Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate you, since I have not had the opportunity to do so yet, on your appointment. We represent taxpayers from the same region and our region is honoured. I am very happy for you and the region.
I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-14, the Tlicho Land Claims and Self-Government Act. I have no doubt that passing this bill will benefit both the Tlicho and all Canadians.
The agreement at the heart of this bill grants the Tlicho true control over a significant parcel representing roughly 20% of their traditional territory. In addition, the Government of Canada will pay the Tlicho—in several payments—some $150 million. These numbers will no doubt be the focus of every headline, but this agreement also includes many other provisions that will be just as important to the future of the Tlicho people.
This legislation will give the Tlicho the ability to shape their destiny. The Tlicho will form an effective and representative government and oversee vital aspects of their communities, such as land management, culture and social services. I am confident that by exercising control over their affairs, the Tlicho people will prosper for many generations to come.
And clearly, the Canadian economy benefits from prosperous, sustainable aboriginal communities. My optimism about the impact of Bill C-14 is based, in part, on the way the Tlicho have honoured their ancient traditions in the face of outside influences.
In the past 30 years, the Tlicho have experienced rapid and tumultuous social change. Where Tlicho hunters once tracked caribou, southern companies now mine diamonds. Skidoos and SUVs have largely replaced snowshoes and sleds. Oral histories once spoken by elders are now recorded in books and computers.
Despite the swift incursion of technology, though, the Tlicho continue to abide by their traditions. Elders are revered; the land is respected. And education remains a central focus of the community. Education has long been a crucial component of Tlicho culture. Since time immemorial, succeeding generations of elders have passed on their knowledge of traditional lands, relationships and culture.
When southerners first began to investigate the feasibility of building a pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley, Tlicho leaders recognized that such a project would have a dramatic impact on their society. In an effort to cope with change and minimize the negative consequences, the Tlicho invested in education.
In 1968, then Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien met with Chief Jimmy Bruneau to discuss the future of the Tlicho. Chief Bruneau said that his people must learn to blend Northern and Southern cultures so they can take advantage of new technologies and opportunities. Chief Bruneau called for new schools to teach a curriculum that balanced aboriginal and non-aboriginal traditions.
In 1971, Chief Bruneau's dream began to come true when a school bearing his name opened in Rae-Edzo. The school's mission statement, “Be Strong Like Two People”, encapsulated the Chief's vision, and effectively summarized the Tlicho's strategy in dealing with social change.
Within a few years, Canada's first aboriginal school board took control of primary education in all four Tlicho communities. A regional secondary school was added in 1992. Since then, the number of adult students has climbed steadily. And, true to Tlicho tradition, adults attend the same classes as children.The Tlicho-controlled schools have had a significant and positive impact on their communities. Up until the mid-1970s, only a handful of Tlicho had ever graduated from high school. Now an average of 20 Tlicho earn high-school diplomas each year, and a growing number are pursuing degrees and diplomas at colleges and universities.
Tlicho attitudes about formal education have changed over the years. For the past 11 years, Rita Mueller has served as principal of Chief Jimmy Bruneau school, which now has an enrolment of approximately 350. In Ms. Mueller's words:
Ten years ago, a high-school diploma was the be-all and end-all; today it's considered a bare minimum. Most young people plan to continue their studies after high school.
The Tlicho recognize that post-secondary education is crucial to success in the modern era. And Tlicho leaders have found ways to ensure that their people have access to this education. The impact benefit agreements negotiated with the diamond-mining companies Diavik and BHP Billiton include payments to scholarship programs.
Furthermore, the Tlicho have chosen to commit a substantial portion of the payments received under this agreement to a scholarship fund. In this way, Bill C-14 will lead to an annual investment of approximately $500,000 in the Tlicho scholarship fund.
To administer scholarships and bursaries, a seven-person committee comprised of community representatives and teachers was established. The committee interviews applicants, reviews academic records and awards bursaries to the top candidates. The Tlicho were wise enough, though, to recognize that money alone cannot ensure success. Life on a crowded campus thousands of kilometres away from home can be difficult for Tlicho students, particularly when they've been raised in a completely different culture.
To help students adapt, the Tlicho hired a local person to fill the newly created position of regional post-secondary support coordinator. The coordinator maintains regular contact with Tlicho students and helps them cope with life on southern campuses.
The success of these students is crucial to the sustainability of Tlicho communities. To make the most of self-government, the Tlicho must have a group of professionals: managers, lawyers, doctors, teachers. They will also need carpenters, electricians and dozens of technical specialists. Rather than always hire these professionals from outside the community, the Tlicho are determined to train, develop and employ their own people.
This is precisely why Morven MacPherson was hired as regional post-secondary support coordinator. Ms. MacPherson, who had recently completed a second university degree, was delighted to return to Rae-Edzo and take the job. And community leaders recognize that Tlicho people who have completed post-secondary education are more likely to be “strong like two people.” These graduates draw from Tlicho culture and from their formal studies.
The importance of this bi-cultural knowledge cannot be understated. Consider, for example, the management of social services in Tlicho communities. Years ago, there were few social workers in Tlicho communities. When a child needed to be moved from a threatening situation, he or she would end up in Yellowknife, Fort Smith or Red Deer—far from Tlicho culture, language and traditions. Today, however, the head of social services is Nora Wetson, a Tlicho woman with a degree from the University of Regina. Ms. Wetson strives to ensure that social services are delivered in a way that balances Tlicho and southern perspectives.
Given the progressive approach to education and social services adopted by community leaders, the Tlicho can look forward to a new generation that is “strong like two people.” Today, the Tlicho support more than 130 people in post-secondary institutions. Among them are students of medicine, engineering and dozens of other disciplines. Many of these men and women will become leaders in Tlicho communities.
The legislation before us today validates the careful and respectful approach to development adopted by the Tlicho. I support Bill C-14 because it will enable the Tlicho to realize their potential. I urge my colleagues to do the same.