Mr. Speaker, the passing of Bill C-28 would rectify an error made to the detriment of the Keeseekoowenin First Nation and solve the acute housing shortage on the Esowista reserve of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
If its passing allows us to make progress on the quality of life and land claims of these first nations, it is largely thanks to Parks Canada's work, which has transformed the Canadian government's commitment to enhance its relationship with aboriginal peoples into reality.
In 2000, land from Riding Mountain National Park was removed and given to the Keeseekoowenin First Nation. At that time, the government was re-establishing that reserve. Subsequently, the government determined that a survey error had been made when five hectares were not returned with the original parcel. The government, through Bill C-28, is correcting that oversight now.
The Riding Mountain field unit consists of Riding Mountain National Park of Canada and the Riding Mountain East Gate Registration Complex national historic site of Canada. Established in 1929, Riding Mountain National Park protects approximately 3,000 square kilometres of ecosystems representative of the southern boreal plains and plateaux natural region of Canada.
Build in 1933-34, the Riding Mountain East Gate Registration Complex national historic site was designated in 1992 and is a significant example of the rustic design traditions and early auto tourism of the 1930s. The national park is a part of the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve, designated under UNESCO's “Man in the Biosphere” program in 1985.
In 2002, approximately 350,000 visitors took advantage of the programs and services delivered in the national park and national historic site in this field unit.
There are six first nations reserves within 100 kilometres of the park, falling geographically within three different treaty areas. Three of these reserves are located south of the national park boundary, with one, reserve 61A, falling within the national park on the northwest shore of Clear Lake. A ministerial agreement exists with Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation for the Senior Officials Forum, whose objectives are to develop more positive, productive and mutually beneficial working relations.
The community of Wasagaming is located in Riding Mountain National Park and provides recreational, educational and cultural activity for visitors to the park. The community contains 525 cabins, 254 cottage lots and 37 commercial leases.
The Riding Mountain field unit employs 60 people year round and 170 people in the summer. It is estimated that the socio-economic benefits to the region are $50 million annually.
Employment of people of aboriginal heritage currently represents 15.7% of the field unit workforce, an increase from 7.2% in 1998 and exceeding the province of Manitoba workforce availability by 10%, the Parks Canada representation at 8.2% and the national aboriginal labour market availability at 2.5%. However--and we must work on this--the majority of these positions are entry level.
The Senior Officials Forum was established through ministerial agreement in 1998 between Parks Canada and the KOFN with the objective of achieving a mutually beneficial, positive and productive working relationship that would assist in resolving issues of common concern and common interest. A contribution agreement was approved in 1999 in support of the forum.
A concept for the establishment of a coalition of first nations with interests in Riding Mountain National Park is currently being discussed with nine first nations who are members of the West Region Tribal Council. The coalition, if successful, would provide opportunities for discussion and resolution of issues that are of mutual interest to both Parks Canada and the first nations.
In relation to Bill C-28, in 1896 land on the north shore of Clear Lake in the province of Manitoba was set aside as an Indian Reserve 61A to be used by the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation as a fishing station. The Indian reserve was located within a Dominion Timber Reserve.
When Riding Mountain National Park was created in 1929, it included most of the Dominion Timber Reserve and Indian Reserve 61A. The Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation was relocated outside of the national park.
A specific land claim settlement agreement concluded in 1994 between Canada and the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation re-established 61A. Most of the associated lands were removed from Riding Mountain in 2000 with the passage of the Canada National Parks Act.
Due to an error in the preparation of the legal description for the land removal, a five hectare strip of land was omitted and remained within the park. The amendments to the Canada National Parks Act would fully re-establish Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation Reserve 61A and rectify the error that occurred.
I think we are dealing with a pretty straightforward situation. The government made an error and Bill C-28 would rectify it.
In the case of the Esowista Reserve, lands are being removed to address a housing shortage on the reserve. The reserve was a seasonal reserve for fishing, which due to population growth has become a place of full time residence. Consultations were conducted with stakeholders, including local communities and environmental organizations, who recognized the unique nature of the situation and agreed the land must be provided to the first nations.
British Columbia agrees that the province and federal government must work together. Environmental assessments have been done and the area that will be given to first nations is the area that will be least impacted. Moreover, environmental assessments will continue to be done through the $2 million mitigation fund. In no way are parks being closed. The parks would remain open and available to all Canadians protecting the ecosystems these two parks represent.
It is time to correct the mistakes in Riding Mountain National Park and address the situation in the Esowista Reserve. I urge my colleagues to support the bill.