Mr. Speaker, today I rise in the House to speak about honouring traditions and building prosperity. I rise in support of Bill C-14, the Tlicho land claims and self-government act. The legislation brings into effect an agreement that respects more than 1,000 years of history and lays the groundwork for Tlicho prosperity well into the future.
The history of the Tlicho is a story of a people who have met successive challenges thanks to a set of ancient principles handed down from generation to generation. These principles help the Tlicho decide when to act and when to react, when to drive change and when to adapt to it. By applying these principles, the Tlicho made wise decisions that allowed them to prosper in a modern world, while ensuring the survival of their people, their language and their culture.
These same principles inform the agreement at the heart of the legislation before us, an agreement that will have a positive impact on the quality of life in Tlicho communities because it is rooted in their rich history and honours the way they have lived for generations.
For centuries, the Tlicho were a nomadic people who occupied and used vast stretches of land in the Mackenzie River and Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes. Their ancestors tracked migrating herds of caribou, fished in waters according to age old patterns, trapped and hunted different species according to the seasons.
It should come as no surprise that the primary Tlicho principle is a respect for the natural environment, for the land, the flora and the fauna that thrive on it. It can be difficult for us to appreciate just how deeply the land resonates through the Tlicho culture. More than a source of sustenance, the land also provides spiritual guidance and shapes Tlicho language and art.
Respect for the land guided the Tlicho in their initial dealings with southerners. In 1921, as oil and gas exploration accelerated in the north, Chief Monfwi signed Treaty 11 on behalf of the Tlicho people, who were then known as the Dogrib. The chief traced the traditional lands of his people on a map and the boundaries he described are nearly identical to the ones included in the Tlicho agreement. In fact, when modern negotiators sought to finalize the boundaries for today's agreement, they turned to Tlicho elders for assistance. Their elders based their input on traditional knowledge of the routes travelled regularly by their ancestors.
The agreement at the heart of Bill C-14 will give Tlicho effective control over 39,000 square kilometres of land, almost 20% of their traditional territory. To ensure that the lands can be used in an effective, sustainable and equitable manner, the agreement enables the Tlicho to participate in several boards that will make resource management decisions in their area.
The second guiding principle at the heart of the Tlicho philosophy and the agreement is to act for the common good. Survival in a harsh environment of the north requires collaboration. The interests of the community are to be respected before those of the individual.
In the modern era, this principle has been evident in the Tlicho's approach to education and social services. The Tlicho moved swiftly and effectively to establish schools, for instance, when it became apparent that their traditional way of life was going to be threatened.
In the 1960s, the Tlicho recognized that a proposed pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley could have serious effects on their culture. The chief at the time was Jimmy Bruneau. He insisted that his people learn to blend northern and southern cultures and study the aboriginal and non-aboriginal traditions. This vision became known as a need to “be strong like two people”, a phrase that later became the mission statement for the Chief Jimmy Bruneau school.
The school opened in 1971 and it still teaches a curriculum that balances ideas from the north and the south, from aboriginal and non-aboriginal perspectives. Today, the Dogrib community services board, Canada's first aboriginal school board, operates five schools. An average of 20 students earn high school diplomas every year.
Modern Tlicho leaders believe that access to higher education is crucial to their people's ability to design and implement the policies that can ensure survival of their culture, their language and their traditions. As a result, the Tlicho invested heavily in post-secondary education. When impact benefit agreements were negotiated with mining companies, Diavik and BHP Billiton, the Tlicho insisted both include contributions to a scholarship fund. The Tlicho also intend to put sizable portion of payments they receive from the agreement toward this scholarship fund.
Today the fund supports more than 130 Tlicho who are pursuing post-secondary education. Once they graduate, these people will likely return to serve their communities as teachers, doctors and tradespeople. Their academic success will provide living proof of the Tlicho principles to the next generation.
The Tlicho principle of common good is the central theme of this legislation before us today. Effective self-government, for instance, enhances the Tlicho's ability to improve their communities. The Tlicho government will be able to enact laws to protect culture, language and deliver the social services and manage the resources.
Bill C-14 also incorporates two other Tlicho principles: recognition and representation. Each of the four Tlicho community governments established under the legislation will be run by a chief and a council comprised of a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 12 members. All will be democratically elected. At least half of each council must be comprised of Tlicho citizens. All community residents of legal age can qualify to vote for councillors, although only Tlicho citizens will be eligible to vote for the chief.
The constitution, already ratified by the Tlicho, outlines rules and responsibilities of government and protects the rights and freedoms of those who reside on Tlicho lands. Non-Tlicho citizens, for instance, may be appointed or elected to serve on Tlicho institutions. The constitution also ensures that the Tlicho government is politically and financially accountable to the citizens that it represents. All laws enacted by the Tlicho government are subject to legal challenges.
The final principle I would like to address involves respect for the people. The Tlicho believe that every resident must be accountable to contribute to the community in some way. This is part of the reason the Tlicho negotiators organized dozens of town hall meetings during the negotiations that led up to the agreement. They wanted to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to be heard.
Furthermore, to prepare people for success in the new economy, the Tlicho established a development corporation in 1978. Rather than focus exclusively on making a profit, the corporation's primary goal was to train and employ Tlicho people.
The wisdom of this approach is evident today. There are now two Tlicho holding companies operating several businesses in multiple economic sectors. A logistics company provides services to mining projects and a trucking firm transports goods across this vast region.
The Tlicho also own a local motel and a sporting goods store in Yellowknife. These businesses provide training opportunities and work experience, and give every Tlicho citizen a chance to contribute to their communities.
The Tlicho agreement is a modern expression of the age old principles that have enabled an ancient people to adapt and to change. This agreement has already earned the support of the Tlicho, of the territorial legislature in Yellowknife and now it is our turn in the House. I am convinced that a careful examination of Bill C-14 will lead my hon. colleagues to support it enthusiastically.