Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today in support of the motion. It is an issue with which I am closely associated.
I grew up on the reserve community of Pelican Narrows and I have experienced firsthand many of those issues that aboriginal leaders raised in Kelowna and which they spoke extremely passionately about.
It is difficult for anyone to understand what those leaders were talking about unless one has actually lived it. It is difficult to understand what poverty can do to one's health, how overcrowded housing diminishes self-esteem and how a lack of education can hold back the hopes and aspirations of a people and of a community. What is perhaps worse is being kept from being a part of the solution building and having the government ignore people's plight and not helping them to help themselves.
I want to stress the point that far too often people confuse the culture of poverty with the culture of aboriginal people. I see evidence in this House, especially across the aisle, of this lack of understanding between these two very critical issues. I implore the members opposite to begin to understand this.
The Kelowna accord needs to be understood from an aboriginal perspective and I will attempt to briefly provide a bit of a context so we can all better understand what Kelowna represented.
I will summarize the modern aboriginal-state relations into three distinct phases.
From approximately the 1950s to 1969, the federal government's approach to dealing with aboriginal people was basically ad hoc responses to a crisis occurring in an aboriginal community. It was not until a crisis occurred that a response was raised at the government level and, unfortunately, the nature of that response was usually ad hoc. There was no long, medium or short term planning. It was all predicated upon crisis management.
Aboriginal people grew tired of being ignored and not having their issues taken very seriously. This changed in 1969 with the introduction of the white paper. It was the spark that enraged aboriginal Canadians and caused them to rise up, and rise up they did. Thus began the next phase of aboriginal-state relations. In the period beginning in approximately 1970 to the early 1990s, aboriginal people demanded that their rights be recognized, respected and protected.
When I was first elected chief six years ago, one of the people I look up to the most in this world, Carole Sanderson, said, “Gary, never apologize for the rights that we have as a people. Never ask permission to use them. Instead, work with governments to respect them, to build our people stronger, to build Canada stronger”.
Aboriginal people, as a result, began to utilize the courts to advance and protect their rights. Over more than two decades, many landmark court battles were won in favour of aboriginal people: Lovelace, Sparrow, Calder and others. It was also a time marked with protests and conflicts, such as those we have seen at Oka, Ipperwash and others across the country, and that phase can best be described as an adversarial phase where relationships were strained between aboriginal Canadians and Canadians in general.
Finally the courts said that enough was enough and implored governments to use the political fora to address and deal with aboriginal issues and to use the court decisions as a framework to move forward and address these outstanding issues and grievances. So began the next phase of aboriginal-state relationships, from about the early to mid-nineties to what we have today, and that phase we can best describe as relationship-building.
That phase saw self-government negotiations spring up across the country. We saw an acceleration of programs being devolved to aboriginal first nations' control. We saw a series of round tables being established to deal with socio-economic issues of critical importance to the people in our communities.
The basis of these developments were the court decisions, but also other things, such as the Penner report on education and numerous justice inquiries and the like. We began to see improvements, contrary to what we have heard. Improvements in that period of time have been made.
The problem is we have difficulty identifying them. It is easier to see a glass half full than to see a glass half empty. We politicize that perspective to the negative consequences upon our people.
Despite that growth and prosperity there still remain gaps to be addressed. There is one key ingredient missing throughout those three phases that Kelowna began to put in place. That was to include the aboriginal people in the building of the solutions to the issues that they wanted to take ownership of, instead of having governments saying, “we know what's good for you. Here's a policy, you react to it”.
No. Kelowna represented a high water mark in a new relationship between aboriginal people and Canadians. It established a new consensus. It established a relationship where the previous government, the provincial governments and the aboriginal people of Canada would work together to build the solutions necessary to address all these issues that we have talked about today. A new consensus is what I call Kelowna. That is the context within which Kelowna evolved over three phases.
It was not written on a napkin on the eve of an election. It was not done in the 18 months before that. It was 50-plus years of blood, sweat and tears of the aboriginal people, first nations, Métis and Inuit, working toward being included in the policy development of the issues that affected them on a daily basis.
The Conservatives may think they are punishing the Liberals by not honouring the Kelowna accord. They are wrong, very wrong. It is the aboriginal people of Canada that are being punished. It is the aboriginal people who built Kelowna. To have the Prime Minister and the Minister of Indian Affairs play petty politics with this accord is insulting to the House and to aboriginal people.
First, the government pretended the money was not there. The proof was there. The money was identified and the government chose to use other priorities to move forward. The government says there was no agreement. The accord was broadcast to millions of people across the country and to the aboriginal leaders in the room, it was very real.
The Conservatives said there were no plans. Here is where the greatest exposure of a lack of understanding of what Kelowna represented presents itself when it comes to the Conservative government. No plans? Of course there were no plans. It was not the intention of Kelowna and the previous government to go and hide on a hill somewhere and design policies in isolation and then tell the aboriginal people what they were. This was about working together collaboratively to build the solution to address the issues that the first nations people wanted to take ownership of.
To build complex solutions requires the involvement of those that were reached in the new consensus with the provinces, the federal government and all national aboriginal groups.
Now we hear that the government has disregarded this new consensus. The government will go it on its own. It knows best. Instead the government will decide what is right and that is condescending.
The agreement was not a partisan effort as many have said. It was an effort to deal with one of Canada's most embarrassing legacies.
I have not been left with a feeling of confidence with the so-called Conservative approach to dealing with aboriginal issues. We have had members opposite stand and say ridiculous things.
They have suggested that first nations and Inuit people are not real people living in real towns. They have suggested that first nations and Inuit people traffic prescription drugs on the streets, and that first nations and Inuit people are not real governments. They have cancelled the aboriginal procurement initiative, the critical school projects, and completely ignoring the Métis in the budget.
They have stalled on many more issues like self-government and have not proactively tried to resolve issues like Caledonia. In my riding specifically, they have reneged on the Isle à la Crosse boarding school compensation, among others.
I just learned that the Prime Minister is in Vancouver today and he made a statement that in just under four centuries Canada passed from an unsettled wilderness to what it is today. That is blatant ignorance. This was not an unsettled land 400 years ago. The aboriginal people of this country were here. They inhabited the land. This demonstrates the lack of understanding the Prime Minister has with respect to aboriginal issues.
I am not sure, but this does not inspire confidence in me or the vast majority of aboriginal Canadians. I did not hear first nations, Métis and Inuit people calling for the Kelowna accord to be killed. I did not hear premiers say that the accord was bad. In fact, I heard pleas from all Canadians for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to honour the Kelowna accord.
This was a common goal that would have benefited all Canadians. I believe the government is moving backwards toward that adversarial phase that I talked about earlier. I see efforts to break apart this unprecedented unity and new consensus among aboriginal organizations, provincial and federal governments. I see one off discussions to fragment aboriginal people, communities and leaders. I see wedge issues being introduced to split on and off reserve aboriginal people. I see efforts to introduce difficulties between aboriginal leaders and provinces. This is not healthy. This is not good for aboriginal people and it is not good for Canada.
I would like to cite some passages from a speech that was made by Georges Erasmus in 1990. He stated:
We have come to a fork in the road, where if we are going to continue to be immersed in a status quo, we're just not going to be together very much longer. Or else we are going to be so disgruntled across this country, we're not going to be able to live with each other. We have the ability in this country to create a country that will be envied. We have the potential but we also have the potential to fragment and create many smaller states, and that's absolutely not necessary.
He goes on to say:
This country was not settled like United States. l'm a Dene. No conquering army came to the Dene and defeated us. No conquering army came to the Mohawks and defeated them, or any other of the people across this country. We willingly, consciously with our eyes open, thought we had enough resources. Being a peaceful people we arrived at an agreement that provided for our institutions to continue on part of our land and for the institutions of the people coming in to also be placed on our lands. Never in our worst nightmares, did we ever imagine what was going to take place. That for nearly 100 years, from 1867 until 1960, we would be so limited in our activity that we would need passes to get off reserves. We couldn't own businesses. We couldn't run for office. We couldn't vote. We never reached the age of majority. We weren't human beings really.
Mr. Erasmus had the foresight to understand what needed to happen. He added:
The time is here. We must now be sincere. Native people are not a threat to this country. We are not a threat to the sovereignty of Canada. We actually want to reinforce the sovereignty of Canada. We want to walk away from the negotiating table with an agreement that Canada feels good about and native people feel good about, where we can say that we have strengthened the sovereignty of Canada. So not only will Canada talk about how the Crown brought a version of sovereignty here, based in one family that continues to have it forever and ever and ever, but in addition to the original sovereignty, the sovereignty of the people that were here for tens of thousands of years is now also another source of the sovereignty for Canada.
So we're not a threat. We are only a threat if we continue to be ignored and taken lightly. We are only a threat if people don't understand that it is impossible for people to maintain the frustration level without the kind of actions that we've seen this summer.
He was referring to Oka of course.
What was visionary in his speech was the wisdom in calling for a new agreement, a new Canada. We all walked away from Kelowna feeling good about what was agreed to. Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not have the same vision.
I was at a powwow this past weekend in the great reserve community of Witchekan Lake. In attendance were first nations World War II veterans. They enlisted in war efforts in higher numbers than any other cultural group in this country despite many of them having to disenfranchise and give up their treaty rights. Why? Ironically enough, to protect their treaty rights.
It was their belief that because of the nation to nation treaty relationship, that when Canada went to war, they as warriors in their proudest tradition would stand shoulder to shoulder with other Canadians against those who threatened our great country. That is what they fought for.
[Member spoke in Cree]
Basically what I said in Cree was that these veterans came back and they said they fought as equals on the front lines and yet they are not equals in this country. These treaties and this new relationship must move us forward. These men and women lived through these aboriginal-state relationships that I just described. They invested with their lives.
I can never find the words to express how profoundly affected I am by the government's inaction and petty tricks of denial and delay with respect to the Kelowna accord. If the minister and the Conservative government simply think they can deny or delay Kelowna and other aboriginal initiatives, they are wrong. Their meagre, weak efforts to toss aside Kelowna are no match for the will of a people, the premiers, and the people of Canada.
Everyone long ago accepted our shared path and the tremendous opportunities that Canada's aboriginal population had to offer. For too long our shared history, once one of cooperation and nation to nation status, has been marked by a breaking of faith.
The Supreme Court has established that the honour of the Crown is enshrined in the Constitution. Kelowna was a commitment by the Crown to aboriginal people, a new consensus that signalled a new relationship and a new future. Our path is one.