Madam Speaker, the Reform Party has always believed that treaties with our native people should be concluded as quickly as possible, so I really wish that I could stand before the House and offer my support for the bill. Unfortunately the bill is full of concerns that have deep ramifications for not only my home province of British Columbia but for the whole country.
The conditions under which many aboriginal people in my riding and many other regions of Canada live are absolutely appalling. I have seen homes without water and proper heating. I have spoken with people who are desperately poor having been unemployed virtually forever and who are hanging on through subsistence welfare cheques. I have seen the emotions of people as they begged for someone to help them. I have witnessed their sense of hopelessness and helplessness. I have been an eyewitness to the less than enthusiastic police investigations into filed complaints of wrongdoing that occurred on reserves.
It takes real courage for our native people to step forward in these circumstances. After the witness reports, the pictures and the paperwork it is truly wrong and upsetting to have the whole thing swept under the carpet.
I have observed firsthand the lack of personal initiative that many aboriginal people have for individual advancement, that personal drive which gives all of us a reason to roll out of bed in the morning and strive to do our best during the upcoming day.
Why do many aboriginals feel this way? The answer is simple. Either their own peers, the Indian act or a combination of both strive to hold them back.
Over the past 10 years approximately $60 billion have been poured into the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. If money alone could solve these problems, I would have thought they would have been solved years ago.
The problem is not money. There has been plenty of money poured into DIAND. Simply put, the resources have never reached those at the grassroots level that need it most. The reality is there has been a litany of broken promises from both the government and many of the native leaders. Bureaucratic red tape and corruption have made it nearly impossible for the individual grassroots aboriginal person to get ahead.
During the summer of 1998 I attended a meeting of grassroots aboriginal people in Airdrie, Alberta, initiated by the Reform Party. Following the meeting and after hearing from many aboriginal people I hosted a meeting on aboriginal accountability in my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. I expected 25 people. That was the number of invitations that went out. Over 50 people crowded into a room representing 15 different bands from all across Vancouver Island.
Time and time again grassroots aboriginals in attendance expressed serious concerns over their respective band councils and leadership. Of all the people in attendance the only ones who did not see that there was an accountability problem were those few who worked for the band councils or the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Person after person stood up to talk indicating that they had the same concerns within their band that other speakers had expressed. They also added they thought that they had been the only ones with this problem until they came to the meeting. They were grateful that others were willing to step forward and publicly discuss the issues. The primary concern was accountability among their own leadership. That is not new. I will refer to some quotes from that meeting:
It's sad to see your own people doing this to you.
If white people had done this to us we'd be up in arms.
This has really opened my eyes. I thought it was just us.
Reformers are the only people who'll listen.
I am leery of the agreement and the lack of firm details of accountability within the band. I am also very concerned about the welfare of women and children under the agreement. Contrary to words spoken on the other side, the rights of Nisga'a women have not been included in the document.
Women's rights deserve to be fully addressed. I have had the opportunity to talk with many grassroots aboriginal people at friendship centres and native women's associations. We have discussed a great many matters ranging from land settlements and equality to health care and family matters.
I speak from the heart on this issue. I have witnessed firsthand the terrible price women and children have paid through the native patriarchal system. Women and children typically have had very few rights bestowed upon them by the elite of the band councils. If the Liberal government is so concerned with the family, why does it not put its words into action for it is time to walk the talk?
One of my next concerns is the matter of personal property rights. Under the current agreement the Nisga'a council, village or corporation will be the owners of the land and therefore the resources.
I believe strongly that to take full responsibility for one's actions has both rewards and consequences. Consequences tend to mean very little if there is no personal risk and no cost to the individual personally. The reward is based on the same principal that to risk something to succeed there will be personal gain. Simply put, what one owns one cares for.
I believe this is not only a problem within our aboriginal community as a whole but a symptom of our society at large. To be truly effective I strongly urge the government to implement individual property rights for all Nisga'a people.
There are several positive aspects of the agreement. One of them is to move the Nisga'a people out from under the oppressive Indian Act. I hope and pray that the Nisga'a people will not be moving from one oppressive regime to another. I have to ask myself a question. If this agreement was to apply directly to me, would I be satisfied to live under it? My simple answer is no. I would not want to be placed under the terms of the agreement. Nor do I believe that all Nisga'a people truly want to be placed under it.
Although a majority of the Nisga'a people did pass the agreement the final result was certainly not overwhelming. A total of 61% approved the agreement, 39% were against it, and 15% of the eligible voters declined to vote.
Perhaps the greatest concern to me is that the agreement sets the framework for all treaty settlements in Canada. There are many agreements yet to be negotiated. However to use the agreement as the cornerstone, I am afraid, sets the country on a long road to the courts and confrontation. I hope that is not what my colleagues on the other side are looking for. They only need to look at the west coast and review the Musqueam land battles. They only need to look to the east coast and try to make sense of the fisheries fiasco the government has created.
All Canadians are deserving of a far better agreement. It is my belief that the agreement will not bring the Nisga'a people into Canada but will create a mini-state within the nation, a nation within a nation, a nation that in 14 different areas has the right to supersede the laws of the Canadian constitution and the province of British Columbia.
I have three native children who are part of my family. I love each one of them very much, just as I love my other five children who are non-native. We have made it work in our family. We love and comfort each other. I want them to grow up in a country where—