and not to issue licences.
The Bloc Quebecois will support Bill C-8, perhaps with certain amendments—we will see on the standing committee—and I wish a long and prosperous life to the Yukon first nations.