Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak today to Bill C-49. I am delighted because it is one we were no longer expecting. We had been talking about this bill for a long time but nothing was happening. I was even told yesterday or the day before that there was only about a 50% chance that this bill would be debated on Friday.
So, imagine my surprise this morning at learning, with great delight, that Bill C-49 was on the Order Paper. Naturally, my speech was ready. Native peoples also told me there was some urgency in having this bill introduced.
I would like to thank the parliamentary leaders who arranged to have this bill come up as early as today. This week, I met with native people, who made representations to me. I even invited them here in the lobby. We are very happy to have the bill now before us.
I thank the leaders who understood the urgency of the situation and who presented the bill finally, today.
This bill follows directly from the framework agreement signed in February 1996. What is original about it is that it applies to 14 native communities scattered across the country. It is a fairly unique bill. Bills usually apply to one nation or sometimes to a number of communities, but this one concerns 14 communities across the country. I have here a list of the communities, which are scattered through British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.
In British Columbia, we have the first nations of Westbank, Musqueam, Squamish, Lheidli T'enneh and N'Quatqua.
In Alberta, we only have the Siksika nation, but this is a great nation to which I will get back later on, because I had the privilege of meeting its members when I traveled to that region. I will elaborate a little more on the Siksika who is, in my opinion, one of Canada's great nations.
In Saskatchewan, we have the first nations of Muskoday and Cowessess. In Manitoba, we have the Opaskwayak Cree. In Ontario, we have the Nipissing, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island, the Chippewas of Georgina Island and the Chippewas of Mnjikaning. In New Brunswick, we have the first nation of Saint Mary's.
Bill C-49 is an act on first nation land management which will allow first nations to establish their own land and natural resources management system.
There is a part in the Indian Act that deals with land management. What is unusual about this bill is precisely the fact that the Indian Act will no longer apply to these lands, which will now come under the legislation before us.
There were some absurd things in the Indian Act, particularly the part dealing with land management. People had to obtain the federal government's approval to sell grain or to raise and sell cattle. As we know, the Indian Act is a century-old act and it is obsolete. Of course, it would be very difficult to scrap this act.
Eliminating the act leaves nothing in the way of a legal guarantee. Aboriginal people are therefore stuck with an outmoded piece of legislation which affords them a minimum of protection. But it is heart-warming to see bills like the one before us today come along, because whole sections of the Indian Act will no longer apply to these 14 nations in particular. This means one more step toward aboriginal self-government.
The Indian Act will, however, continue to apply in all other areas. As I said, the minister will no longer have the discretionary power to say “No, you cannot sell wheat. No, you cannot sell cattle.” Of course, the ministers have been far more attuned to what was going on in the communities in recent years. I do not think any minister would have been so heavy-handed as to forbid them to sell grain or cattle.
At the present time, however, that is the way the act is worded. The principle we are considering will enable aboriginal people to get out from under this outmoded part of the act.
When we have a bill that gives more autonomy than the Indian Act, which means that certain specific chapters of that act no longer apply, consultation with the communities generally takes place. According to the details we have at present, there was such consultation. These nations are fully in favour of Bill C-49.
As I said at the beginning, not only are they in agreement with the bill, but they are also urging us to see that it goes through quickly.
I find the reaction of the Reform Party rather disappointing. This summer, I believe the chief of First Nations met with the leader of the Reform Party in an attempt to explain to him the need for a different attitude toward the aboriginal people. For example, the Reform Party refers to the white paper from the time when the present Prime Minister was Minister of Indian Affairs, saying “what was wanted at that time was a Canada that was uniform from coast to coast”. That is not our philosophy. We in the Bloc Quebecois believe in the principle of founding peoples, the Quebec people and the peoples in the rest of Canada. The aboriginal people are being forgotten, when statements are made like “In such and such a year the Liberals introduced a white paper—this much is true—which made the aboriginal people full-fledged citizens”. They tried to do this, however, by bringing them into Canadian society and destroying their culture, their language and their way of life. By that very fact, there was no recognition that these nations were founding peoples, exactly the same, in my view, as the Quebec people and the people in the rest of Canada.
This kind of approach is unfortunate and we are naturally taking the opportunity to state our opposition to it.
There are certain problems with the bill, including the issue of what happens in cases of marriage breakdown. Aboriginals will have to address the issue of division of property in cases of marriage breakdown. Unfortunately, there is a sort of legal vacuum right now when a couple decides to separate. Provincial laws do not apply on reserves and there is nothing in the Indian Act covering these cases.
We therefore have certain questions about the provisions of the bill to which I will come back a bit later.
The Bloc Quebecois is going to support the underlying principles of Bill C-49 because we see them as another step towards the economic development and in particular the autonomy of aboriginals. We point out regularly in our speeches that aboriginals are in a situation of dependence, which has created all sorts of problems on the reserves and among the people.
Aboriginals are not found only on reserves. There are just as many of them off reserves as on. There are major housing problems, for instance, which drive people away from reserves. According to the statistics, almost 40% of status Indians no longer live on reserves.
A bill that stresses greater autonomy and self-government will have the support of the Bloc Quebecois. Autonomy can take several forms. Self-government is often mentioned. Self-government is important but, unless it is accompanied by economic development, it leads nowhere.
This is why bills introduced in the House will often address both issues: self-government as well as land claims.
We saw it in the case of the Yukon a few years ago, when people came to study the bill before the House, which dealt not only with self-government but also with land claims allowing them to achieve financial independence so they could finally break away from the federal government.
This is the gist of the bill. That is, it moves away from the Indian Act and introduces other notions on the management of their own lands.
White people and native people see things differently. When native people speak of lands, their idea is that the land belongs to everyone and exists to be shared. This is in fact what guided initial relations between native peoples and the new arrivals, the Europeans who arrived here in Canada. The native peoples had no objection to letting the whites take certain lands, cultivate them and raise livestock.
Even now, on the reserves, land is held collectively, whereas we see things a bit differently. The way we see it is that the land belongs to us. When we buy land, we quickly have it surveyed and registered and have the deed signed. A whole lot of planning goes into making it known that this tract of land is ours. Sometimes we go so far as to fence it in. Native people see it all very differently. They see it more collectively, with the land belonging to everyone.
I think I have explained enough why this bill should be passed quickly, and the Bloc Quebecois will of course help to get it passed.
I was saying earlier that, in democratic terms, I see no problem. The 14 communities were consulted on this bill, and they agree on the need to act quickly.
I also told you I would get back to the issue of marriage breakdown. This is an important issue for aboriginal women. There is a history to this bill and to the issues concerning women.
Bill C-75, introduced in 1997, did not include any provision on marriage breakdown. I will tell you later the story of some women and women's groups who went to court to challenge the fact that the bill did not include provisions to help settle the issue in case of marriage breakdown.
Unfortunately, Bill C-75 died on the Order Paper when the previous Parliament came to an end. However, the Bloc Quebecois decided, with the support of some parties in the House, to quickly bring back that legislation during this Parliament and to ensure its swift passage because, as I indicated earlier, of the urgent nature of the situation.
Given the court challenge and the quick reintroduction of the bill before the House, government officials and aboriginal representatives looked at provisions that could be included in the bill to achieve the objective of protecting aboriginal women in case of marriage breakdown.
Let me read clause 17 of the bill, which is aimed at correcting this flaw in the initial bill.
- (1) A first nation shall, in accordance with the Framework Agreement and following the community consultation process provided for in its land code, establish general rules and procedures, in cases of breakdown of marriage, respecting the use, occupation and possession of first nation land and the division of interests in first nation land.
Bill C-75, which has now become Bill C-49, was amended to provide for a community consultation process to establish the land code that will include a mechanism in case of marriage breakdown.
Of course, that procedure may not be comprehensive and it may not be the same everywhere, because the 14 first nations will ultimately have to prepare their own land code. I could add that there will be up to 12 months for incorporating rules concerning breakdown of marriage in the land code.
I wanted to touch on the women's objections, to which I have already referred. One of the ways women's groups reacted to the first reading of the bill last June was by writing to the Globe and Mail . These groups included the British Columbia Native Women's Society and the Native Women's Association of Canada, headed by my good friend Marilyn Buffalo. Their reaction was “While we realize you have made an effort with clause 17 to include procedures in the event of marriage breakdown, what is there does not suit us in the least”. They decided to file an injunction to get the courts to block the bill.
The case has not yet been heard. The bill is currently under consideration. Although there has been no court decision, it seems to me that it would be hard for the women to block the proceedings of the House of Commons with a court order. That is not part of our tradition, but we do need to realize that they have objections and that clause 17, which I have just read, needs to be tightened up considerably.
I raised this human rights matter with the chair of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Mrs. Falardeau-Ramsay, whom I had the pleasure of meeting—last year, I think it was—in a delegation to Geneva. She indicated to me that she was a bit uncomfortable with the fact that aboriginal women were in a kind of legal vacuum at the moment. In the event of marriage breakdown, they are forced to leave the reserve and to leave all their family heritage behind.
Quebec has family heritage legislation, called in fact la Loi du patrimoine familial, with provisions for marriage breakdown. As I was saying, this does not apply on the reserve, however. These women are, therefore, left in a legal vacuum and an effort absolutely must be made to correct this.
However, as I told women's groups, we cannot, as a matter of principle, in the case of a bill providing greater autonomy to first nations, oppose the legislation on the grounds that the provision dealing with them may not be supportive enough of their cause.
We must not block Bill C-49 on the grounds that its provisions are not specific enough.
The minister did react to the legal challenge. She decided to set up some commission to take a more comprehensive look at the issue and to avoid having women's groups block each of the bills on native issues when they are introduced in the House. The minister struck a committee to look at what happens when a marriage breaks down on a native reserve.
In so doing, the minister acknowledged the existence of a legal vacuum. Therefore, I ask her to act quickly regarding this issue. When we inquired about the progress made regarding that commission, we were told that the investigator had not even been appointed yet. I remember reading a press release—in July or August—in which the minister announced that this commission would be established. Now, several months later, that commission has not even begun its work.
I therefore urge the minister to speed up the process in this regard. Whenever a bill dealing with native issues is introduced in the House, there is a risk that it could be systematically opposed, because the basic issue was not settled.
The Bloc Quebecois will, in parliamentary committee, take a close look at clause 17, which I read earlier and which deals with the breakdown of marriages. The approach is innovative, and concerns land management. The provisions of the Indian Act are being replaced because they are very restrictive. The government is now proposing a bill and a land code that will allow first nations not only to manage the resources on their lands, but also to decide how they wish to dispose of such lands.
This week, for example, I met representatives from one reserve who will have to renew their leases next March. So members can just imagine, if the bill is not passed, what a hard time they will have renewing, because they will have to come before the House of Commons, the minister and cabinet to obtain permission to continue the leases. The idea with this land code is that it will no longer be necessary to seek the minister's permission.
Another provision of the bill concerns expropriation. This was and remains a hateful provision. The law is antiquated. It has existed for some 100 years. Right now, a municipality, a province or the federal government can say “We want to expropriate part of the reserve”.
Before a major tribunal known as the specific native claims tribunal, which reports to the House of Commons and where most cases were heard, a municipality would decide at one point “We have finished cutting down the forest at this point, we would now like to encroach on the reserve. We request permission to expropriate the reserve or part of it so we can continue our work”. This sort of request was almost always automatically granted, resulting in great injustice and the fact that we had to go to court or before commissions in order to untangle these things and return to the native peoples the land that belonged to them.
So this bill puts paid to injustice. The minister of Indian affairs is now the only one who can and, if she does so, she will have to provide land or financial compensation with the approval of the reserve.
The government is trying, clearly. We can no longer allow municipalities or provinces for different, often valid, reasons to expropriate part of a reserve. That period is over.
The bill also contains provisions for environmental assessment plans.
I think it is important to mention that, if ever a group was respectful of the environment, it is certainly aboriginals. However, when giving them responsibility for land management, care must be taken to harmonize environmental legislation. Naturally, we cannot allow standards on a reserve to be well below those in a neighbouring village subject to provincial laws. The land code will resolve this.
There will also be a procedure for harmonizing environmental legislation, so that standards on the reserves and in the province will be largely the same. There is even provision for the provinces affected, because many are affected by the bill, to be involved in the planning of any subsidiary environmental agreements.
As for the structure of the land management agreement, it was first proposed by chiefs in 1987. There were several negotiations. I would even go so far as to say that we are surprised that any agreement at all has been reached after eleven years. It seems like a relatively long time. Other bills introduced in the House have also been a long time coming; the Yukon bill, for instance, has taken 21 years.
Negotiations with aboriginals are still taking place today and have been for 30 years. It has been an on-again, off-again process. Ten years is quite a long time. That is why it is important that today we give aboriginals what they need.
I also wish to point out the agreement is not a treaty and that it will not be protected under section 35. This is a bill that leaves participation optional. Right now, this means that 14 first nations are covered in the bill and listed in the schedule, but other first nations will always be able to say that, having examined Bill C-49, they too would like to manage their lands.
There are several ways this could come about. As I have said, it could be through self-government and land claims. They could also say that they have lands and that they wish to take part in the process and manage their lands without relying on the provisions of the Indian Act.
I have spoken with first nations' representatives and they are not always aware of what is going on elsewhere, so they find this a highly practical approach, and to their liking. Some first nations are in fact involved in exploring the possibility of adopting the same type of land management arrangement.
I think it is important to speak of the 14 first nations involved, at this point. I listed them quickly already, but I would now like to give a brief historical overview of each. They are the ground-breakers, the ones that decided to move ahead toward self-government. I feel it is important to give the House a brief rundown on each of them.
First, there are the Siksika, of Alberta. They are a very sizeable community in Alberta, with 2,795 members living on the reserve and another 1,635 living off the reserve. As I have already said, close to 40% of aboriginal people have left the reserve for one reason or another. The reserves are getting over-crowded. Aboriginal demographics are such that the population is growing twice as fast as the Canadian population as a whole, and so people are being systematically forced off the reserve. This is what has happened with the Siksika.
Their language is part of the Algonquian family of languages. Present-day Edmonton and Calgary are on their land. They administer a number of programs. Theirs is a beautiful area. I had the pleasure of visiting this great people, and they took me to see a sacred mountain that is currently the object of a land claim, Castle Mountain, in Banff National Park.
This situation continues to be of concern to them. Incidentally, I would like the Siksikas listening today to know that their file is still with me, and we are still trying to settle the dispute. What they would like is for the part of Banff Park where the sacred mountain is located to be aboriginal territory. I feel this would be in the best interests of both aboriginal people and whites. This is a beautiful area, and having a sacred mountain on aboriginal land within it might be of great interest to the white population.
We speak of “aboriginal lands” but they do not have the same concept of property as we do. It is not a question of fencing in a surveyed lot, or something else that has been registered with a land office. For them, there is the concept of sharing. They want to share Banff National Park, which has moreover always been part of their land claim, and they want this mountain to be theirs. I mention this in passing, because I felt it was important to raise this issue and wanted them to know it is not a dead issue.
The Muskoday First Nation reserve is located 19 kilometres southeast of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. It covers 23,832 acres. Here again, 411 members live on the reserve and 623 live off the reserve, which confirms the trend that 40% of aboriginal people live off the reserve.
Their economy is mainly agriculture-based, hence the importance of passing this bill so that they may lease or develop their lands and to make use of them without being constrained by the Indian Act.
The other first nation in Saskatchewan, the Cowessess, also makes its living from agriculture and tourism. Its population totals 2,544, 411 on the reserve and 1,133 off the reserve.
The Chippewas of Georgina Island are located in the county of York—Simcoe, north of Toronto. Historically, these are the descendants of a larger band, the Chippewas of Lake Huron and Lake Simcoe. In 1818, the Chippewas gave up a large parcel of their land south of Georgian Bay. In 1830, Sir John Colborne settled them on lands between Coldwater and Lake Couchiching.
They subsequently divided into three separate bands. One group went to Georgina Island around 1838, another went to Beausoleil Island in 1842 and the chief of the Yellowhead and his band went to Rama in 1838. The reserve was confirmed with the Williams treaty of 1923.
Although 81% of the population speaks English, most form part of the Algonquian family of languages, but few have kept their language.
The Mississaugas of Scugog Island, like the Chippewa of Georgina Island, have been displaced a number of times. This big reserve measures some 1,951,000 acres. On two occasions they gave up part of their lands. Their reserve, like the others, was confirmed by the Williams treaty in 1923.
The Ojibways may be found in Ontario, in the great lakes region. I will shortly be speaking in a few aboriginal languages. I have asked for the translation of a passage I particularly wanted to read. A number of communities have sent remarks, which I will read, along with their translation. I hope I will be forgiven if I have difficulty getting my tongue around some words, as some things are quite hard to pronounce. However, I think that they will enjoy having an MP wishing them good luck in the House in their own language.
I would also like to mention the Westbank first nation, because the chief, Robert Louie, is directing the operations concerning the bill before us. I raised the problem of marriage breakup. It was about his first nation that the supreme court—in 1981, I think—gave its first decision in Derrickson. Mrs. Derrickson is Robert Louie's mother-in-law. The supreme court was forced to acknowledge a legal void, that, in the case of a marriage breakup, provincial law did not apply and the Indian Act contained no provision to settle the problem.
I think it important to talk to you about the Westbank first nation, because Mrs. Derrickson, who behind the Derrickson decision of 1981, comes from there. This first nation is situated in the Okanagan valley.
This summer, I travelled to British Columbia. Unfortunately, Mrs. Derrickson was ill and I was unable to visit Robert Louie, but there will be another time and I look forward to going back.
I realize that time is running out and that, since there are 14 nations, it would take a while to give the history of each one, and I do not wish to go over my allotted time.
I wanted to say, in various native languages, what our wishes for aboriginals are. Since I have eight minutes left, I think I can manage.
I have four translations to read. Please bear with me as I try to get my tongue around them, because Ojibway, Cree, Salishan and another passage in Ojibway are involved. My pronunciation may not be completely perfect, but I did want to say a few words in these languages to wish aboriginals well.
What I am about to say in these native languages can be summarized as follows.
The Bloc Quebecois is always supportive of aboriginals in their quest for greater autonomy. This bill furthers that quest and we wish the 14 communities involved the best of luck.
I sometimes make life difficult for the interpreters when I speak a native language. I will now try to speak Cree.
I will be attempting to say the same in Salishan, which is used by the Squamish nation on the west coast; it was they who sent me the translation of my text.
It took only a few seconds to read the passage aloud in French but, when we were sent the translations, we were told that there are many more figuratives in aboriginal languages. That is why each translation takes a little longer to read.
Next comes Ojibway. This covers the whole Great Lakes area in Ontario. The Objibways sent me a translation of the same message. Theirs reads as follows:
“Mnaabmewziding” means “good luck”.
I have one last message in Ojibway, but it is in a different dialect spoken by the Chippewas of Georgina Island. It was sent to me by Chief William McCue, to whom I send my best wishes.
Members will understand not only that the Bloc Quebecois supports the bill, but that it will try to ensure its quick passage, so that these people can be released as quickly as possible from the provisions of the Indian Act, and can achieve financial autonomy and self-government, and also deal with land claims. They will thus be able to live a life that will be far removed from the current dependency on the government.
Finally, I wish them good luck in their new venture.