Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. member from Hamilton for sharing his time on this very important piece of legislation that we do support. It took the government a couple of kicks at the can to get it right. Now that it has it right, we are able to see this thing through and see the light of day.
My riding of Skeena--Bulkley Valley is in the far northwest corner of British Columbia. There are a number of first nations groups in my riding. As the hon. member mentioned, when I visit the first nations, I am seeing the conditions that we would not accept in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver. I am seeing the way that people are living and struggling to survive, both through acquiring education and just the basic human rights, the basic health care needs.
The basic needs that all of us share are not being achieved. We hope that this bill goes some measure forward in allowing first nations to achieve and realize the same successes that many Canadians have realized over the past century.
The Nisga'a people are within my riding. Recently, I had the deep and profound honour of speaking at the memorial service for one of the great Nisga'a members, Rod Robinson, who recently passed away. He was a true giant of a man in the first nations community at the local level, across the province of British Columbia, and across our nation.
He was a man who saw the importance for first nations to be full and inclusive members in Canadian society, to be proud members, and to realize among themselves the importance of self-determination. He saw the importance of rights and title, of what it truly means to have consultation and accommodation, and the role that the federal Government of Canada plays in reaching out to first nations in a true and sincere way. Finally, to defend the honour of the Crown, which was recently spoken to in the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada with the Haida and the Tlingit.
The federal government has this responsibility to defend the honour of the Crown. The record of the federal Government of Canada over the last 150 years has been absolutely deplorable when dealing with first nations.
One has to look no further than some of the communities within my riding and the challenges that they face, the basic challenges of health and hygiene, advancement in education, and a real economy where they can strive ahead and look to the future. We believe this bill does a number of things that will allow first nations to combine their resources and go to the institutions that have the capital that they need to invest properly into their communities.
My hon. colleague mentioned that this came out of the B.C. NDP government. It organized the municipalities to give them greater strength in going to the banking community and allowing them to invest in those projects that they needed to do. It was a good idea and it has been working. It has been proven to work.
I believe that the idea was actually spurned by the Grimean Bank, an experience in the developing world. Small borrowers were able to pool their resources together, in that case to get microcredit loans, to achieve small projects and realize great benefits for their local communities. We know the repayment schedules were excellent and did very well for those communities.
When the Nisga'a agreement was coming to fruition a number of years ago, I was not involved in politics. The member who was currently representing our riding at the time was Reform, then Alliance, and then Conservative. The fearmongering that went on during that debate, and there were 422 amendments or something that came through in the House, was that if this agreement went through, the economy in the northwest of British Columbia would shut down. There was fear spread that first nations would take over and control the resources, mining would shut down, forestry would no longer exist, and that it would all come tumbling down. The federal government was told that it should not be agreeing to this.
We heard similar rhetoric just recently on the Tlicho debate in the House. Frankly, I was embarrassed as a parliamentarian to hear the views expressed by fellow parliamentarians across the House describing the same scenario again. They were saying that first nations will take over, that this is a terrible idea, and that we should not allow them any progress. This is something that the government finally got agreement on from the local communities, from the major industries in the area, and from the Northwest Territories. Some members said that we should not allow this process to go ahead, that this is a bad thing for this country, and supposedly a bad thing for first nations.
The hypocrisy during that debate and the Nisga'a debate was deplorable. One of the reasons that I decided to enter into politics was the idea to represent my riding with such strong first nations' presence: the Haida, the Haisla, the Tlingit, the Tahltan, and the numbers go on. I wanted to come to the House to challenge those that would say that treaties are not good for first nations, that settling out and understanding how first nations are going to finally be included in the economy and the society of Canada in a meaningful way is not a worthy project.
We have constantly been pushing the government to come to the treaty table with first nations with a needed sense of urgency. To this point there is this open-ended feeling that we can go on and on, and that first nations can wait for these treaties to be settled in a meaningful way.
We are encouraged by this particular piece of legislation because it goes some way to push the government to allow first nations to pool their resources collectively. Recently, we received a letter from a financial institution, a credit union in B.C., which is very supportive of this work, ready to go, and already involved in projects of this nature. These are sometimes basic health care projects or economic projects. This is something that we are working collectively with our first nations brothers and sisters to finally get the issue pushed forward.
It was 15 years ago that we passed a resolution in the House to end child poverty in this country. We have been completely unable to do that. The statistics within the country are deplorable with respect to child poverty. It is a shame upon this House. If we move to the case of first nations, the case becomes much worse. Whatever indicator we look at, the first nations situation in Canada today is so much less, so much poorer than all other Canadians. If there is anything that we can do in the House to improve those conditions, both on and off reserve for first nations across the country, then our party will always be in support of it.
In my riding there is a beautiful example of first nations working together. Seven nations came together to work on a totem pole. From all living memory that we could decipher, there had been no instance of these first nations working together collectively on something as important and significant as the raising of a totem pole.
Through much deliberation and in conjunction with a community college with a non-aboriginal board of directors, they were able to come together, work with the communities, and find a place where they could work on this totem pole. Each group had to decide what it was going to bring to the pole. Some weeks ago they raised it together, pulled on the ropes together with the non-aboriginal community in Terrace, B.C. They raised this magnificent and stunning work which represents how first nations can work together with the non-aboriginal community to achieve something beautiful, historic and monumental.
We can apply that same feeling, that same willingness to work together across the nations with the non-aboriginal community and sincere feeling from government, to achieve even greater things, such as justice within our time, and some sense of pride when we look to the first nations communities and know that Canadians are doing well by our first nations brothers and sisters.
Then we can say to our children that we were involved in a process that finally remedied the abuses and the misconduct of the federal government toward first nations people. That will be a very proud day for us. That is a day that we need to all work toward collectively.
There is one more important concern. As we move toward this, some nations have expressed concern that the federal government will be abdicating some of its responsibility toward first nations, that it will be turning it over to the private sector. We will be looking very strongly throughout the implementation of this piece of legislation to ensure that the federal government maintains its importance. The Haida case and the Tlicho case point clearly to the federal government's role. It must be the one that consults with first nations, that works with true and proper accommodation of first nations' rights and title. That is the role of the federal government. That is the role that we must maintain.
While this is innovative, progressive, and born out of the provincial New Democrats, a place where many progressive, new and innovative things have come, we support it. The federal government must maintain its place at the table and must increase its sense of urgency to finally and completely settle first nations claims.