Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-31, the Tlicho land claims and self-government act. This bill represents the aspirations of a principled and trustworthy people determined to honour commitments made by their ancestors.
[Editor's Note: Member spoke in Cree]
What I have said in my language is that it is a great honour to look at a region that was ascertained by Treaty No. 11 and to look at the treaty signatories of these communities, the ancestors, and the youth, with their aspirations for the future. This will be a public form of government. Not only will it be inclusive of aboriginal people, the Tlicho, the Dogrib people of Treaty No. 11, but the Tlicho are making provisions for all people who live within their territory to be a part of that governance.
That kind of vision is very welcome, for my people in the northern half of the province of Saskatchewan. I urge them to look at that sort of governance. Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people can work together, coming together as one, and create a governance structure that can serve all our needs.
For more than a decade, the Tlicho have led a comprehensive process of consultations and negotiations. The fruit of those efforts, the Tlicho agreement, forms the centrepiece of the legislation that is now before us.
Today we are considering a bill that would significantly influence the destiny of a people. In the interests of the Tlicho and all Canadians, I believe we must give our wholehearted support to this legislation.
The agreement at the heart of the legislation is significant in many ways. It marks the first agreement in the Northwest Territories to include comprehensive land claims and self-government. It would provide certainty for the exercise of aboriginal and treaty rights within the traditional territory of the Tlicho, almost 20% of the Northwest Territories itself.
Within their traditional area, the Tlicho would gain ownership of a parcel of land, 39,000 square kilometres in total, along with self-government powers and control of land and resources within that area. The amount of money involved is also substantial. Approximately $150 million would be paid out over several years. The Tlicho would also be guaranteed a share of the revenues generated from resource development in the Mackenzie Valley.
The process that led to the agreement was remarkable and comprehensive. Consultations and negotiations went on for over 10 years. Hundreds of sessions were held, involving dozens of private and public sector groups and thousands of people. The tripartite agreement that emerged from these efforts involves Canada, the Tlicho and the Government of the Northwest Territories. In fact, the territorial assembly has already passed legislation to ratify this agreement and will enact two other related pieces of legislation in the near future.
To ensure that the tripartite agreement respects the interests of all other aboriginal groups, the Tlicho negotiated separate overlap agreements with the Sahtu Dene and Métis, the Gwich'in, the Deh Cho and the Akaitcho Treaty No. 8 Dene.
As my esteemed colleagues have recognized, the Tlicho have gone to extraordinary lengths to secure an agreement suited to their unique situation. To appreciate the significance of the agreement's particular future, it is important to know a bit of Tlicho history.
The Tlicho are a Dene people. They are of the Dene nation. They are nomadic, historically using and occupying vast tracts of land near the Mackenzie River, Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake. They lived off the land and often followed migrating herds of caribou. The land was revered because it provided sustenance, and its value was incalculable.
European explorers called them the Dogrib, a name that stuck with them for a century or more. Explorers brought new diseases such as measles and influenza, which decimated the aboriginal population, but the Dogrib found a way to survive and to maintain their relationship with the land.
When oil and gas were discovered in the 1920s in the north, treaty negotiations that followed quickly gathered momentum. At a ceremony in Fort Rae in 1921, Treaty No. 11 was signed by Chief Monfwi. Annuities were paid to 440 members of the Dogrib Band. More than eight decades later, the anniversary of the signing ceremony is still celebrated in the Tlicho communities. Ceremonies of the treaty's signatory should also be celebrated by Canadians. This historic agreement created our country, and Canada is truly a treaty nation.
When Treaty No. 11 was signed, Chief Monfwi traced the traditional lands of his people on a map. The boundaries, as he described, are identical, almost nearly to the line, of what is included in Bill C-31 today. The vision of the chief and the vision of his people was exact.
The treaty is also culturally significant to the Tlicho. In recognition of this, a unique provision in the agreement incorporates two aspects of the original treaty: payment of annuities and teachers' salaries. Education has always been a high priority for the Tlicho.
Given the geography and lack of development, the treaty did not result in the creation of Indian reserves, as in other regions of the country, or the disturbance of the Dogrib from their traditional lands as they moved around from lakes to rivers to all the traditional hunting and gathering regions of their territory. The treaty was seen by the Dogrib as a treaty of peace and friendship rather than one involving land issues.
The region's history informs the substance of our debate here in countless other ways as well. For instance, how the Tlicho reacted to the expansion of mainstream culture. As non-aboriginal society moved northward, some of the Tlicho began to feel that their traditions were being threatened.
Chief Jimmy Bruneau called on the Tlicho to “be strong like two people”. To strive in the changing world, the Tlicho would need to learn the aboriginal and non-aboriginal cultures alike.
The strengths of the Tlicho were tested during the 1970s when a northern pipeline became economically feasible. The Berger inquiry was commissioned to investigate the potential social, environmental and economic impacts of this pipeline.
The inquiry proved to be a major turning point in the aboriginal relations. Television and newspaper coverage brought home stories of ancient cultures threatened by external developmental pressures. Berger's report predicted that the social consequences of a pipeline were not only serious, but also potentially devastating. His report recommended settling land claims before developing plans ahead. This has been the preclusion to the land claim negotiations that have been taking place.
Land claim negotiation processes were established to address this and to clarify land and resource rights and protect cultures. This is an integral part of this agreement. Land claim agreements were reached with the Inuvialuit in 1984, with the Gwich’in in 1992 and the Sahtu, Dene and Metis in 1994. Over the past decade, the Tlicho pursued their agreements based on land and self-government rights.
Three decades after the Berger inquiry, first nations and Inuit communities are better able to benefit from resource development projects in the north. As well, there has been evidence that development does not need to be postponed until land claim agreements and negotiations are fully completed. It is possible for aboriginal communities, with their leadership, to participate in development and build economic capacity while land claim negotiations proceed.
When diamonds were discovered on traditional lands, for instance, the Tlicho negotiated an impact and benefits agreement and implementation plan with the mining companies. As a result, the Tlicho gained access to a range of jobs and training opportunities, delivering even more opportunities to the Tlicho.
This is continuing with other developments that are taking place on their traditional lands and they will be taking the leadership role for negotiating for their people, the land and resources, and the water resources that exist within their territory.
Threads of recent Tlicho history are also woven into Bill C-31. The legislation would guarantee the Tlicho a role in deciding how the resources of the Mackenzie Valley might be developed through participation in public environmental review boards.
The entire Mackenzie River was ascertained as Canadian territory by both Treaties Nos. 8 and 11. The significance of this is difficult for many Canadians to appreciate, but the history of our country is based on treaty.
In the north, where large scale resource developments can have such negative impacts on the environment, participation is essential and respect of the peace and friendship treaties is critically fundamental.
The bill also calls for establishment of a democratic Tlicho government. This would be a public form of government that would include all residents of the Tlicho territory. The bill would empower the government to pass laws safeguarding their culture and protecting traditional lands, and respecting policies of resource management and protection.
Under the terms of the legislation, key decisions would be made by the people most familiar with and most affected by local issues. I am convinced that this will lead to substantial improvements in housing, employment, education, social activities and the quality of life for all northerners, not only the Tlicho. Their vision is to include all people who live among them.
The Tlicho leaders believe their improvements are best accomplished by the Tlicho themselves, through a representative and effective government capable of exercising law-making authority and assuming new responsibilities. They also recognize that this objective will need to be achieved through partnership, partnership with industry in resource development, partnership with territorial government in the delivery of social programs and services and partnership with the federal government for a greater development of our Canadian north.
I agree with them wholeheartedly that the bill now before the House will help establish precisely these conditions and the foundation for a better future for their people and their nation. It would enable the Tlicho to become self-governing and assume jurisdiction over and responsibility for their own affairs.
It is very important that we highlight responsibility. There are huge responsibilities in dealing with their children, the raising of their families, the protection of their language, culture, their traditions as hunters and gatherers, their relationship with the animals, the fish and also the water. The life sources for many years for their people and their nation need to be respected and recognized into the future.
They also take up their rightful roles as landowners, administrators and entrepreneurs. This is a vigorous and vibrant, prosperous north and they will be inclusive of these kind of activities, not only trading within the domestic regions of provinces and territories of the Canadian north, but also into southern Canada and internationally.
The Tlicho will play an important part in establishing these partnerships with their territorial government, the federal government and the private sector, and participating in the future growth and development of the entire Northwest Territories, and also the Canadian north.
Today, we have been entrusted with the aspirations of a people, the Tlicho and the Dene nation. I ask that the House support the Tlicho as they strive to realize their potential. I am encouraged by the vision that the Tlicho have brought us to consider.
In my language I would like to speak directly to some of the provisions in the agreement so the people in my communities can understand because I would like to encourage them in regard to this type of agreement based on treaty, our Treaty No. 11 and Treaty No. 8. My constituency touches on the Mackenzie River system as well.
[Editor's Note: Member spoke in Cree]
It is a great honour to see from the far north that the Dene Nation and its people, the Tlicho, have seen a vision of governing their territories in a cooperative manner, that all people living within their territories will be part of their governing structure. It does not matter from what part of the country or the world people come. If they live among the Tlicho, there is a place for them in their governance.
That vision was created with Canada as a treaty nation. A peace and friendship treaty was established; a blanket of peace and friendship.
A very noble visitor, the Dalai Lama, is visiting our country at this time. Peace and friendship has been his message all along. Maybe that is why he finds Canada so generous and open. The very foundation of the country was on peace and friendship.
The original nations of this land have to be given proper respect as well as the Tlicho and the Dene Nation to which they belong. The Dene Nation has to be celebrated in these houses as well. There is Cree Nation, the Mohawk Nation, the Blackfoot Nation, the Haida Nation, the Oneida Nation, the Innu Nation, the Innuit Nation and the Metis Nation. These are the original nations of this land, and they have to be a part of this governing structure.
Here is a self-government model that the Tlicho, the Dene people, have negotiated and drafted. They have included all people, all Canadians who live in their territory to be part of their governing structure.
To me it was very astounding that they had signed a treaty already. They knew that living under the Indian Act was not sufficient, that they had to draft something more. This gives me great honour to share with the House and also with the people back home who are listening.
That is what I envisioned for my region of the country. My region is governed by villages and reserves, municipal boundaries and reserve boundaries. Outside of that we do not have what southern Canada has as municipalities or counties, where the agriculture communities can put their minds together and create a democratic system of governance and representation.
The north does not have that. This self-government model addresses that. Any resource management or any resource development issue will be conducted in a democratic government. This is a self-government, a democratically elected government that will involve all residents of that region. Therefore, I celebrate this and I share this for all other regions of Canada to consider. Here is a Dene Nation that entered into treaty to share its land, to create a beautiful country, a treaty nation called Canada.
Now they have come to us. They need the provisions, the tools and the law-making powers. This is it. This is the Tlicho agreement, the self-government agreement. It is not only for their people. They are not selfish. They are drawing this self-government model for all people who will be living among them. I celebrate that. I congratulate them and I also send heartfelt greetings, through you Madam Speaker, to the elders, the women, the men and the youth who have been involved in this.
A huge level of support came from their communities for this to be achieved. In the Northwest Territories, there is a huge number of aboriginal representation. Their world view took place. This was ratified by the territorial government. I congratulate the territorial government for allowing this kind of vision, this kind of self-government to take place.
Today, I encourage my colleagues in the House and in the Senate, where this law will also be considered, to entrust the vision that took place in creating this self-government model. It is a model that is truly Canadian. It includes all of us. We must be one country. The original nations and the new peoples who have come here, come here as one nation. To create laws and territorial and self-government models that involve all of us is truly a time of celebration.
This is truly a visionary document that involves many hours of work. It is very heartfelt. The Tlicho people are sacrificing and taking risks of their aboriginal title and rights. They are also putting them on the table to be shared with all others.
I congratulate them for that kind of vision and confidence in themselves as a nation. I celebrate--
[Editor's Note: Member spoke in Cree]
There are many people who have travelled to many corners of the world to find Canada as their home. My vision of Canada is that we are a nation of rivers. This river aspect through Treaty No. 11 and Treaty No. 8 ascertained the entire eco-region of the Mackenzie River system.
These treaties are like a patchwork blanket of river systems. Treaty No. 6 in my area was the Saskatchewan River system. Treaty No. 10 was the Churchill River system. All these river systems make up a country. We are also a river of nations. We must be proud of our ancestors, no matter who or where they are. We must be proud that we are one country. We must flow as one.
For the Tlicho people, I celebrate the vision of their self-government concept. I encourage all my colleagues in the House to support this bill.