Madam Speaker, I stand here to speak on behalf of the aboriginal people in my community.
It is very interesting that in the Vancouver Sun this weekend a person by the name of Kelly Acton quoted as being a spokeswoman for the Indian affairs minister said, “The minister believes concerns about the legislation were met when it was being studied by the Commons Indian affairs committee at which time the government accepted one amendment from Reform”. She suggested that recent attacks on the legislation by Reform Party members were insincere. I say to Kelly Acton, if that is the kind of advice she is offering to the Indian affairs minister, no wonder the Indian affairs minister is so mixed up.
I have in hand just three of many letters my office has received from grassroots aboriginal people. I want to read them into the record. I know they are watching this on CPAC as we speak. They want their voices heard in this House. We know this government does not want their voices heard in this House because it keeps coming in with closure and stifling debate. For the 48th time it has stopped debate in this House. It does not want their voices in this House.
I am taking the next couple of minutes to give these people a voice in this Chamber, not that I expect the Liberals to listen but at least they will have had their say. The people of Canada will also know that there is a bankruptcy on the part of the Indian affairs minister in the way this legislation is being brought forth.
The first letter, dated February 11, to myself is from Jeannette George from the Lower Kootenay Indian Band. She says:
I am very concerned about Bill C-49 and what I've just read on its powers over ownership, management and expropriation of band lands.
I would like to know, who is going to protect us when we speak out against our chief or council? Are we going to be kicked off the reserve for speaking our minds? This is already happening right now on this reserve because a person brought up issues on housing and land and how they were being handled here. They gave her two weeks for her and her young children to get off the reserve.
I myself had my three children taken away because I tried to find out what was going on with the housing here and why we had to pay such high rent.
It seems to me that this band is already doing what is being talked about in Bill C-49. This really concerns me when I think about the land and the money that will be coming to the band after the land claims are settled. I am worried that most of the families here will be no better off and everything will end up going to certain families only. I ask you to think about the rest of us when you are deciding.
P.S.—I just watched the Prime Minister on TV talking about the homeless in this country. If this bill passes we too might be the next homeless.
I know this woman. She speaks from experience. She speaks from a position of having challenged the chief and council and having had her family taken away from her for doing so. It was only through the intervention of B.C. social services that she got her children back. That is what this government is putting this person through.
This letter is from Sharon Willicome, also from the Lower Kootenay Indian Band:
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the proposed Bill C-49 and thank you for bringing this issue to my attention.
These comments will be brief but are sincere and based upon personal experiences therefore should justify some consideration during the debate on this matter.
First, it is mind boggling to think a piece of legislation is being proposed and in its third reading where such a tremendous lack of public information and public input exist. This matter seems to exist within a vacuum of informed public input while surrounded by the cloud of treaty negotiations and settlements. Are they not of equal importance and value for to have such significant impact on native communities impacts on non-native equally as well?
Second, based upon recent personal experiences with abuses of a local band council's power and the inability of the Department of Indian Affairs to ensure the Indian Act is being administered according to law, the only remedy for fair mediation is now in the courts. How will both residential/commercial interests of native and non-native people be protected under the proposed legislation? What fair remedy will exist to protect those rights?
At this time in history and the restoration of native communities is this legislation premature, opening the door to corruption and greater abuses on reserves? What mechanism of accountability will exist?
I strongly urge the Members of Parliament to table this proposed piece of legislation, call for further public consultation from all sides of the issue with well informed input from the ones who will be affected. There is too much at stake and too much to lose.
I know the issue that aboriginal constituent is raising in that letter has been brought personally by me to the attention of the minister. The third letter is dated February 13 and reads:
As you know, the Tobacco Plains Indian Band has experienced many problems over the last couple of years, and among those is the issue of land ownership on the Reserve. In reference to the recent information I have received regarding the little publicized and controversial Bill C-49, I would like to share with you some of the situations we have encountered within our Band and one of the others in the Ktunaxa Nation.
On the Tobacco Plains Reserve, at least nine homes and the Band Office have been on bottled water for the past five years. The water source supplying the homes and office is contaminated with the cryptosporydium virus, similar to E coli, and is unsuitable for drinking. The Band has been supplying water coolers and bottled water to everyone at a cost of approximately $45 per month per household, with the Office being slightly higher, thereby paying more than $5,000 a year for drinking water.
In an effort to solve the water problem, the past Band Manager had several wells drilled in various places around the Reserve. Water was found here and there, but there was never enough of it or it was unsuitable for drinking. The drillers were on Band owned land, and had found good, clean water with a sufficient flow when someone who lived there started screaming at them to leave and get off off “their land”. They left and went to Elizabeth Gravelle's land, which is also currently supplying the contaminated water. They found clean water and lots of it.
Now, Indian Affairs (BC Region) have told Liz that her land will be expropriated “for the good of the Band” and have offered her $18,000 for the land easement and water rights, even though she has made it clear that she is not interested in selling her land. She has offered to lease or rent, but she is told `no', that they will take her land. Elizabeth and her heirs are strongly opposed to this land transaction, and want to know why their land is being taken when the Band has land of its own that is just as suitable for the intended purpose. She has no chance to voice her concerns, and has no choice but to begin discussions with a lawyer to try to keep her land. Elizabeth is 76 years old, lives on a pension, and has very little money to put toward legal fees to fight the expropriation process. It will be a long and arduous battle that she may very well lose in the end.
If Bill C-49 were passed, she would lose her land. It would be taken from her and her heirs, without them being able to protest. The Band would have its land, and an old lady would not.
In another example, a woman who was born a St. Mary's Band Member cannot inherit her family's land because she is a woman. Her brother is the family's last living male; he is older than she is, and in poor health. She was told that when her brother dies, the land will become the property of the St. Mary's Band. In order to inherit the land, her son had to transfer his membership from his own Band, Tobacco Plains, to St. Mary's so that there would be a living male to accept the inheritance.
Bill C-49 would, again, take this woman's land from her and give it to a Band and Council that already has enough of their own land.
There are no good reasons for the land transaction, but it would be done. It is already ridiculous enough in itself that a woman stands to lose what belonged to her family simply because she is a woman. Bill C-49 wipes out 100 years of progress for women, and brings forth yet another prejudice to divide the Indian people. It is but another opportunity for the elite to govern the lives of the oppressed. It gives even more power and control to those who have already failed to demonstrate a sense of responsibility to bring unity, fairness, and equality for all. It will result in a greater wedge of mistrust between the people and the leaders who, already, do not meet these expectations.
She wants me to send her any updated information. The updated information is that the Liberals do not really care about any of my constituents.
The Liberals have decided that they will steamroller this entire effort through the House of Commons, with closure at report stage where we are trying to bring in some responsible, rational and reasonable amendments so the bill would not be the dog's dinner it presently is.
The House will note that all three of these letters were from aboriginal women who are saying to me face to face: “We don't understand. The Indian affairs minister is a woman. Why doesn't she understand the plight we find ourselves in? We take a look at this entire issue and we ask where in the world is the government going and why”.
We see the reaction of backbenchers when the minister tells the whip that they must all stand and vote accordingly. What about these women? The Liberals do not care. That is really frustrating to me as I listen to the people in my constituency.