Mr. Speaker, I want to point out to the hon. member opposite that perhaps he has not actually read this legislation.
I have been honoured to have a very good association with a native community in my riding, the Chippewas of Georgina Island. They have been involved right from the beginning on this legislation, in spearheading this effort. The thing that convinced me this was good legislation was that Chief Bill McCue, who has shown tremendous leadership in this area, told me that he and the members of his community want to be treated exactly like every other Canadian. They wanted to have control over their own economic destiny. Perhaps the hon. member should read the legislation because that is what the legislation allows them to do.
Today I rise in the House to speak to and support the second reading of Bill C-49, the first nations land management act. As the minister of Indian affairs has indicated, the bill will enable the 14 first nations which are signatories to the framework agreement on first nation land management to opt out of the land administration sections of the Indian Act and assume direct control over their reserve lands and resources.
As the member of Parliament for York North, I am honoured to represent the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation who are members of my constituency and one of the signatories of this agreement.
In March 1997 the Georgina Island First Nation voted overwhelmingly, 150 to 21, to adopt its own land code and implement its own land management system. I congratulate Chief William McCue, the council and the members for their vision and for their determination.
Two other communities, Chief Rennie Goose and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation in Ontario, and Chief Austin Bear and the Muskoday First Nation in Saskatchewan, have also voted overwhelmingly to assume control over their reserve lands and resources. I congratulate them for their vision and determination.
The 14 first nations that developed a framework agreement have the goal of assuming community control over their reserve lands and resources. They signed a government to government agreement with Canada in February 1996 at a ceremony hosted by the Georgina Island First Nation. I was deeply moved by the experience of attending this historic event in my constituency and witnessing the signature of the previous minister.
The responsibility of the 14 first nations under this framework agreement is to develop their own land management process and conduct their community votes to ratify the agreement. Bill C-49, now before the House for second reading, represents Canada's responsibilities to ratify the agreement.
The framework agreement and Bill C-49 are founded on the principle that first nations should develop their own laws in relation to their reserve lands and resources. This is consistent with the principles proposed by the royal commission on aboriginal peoples with respect to self-reliance.
I am honoured to bring to this House the words of a concerned citizen and a respected elder of the Chippewas of Georgina Island. Charles Warren wrote to me about the effects this legislation will have on his community:
Land management includes development of business, farming and recreational entertainment.
The saying “strike while the iron is hot” cannot apply to us. When opportunity knocks, it takes so long for others to make decisions for us that the iron is no longer hot.
We need business here to provide jobs for our people. We need to be free to hire persons and companies who will act quickly and to our benefit. Now we are told who to hire and have to wait for okays from Indian affairs constantly. Those wheels turn slowly.
Registration of leases takes six months to several years. Sometimes they are lost and have to be redone. The money from such leases are tied up without gaining any interest.
We need control of pollution, of our water and a recycling system. We have a natural swamp area with rare species of birds, animals and plant life. We need some of our people trained to safeguard this area. We have many fruit trees which need to be cared for to be productive.
There is an excellent gravel pit which could provide for the needs of ourselves, plus earn income from outside our community. There is land that can provide golf courses, fish farms and clean factories.
The native people of Georgina Island have all that is needed for their great future if they could have a free hand to develop it.
Charles Warren and his community need swift and speedy passage of this legislation.
The framework agreement and Bill C-49 establish principles for the exercise of self-government in the area of land management.
These principles include full, democratic participation in fundamental decision making by all adult members of the community, both off reserve and on reserve; financial and political accountability to the membership; community dispute resolution mechanisms; equality of all members, both on and off reserve; and equality of female and male members.
The framework agreement and Bill C-49 are consistent with the approach to self-government advocated by a number of aboriginal groups appearing before the royal commission.
The agreement and the bill provide the model proposed by these groups, that is community control over reserve lands and resources. This approach is in accordance with traditional first nation practices and customs and reflects the communities' desire for economic self-sufficiency.
I quote Chief Bill McCue on the importance of parliament's passing this bill promptly to facilitate transition from federal government control over reserve lands to first nations decision making:
Once the framework agreement is implemented by this legislation, our community will be able to make timely responses to future economic opportunities, beginning as early as April 1, 1999, which will generate employment and revenues for our people.
These 14 first nations have faith and confidence in their ability to take the first step to controlling their own destiny. They have demonstrated this ability during the last decade as leaders in the area of land management.
I urge all parties to pass Bill C-49 as promptly as possible so that these 14 first nations can implement their own decision making processes for their reserve lands and resources. Other first nations undoubtedly will wish to pursue this same goal, control over their reserve lands and resources.
I have had the privilege of representing the Chippewas of Georgina Island for the past five years. I have many friends there. I have great confidence in their ability to undertake activities that will ensure the future for their children.
I would also like to say to members of this House that those who believe in social justice, who believe that people should have control over their own destinies, who believe that people should speak their voices and allow their voices to be heard will support this legislation.