Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-28, the amendments to the Canada National Parks Act. These amendments would allow for the removal of lands from the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada in British Columbia and the Riding Mountain National Park of Canada in Manitoba, for the purposes of Indian reserves.
These amendments to the Canada National Parks Act will serve to respond to a long recognized need in the Pacific Rim and rectify a past error in Riding Mountain positioning these first nations to meet the needs of their communities.
The amendments seek the removal of 84.4 hectares of land from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and would allow the Tla-o-qui-aht Reserve to address the critical infrastructure programs that it now faces. In addition, the amendments to the act would fully re-establish the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation Reserve 61A on the north shore of Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park.
We will be supporting the bill. When the bill first came along, it was the view of some of us in the NDP that we would be in opposition to the erosion of the national parks in any way, even if it would satisfy the legitimate claims of a first nation that had an historic right to the property by virtue of traditional use of land or a specific land claim dealing with what was in fact an error made in the survey of assessment of the first nation lands affected, as in the case of the Riding Mountain National Park.
However, we have changed our views since then, after extensive consultation. I would like to speak just briefly about this issue and how it has evolved. I will speak mainly about the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada in the context of the debate.
First, to strip away the situation and to see it in its most basic form, we believe that the debate is about section 35 of the Constitution. Some members may wonder how we would arrive at that, but quite simply, section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 deals with aboriginal and treaty rights, but fails to give any definition to those rights. That is why the Government of Canada has spent the last 22 years in court, since 1982, to give meaning and definition to section 35 of the Constitution.
While the constitution recognizes aboriginal and treaty rights, it does not say what those aboriginal and treaty rights are. It is the position of first nations that aboriginal and treaty rights mean some rights, some legitimate claims, to some sharing of land and resources on their traditional land base, not just the narrow finite boundaries of reserve which are not in any way traditional or naturally occurring.They are constructs of the federal government and the Indian Act.
I am talking about the traditional area of land use as demonstrated through traditional land use maps. From time immemorial, the aboriginal people up and down the west coast, whether it is in the coast Salish or the any number of Tsimshian west coast Salish tribes up and down the west coast of Vancouver Island, have used the area for hunting, gathering, settlement and traditional uses. They never ceded that territory through the Douglas treaties which predated the rest of the treaties throughout Canada, and certainly not through the treaty areas of Treaties Nos. 1 through 8 in the rest of Canada.
Their aboriginal and treaty rights were never ceded and signed away in any formal agreement with the Crown, and they remain intact. Therefore, it is fitting and appropriate, and we feel proud to support this claim today, that this area of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada should rightfully be under the direct holding and title of first nations making that claim.
Obviously, there is vested interest on many claims. However, people are satisfied that there has been adequate consultation with local landowners, municipalities, town councils and rural municipalities in the immediate area and that their concerns have been taken into account. I do not know that anyone has strongly held views about recognizing the aboriginal and treaty rights in these cases.
As we deal with the bill, it is a lesson for us all that the Government of Canada and therefore the people of Canada could save themselves an enormous amount of grief, aggravation and cost in the future if we would simply take one step back and get our minds around giving meaning and definition to section 35 of the Constitution.
Frankly, the Government of Canada is not faring too well in its court challenges in this regard. Virtually every time aboriginal people make claims for recognition of those rights, they are denied by the federal government. First nations have no avenue of recourse but to go to the courts. They go to the Federal Court and to the Supreme Court ultimately and they always win. Court cases have been going on for 10 years, 15 years and 20 years, but they are finally concluding in favour of aboriginal people.
We are letting the courts do the work of Parliament. It should be up to Parliament to give meaning and definition to section 35. We have been afraid to or reluctant to do so. I do not know what the reasoning is on the federal government's part in this, but it has never tackled this very thorny issue. It has never embraced it as a priority and conceded that aboriginal people have a right to mud, clay, gravel and sand as much as they want. They can develop it in any way they want to, resourceful as they are. We have that broad range here in interpretation.
The fact that we have to bring forward a special bill dealing with national parks is very sensitive in that it affects aboriginal people and their rights. The Government of Canada could spend less time seized of this issue if it would dedicate the time, resources and energy to define what aboriginal and treaty rights actually are.
I think that there is generosity and goodwill among Canadian people. I think that Canadians are finally ready to recognize that 140 years of social tragedy as it has pertained to aboriginal people is enough. Our relationship with aboriginal people in Canada is our greatest failure, and some would say Canada's greatest shame, in that we have allowed these third world conditions to foster within our midst knowing full well that it was all unnecessary.
People on the west coast have to be ever cognizant of traditional aboriginal and treaty rights, unceded yet to be finally defined. In this case, my colleagues and I in the NDP will support this bill. We would like to see this move forward. It is a step in the right direction, but needs to supplemented with solid action on the issues of treaty resolution, housing on reserves, native children at risk, and many more issues that we know are facing aboriginal people in this country today.