Madam Speaker, it has been a while since I had an opportunity to speak in regard to the issues that exist on first nations reserves. I had the pleasure of working with first nations people for nearly two years as I travelled the country. I met with grassroots natives from coast to coast and observed what was taking place. I saw things with my own eyes and enjoyed the hospitality of what little they could afford to give to visitors. I met a lot of friends over those years and it is a pleasure to rise once again a couple of years later to speak to the issue that is brought before the House today by the hon. minister.
I am in agreement that the bill should be forwarded to the committee as quickly as possible so that the committee can begin the hard work that is ahead of it with regard to what needs to happen. I am anxious to see that the minister truly means his words when he said that the bill must be about people and not politics. I hope the minister means that with all his heart. I wish he would speak more with his heart rather than read the canned speeches prepared by bureaucrats for the presentation of these kinds of bills. The situation that is about to occur, the changes that are being talked about and thrown about, will have an impact on aboriginal people that has been expected for years but has had no results.
The bill must be about people. That is where we must start. We must start with our aboriginal communities. They are dealing with some problems that have not been significantly addressed for a number of years. During the two years I spent on the road going to these various places I asked the people, as I went into the various homes which were not much to brag about in many cases, how many times they had a visit from a member of the House of Commons to discuss the problems that existed on their reserve. Unfortunately, in a large percentage of cases they indicated my visit was the first they had ever had and they were anxious to open up and talk about the situation in their particular areas.
I recall the visit I had at the Eva Pitt home. She is 74 and going blind. She lives on a reserve in Ontario with her husband who has a heart condition. He is unable to do much work so the heavy work is left up to her. She is required to go to the river to bring water to their fairly modern home which has no water source and no bathroom facilities. They have been asking for help and for somebody to address this issue for years. It was brought to the government's attention in the House of Commons before the last election in the form of a statement by myself and other members. It was ignored. There was no action taken to correct the situation. Today it remains the same. It is about people and it is about time that we started thinking about the people, not just one individual but many. We must look at the situation that exists on this and many other reserves.
I want to point out how pleased I was to see many reserves that were doing well. They were working hard to ensure that the people on their particular reserve were able to enjoy a standard of life that enjoyed full employment and that prosperity was thriving. There were reserves that were doing that.
The United Nations declared Canada to be the greatest nation in which to live. However if we were to include many of these reserves we would rank 38th in the world because of the living conditions that exist on some of these reserves.
I visited a home that was in a bus where the windows were broken out and the wheels were gone. The bus had been converted into a home because there was no other choice. A man, his wife and six children lived there, and were being visited by a mother and father. They did their best to accommodate my wife and I, who joined me on these tours to learn of their problems. They did their best to be as hospitable as they could with what little they had. These things were brought to the attention of the government. It was asked to investigate and check on these things. It took forever for anything to happen. However once the word got out in one particular case things did happen and a correction was made.
My question to the minister and to the government is: Why are we not doing that on a broader scale before we engage in the serious matters of governance? Currently it means absolutely nothing to so many hundreds of natives who wonder where their next plate of food will come from, who live in hopelessness and helplessness, where the suicide rate of teens is unbelievable, where drug abuse and alcohol abuse is completely out of control, not to mention the medical drugs supplied by doctors who like to be called doctor X or doctor Y , because they can get these things and manage to get their hands on a few bucks.
With these third world conditions in health and housing there is no reason why the government should sit back and be proud of a document it is bringing forward that does not address the heart of the problems that exist across this country.
The government talks about consultations. It was invited to attend literally hundreds of meetings across the country organized by aboriginal grassroots people, such as Rita Galloway from Saskatchewan; Leona Freid from Manitoba; Laura Deedza from Alberta; Bill Burgess from British Columbia; Jean Allard from Manitoba; Jim Horseman from Alberta; Yolanda Redcalf from Alberta; Rene Metacat from Alberta; along with elders, such as Floyd Manyfingers from Alberta; Roy Littlechief who was accompanied by his son who was 20 years old at the time, Redman Littlechief; Greg Twoyoungmen; Ernie and Robert Bruno; Keith Chief Moon; Ed Olivirio; and the list goes on. They were all crying out to the government for help.
There were some specific things they wanted. They wanted to see some accountability, democracy and equality, not only for their women but for others. They wanted to see a caring government that would move in and help them with this deplorable situation that existed on the reserves. To date the only thing the government has come forward with is a change to the Indian Act which does not address the problems cited by every aboriginal native that I talked to on many of these reserves.
The minister knows of these people. I accompanied these people when they visited him. I do not understand why these things have not been addressed.
The New Democratic Party has indicated that we have been fearmongering by pointing out the conditions that exist. Instead of joining in and working toward alleviating these problems we play political games in this place. That is when we lose all control. We must stay away from politics. We must keep it about people and start deciding today what we will do to fix the problem.