Mr. Speaker, of all the issues we will be dealing with in this parliament this issue will have the most profound impact on the state of our nation now and for the next 20 years. With a combination of our collective guilt and a recognition of the appalling conditions that exist on aboriginal lands and for aboriginal people both on and off reserve, we are pursuing a course with the Nisga'a deal that will carve up this country. It will balkanize our nation and do little to improve the health and welfare of aboriginal people in this country.
This deal is an extension of the racist Indian Act which has acted like a lodestone around the necks of aboriginal people and which has ensured that they cannot develop as non-aboriginals have. It is nothing other than the continuation of separate development.
In the past decade I worked in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. I saw the appalling conditions under separate development. I have been privileged to work with aboriginal people both on and off reserve. I have seen them raped. I have seen them assaulted. I have seen them overdose, some successfully and some unsuccessfully. I have seen their children abused. I have seen their bodies broken and their spirits destroyed.
That is the direct result of the separate development we have pursued for more than 120 years. Whether we are speaking about South Africa under apartheid or Canada under the Indian Act, both engaged in separate development and were equal failures.
The Nisga'a deal is nothing but an extension and an entrenchment of the same type of separate development. It will do very little to improve the health and welfare of these people. In fact, Canada is engaging in apartheid today.
The Nisga'a deal represents more than 16 different powers that supersede the federal and provincial powers. As my colleague from the Progressive Conservatives mentioned, this is a deal nation to nation. It cannot be looked at in isolation for there are 50 other so-called deals that will be made in British Columbia. So far those claims represent 110% of the land mass of B.C. The rest of Canada cannot be complacent in believing this will not affect them.
The Delgamuukw decision said very clearly that aboriginal title was not extinguished. The implicit nature of the decision was that oral tradition would be equal to written tradition and there has been an opening up of treaties from coast to coast. This will have the profound impact of balkanizing our nation. It will divide it up into mini states where rights are not given to the individual but are given to the collective.
Part of the problem we have had is that individual rights have never been given to aboriginal people. As a result, powers have been given to the collective. This cannot be underestimated. We have been doing this for years.
Some $6.5 billion per year and $3.5 billion goes directly to more than 600 bands representing over a quarter of a million aboriginal people who are suffering from the same or worse conditions today than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago. They have the highest rates of suicide, substance abuse, unemployment, diabetes and tuberculosis. By many other parameters they have the worst conditions in this country, conditions that approach those of the third world. That is what separate development has done for aboriginal people.
We are going beyond that. The courts are now developing separate rules. Under the courts, an aboriginal person would be treated differently from a non-aboriginal person for committing the same offence. Is it right for an aboriginal person who has committed a murder or another serious offence to go back into the community because it is the right thing to do from the court's perspective?
That is exactly what happened recently on a reserve that I worked on. Somebody who had committed murder, not once but on two separate occasions, was being released into the very community where the murder had been committed. Where is the justice for the aboriginal people, for the victims who live in that environment? The family members of the murdered woman were mortally afraid that the person who murdered one of their own was going to come back again. That is what happened in the judicial system.
We all care about this issue very much. There is not a person in this House who wants to see the aboriginal people continue living under the conditions that they have been living. We all want to see an improvement. We all want to work with them. But the difference between the Reform Party and the rest of the House is that we do not want to participate in the same separate development that has compromised the ability of aboriginal people to live lives of freedom, to live lives of security and to live lives of hope. We want that for them as they want that for themselves but some things have to happen.
One, we have to scrap the racist Indian Act. It has acted like a lodestone around the necks of aboriginal people for so long.
Two, there has to be one law for all people. If we have different laws for different people, we have no law at all. How can aboriginal people on and off reserve have any faith in a judicial system that is going to treat them differently from other people?
Three, we have to invest in education and health care for these people so that they will be able to stand on their own feet.
No matter what our racial group is, we cannot get pride and self-respect unless we take it and we cannot take it without being self-sufficient. People must be able to provide for themselves, their families and their communities. No one is going to give that to them.
The aboriginal leadership has to start behaving like leaders. Some leaders have done an excellent job and many have not. More than 150 aboriginal bands out of some 600 have been investigated for gross mismanagement of funds. The reason is rooted in the fact that funds are going directly to the leadership and not to the people.
The Pacheenaht band is in my riding. The hereditary chief and people on the reserve are trying to find out about what is going on in their band, about decisions that are made by the leadership. They were told that they could not have that information. I stood right beside them when they were promised that information but it was not given to them. I asked the Indian affairs minister to please help this group. The department said it could not intervene, that it was a band issue. Who is going to defend these grassroots aboriginal people when their own leadership is not going to bat for them? That is what is happening.
We see these people on the ground, the horror of children falling into open sinkholes. The ministry will not give them money because the band has the money but the band is not giving them the money. These people have absolutely no recourse and nowhere to go for help.
We cannot do it by giving collective rights to a group. We have to give it to the individual. That is critically important.
We want to ensure that people have independence. But do we really need to have political independence to ensure economic emancipation? That is what this is about. We have not been able to help the aboriginal people to work together with us to engage in economic emancipation.
Everybody here who speaks with aboriginal people knows they want to have what everybody else has, congruent with their customs and rights which are protected under the constitution and the charter, thankfully. Thankfully, they can still engage in their rights and traditions and enrich and empower us and teach us about what they have. Following that line does not absolve us of ensuring that an aboriginal person is treated the same as a non-aboriginal person, that an aboriginal person will have the same opportunity as a non-aboriginal person.
The department of Indian affairs spent $6.5 billion and has very little to show for it. Money is sucked up by the bureaucracy. Imagine developing a new layer of government, which is what this Nisga'a agreement and others are going to do.
A huge amount of money will go into other bureaucracies at the provincial and federal levels to interface, non-aboriginal groups with the aboriginal governments. Would it not be better to use that money to ensure the aboriginal people have the improvements in health care, education, welfare and housing that they desperately need? Why are we putting money into a bureaucratic solution when these people need a solid solution?
In closing, I can only impress upon every member and every Canadian that this is the most important decision the House will have made in four years. Please do not take it lightly. Please let us work toward a common objective of ensuring that we will have the power to work together, aboriginals and non-aboriginals, to build a future we can share and work in as equals congruent with our customs and traditions. It is the fair thing to do. Pursuing this Nisga'a treaty will only end in the balkanization of Canada and apartheid in Canada.