Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be speaking to Bill C-49, the first nations land management act.
The agreement that served as the impetus for this legislation allows the signatory first nations to opt out of the land management sections of the Indian Act and establish their own regime to manage their lands and resources. This is a form of self-government developed in full partnership with the first nations to promote self-management that will result in among other things improved economic development on reserves which the last speaker spent some time suggesting.
The government and its partners have worked to further improve this agreement to include another first nation, bringing the total to 14. It has also been improved by now including the application of the Atomic Energy Act and the use, occupation, possession and division of interests in first nation land in the case of a marriage or marriage breakdown.
This agreement is the result of a process that started in 1987 when the Mulroney government was in power. A previous version of the bill was introduced in the last parliament and passed second reading before the dissolution of parliament in April 1997.
I will be the first to admit that past federal governments operated in a less than admirable fashion when it came to our First Nations. However, as a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I have seen two ministers of Indian affairs who have been willing to work with the native communities to initiate policy at the behest of the first nations. These ministers have ensured that Canada will no longer work in an aloof paternalistic fashion to push policy that is not wanted and that does not address the needs of our native communities.
I cite the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the response of our Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to that report.
Bill C-49 is the result of native initiative. Two governments over 11 years have worked in partnership with the first nations, the provinces and other interested third parties to provide change. I congratulate all those involved for developing legislation that shows the value of partnership between our native communities and the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Bill C-49 provides a positive model for the future transfer of land management to other first nations.
As a result of other first nations showing an interest in entering this agreement, a provision has been included to permit others to be added to this bill through an order in council. However, this will not take place until a review of this regime is completed within four years of operation.
The language of the bill has been reviewed in accordance with the government's bijuralism policy and the provinces have been consulted.
Provisions have also been included to address the concerns raised by native women.
As background, in March 1997 the British Columbia Native Women's Society and two individual plaintiffs mentioned the framework agreement in a suit launched against the government in the federal court.
The plaintiffs claim that the federal government has failed to fulfill its fiduciary obligations to married Indian women with respect to the division of the matrimonial home upon the breakdown of a marriage. While the suit is in regards to the Indian Act, the plaintiffs also claim that a process should be included in the framework agreement to address this issue.
The bill does address this matter by requiring a mandatory community consultation process for the development of rules and procedures applicable on the breakdown of a marriage in relation to the use, occupancy and possession of first nation land and the division of interests in that land.
The positive benefits of this legislation are that it provides opportunities for the first nations to build experience and expertise, which will give them some empowerment. It fosters the development of environmental protection regimes which will be harmonized with federal and provincial regimes and will be negotiated and approved by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the first nations.
The legislation allows first nations to generate revenue through economic development. It ensures community decision making by requiring local approval of the land code which enhances accountability of chief and council to the membership. It protects third party interests by continuing contracts, terms and conditions that are currently in place and provides a dispute resolution forum for any disputes.
I would like to share with members comments made by the minister when Bill C-49 received first reading this past June. The minister said “This initiative is a key sectoral component, developed in full partnership with these first nations. These communities are leading the way in changes to land management by implementing a new land management regime and opting out of the Indian Act. This legislation will provide control at the local level and eliminate the involvement of my department in the day to day land management decisions and activities of these first nations”.
Once again we hear the word partnership from the minister. It is a word that is very welcome in the lexicon utilized in relations between Canada and its first nations.
Having worked with the minister on a number of issues in Ottawa and in the riding, I know that she takes this partnership very seriously and this legislation is a fine example of it.
The First Nations involved—the Westbank, Musqueam, Lheidle T'enneh, N'Quatqua, Squamish, Siksika, Muskoday, Cowessess, Opaskwayak Cree, Nippising, Mississaugas of Scugog Island, Chippewas of Georgina Island, Chippewas of Mnjikaning and Saint Mary's—realize that this partnership does exist and will work.
I might indicate that it is a far cry from the reaction to the suggestion some years ago from Prime Minister Trudeau that we scrap the Indian Act. Some of us will remember that the chiefs reacted negatively. The chiefs probably reacted negatively because they did not trust us and because they felt that by doing that they would lose their fiduciary right and any rights they had to inherent self-government.
I think we have come a long way from those days. I know the previous minister of Indian affairs tried by simple omission to allow first nations to make some decisions on their own despite the Indian Act.
According to the Indian Act, a farmer on a reserve cannot sell a cow without the permission of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
The then minister, Mr. Irwin, simply refused to make any decision on those matters and left it up to the first nations.
It is good to see, however, that this recognition, this respect and this provision of ownership and stewardship to the first nations finds a way around the fiduciary stranglehold of the Indian Act.
I look forward to Bill C-49 coming before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the near future. At that time I will enjoy discussing this bill with each of the first nations involved and with other interested parties to ensure that this sense of partnership is evident at every stage of this important piece of legislation.