Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-51 and encourage its passage. My leader supports the bill, as do, I believe, all leaders in the House today.
Many years ago a great Inuit leader, Zebedee Nungak, called for what he termed the completion of the circle of Confederation by the acceptance of Canada's Inuit peoples. It has taken too long, but we are moving closer to that goal.
I was greatly impressed by the briefings I received from Nunavik Inuit leaders on this treaty. The agreement, and the bill that implements it, reflects their objectives while respecting the rights and interests of my Inuit and other constituents in Labrador.
I wish to acknowledge in the House the president of Makivik, Pita Aatami, and my good friend and cousin, Johnny Peters, vice-president, representing the Nunavik Inuit.
I have had a warm relationship over the last decade with the leadership of the Nunavimmiut as we have collaborated in trying to ensure that all Inuit people in the Labrador peninsula are accommodated. This is a historic agreement for Canada, for Nunavik, for Quebec, for Labrador, and for all Inuit.
At the same time, the people of Canada and Labrador deserve honesty, accountability and clarity. Today I want to explore the implications of this proposed treaty. I also want to deliver a message that treaty making is the way of the future for reconciling Canada's sovereignty with all aboriginal peoples, Indian, Inuit and Métis.
We must certainly do better as legislators in moving the process of treaty making forward. Some of the major land claims we have faced were filed 20, 30, even 40 years ago, and most are still unresolved. Surely we can find a better way. Yesterday's announcement, unfortunately, does nothing to relieve the backlog in comprehensive claims.
I also have a special concern as the member for Labrador to ensure that the land ownership, the jurisdictional and the compensation aspects of this treaty are fully consistent with the honour of the Crown. I must be assured that the Nunavik Inuit and anyone else affected by the treaty are fully and fairly accommodated.
The bill before the House is a well crafted, well negotiated and fair expression of Nunavik Inuit interests on the offshore regions of Quebec and Labrador and in the overlap territories the Nunavik Inuit share with my other cousins, the north coast Inuit within my riding.
To be sure, as my friend in the other place, Senator Charlie Watt, has put it, the agreement could be better, particularly in relation to certainty and the continuing demand by Canada that aboriginal groups give up what is undefined about their rights, but the Nunavik Inuit have accepted the wording in the course of their negotiations.
The treaty strikes an important balance in providing Nunavik Inuit, as well as the Inuit of Nunatsiavut, northern Labrador, with solid, constitutionally protected rights and interests in the management of lands and ocean resources.
This treaty has been negotiated over a great many years. The deal has been approved and ratified by the Nunavik Inuit. It has been reviewed and signed off by the Nunatsiavut government, which will play an important role in implementation within terrestrial Labrador.
I am pleased that the government has recognized the hard work done by our previous Liberal government, as most of the federal work was done under our watch. I hope that the reciprocal arrangement defining the rights of Labrador Inuit in Nunavik will soon be finalized as well.
This treaty does not require provincial approval. All the offshore areas involved are fully within Parliament's jurisdiction. The land based impacts are within a national park reserve, the Torngat Mountain national park, to be created by this bill, which is also within federal jurisdiction.
The treaty affirms Nunavik Inuit interests and rights in the Labrador Inuit settlement area in accordance with an overlap agreement between the two Inuit organizations as originally provided for in the Labrador Inuit land claims settlement agreement.
The treaty respects the interests of Canadians, of Labradorians and of Labrador's aboriginal peoples.
I wish to highlight the next steps to bring reconciliation a final and deciding step closer to realization in Labrador.
This is a piece of a wider solution. Part of Canada's agenda must be a treaty with the Innu Nation of Labrador. These negotiations have languished for so long that the social and economic prospects for both the Innu and all Labradorians have suffered. It is important to move ahead and closer to an agreement like those achieved by the Nunatsiavut and now the Nunavik Inuit.
The Innu Nation of Labrador has built important relationships with Nunatsiavut and their Innu brothers and sisters in Quebec. One day they will enjoy a renewed relationship with the provincial and federal governments through land rights resolution and self-government treaties.
Unfortunately, there are legitimate fears that the recent dismissal and shuffling of chief federal land claims negotiators may delay progress on the Innu Nation negotiations. This does not help.
There is also one last Inuit descendant group in Canada that must be accommodated in Labrador. I am, of course, talking of the Inuit-Métis of Labrador, of which I am one. This is a unique group, the only aboriginal people in the country to span the Inuit and Métis peoples recognized in the Constitution Act, 1982.
In 1996 the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples took special efforts to assess and comment on the Labrador Inuit-Métis. In 2003 the Supreme Court of Canada also made specific mention of the Labrador Inuit-Métis in its Powley decision and clearly implied the need for a reconciliation for this unique people.
Only in southern Labrador have Inuit people been associated with Europeans for so long, in fact since the 16th century. Yet, we are clearly an Inuit people of mixed descent, unique in Canada. It is a historical and legal fact.
Last year the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador took these precedents into account and ordered the provincial government to accept reality: that the Inuit-Métis exist and have rights that are certain to be upheld in a court of law. The provincial position that Powley and other aboriginal jurisprudence do not apply in Labrador is simply not tenable.
The province, at least tacitly, has consented to the Nunavik-Nunatsiavut agreement, yet it continues to blockade progress by the Labrador Métis Nation. This is unfair, unjust and hypocritical. It is also contrary to the solemn, written promise made by Premier Williams during the 2003 election campaign. It does not serve the interests of the province of Labrador or of the Métis Nation.
It is for Canada, through Parliament, to take action to restore a fair and equitable basis for accommodation and reconciliation. In this spirit, yesterday, we heard the minister announce the creation of a special Indian claims tribunal. It is a step forward.
This acknowledged that in aboriginal claims and rights issues, it is important to provide an efficient and fair avenue for negotiations, and for dispute settlement where negotiations do not succeed. This is all part of the essence of reconciliation.
Although it is a step forward, I have expressed certain concerns about the tribunal. I would stress again that there must be progress on comprehensive claims, as well as on specific claims.
The 6,500 Inuit-Métis of Labrador living in isolated communities, as they have for time immemorial, have been waiting almost two decades for a response to their claim. They have been denied justice.
The royal commission in 1996 had suggested and recommended acceptance of the claim. In 2003 the Supreme Court also commented on the Inuit-Métis claim and clearly paved the way for acceptance. The people of Labrador are ready to accept the Inuit-Métis claim.
I have resolutions from the combined councils of Labrador, representing all municipalities, to the same effect. My friends and indeed relations from Nunavik have themselves been very sympathetic and supportive. It is time that the federal and provincial governments take action.
I have worked to break that deadlock. In 2003 I negotiated an agreement with the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs to have an independent legal assessment done of this Inuit-Métis claim filed by the Labrador Métis Nation.
This is exactly the kind of alternative dispute resolution called for and must be respected through the creation of the tribunal. Yet, the independent assessment that was agreed to has not started.
It is now 17 months into Canada's tired—