Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the motion brought forward by the member for Toronto Centre. Our government certainly recognizes the Indian Act as an outdated colonial statute and that its application results in first nations people being subjected to deferential treatment. We recognize that it does not provide an adequate legislative framework for the development of self-sufficient and prosperous first nations communities.
The Indian Act was originally enacted in 1876, more than 136 years ago. Clearly, this is not modern legislation. Despite some changes over the years, the act still includes archaic, outdated and colonial provisions that continue to prevent first nations communities from participating equally in and contributing fully to Canada's economic, social and cultural development.
Everyone in the House would agree that the Indian Act stands in the way of the success of first nations communities and continues to prevent first nations communities from becoming full participants in Canada's economy. However, this motion proposes an ill-conceived process to get rid of the Indian Act that would jeopardize current progress being made by the government and its first nations partners.
The motion introduced by the member for Toronto Centre also ignores the fact that the government has been engaging directly with many first nations communities and organizations for the past six years to conclude agreements and develop legislation that provides tangible, workable alternatives to the Indian Act. These agreements and legislation respond to the goals and reflect shared priorities that we have set with our first nations partners.
At the historic Crown-first nations gathering, held at the beginning of this year, the Prime Minister reiterated our commitment to working together with first nations communities and encapsulated our approach in this quote:
Our government has no grand scheme to repeal or to unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act: After 136 years, that tree has deep roots; blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole. However, there are ways, creative ways, collaborative ways, ways that involve consultation between our government, the provinces and First Nations leadership and communities, ways that provide options within the act, or outside of it, for practical, incremental and real change.
The historic Crown-First Nations Gathering was the result of a shared desire to see a Canada where all first nations people would participate fully in a social, economic and cultural prosperity, a Canada where strong, healthy, self-sufficient first nations communities would be full participants in Canada's economy and benefit all of us.
We acknowledge the many challenges still before us and we are actively working to move past these barriers by finding solutions to specific obstacles, working together with first nations. This approach is practical, realistic and effective.
One thing we know for certain from past experience is that proposals to significantly overhaul the act do not work. Our government's approach is to bring about incremental change in our consultation with first nations through new measures, investment and legislation that provide alternatives to the Indian Act. This approach will lead to the development of strong accountable and prosperous first nations communities, where first nations citizens have access to the same rights as all other Canadians.
Regarding health care, I would like to give an example from my own background. Back in the eighties, as a new nurse, one of my first employment opportunities was a band employed nurse. I was the first band employed nurse in Canada. Prior to that, the federal government put nurses into communities and the communities had no choice. It was truly rewarding to be the first band employed nurse where I was part of that team with the first nations communities.
I look with pride to British Columbia and see what a long way we have come. As the communities are ready, as the provinces have the conversations and, just recently, the signing of the tripartite agreement, the creation of the First Nations Health Authority, the First Nations Health Council, it shows how we can move forward through incremental changes in a very positive way to create new structures and new governance models that are really truly going to be effective. As of 2012, I believe we are looking at full transfer to this new governance structure for health care services.
Members will notice that the motion fails to acknowledge the important work currently being done by the government in collaboration with first nation people. I just gave a prime example in the area of health care, which is one that has and continues to produce significant results. Instead, this motion is calling upon the government to start over with a new process.
For the past six years, our government has been taking concrete steps to provide first nations with the tools they need to get out of the Indian Act. We have taken concrete action to address specific issues, such as education, economic development and drinking water.
In recent years, this government has negotiated and implemented initiatives in collaboration with first nations and other parties, such as provinces and aboriginal organizations. These initiatives have led to progress in a number of areas to address the barriers to social and economic participation currently faced by first nation people. Again, I would like to look to the First Nations Land Management Act in building a stronger first nations land management regime.
I am privileged that the First Nations Tax Commission is located in the riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. I am particularly proud of the work that Manny Jules has done as a leader for many years in moving forward and taking the opportunity to leverage the value of the land.
The finance committee met with Manny Jules and a number of chiefs two years ago. He talked about his vision, the opportunities, and the specific concrete steps that we needed to take to get out of the way of the opportunities for economic development. It is a pleasure to see the phenomenal movement forward in economic development in Kamloops. They have an award-winning Sun Rivers resort community, golf courses, industrial land development, and a huge portion of the income of the Tk’emlúps Indian Band is now derived from own-source revenue. I know that Mr. Jules has practical ideas. We need to get out of the way and remove those barriers. I know there are a number of specific things around leveraging land that we still need to move forward on to ensure an equal playing field.
As members can see, the government's strategy has been to focus on finding solutions to the specific obstacles and on working together with first nations. This incremental approach to reform is practical, realistic and effective. It is part of a larger strategy that includes targeted investments and partnerships, enhancements to programs and legislative initiatives.
The government continues to identify, develop and implement solutions to help unlock barriers to first nations' participation in the economic, social and political development of Canada. We are achieving this by working with first nations and other stakeholders. The strategy is making steady progress. It would be misguided to abandon the strategy in favour of a vaguely defined process with a seemingly impossible deadline.
I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me in opposing the motion before us.