Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-34, specifically to indicate that New Democrats will be opposing the proposed amendments. I want to put this into context.
The Tsawwassen first nation treaty is the first urban treaty in modern day British Columbia. In the address that Chief Kim Baird gave to the provincial legislature, she outlined many reasons why British Columbians and all Canadians should support this treaty. I want to use a couple of her words. Chief Baird said:
Critics choose to ignore Tsawwassen's history of being a victim of industrial and urban development to the benefit of everyone but us. The naysayers do not seem to care that they are calling for the continued exclusion of Tsawwassen from opportunities everyone else has enjoyed. “So what of Tsawwassen First Nations legitimate economic needs? So what of Tsawwassen First Nations land base needs? Let's just continue to ignore Tsawwassen First Nations needs”.
I try not to become too disheartened, and I hope the members of my community take the same approach, because the facts speak for themselves. Today we have a tiny postage stamp of a reserve, a small fraction of a percentage of our traditional territory fronting a dead body of water trapped between two massive industrial operations. Our land and aquatic ecosystems have been fouled beyond human comprehension.
Later on in her speech, she says:
I think I can say on my and my community's behalf that true reconciliation requires this treaty receive broad support. I want our treaty to have the support of as many parties and individuals as possible. To have it become a political football due to various specific public policy issues, in my view, sullies the whole point of true reconciliation.
Compromises are indeed difficult but also very necessary....
This treaty has been under negotiation for many years. In fact, over 14 years of negotiation have gone into this treaty.
In the Tsawwassen treaty summary and key benefits, the Tsawwassen people talk about a new relationship. They say:
The treaty, signed on December 6th, represents a new relationship between Canada, British Columbia, and Tsawwassen First Nation. It begins the process of reconciliation, and sets TFN on the path towards self-sufficiency. Tsawwassen First Nation becomes a full partner with its provincial and federal counterparts, and undertakes the rights and obligations of its section 35 responsibilities. The treaty is not a windfall, nor is it perfect. It represents a compromise borne out of difficult and complex negotiations. It also represents a significant challenge to Tsawwassen First Nation: the responsibilities of treaty present a set of policy and operational challenges that TFN recognizes and is preparing for.
In any agreement that is developed there are often differences of opinion. Because this treaty has been in negotiation for many years, has gone through the provincial legislature and has now come to the House of Commons for ratification, I argue that there has been much discussion and review, especially in light of the historic apology that happened last Wednesday in the House. I think for many people it signals a step forward into a new era of recognizing nation to nation respect and status. This treaty is a way to signal that intent is truly there.
I want to also put it into a couple of other perspectives and one is an international perspective.
Under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, article 26 says:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.
Tsawwassen grandmothers and grandfathers and great grandmothers and great grandfathers for centuries have lived on the Lower Mainland and in areas around there, using the land and the sea to feed, clothe and house their people.
Many of us in the House support the UN declaration in terms of recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and territories and to their economic self-sufficiency. This treaty would be an opportunity to signal, although Canada has not acknowledged the UN declaration, that at least we acknowledge the Tsawwassen people have the right to a small part of their traditional territory.
I want to go back, also in terms of historical context, to the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in volume two, “Restructuring the Relationship”. The commission spent a fair bit of time covering and talking about the importance of treaties.
The commission talked about the historical need for justice and reconciliation. It quoted Josephine Sandy from the Ojibwa Tribal Family Services. She said:
Our people have always understood that we must be able to continue to live our lives in accordance with our culture and spirituality. Our elders have taught us that this spirit and intent of our treaty relationship must last as long as the rivers flow and the sun shines. We must wait however long it takes for non-Aboriginal people to understand and respect our way of life. This will be the respect that the treaty relationship between us calls for.
In this context, this treaty is a very important piece of having Tsawwassen and its neighbours move forward with some certainty, whether it is economic or social. It allows both the Tsawwassen and the surrounding community to establish that forward looking relationship, which will allow all to benefit economically and socially.
The same report talks about the need for reconciliation as being a way to move forward. Again, I know Chief Kim Baird talked about reconciliation. She talked about the fact that the treaty was compromised. The report states:
By reconciliation we mean more than just giving effect to a treaty hunting right or securing the restoration of reserve land taken unfairly or illegally in the past. We mean embracing the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship itself, a relationship of mutual trust and loyalty, as the framework for a vibrant and respectful new relationship between peoples.
New attitudes must be fostered to bring about this new relationship. A consensus will have to evolve that the treaty relationship continues to be of mutual benefit. New institutions must be created to bring this relationship into being. At present, the relationship between the treaty parties is mired in ignorance, mistrust and prejudice. Indeed, this has been the case for generations.
In 1996, 12 years ago when the RCAP report came out, there was a signal that the need for reconciliation was so important, both to the first nations and to the non-first nations communities. It is a call for us to find ways to build collectively together to move forward, to establish some trust, to establish those long term relationships that can truly make a difference for both the first nations and the non-first nations community.
In the conclusion of the recommendations, although some of these have been covered, it talked about fulfillment of historical treaties. In this case we are talking about the signing of a treaty and not the fulfillment. Under the recommendations, the commission recommends:
The parties implement the historical treaties from the perspective of both justice and reconciliation:
(a) Justice requires the fulfilment of the agreed terms of the treaties, as recorded in the treaty text and supplemented by oral evidence.
(b) Reconciliation requires the establishment of proper principles to govern the continuing treaty relationship and to complete treaties that are incomplete because of the absence of consensus.
I think the treaty is an opportunity to heal some of those long-standing wounds that exist with the first nations. It is an opportunity to recognize the contribution that first nations make to this country and will continue to make. It is an opportunity to truly move forward.
In the conclusion of Chief Baird's speech to the legislature, she talks about the fact that:
Our treaty is the right fit for our nation. More land, cash and resources provide us the opportunity to create a healthy and viable community, free from the constraints of the Indian Act. We now have the tools to operate as a self-governing nation for the first time in 131 years, since the first Indian Act was introduced.
The Tsawwassen treaty, clause by clause, emphasizes self-reliance, personal responsibility and modern education. It allows us to pursue meaningful employment from the resources of our territory for our own people or, in other words, a quality of life comparable to other British Columbians.
The NDP will not support the amendments as proposed. We encourage members of the House to move quickly to ensure this treaty moves through the House and on into the Senate.