House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, relative to the matter of Private Members' Business later this day, discussions have also taken place with all parties and the member for Vancouver East concerning the taking of the division on Motion No. M-132 scheduled for later this day at the conclusion of Private Members' Business. I believe you would find consent for the following motion:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on Motion No. M-132, the question shall be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on Tuesday, November 17, 1998.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Vancouver East is here and consents. The House has heard the proposal of the chief government whip. Is there unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Sudbury Ontario


Diane Marleau Liberalfor the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs

moved that Bill C-49, an act providing for the ratification and the bringing into effect of the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss Bill C-49, an act to bring into effect a framework agreement on first nations land management. This is a significant piece of legislation because, as its title suggests, it has the laudable goal of giving certain Indian bands across the country the right to manage their own reserve lands.

It has been a long term goal of the Reform Party to ensure that Indians obtain authority to manage their own affairs. However, the bill carries within it many profound implications for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians and is a Trojan horse.

As the debate progresses it will be seen that Bill C-49 in its present form will only serve to further widen the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians by extending special rights to a specific segment of Canada's population, solely on the basis of race. It will also serve to continue the marginalization of Canadian women of aboriginal descent who live on reserves.

It is my intention to focus on many of the details within Bill C-49. However I feel compelled to address first some broader issues and questions which the legislation raises. Many of them may explain the perceived necessity of the bill and some of its shortcomings.

My remarks are in the context of one Canada, equality for and among all persons, a phrase taken from the blue book outlining the principles and policies of the Reform Party of Canada. I am proud to represent a party which holds the view that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of race as Canada's aboriginals have been for far too long.

We were recently honoured to have in our midst a great modern day hero, Mr. Nelson Mandela, President of the Republic South Africa. What a tremendous privilege it was to hear him speak of his struggle toward freedom and equality for everyone in his country. It strengthened my belief in the power of hope, truth and grace for our country at this time in its history.

To be in the presence of a man who has endured so much hardship and suffered such loss, to know that he remained triumphant and resolute against the desire to give in to hate, anger, fear and bitterness throughout his struggle, has become for me an indelible memory. I am sure I speak for all of us here today when I say this.

At the same time I was struck by the apparent contradictions in the Prime Minister's introduction of President Mandela and his own sorry record in the matter of Canada's native population. I can only regard them as either blind ignorance or outright hypocrisy.

The Prime Minister lauded President Mandela's fight against apartheid and Canada's efforts in joining this fight. He praised the ideals of a constitution which recognizes no race and grants rights and freedoms to all citizens regardless of race, religion or language. These comments were made against the backdrop of a government whose current and past policies in respect to aboriginal Canadians betray such words.

The government's policy with respect to aboriginal Canadians has actually reinforced a system within the country which has contributed to inequity of opportunity and unequal protection under the law. The practice of treating Indians unequally and apart from the mainstream of Canadian society has created the worst imaginable social and economic conditions for those who live on Canada's reserves. This separation has been just as real and just as injurious to aboriginal Canadians as it was to South African blacks.

I call upon the government today to reconsider seriously its course of policy with respect to aboriginal Canadians and the implications it has for all Canadians. As I will show, legislation such as that which we see in Bill C-49, as well as the current convoluted environment in which land claim and treaty making processes are taking place, is misguided and is contributing to inequality and segregation on the basis of race.

The past band-aid approaches of the government and those before it have failed to establish a legislative fiduciary responsibility by any level of government to aboriginal Canadians. Instead, what we have seen in recent decades are governments attempting to make amends for the wrongs of past actions by creating legislation which changes the outward appearance of things but does not address the fundamental issues.

Our country desperately needs today a brand new relationship between aboriginal Canadians and the Government of Canada which recognizes treaty rights but stresses a commitment to equality, not inequality.

As I turn now to address the details of Bill C-49 I want to point out some of the weaknesses of the bill and what needs to change. One of the primary assertions made by Canadian aboriginal peoples today concerns what they say is a special relationship to the land. Given this claim, it follows that land management could be considered a critical first step toward achieving self-government and economic security. This is a fundamental connection to bear in mind when considering the merits and weaknesses of the bill.

This much granted, while Bill C-49 in title sets out to give certain bands the right to manage their reserve lands, in function it amounts to a substantial power of self-government for each of the individual bands that have signed the framework agreement on land management.

I am sure the government envisions this being accomplished in two primary ways: first, by making those sections of the Indian Act which relate to land management of no effect for those bands that are signatories to the agreement. Of course this would end the delegated authority of the minister of Indian affairs over those sections of the Indian Act. Second, in the vacuum created by making those sections of the Indian Act of no effect, the framework agreement would allow the band councils to create and enforce their own laws with respect to their lands.

I want to state clearly that the Reform Party fully supports expressions of aboriginal self-government which ensure that all members of their communities remain full and equal participants in Canadian society and which uphold the rule of Canadian law and the supremacy of the Constitution of Canada.

However, Reform is opposed to the creation of any act or first nations laws that create a level of governance not envisioned within the Constitution. Yet this is precisely what Bill C-49 does and is the Trojan horse I mentioned earlier. It will extend powers of governance to the bands which are signatory to the framework agreement without any constitutional provisions for such powers having been put in place. We all know that changing the Constitution is a process far more complex and time consuming than simply passing legislation because its effects are so wide ranging.

The legislation in its present form clearly states that in the event of a conflict between band laws and federal or provincial laws band law would prevail. In this sense the rule of Canadian law will not be upheld, which leads to special sovereign rights being granted to certain Indian bands. There is no constitutional basis for this at this time.

There is a process for dealing with this problem. Amend the Constitution. This is difficult to do, and rightly so. The entire purpose of the Constitution is to limit the arbitrary use and abuse of power by governments. That this proposed legislation could lead to abuses of power is the subject of the next part of my speech and a major concern of the British Columbia Native Women's Society.

The British Columbia Native Women's Society has been raging a protracted battle with government to address inequalities and the break-up of families for the previous 15 years without success. Now the government wants to turn over land management to bands without first putting an end to the unequal status of reserve women. The problem will never end for these people. When bands can make laws governing themselves that do not recognize the rights of specific members of their bands which are accorded to them under the Constitution, government is abdicating its responsibilities. Shame on a government like that, shame on this government.

When we say that certain laws that apply to non-aboriginal Canadians no longer apply to aboriginal Canadians we are creating two classes of citizens, those who enjoy general rights together with special rights and privileges and those who enjoy only general rights with no special rights and privileges. This raises an important point about the concept of self-government.

A number of my colleagues have over the years lived in and worked closely with aboriginal communities. As members of this House, many have been meeting extensively with grassroots aboriginal Canadians to address their concerns about the deplorable state of many of Canada's reserves. It is tragic that many aboriginal Canadians, especially those on reserve, have been the victims of the current regime of inequality, prejudice and injustice that characterizes this government.

It is true this government is not overtly promoting inequality or injustice but it has never declared a policy to reinforce equality and justice. We only ever hear the exact opposite. We hear how the government is concerned about the well-being of aboriginal Canadians. It informs us that it has a wide range of effective programs and services in place, that it is increasing funding to ensure the long term economic development and equality of life for individuals and communities. But these are only superficial and empty words. Something is terribly wrong with he government's silence on the problems facing rank and file Indians, its refusal to act and its utter refusal to admit the facts.

The facts are that living conditions for the majority of aboriginals on reserves in Canada have for decades actually been at third world levels. While this government boasts about Canada's standing among the G-7 countries and about our consistent top quality of life ranking by the United Nations, it refuses to address the harsh realities of life on reserve. The reality is that by using the same criteria used to show Canada is number one in quality in life, Canada's Indian reserves would rank 63rd on the same UN list.

What is wrong with this government? Does it only see what it wants to see? Does it only hear what it wants to hear? Will this government stubbornly go on accepting a lie and refusing to admit these realities or will it move to change its present course of action?

Grassroots aboriginals are beginning to speak out strongly concerning the desperate need for change in the quality of life on reserves. Many aboriginals on reserve have no way of life that they are proud of or happy about. This should not be. These people have made it clear to us that on issues such as self-government they are simply not ready.

Listen to what some of them have said. “Most of us living on reserves today are living under dictatorships”, one middle aged woman said recently. A man from another reserve asked “What is the government trying to do with its agenda of self-government, wipe out the Indian people? In a different way it seems as though it is setting us up to wipe us out through self-government”.

Regarding the healing fund another aboriginal on reserve asked, “How can the minister of Indian affairs ever apologize for the abusers? What has happened to us has been passed down through the generations. Do you think money is going to heal us? No way. Only the Creator can do that. The government talks about healing yet not one of us will see a penny of the $350 million for the healing. It is going to go to drive the Indian industry. The chiefs, the government and their lawyers are the only ones who will benefit. We must make sure that our rights and freedoms are protected. I am determined to fight for the future of my children and my grandchildren. We must stop this cycle of desperation”.

There are legal concerns surrounding the elimination of major sections of the Indian Act. These concerns relate especially to the breakdown of marriage, the status of women and children and the potential for unfair treatment of certain groups of natives and non-natives with respect to the possession, occupation, ownership, enjoyment and use of land.

To be obvious, successful land management is perhaps the first most critical step toward self-determination and self-government. Reform supports this insofar as such movement creates a climate for first nations to achieve greater economic self-sufficiency and ultimately self-government as full and equal participants under Canadian law and the Constitution.

The supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law are at issue here. The bill makes it very clear that in the event of a conflict between band laws and either federal or provincial laws, band law will prevail.

What safeguards this is legislation put in place to protect individuals' fundamental rights and freedoms and to ensure they are above encroachment by band laws. Essentially there are none and this is wrong. It is shameful.

The Liberals are washing their hands of responsibility to protect the weakest, most powerless members of the aboriginal communities by introducing this legislation.

It appears to be in direct conflict with section 15(1) of the charter of rights and freedoms:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Do members not find it incredible, as I do, that the government is proceeding with this legislation? The government's complete abdication of responsibility by failing to uphold this section and indeed to defend the entire Constitution is unconscionable.

Surely the primary role of government is to uphold the Constitution, but the legislation being contemplated here states in clause 37 the following:

In the event of any inconsistency or conflict between this Act and any other federal law, this Act prevails to the extent of the inconsistency or conflict.

What guarantee is there that individual rights or freedoms would be protected in Indian band laws? Surely this House must act to ensure the supremacy of the Constitution and rule of federal and provincial laws are strongly affirmed as sufficient. This legislation is found to be flawed on these grounds alone.

I want to briefly address the fact that this legislation will make certain sections of the Indian Act non-applicable. While this is not the first time the government has done this perhaps it is time for the government to undertake a serious review of the need for the Indian Act or at least as to whether comprehensive amendments to it should be introduced.

For many aboriginal Canadians the act has become an anachronistic burden and a vestige of colonial policies. Many sections of the act have directly prevented many on reserve aboriginals from attaining personal wealth, property and financial independence.

It is not insignificant that many of these sections are the same ones that would be made non-applicable by this legislation. It speaks to the many inadequacies of the Indian Act and the barriers which prevent individuals from attaining personal wealth.

This is a very important issue which is the subject of another full speech for another day. However, I wanted this issue to go on the record today.

What I have been attempting to emphasize here is that this government's piecemeal approach to the elimination of the Indian Act is misguided. If the government's intention is, and it appears as though it is, to remove the burden of the act in order to give all aboriginals the right to acquire personal wealth and property which all other Canadians enjoy, then why does it not declare its intentions and just do away with the Indian Act altogether? That would certainly be a positive first step toward true equality of opportunity.

However, if the government's agenda is to slowly erode the Indian Act in order to give the Indian leadership more power at the expense of the powerless, even the right to sovereign self-government but without accountability, then the government should declare those intentions.

The legislation before the House is nothing more than a thinly disguised agenda to bring about self-government. But again, self-government is not the real problem. The problem is what is not being addressed, the government's unwillingness to correct the core problems inherent in the system.

The balance of power must change to favour the majority of aboriginals on reserve, not just the privileged few at the top. The problem is that all we hear is the minister repeating the mantra of commitment to partnering with aboriginals to bring about change. It sounds good. But I wonder if the minister really knows what that means. Is she really confronted every day as she recently claimed with the problems that face the majority of aboriginals on most reserves? Does she experience every day the third world levels of health and housing or the fact that many reserves experience virtually total unemployment? Does she daily experience the effects of substance abuse and gambling addition? I doubt it.

Further I wonder if she is really aware of how all these things are linked to the tragically high rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and family breakdown on a daily basis. If the minister were aware of these things we would see a drastic change in her condescending attitude toward questions on these subjects. We would see a different kind of action and not just words. When will the partnerships that the minister is so fond of mentioning include all aboriginals and not just those fortunate enough to be in leadership? Is it not true that this partnership the minister talks about extends only to the privileged few? Clearly this is the way things appear to be.

This is what I would call extreme, extreme injustice. This is what I call extreme inequity. This is callous indifference to the needs and will of many grassroots aboriginals. Many see individual land codes as necessary given the regional differences and needs of each band. However, it should be noted that this fact actually strengthens the argument in favour upholding Canada's Constitution and law in the event of conflict between Indian band laws and federal and provincial laws which are designed to protect individual rights.

An additional complication is seen in the creation and enactment of a band land code. Since each of these will be individually created and entered into by the bands and since the rule of Canadian law would not always apply, there is no guarantee that a national standard of rights will be met. Furthermore, it will be difficult if not impossible to track cases of inequity and litigation across reserves since each reserve could have vastly different land codes and laws within those codes.

It would be instructive for the House and particularly for members of the government to revisit their recent past. I am referring to their 1969 white paper which was introduced by none other than the Right Hon. Prime Minister who was at that time minister of Indian affairs. Listen to some of the ideas and words uttered at that time by the Liberal government. As members listen I ask them to reflect on this government's near abandonment of those lofty ideals and also to where its departure from those ideals has led it in the last 30 years. I urge members to reflect on whether its policy path has really led to greater equality, a stronger identity and strengthened unity between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

The white paper initiative was designed to “Lead to the full, free and non-discriminatory participation of Indian people in Canadian society”. The white paper outlined several policy initiatives which I summarize to achieve that goal.

First, the legislative and constitutional bases which set Indians apart from other Canadians must be removed. Second, all Canadians must recognize the unique contribution of Indian culture to Canadian life. On this point it is safe to say that the majority of Canadians would affirm this today.

Third, government services to aboriginals should come through the same channels and from the same government agencies for all Canadians. The white paper actually recommended dismantling the department of Indian affairs within five years. This was to have been a key factor in establishing equality for aboriginals among all Canadians.

Fourth, lawful obligations must be recognized. Fifth, those who are furthest behind must be helped the most.

The white paper went on to state:

The separate legal status of Indians—have kept the Indian people apart from and behind other Canadians. The Indian people have not been full citizens of the communities and provinces in which they live and have not enjoyed the equality and benefits that such participation offers. The treatment resulting from their different status has been often worse, sometimes equal and occasionally better than that accorded to their fellow citizens.

What has changed since then? I submit that very little has changed. I ask members to consider the input this government has given over the intervening years and what it has achieved in terms of equality of outcomes. There has not been equality of opportunity because much of the money spent has not reached the majority, and as a result there has not been equality of outcomes.

It is instructive and profitable to read even more of what the Liberal government of the day was saying at that time. A review of this part of the Liberal's history is relevant to the debate today because this successor government has lost sight of a worthy vision that was short lived. Although the Liberals did a complete about face in implementing this policy some four years after introducing the white paper, it is important to remind them of where they stood.

This government must recognize that in its departure from the white paper policy, the path it chose to go down has actually done less to serve and protect the equality rights of aboriginal Canadians. In a very real sense the government's policy decisions over the last 30 years were set on a very slippery slope and today more than ever this is abundantly clear.

It is tragic that the government refuses to recognize that its policies rest on assumptions that have not delivered freedom from want and entry into the mainstream of Canada's economy by aboriginal Canadians.

The white paper even had the full support of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. At the time he said:

We have set the Indians apart as a race. We have set them apart in our laws. We have set them apart in the ways our governments deal with them. They are not citizens of the province as the rest of us are. They are wards of the federal government—they have been set apart in the relations with the government and they have been set apart socially too—.We can go on treating the Indians as having special status. We can go on adding bricks of discrimination around the ghetto in which they live and at the same time perhaps helping them to preserve certain cultural traits and certain ancestral rights—or we can say you are at a crossroads—the time is now to decide whether Indians will be a race set apart in Canada or whether they will be Canadians of full status.

I remind the House that those words were spoken in 1969. Today on the threshold of the 21st century, sadly aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians are still at the same crossroads. Now almost 30 years and billions of dollars later we should not be in this place. Significant progress could have been made and real changes should have been made.

We know that the majority of Canadians desire to see past wrongs made right for a sense of closure to be achieved. There is a desire to move ahead with building a strong and united country. The Reform Party believes in the common sense and goodwill of the majority of Canadians to move forward and accomplish change. But we know that while the majority of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians desire this change, they also realize that it is not more money and programs that will achieve this.

There is not currently equality of opportunity, nor is there equality of outcome despite a history of spending. A person spending just one day hearing testimony in the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development proves that. Studying the human development index report on Canada's reserves will serve to reinforce this knowledge.

True equality can only be achieved when Canadians are united together in willing a change. It must be all Canadians, non-aboriginal and aboriginal together willing equality. One people, one vision and one goal: one Canada, equality for and among all persons.

Clearly governments do have a significant role to play in allowing for the will of the people to bring about this change. Making things right is never easy. It can only occur when there is humility and generosity of spirit on both sides.

With this legislation the government is at another crossroads. It has another opportunity to choose the way of establishing true equality and justice. I urge the government to rethink its current course of policy and the approaches needed to make Canada's aboriginal people truly equal with all other Canadians. This would be the right thing for the government to do. But I wonder, does it have the moral fortitude to choose the right way?

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development needs to be significantly restructured. Decades of DIAND's consistent mismanagement of aboriginal communities must end. It is time for a fresh and revitalized relationship between governments and first nations that will allow them to regain confidence, self-reliance and greater economic independence.

I have highlighted how DIAND's piecemeal approach to addressing problems among first nations has consistently failed. First, by creating programs with no long term plan, it has created a convoluted landscape of programs and rights that benefit a few but which fail to reach and benefit the majority of grassroots aboriginals.

Until such time that the mandate of DIAND is clearly defined in a modern context and its goals realigned with the priority of ensuring that aboriginal Canadians are fully equal under the law and with equal opportunity, Canada's Indian population will continue to suffer.

DIAND is like a canoe heading down a fast moving river but without a paddle. That river can be likened to the Niagara, and we all know how a trip down that river would end up.

There is a great struggle for more than land right now and the stakes are high. The current general direction of modern day treaty negotiations as evidenced in the recent Nisga'a treaty are inconsistent with the Reform Party's principles and policies and are unacceptable to the Canadian public at large.

These treaties have not been negotiated in an open, public manner. Third party interests and the public in general are being ignored throughout the process and then are expected to approve the package after the deals have been made and signed. Current self-government agreements negotiated under the treaty process go beyond any concept of a form of delegated self-government.

What is most incredible is that if anyone dares to question either the contents of the treaty or the process used to arrive at a final agreement, he is instantly labelled a racist and troublemaker by those driving the agenda. There needs to be an openness and acceptance to public scrutiny of both process and analysis of substantive issues.

I want to conclude by saying that the Reform Party strongly desires to bring about closure to outstanding grievances so that aboriginals and non-aboriginals, Canadians all, can move forward as true equals and partners. It is our desire that Canadians move forward into the next millennium, not backward to the attitudes and prejudices of the past. In order to do this, government needs to re-examine many fundamental assumptions it has been operating on for decades.

The way to righting wrongs and having a fresh start is not through unfocused spending and the creation of special rights and privileges which serve only to degrade the rights of others. We cannot purchase equality nor buy an end to injustice. If it were only that easy. These things can only come about by a change of heart and spirit and this nation desperately needs renewal of spirit.

Inequality breeds injustice, suspicion and prejudice. If this government continues on its present course, there will not be greater equality. It will be diminished as will hope for the justice which so many aboriginals are crying out for today.

Aboriginal Canadians continue to experience an ever greater sense of dislocation and isolation from the rest of Canada and the sense of being fully Canadian. I know this is clearly not what the majority of Canadians want.

In closing, I want to point out to this House that Mr. Mandela referred to Canadians as a people. Why can Canadians not refer to themselves as a people? Why can they not do the same? I believe that this Prime Minister and his government have at certain times had a vision of Canadians as a people united and equal. On June 6, 1994 in his address to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on Juno Beach in Normandy, France, the Prime Minister spoke these ringing phrases:

On the beach behind us, Canadians gave their lives So the world would be a better place. In death they were neither anglophones nor francophones, not from the West or the East, not Christians or Jews, not aboriginal peoples or immigrants. They were Canadians.

Let us not simply consecrate a foreign battlefield on which Canadians died with words like these. If we who share this land can die together as Canadians, why can we not also live together as Canadians?

This government must regain sight of this vision of Canada. It must regain it with respect to this piece of legislation, to land claim and treaty negotiations, as well as with respect to its overall fiduciary responsibilities to aboriginal Canadians.

It is impossible to move ahead while dwelling on the past. A weak and halting apology has been extended. Forgiveness, however grudgingly accepted, was given. It is time now time for all Canadians to move on into the next century as one people, united in the principle of equality and strengthened by freedom and truth.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor:

Bill C-49, an act providing for the ratification and the bringing into effect of the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management, be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba


David Iftody LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to continue the debate on second reading of Bill C-49, the first nations land management act.

This bill gives us the opportunity to deliver on a vision that the government articulated in January when we responded to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. This is a bill that puts into action the vision outlined in “Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan”. We said that gathering strength was about addressing the needs of communities. We said it was about building a real partnership with aboriginal people. We said it was about working closely together with aboriginal peoples to define that relationship and shape a common vision of that relationship between us.

The bill before us delivers on that vision. It seeks to ratify the framework agreement of first nations land management signed by the first nations who have been working patiently, persistently and with tremendous commitment over the past seven years to establish this new land management regime.

The framework agreement was negotiated government to government by the department and these first nations. Provincial governments directly impacted by the framework agreement were consulted closely throughout the process. The agreement will end the control imposed by the Indian Act on how these first nations manage their lands. It is about putting the daily management of their own affairs into their own hands. In other words, it is about empowerment.

The Indian Act is a complex piece of legislation and first nations feel very strongly about it. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recognizes that complexity in its own report. The Indian Act is paternalistic. At the same time, it confers recognition that first nations have, contrary to what the hon. member was suggesting here earlier, a unique legal position in Canada which includes a special relationship with the federal government.

There are always ways to get away from some of the more intrusive provisions of the Indian Act without changing that special relationship and that is part of the purpose of the bill before us. It ratifies a framework agreement on first nations land management in which 14 first nations move out from those sections of the Indian Act dealing with land management. The regime represented in this legislation would provide first nations with control over their land and indeed natural resources.

As outlined in this bill, first nations will develop a land code that will set the basic mechanisms for governance, laws that govern land, accountability and interest in lands and resources. Each first nation will enter into an individual agreement with Canada to determine a level of operational funding for land management and to set out the specifics of transition to the new regime. Once this bill is passed and once the land code is in effect and the agreement in place, the land management provisions of the Indian Act will no longer apply to these communities.

First nations authority will apply on first nations land. First nations will control the issues of leases, licences and other interests in their lands. They will also have the commensurate and compatible authority to enforce their laws by creating offences punishable on summary conviction and a range of remedies. They will be able to establish enforcement procedures including the appointment of justices of the peace to deal with offences against first nations land laws. First nations will retain and manage revenue money from the land transactions for which they will be accountable to their members.

The bill withdraws the expropriation provisions in section 35 of the Indian Act. It ensures there will be no loss of first nations lands through sale or expropriation.

In negotiating the framework agreement, first nations have provided for a series of democratic accountability that will ensure that communities will have a vote before the land codes are implemented.

For the first time the agreement will also provide for the implementation of environmental regulations on their land. These regulations will be harmonized with those in effect in the province in which the community is located.

For these first nations the framework agreement ends a system where officials in my department have considerable involvement and authority in day to day land management issues. It ends a system where ministerial approval must be sought even for routine transactions such as the issuance of licences and permits.

The Indian Act contains provisions regarding the purposes for which lands may be used. It controls the rights of individual first nations peoples in possession of reserve lands and the surrender and designation of reserve lands. It controls the management of reserves, surrendered and designated lands and other matters. It gives the minister wide ranging discretion regarding the use of reserve lands and resources. It gives the governor in council the right to grant a first nation powers to control and manage land in the reserve. However, at the same time it may withdraw that right at any time.

The land management provisions of the Indian Act have caused delays for first nations that want to proceed with economic development projects in their communities. Some have wanted, for example, to develop forest companies. We are told that even today possibly up to 50 memorandums of understanding exist between first nations and mining companies to exploit these opportunities in their communities.

Others have wanted to develop shopping centres but because of the red tape imposed by the Indian Act, first nations, the federal government and third parties, in other words business interests and private interests, have often been frustrated by these interminable delays. Transactions that off reserve might take a matter of weeks can go on for months when they involve first nations land.

As a result, many opportunities are lost and communities are denied the chance to realize their hopes for economic prosperity and freedom within the boundaries of their own communities.

There is no reason why the minister needs to be involved in these day to day operations and in the management of these reserve lands. Those decisions ought to be made at the local level.

The framework agreement in this legislation gives the community the option of taking control over the reserve lands and resources. These first nations want to get on with creating jobs and economic growth in their communities without having to turn to the minister or my department for approval.

This regime places first nations in the position of managing their lands and resources to strengthen and sustain their communities. This is what the framework agreement gives them the authority to do.

With respect to the Indian Act, I realize there is a legislative gap concerning matrimonial property issues. Therefore to address this very important matter, on June 9 the minister announced the establishment of an independent fact finding process to investigate the issue of matrimonial property as it relates to reserve lands. Letters of invitation have been sent to our partners to participate in the meeting where in partnership we could define the terms of reference and the time lines for the process. We look forward to making a further announcement on this initiative in the near future.

I remind the House that although the framework agreement applies to first nations that have signed it, other first nations are watching closely to see how effective the new regime will be in getting those communities out from under the paternalism of the Indian Act and creating positive opportunities in their communities.

The provisions in this agreement and the legislation before us could well become a model for other agreements in the near future.

As a result of the interest expressed by other first nations to participate in the new land management regime, a provision has been included to permit other first nations to be added to this bill through order in council.

However, before the regime is open to other first nations we will review the language of the bill.

As this House is aware, federal laws must apply equally in both common law and civil code in both official languages. None of the 14 first nations are in the province of Quebec and therefore the civil code does not apply to them.

My department has agreed that the formal review will be undertaken during the 12 months and the revision to the legislation resulting from this review will be included in the harmonization act which my colleague the Minister of Justice will introduce.

However, this will not take place until the provinces have been thoroughly and properly consulted and we have reviewed this regime within 12 months of its operation.

In the meantime, it is important that first nations get on with the job of developing and ratifying their land codes and individual agreements with the government. It is important that first nations get on with the job of building their economies on the strength of the new land management regime.

The benefits of this legislation will be far reaching. It will affect not only first nations communities but will also benefit the people, businesses and government that have sought to build a stronger relationship, a stronger partnership, with these first nation communities.

Most of all, this legislation will benefit the first nations themselves. It will give them greater autonomy and control over land and revenue monies. It will create new opportunities for economic development and strengthen the capacity and expertise in first nations communities across the country. It will help create a foundation of self-government and in this way it delivers on the commitments made in our aboriginal action plan “Gathering Strength”.

I want to say a few words in appreciation for the first nations leaders, some of them in Ottawa this week, who have negotiated the framework agreement and seen it through. They have my deepest respect and admiration for their tenacity and determination. The first nations leaders had a goal and they did not waver in pursuing it. The leaders led this process. This is a first nations initiative driven by leadership, vision and commitment to their own people.

I urge the House, particularly the Reform Party, to support this legislation which ratifies the framework agreement that makes the first nations vision a reality.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

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. (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.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before resuming debate, I wish to congratulate the hon. member for Saint-Jean. It is very difficult to speak other languages.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my party I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this act to implement the framework agreement on first nations land management.

This bill is a long overdue step forward in the process of returning to first nations control of the land that is rightfully theirs. It is also a major advancement to the eventual goal of first nations self-government.

The New Democratic Party has long supported first nations inherent right to self-government. We have supported the First Nations through this century while successive Liberal and Conservative governments have pursued shameful and reprehensible policies of assimilation.

The official policy of assimilation may be a thing of the past but it cannot be denied that aboriginal people are still an oppressed minority.

If we look at any social indicator, whether it be income, life span, disease rates or suicide rates, aboriginal people make up the bottom rung in virtually every category. These social problems are wounds that still have not been healed.

It is a testament to the strength of the first nations cultures that they have survived and persevered through all these generations of oppression.

I support this bill because it is a ground breaking step in giving first nations the rights they deserve and have so long been denied. Turning control of their lands over to first nations governments will go to a long way toward restoring self-sufficiency.

I would particularly like to extend my thanks and congratulations to the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, signatories to this framework agreement, and to Chief William Lathlin as well as former chief and now Grand Chief of MKO Francis Flett.

Both these first nations leaders have been tireless in their efforts to improve the lives of their people both in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the whole of the MKO region of northern Manitoba. Their leadership in bringing the Opaskwayak Cree Nation into this agreement was important to its progression to this stage.

I am sure members of this House will join me in congratulating Chief Lathlin as well as Grand Chief Flett and in wishing Grand Chief Flett all the best in his recovery from recent heart surgery.

The contributions of Chief Lathlin and Grand Chief Flett are particularly noteworthy in light of the efforts of the Reform Party and others with a right wing imperialistic agenda who have been trying to undermine the legitimacy of first nations government.

Like wolves in sheep's clothing, Reform cloaks its anti-first nations rhetoric in populist language. But Reform's true intention toward the first nations is clear. Reform's real intention is the assimilation of the first nations. That is why Reform constantly tries to undermine first nations governments.

The Reform Party and their right wing allies try to take extreme examples and try to paint all first nations governments with the same brush.

Chief Lathlin and Grand Chief Flett are two of the many excellent first nations leaders who proved the Reform Party's generalizations about first nations governments to be dead wrong.

This bill is a rare moment of fairness to the first nations by a government that has otherwise chosen to ignore them. I want to make it clear that I support the bill for the contributions it makes toward the eventual goal of self-government.

However, there is an important outstanding issue that the bill before us today does not address. The Dene people of northern Manitoba have a longstanding concern regarding their land entitlements in Nunavut. Long before Europeans set foot on this continent, the Dene hunted caribou on lands that will soon become part of Nunavut.

As members know, caribou herds migrate vast distances throughout the year. Traditionally the Dene were a nomadic people and followed the caribou herds.

One of the Canadian government's most abhorrent crimes against any first nation was when it forced the Dene into reserves back in the 1950s.

Forcing a nomadic people into a settled, sedentary way of living is social engineering of the worst kind and represented one of the lowest points of Canada's shameful policy of assimilation toward first nations.

The social problems caused were staggering and, as I have said in this House before, still require compensation from the federal government.

Besides these tragic social consequences, another outcome was that the Dene people were divided. Two bands, the Sayisi Dene First Nation and the Northlands First Nation ended up in Manitoba south of the 60th parallel.

I should not have to remind the House that caribou do not recognize provincial and territorial borders. Even though these two Dene bands reside in Manitoba, their traditional hunting ground extends north to the 60th parallel into the territory soon to be known as Nunavut.

This bill establishes a framework to transfer land management power to bands but what needs to be clarified and guaranteed is the Dene people's right to apply this framework in their traditional lands north of 60 as well as south. I am looking forward to addressing this shortcoming when the bill goes to committee.

The government should not take my accolade and support for this bill to mean that I think its duty toward first nations people will be met with this one piece of legislation. This is far from the case.

The social problems facing many first nations continue to exceed anything experienced in the rest of Canada and each problem requires the government's immediate attention. Housing conditions are third world standard in many communities, with no running water and inadequate sanitation. Disease levels are significantly higher than in the rest of Canada, with HIV, diabetes and kidney disease particularly serious problems. There is also a chronic shortage of qualified health care professionals.

Unemployment levels in many first nation communities are astronomical, exceeding 90% in some areas. These issues need to be properly addressed.

A report was recently released by MKO, the Manitoba ministry of family services and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada that looked into food and nutritional problems in isolated first nations communities. This report paints a distressing picture. It states that the high cost of perishable food and the inadequacy of social assistance food allowance to cover the cost means that the availability of fresh nutritious food in remote communities is very poor.

The impact on health in these first nations is massive. The report states that to cover the cost of nutritious food for a family of four will require a 35% increase in monthly social assistance food allowance. Adequate nutrition is a basic necessity that the government must ensure is provided for every first nation person. There is no reason why the conditions in first nations communities I have listed should exist in Canada. They are of third world standard and are totally unacceptable in a country of the relative wealth of Canada.

I recently sent a letter to the minister of Indian affairs requesting her to implement the recommendations of the MKO report. Today I have not received a response and I cannot help but question, despite the advances in this bill, whether the Liberal government has any serious intention of meeting its responsibilities to the first nations.

I take this opportunity to respond to some of the comments I heard from previous speakers, certainly from the member of the Reform Party.

With his comments about everyone in Canada being one people, I cannot help but wonder how veterans felt when they came back from the war and had to give up their treaty rights and their right to be part of their own first nations. The speeches by the governing authority given in residential schools in Regina commented on the fact that when these men came back from war they would want to be treated as equals and we just could not do that. No wonder we have the feelings we have in first nations today.

The concerns raised by the native women's group are valid and should be addressed to their satisfaction. I also believe that had there not been interference by previous governments in Canada in the past the equality they are fighting for would have happened already.

Reform's comments that the majority of aboriginal people do not want this process are just not valid.

Opposition parties have questioned this government on its patronage appointments, its wasted dollars, its misplaced priorities and even the credibility and integrity of its solicitor general. Would I suggest we throw away the right of Canadians to democracy and to elect their own representatives? Never. I will put my faith in Canadians to see this government for what it is, a government shirking its responsibilities to Canada and Canadians.

I trust the members of first nations are taking an active part in electing their leaders. Turning land management powers over to first nations is an important step toward self-government. I offer my support for this bill, but let us be clear that this is no substitute for tangible action to alleviate the horrific social conditions to which many first nations people are subject. There are still many wounds to be healed.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the member's speech and I heard the passion in her voice. I believe she believes that what she is saying is correct. It is important that what we say in debate be recorded in a factual manner and that we not mislead the people watching this debate or other members of parliament. Certain statements were made to Reform, its right wing agenda and its friends. I am not sure who she was talking about. She talked about there being a century of NDP support for the social agenda and for the first nations in Canada. She may have her terms of reference a bit out of whack. Maybe she went back a little further than the party does.

I will give an example of the real issue. There was an emergency meeting last night with aboriginal affairs committee members of the Senate and the House concerning the tragic situation that has developed in British Columbia. I am not here to stick up for the government or for the Reform Party. I attended that meeting last night as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. A Liberal member, a Bloc member and a Reform member were there but there were no NDP members.

If the member is going to tell the House that she supports first nations then let us see her at the committee meetings, at the drudgery and the work that there is no fun in, where there are no cameras and no glorious speeches.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have no problem addressing the fact that one member may not have been at one meeting. What is more important is an honest and true commitment to changing the position of the government toward aboriginal people. I will stand behind my party's position and my own position. I do not have to worry that the aboriginal people from my area and throughout Canada will question that. We have seen the proof come out of New Democratic Party members as well as governments. That does not happen.

If the member takes the right wing, imperialistic note to mean the Conservative Party, by all means he should go forth and take it. Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have had opportunities over the years to change the situation but they never did. It is time the government does that. It has been a long time coming. It has been happening because we have more New Democrats here to ensure that happens.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, some of the rhetoric I have heard from the member for Churchill is not worthy of an intelligent conversation. Prior to the last parliament in this House there was not a single piece of aboriginal legislation that did not get all-party consent in this place. Nobody ever challenged the status quo. There are do gooders and people who do good. I place myself in the latter category. I challenge the status quo which has led us to the reserves having the worst statistics in the nation.

The member for Churchill has blinders on in terms of thinking we cannot challenge the status quo and fix what is wrong with many of the aboriginal communities in Canada.

If it is wrong to challenge the fact that we do not have accountability in many areas, if it is wrong to challenge that we do not have a democracy in full flower in many of those communities, if it is wrong to say that equality is not something to strive for, if it is wrong to be opposed to sexual and other abuse which is rampant in some of these communities, if it is wrong to think that we can fix fetal alcohol syndrome, I would apologize to the member.

Those are all worthy goals. Members of my caucus and I are pursuing these things with vigour. We are getting better results than the all party cloak of silence that resided in this place prior to our arriving in the last parliament.

We are challenging what is wrong and we are starting to see major fixes. That is not to say that the signatories, the bands that are signatories to the legislation, fall into that category. In many respects I am quite sure they do not. Some of them may not at all. I do not want to be appearing to tarnish all as the same because they are not. One of the reasons the legislation exists is that these are some of the more progressive, wealthier bands that have a lot of private property concepts and other things going for them.

In many respects there are objectives in the legislation which I find admirable. I have some problems with the legislation and I will talk about them later. If the member wishes to comment on my comments, she is welcome.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, nobody is opposed to all the things the member mentioned. There is not a first nation leader in the country who is not striving for the same things. The difference between the Reform Party and the New Democratic Party is that I will not tell first nations people what they have to do. That has been the problem for too long.

If ever there is to be change within a community or a country, it needs to come from within. That is the truest strong change. That has been how democratic governments have progressed.

We sit here and complain. I tried to indicate that when I commented on patronage. We in Canada have had the good government we talk about for 131 years and we are still worrying about patronage and different things happening. Does that mean that aboriginal people, first nations people, should not have the right to go through a process of their own self-government because one party suggests that it knows best, that it knows the way? First nations people can make that decision and do it a heck of a lot better than we have done in the past.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I agree that 131 years have not brought anything close to equality of opportunity or equality of outcomes. It is partly because governments did not listen to the people. The B.C. Native Women's Society contacted us and said that we have to defeat this legislation. That is not failing to listen to the little person like we were accused of doing. That is taking very seriously the concerns of the person who will be affected by the legislation. The Reform Party is committed to that.

I resent any implication that we are not acting in the best interest of the people to be affected by the legislation. I challenge members from all other parties to attend the grassroots aboriginal meetings being held throughout Canada to find out what the grassroots aboriginals are saying.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I assure the member from the Reform Party that I have spoken to a number of grassroots first nations people. I have some 26 first nations in my riding. I have family members, aunts, uncles and cousins, who are part of two of the first nations in Saskatchewan. I have been there and I have spoken to people there. I know these first nations have worked hard to improve their communities. I know that all other first nations will do the same. I believe that with my heart and soul. I know that is the right way to go for aboriginal people.

There will be problems here and there along the way the same as any democratic government has problems as it progresses over time. The first nations people have the right to make that decision. This is the best move for them. They have discussed it in numerous communities. They have talked about it with their people and want these changes so that they can continue on and become more self-sufficient. That is what is needed for all first nations. That is the true way to make change for first nations people. They should be given the right to control their own interests.

It is not right to suggest in any way, shape or form that the land to which first nations people are entitled under treaty rights is not really theirs or that it is not equality if they have treaty rights.

The hon. member mentioned women's rights. Nobody argues that. I absolutely support the right of first nations women to pursue the changes they want. They have that support and they will continue to have that support. As I indicated, I am sure they will make the changes that are needed because anybody who knows first nations women that have been involved over the years knows they are strong people who have worked hard to improve conditions in their communities.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-49, an act providing for the ratification and the bringing into effect of the framework agreement on first nations land management.

This piece of legislation has been almost 10 years in the making beginning in 1989 as the lands revenue and trust review. That agreement encompassed a number of areas, land management being one of them. While that agreement fell through, a number of first nations persevered with negotiations for land management.

The bill was formerly introduced as Bill C-75 on December 10, 1996, but died on the order paper. Bill C-49, while similar to the original bill, has some important amendments to address the concerns of native women. I will discuss them in greater detail later.

I congratulate the 14 first nations that are signatories to the framework agreement. They are Westbank, Musqueam, Lheidli T'enneh, N'Quatqua and Squamish, all from British Columbia; Siksika in Alberta; Muskoday and Cowessess in Saskatchewan; the Opaskwayak Cree from Manitoba; the Nipissing and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island, the Chippewas of Mnjikaning and the Chippewas from Georgina Island, all from Ontario; and the Saint Mary's in New Brunswick. These first nations have worked hard to have this legislation reach this stage of the process and are anxious to see it become law.

Bill C-49 allows the 13 first nations who signed the framework on February 12, 1996 and the Saint Mary's from New Brunswick who joined in May 1998 to assume control of land management and move out from under the provisions of the Indian Act. This does not affect other first nations that are not signatories to the agreement. Nor does it diminish the authority of the Indian Act for areas other than land management.

The legislation is an incremental step toward self-government and should be a positive move for the affected bands as they have greater influence over economic development on their reserves. The framework agreement will allow the first nations the opportunity to manage their land and resources through the establishment of land codes.

The framework agreement may become a model for other such agreements on land management once the legislation passes and the first nations are given the opportunity to implement it. Thirty or forty first nations have already expressed an interest in the framework agreement. I expect many more to do so as they are able to see the benefits of the legislation.

We are all aware of the faults of the Indian Act. As I mentioned, the legislation will allow first nations to move out from under the restrictions of the Indian Act and provide opportunities for first nations to manage their own land and resources. This will be done through land codes that they will develop to meet their own requirements.

The first step for each of the first nations will be to develop that land code. It will outline the rules necessary for land management, covering such things as what land is affected by the land code, rules for use and occupation of the land, revenue collection, amendments and a dispute resolution process among other things.

Not only does this transfer authority from the federal government to the first nations, but through the land code it also encourages stronger community participation. Land codes must be ratified by the communities and voted on by first nation people living both on and off reserve. This is an onerous job but one that the first nations felt was very important and warranted the extra work.

It is worth mentioning that the land codes must be ratified by the community but not by the federal government. Following ratification each reserve must enter into an individual transfer agreement with Canada. The transfer agreement will include the development and operational funding to be paid by Canada to the first nation and the details on the transfer of administration. The community must ratify both the land code and the transfer agreement. First nations will manage their land and resources under Bill C-49 including the associated revenues, except for oil and gas revenues which remain a federal responsibility.

Only 14 first nations have signed the agreement, a very small percentage of the 633 first nations in Canada. One of the reasons for this small number relates to land management under the Indian Act. While it is possible under the Indian Act to request delegated authority from the federal government to manage lands, only 9 of the 633 first nations have done so. Dissatisfaction with the limitations of the delegated authority was the impetus behind the framework agreement and the legislation we are discussing today.

Another reason for the relatively small number of signatories to the agreement is concern by a number of first nations that these agreements would be similar to the proposed amendments to the Indian Act that have met with resistance. This agreement however is reserve specific, affecting only the bands listed in the agreement. Furthermore the agreement is not a treaty and does not affect treaty or constitutional rights of aboriginal people. The reserves remain a federal responsibility under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, and the lands continue to be protected from surrender of sale.

At the same time these 14 first nations will have the opportunity to manage their own land and the legal status to govern their own land and resources. The only difference from other land owners will be the inability to sell that property.

As I mentioned earlier, the legislation is long overdue and eagerly awaited by the first nations that are anxious to begin implementation. There are however some concerns regarding the legislation as outlined by the British Columbia Native Women's Society.

Although I have had some difficulty contacting the British Columbia Native Women's Society, it is my understanding of its position that it feels the legislation transfers responsibility for equality on reserve, particularly for native women upon the breakdown of marriage, from the federal government to first nations. It sees this as an abdication of federal power that demonstrates the government's lack of commitment to equality.

In addition, there is no minimum standard provided in the legislation for the division of property such as exists in provincial law upon the breakdown of marriage, which increases the possibility that inequality will not be dealt with in an acceptable manner perhaps by the first nations involved.

These are legitimate concerns that stem from the flaws of the Indian Act that established and perpetuated an inferior position for women in the legislation. The first nations that are signatories to this agreement listened to the concerns of the British Columbia Native Women's Society and drafted amendments to the framework agreement to address its reservations.

The amendments require the first nations to establish community process in their land codes regulating use, occupancy and possession of reserve land should a marriage breakdown occur. At the same time it places the onus on the first nations and their respective members to adequately provide regulations for division of matrimonial property. This ensures that the process meets the requirements of the first nations members and avoids the age old problem of having the federal government dictate to the first nations.

While I feel it would have been useful and informative to have met with the British Columbia Native Women's Society to discuss its concerns, my request for meetings were not answered. I look forward to hearing the society outline its position as we discuss the legislation in detail at committee.

While there are concerns with the piece of legislation, the objective or the impetus of Bill C-49 to allow first nations to move closer to economic independence is long overdue. As the Nisga'a treaty in British Columbia demonstrates, first nations want the opportunity to govern their lands and people and are prepared to accept the challenges of doing so.

The positive effects of such legislation will be evident as more first nations take steps toward self-reliance and independence.

The chiefs of the first nations with whom I have spoken have all expressed their support for this legislation and the opportunities it offers them and their respective first nations. As I have mentioned they are prepared to begin implementation of this bill once it completes the legislative process. Currently three first nations have land codes prepared and five more are in development.

I look forward to examining this legislation in committee. I welcome the opportunity to hear my colleagues' comments on this legislation, Bill C-49.

In summing up I would like to add a few points. The hon. member from the Bloc mentioned a concept which many of us take for granted, that of fee simple land ownership. I would dare to say that there are many people who sit within the halls of this parliament itself who do not understand the Indian Act. Certainly I am not pretending in any way, shape or form to be an expert on the Indian Act but I have read it and it is a terrible piece of legislation.

The whole concept of fee simple ownership that we take for granted is that one can actually own a piece of property. For instance the first nations reserves in Nova Scotia may have a piece of woodland of a couple of hundred acres that they may want to cut timber on but they do not have the ability to that. First they have to apply, they have to go on bended knee to the federal government to get permission to carry on work on property that they own but which is somehow being held in trust for them by the federal government.

This bill is about the whole concept of land ownership. It is about not having to apply to someone else if they want to have a gravel pit on their property, if they want to build a road to access timber resources, if they want to utilize those timber resources for the economic benefit of the reserve, if they want to look at the mining potential for the property. These are all things that private ownership takes for granted. It does not even think about because it is a foreign concept to think about it any other way, but first nations do not have that ability.

There are some problems with the bill and issues it does not address. However, it does address a very important point for economic renewal, the ability for first nations to have economic activity and bring themselves out from under the Indian Act and actually have some activity in Canada and take their place as equal citizens on the property which the rest of us take for granted.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of comments and a question.

The British Columbia Native Women's Society is looking for the same type of rights to protect them in the event of a marriage breakdown as is currently offered by the provinces. They do not believe that protection is in place which is a serious concern.

The issue of comparing land management to fee simple ownership would be a little closer to reality if the land was not closer to fee common which means that it is not held individually. Therefore for individuals to make these quick and easy decisions that the hon. member talks about, of course it is not possible to make those kinds of decisions.

Municipalities must obtain permits to do just about anything or they must go to the people who live in the community. They are governed by regulations established by senior levels of government. To make their own regulations without submitting them anywhere else to see if they meet a basic standard for rights is not the way municipalities work.

Does the member support fee simple ownership since he seems to think it is the best way to handle these types of situations?

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's question. It is a legitimate question. I heard a couple of questions in there so I would like to answer everything the member spoke about.

First of all the British Columbia Native Women's Society and the entrenchment of matrimonial rights under the legislation or under Indian affairs versus what is offered for protection under provincial legislation is a very important point. It is one that is going to require a great deal more study. However, the division of property on the breakdown of a marriage can be met within the land codes which are all voted on in a democratic process and come before both on reserve and off reserve members of each individual first nation.

I did not say that this legislation was perfect but it is a step in the right direction. Far too often in the history of this country we have looked at legislation, and all legislation is inherently flawed to some degree, but instead of moving forward and allowing 99% of the legislation to be good, we get hung up on 1% of it. This is the case.

The first nations are responsible themselves in their land codes to decide the division of property on the breakdown of a marriage. I expect they will do that in a democratic process, although there may be some room for abuse of that process.

The other issue is fee common ownership. That is a very good analogy. I used fee simple because fee simple is what most of us understand. The member is absolutely right about fee common.

Again a democratically elected chief and tribal council will decide what activity is going to be carried on. The whole idea of common ownership for the greater good is not one that all of us are familiar with. I am a private landowner and a sixth generation farmer. The whole idea of ownership of property is something that is inherent to my culture and the way I was brought up.

However, the idea of a common ownership of land is not completely foreign to us. There is no reason why they still cannot have democratic representation through common land ownership with the chief and the tribal councils being democratically elected.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about fee simple ownership. It is a rather critical sticking point with a lot of discussion in terms of how things should be structured to make them better.

In Campbell River on Vancouver Island, the community I live in, the Campbell River Band has a unique circumstance. When the agreement was signed by the band to put the four lane bypass through the reserve, a land transfer was effected. The bottom line is the reserve now has reserve land and a big section of fee simple land. The band had a business proposal that included all of the land. After several years it is now one of the major developments. It is a major shopping area in the community and serves the whole community. It is highly successful.

The difference to the band is that it has a much easier time administratively dealing with the fee simple land. It does not have to go through the minister, through the Indian Act and all of the red tape and bureaucracy. That is the upside. The downside is that there are taxation ramifications. In actual fact what I have heard from some who are in that business is they can spend so much avoiding taxes that they end up not running a very good business.

With the test of time we may see demonstrated that despite the rap it has received from what is essentially a collectivist static encumbrance placed upon land ownership by the Indian Act, fee simple ownership may turn out to be the way to go in the long run. Philosophically I agree with that.

I wonder if the member would like to comment on what he thinks about what I just said.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, again I think it is a pertinent point, the whole principle of fee simple ownership. However, it is not the case within this piece of legislation and it is protected within the legislation from reverting to fee simple ownership.

I will not speak for first nations as they will speak for themselves, but first nations may find that is the direction in which they want to head. They can incorporate that. Once there is some economic activity and the chance for advancement, jobs and everything that comes with economic activity on reserves, that whole idea of land ownership may be a principle or idea that will be more fully embraced by first nations. It may not. I am not trying to speak for them.

They have a system of government which has worked for a great deal of time. Many of us have a great culture the same as the first nations do and a lot of history that has evolved over a period of time. I would hesitate to say all Canadians will be governed in 100 years by the same governments and the same types of policies we have now because things change. Things may change in the future.

We are not dealing with the future but with the present and the possibility that something that is closer to fee simple ownership or fee common ownership will enable first nations to utilize their land without having to go to the federal government every time they want to carry out any type of economic activity. That is the situation now. Anything that takes us away from that situation is a good thing.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

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.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested in some of the comments and remarks which the hon. member made. Certainly toward the end of his speech he mentioned the inherent right to self-government as being one of the key goals and objectives that we are seeking, to ensure it is recognized.

As we know, some of us think it was a missed opportunity when the Charlottetown deal fell through because that would have promoted or guaranteed that inherent right. I would like the member to comment on that.

There is another issue I would like the hon. member to comment on. In recent months we have been hearing speaker after speaker from the Reform Party challenging, denouncing and condemning native leaders and communities, implying that there is widespread, rampant corruption, almost an irresponsibility in terms of handling financial matters, as if they are not capable or not ready to take control of their own destiny with true self-government.

Upon hearing these things over the last few months, one cannot help but think of similar charges which were made about the leadership of the civil rights movement in the southern United States. As those people started to get very close to the prospect of true social justice, critics in the southern United States, from groups like the Reform Party, felt that the easiest way to challenge this kind of evolution in terms of human rights and civil rights was to denounce the leadership, to take potshots at the leadership, to criticise them and to try to convince people that that group of people was not ready to take their first struggling steps toward true participation.

I would like to hear the member's comments on both of those things: first, the failure of the Charlottetown deal, which might have taken some steps toward self-government for aboriginal people and, second, the obvious connection between other civil rights movements and the extreme right wing in those areas taking shots at the leadership of those movements to try to discredit them.