Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to enter this debate for a number of reasons.
My province of Saskatchewan has the largest percentage of Indian people of any province. I am very familiar with that, besides the fact that in my constituency I have four or five or maybe more reserves.
Wednesday is November 11. When I look at this date, I really feel sorry for the misdeeds and the wrongs that have been done to those people of native ancestry who joined the Canadian forces.
I take this opportunity to say that I fully extend my sympathy with them. They volunteered. They were not recruited. They fought. Some of them gave their lives but they were never given full recognition for their services.
To this day, as far as I know, the Department of Veterans Affairs has never issued an apology for the way those fine young men were treated. I have some of those veterans of the Indian ancestry within my constituency.
Throughout history we, meaning caucasians, committed many wrongs against the natives of this country. But one is so outstanding as we approach November 11. It really hurts me. Some of them were even denied the right that they were really people within the army. They were denied such things as Veterans Lands Act rights. The Department of Veteran Affairs denied them the same rights for continuing education. I have talked to many of them. I hope someday I will be able to correct that wrong whether through a motion or a private member's bill.
In my constituency we have Moose Mountain, part of the name of the constituency. I want to tell members about another terrible wrong we did to those people just before the turn of the century. We allowed white people, caucasians, to come in. Yes, they gave a dollar for the land, but within a few years these same speculators sold the same land for $2.50 an acre. They really destroyed a whole potential reserve at that time.
Since that time we have tried to correct, through the Indian lands entitlement act, a wrong that was done. As a result of that, we have created two new Indian reserves out of what was forced into one reserve.
I want to say this to correct a wrong. Every member in this party believes fundamentally, without question, that we want to see the treaties honoured. It is a fallacy for the members opposite to say we do not want to see the treaties honoured. We do. But what we do not want to see is a continuation of these piecemeal events as they relate to natives in Canada which will only perpetuate the myth that we have in Indian affairs at the present time. We really are not taking any substantial measures with this bill to correct a problem in the societal system we have out there. We simply prolong it. This is what my colleagues and I agree on fundamentally.
In 13 months we are facing a brand new millennium. It is time we got with it. It is time that we took a look very seriously at the greatest social problem we have, honour the treaties and let us go into the new millennium, not with the same old rolling over of disputes but with something that looks new, is new and will respect the dignity of every man, woman and child.
This bill will not do that. The Indian Act today does not do that. I do not know how many times I have had people come to me and say “I want the same right that you have, Mr. MP. I want to be able to go down to my office, just like you go to your town office, and look at a financial statement. I want to see an audited financial statement”. It is not only one call; this goes on and on.
For us to say that they are not ready for it, I say if they are not ready now, and I know the women and children are ready and most of the grassroots people are ready, this bill does not face that issue. Until that issue is faced, we are going to continue with the big social problem.