Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-34, the enactment of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement.
I listened with great interest to some of the debate on this legislation. I stand rather reluctantly, I guess, because this is like déjà vu for me. I am hearing the same statements and arguments being made that were made for the Nisga'a treaty. We have people asking why people should still be bound by a 132-year-old Indian Act and yet we are trying to give an opportunity for bands to get out from the Indian Act, move forward and create a more positive future for their people. Each time a Parliament has tried to get Indian bands out of the rules of the Indian Act, we see resistance everywhere, even from some of the people who are affected by the land claims agreements.
I know we will never have one land claims agreement that every member will agree with. It saddens me greatly that people are looking for only negative consequences of these agreements.
Again I go back to the days when we were trying to get the Nisga'a treaty passed in this House. We heard many arguments from the same members who are speaking against this one in the House of Commons and yet, democratically, this agreement was passed by its members. If a bill is passed or an agreement is ratified by its members democratically and the majority approve it, then people argue that it was not done fairly, that it was not done in a way that passed the scrutiny of fairness. It is difficult to convince naysayers because they will never agree that this can benefit people.
I have been to some of those communities where they have absolutely no hope of getting out from the oppression of poverty. We have heard sad stories from across this country about what is happening on reserves that we would not tolerate anywhere else in the world.
We have people fighting in Afghanistan to create opportunities for the people there to receive good education and for women and children to participate in education, opportunities that we in our own country would never consider denying anyone. People in our Canadian Forces are dying fighting for the rights of the people of Afghanistan and yet here in Canada we continue to hold people under the thumb of the Indian Act and allow them to live in poverty, with no hope for the future. They live in conditions that we would not tolerate anywhere else and yet we find ourselves in the House of Commons today debating the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement that would give opportunity for a band to move forward, to take advantage of economic opportunities and create hope for their children.
Some people have asked what we see in this agreement that would lead to the social improvement of the people. I have said this before and I will say it again. We cannot bottle the hope that we give people. We cannot put a dollar figure on the improvement in people's well-being when it is in their heart. We cannot say that it will cost x number of dollars to see someone finish high school and become a contributor to their society instead of landing in jail and becoming a statistic or becoming a statistic in suicide.
We can count all the negatives that happen to people. We can do statistics on how much money we are spending on welfare. We can see numbers for the amount of money spent for children in care among our aboriginal people and yet we cannot put a dollar figure to the positive lives that we have been able to see from the different land claims that have been achieved in this country.
As a beneficiary to our Nunavut land claims agreement, I can tell the House what that means for me, for my parents and other people I encounter in our communities. However, I cannot give the dollar figure and the statistics of what that means for people in that they are finally able to be part of the decision making process that governs our lives.
As Chief Kim Baird said, ”every land claims agreement is a compromise”, but it must be if we are going to get all parties at the table agreeing to a settlement or an agreement. At the end of the day, we all need to be able to walk away from that table feeling that we have made some contribution and that everyone worked together to come up with the best agreement that people can ratify, support and move on with their lives.
Many people do not realize just how much the Indian Act controls people's lives, which we would never be allowed to happen anywhere else. Just because it has been around for so long and people have started to accept it as a normal way of life, does not excuse the governments of the day for not improving how we deal with aboriginal lives on reserve. We are dealing with different pieces of legislation. We have Bill C-21 , which tries to remove section 67 of the Human Rights Act. We have the legislation that is before us now. We already spoke to Bill C-30. Those are all the different pieces of legislation that try to make improvements to an Indian Act that has controlled the lives of a group of people who were one of the first peoples of this country.
I have a story here about this agreement that was written in the Canadian Geographic. One of the stories talks about how, when the provincial government broke ground for its ferry terminal in 1958, the first anyone knew about it was when a foreman knocked at the chief's door at six in the morning asking where his crew should park their trucks. This was a statement by Kim Baird, the current chief of the Tsawwassen. Because there was a long house in its path, the government contractors unceremoniously tore it down.
This might not seem that significant to people, but I ask members to visualize someone coming through our communities and tearing down a longhouse or a very important part of a community and the uproar that would happen today if any of us saw that happen in one of our communities. It is very difficult to speak of.
I have stories from my own history of people coming in and deciding that they knew better than we did how to run our lives. They just took control and took action that we would never tolerate today. Those different standards for many situations are not tolerable today but were acceptable in the past.
However, to completely break down people and expect them to rise above all of that without any assistance is asking too much of people.
We see natural disasters happening all over the world, where everything in a community is destroyed. The generosity of people in helping rebuild those communities is something that we can all strive to help with. The human part of us always wants to help those whose lives have been devastated by circumstances beyond their control.
Why we would not apply that same generosity to people who live among us in this country is beyond me. If only most of us really knew what conditions people live in. Then we would not just hear about it, have it fly over our heads and say that we have heard about this for so many years that the story is getting old. We would not be saying that we should move on to something else.
It is very sad and troubling that we have to keep advocating on behalf of people who want to control their own lives. It is very sad that we have to see obstacles all the time when people want to accept responsibility for their communities, move on, make their own decisions and create a future for their people.
The history of this country is built on people overcoming great adversity. The history of our country is that people have had to overcome great challenges to build this country up to where it is today. We aboriginal people are no different. We want to overcome our history and become contributors to society and to this country and its economic development.
We want our children to finish high school, go on to post-secondary education, provide for their own families and live in healthy, safe communities. This is no different from any person born in this country or who comes to this country as an immigrant.
If we do not provide the basic and I feel fundamental assistance to people who want to rise above the poverty and the social challenges in their communities, I do not know what more to say to convince people. We have to support people who want to move on.
I know there are many details that I am sure my colleague across the way will ask me about in trying to convince me why we should not support the legislation. However, at the end of the day it is about people who democratically voted to support an agreement that they know will create some uncertainty for their members and may give them uncertain times in the future, but it does provide certainty in the realm in which they can work.
The Indian bands that are operating under the Indian Act cannot even go to a bank, ask for loans and carry on with economic development opportunities in their communities. They cannot participate in any of the benefits that are happening on the very lands to which they have an attachment, because there is no obligation for many of these private companies--or even provincial governments--to come to an impact and benefit agreement with them.
It is very sad that the people who most need the economic development opportunities and who most need the jobs and the training do not benefit from the prosperous activities happening on the very lands that are in question.
That is why we went ahead with Bill C-30. That will take care of some of the specific claims, which will help bands come to some economic opportunity, or it will settle claims where they feel they have been wrongly treated, although I am having difficulty with the words for this. However, I know that in the specific claims process people will be able, hopefully, to settle the very issues that are hindering them from moving forward.
I am in support of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement because I see it as one way of settling some of these long outstanding issues that have plagued many first nation bands across this country. I have been a member of Parliament for almost 11 years. I have seen great strides in bringing to a close some of the longstanding issues. I have seen many land claims agreements signed and put into place in the time that I have been a member.
I am very proud that all Inuit in Canada have now settled their land claims. Of course, this is not the be-all and end-all or the only solution for improving the lives of aboriginal people in this country, but it is a fair step that we can move forward from.
I am not saying that since we have signed our Nunavut land claims agreement every problem has been solved, but it certainly has given hope and an opportunity to people who feel that they now have a role to play in helping make decisions that concern their lives.
Yes, it was a compromise, as is this very agreement that we are talking about for the people of Tsawwassen. No, it is not going to solve every problem for them, but it gives them a framework that they can work in and they will know that they have the legal opportunity to help make decisions in their area that affect the lives of their people.
I urge people to support this bill so it can be sent to committee. I look forward to hearing from witnesses there. Hopefully we will move this file forward to the Senate and see a conclusion for the long hours of work that people have done on this agreement.