That the House, recognizing the broad-based demand for action, call on the government to make the improvement of economic outcomes of First Nations, Inuit and Métis a central focus of Budget 2013, and to commit to action on treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of Aboriginal Canadians, as required by domestic and international law.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.
The reason the NDP has brought the motion forward today is that what we have seen, both from Conservatives and Liberals, is years of broken promises. We are seeing continuing poverty in first nation, Métis and Inuit communities. We are seeing a grassroots movement from coast to coast to coast, like Idle No More, signifying that people on the ground are simply tired of these broken promises. We have seen the Assembly of First Nations put forward an eight-point plan and we have seen a 13-point declaration of commitment that is called, “First Nations: Working Towards Fundamental Change”.
In this context, New Democrats felt it was important for us to bring this matter to the House and to have a fulsome debate about three key elements: that is, economic development, treaties and duty to consult.
I am going to focus on those three elements in my brief 10 minutes.
I want to begin with economic development, and I want to refer to the report of the Auditor General from 2011. In that report, the Auditor General indicated it is clear that living conditions are poorer on first nation reserves than anywhere else in Canada. The Auditor General went on to indicate in the report that the department agreed with that and had developed a community well-being index, based upon a United Nations' measure. In 2010, the department reported that the index showed little or no progress in the well-being of first nation communities between 2001 and 2006. Instead, the average well-being of those communities continued to rank significantly below that of other Canadian communities.
Conditions on too many reserves are poor and have not improved significantly and, of course, the Auditor General went on to criticize government performance and to recommend a number of ways in which the government could move forward. Part of those ways did focus on aspects of economic development. When we are talking about economic development, there are a number of principles that have been outlined in numerous reports and studies that talk about local employment, local ownership and decision-making, reinvestment of profits in communities, local knowledge and skill development, positive environmental impact and increased health and well-being in the community.
It would seem to be to the government's advantage to talk about investing in things like education and infrastructure, to do that duty to consult to make sure the programs were reflecting community needs, but we have seen an ongoing absence of that kind of priority with the current government.
I mentioned there have been numerous studies. I want to touch briefly on the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. Now, this was done in the United States, but this was two decades of research that talked about the key elements that needed to be in place for first nations—in the United States at least—to have fulsome economic development. It indicated a number of matters, but I just want to touch briefly on three of them.
Sovereignty matters. When native nations make their own decisions about what development approaches to take, they consistently outperform external decision-makers on matters as diverse as governmental form, natural resources, economic development, health care and social service provision.
Institutions matter. For development to take hold, assertions of sovereignty must be backed by capable institutions of governance.
Culture matters. Successful economies stand on the shoulders of legitimate, culturally grounded institutions of self-government. Indigenous societies are diverse. Each nation must equip itself with a governing structure, economic system, policies and procedures that fit its own contemporary cultures.
Again, it seems there is a road map for the government to invest in the mechanisms that will support economic development in communities, and we only need to look at the continuing desperate conditions in some communities.
I must point out that there are first nation communities that are very successful. Westbank comes to mind. There are very good examples out there, and there are ways that some of those best practices could be made available to other communities.
I want to touch on treaties. I went to the government's own website on this as a starting point, and it was very interesting to read its “Fact Sheet: Treaties with Aboriginal people in Canada”. It states:
The Government of Canada and the courts understand treaties between the Crown and Aboriginal people to be solemn agreements that set out promises, obligations and benefits for both parties.
Starting in 1701, in what was to eventually become Canada, the British Crown entered into solemn treaties to encourage peaceful relations between First Nations and non-Aboriginal people. Over the next several centuries, treaties were signed to define, among other things, the respective rights of Aboriginal people and governments to use and enjoy lands that Aboriginal people traditionally occupied.
Reading that statement on the government's own website, one would think the government would come to the table with an intent to respect promises that have been made over centuries. When we are talking about treaties in Canada, we have very different situations from coast to coast to coast. We have the numbered treaties, which are old treaties in this country. We have land claims. We have a situation in British Columbia where we have some modern treaties; however, a large part of British Columbia has no treaties in place.
I want to touch on three aspects of these treaties, and I will turn to the land claims coalition. Why should Canadians care about treaties? I think the coalition lays it out very well. It indicates, in part:
Fully implemented modern treaties benefit all Canadians. They clarify the terms of the ongoing relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown, and of the Crown's occupation and use in conjunction with Aboriginal peoples of their traditional lands and resources. In other words, modern treaties define how resources on traditional lands can be used and co-managed to the great benefit of all Canadians.
For Aboriginal signatories, modern treaties offer new opportunities for self-reliance, political and economic development, as well as cultural and social well-being. They are the basis for building a new and positive relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the wider Canadian society.
Having read the government's website about fulfillment of promises, one would think the land claims coalition would be celebrating the success of these land claims agreements. Instead, what has happened is that the agreements are signed and then the government walks away from the spirit and intent of those agreements. The land claims coalition has had to come together to hold the government's feet to the fire. It has raised a number of implementation issues, and because I only have 10 minutes I cannot go over all of them.
However, there are a couple of key points. It says there have been numerous reports that have reaffirmed the intent of the land claims agreements and treaties, and that these reports “...have confirmed that the Government of Canada is fulfilling neither its obligations in full under these agreements nor their spirit and intent. Consequently modern treaties are failing to achieve their overall fundamental developmental objectives”. Instead, we are seeing that some of the nations have been forced into courts to try to get the government to uphold its promises.
Turning to Nunavut, it is in the courts as we speak, to try to get the government to live up to the self-government and land claims agreement.
I will touch briefly on numbered treaties. There was the proclamation back in 1763, and then we had numbered treaties signed between 1870 and 1921. On a site called Our Legacy, the section entitled “Treaties: Negotiations and Rights” outlines the continued problems with how the numbered treaties are not being respected. It says, in part, that “the government of Canada questions the original Spirit and Intent of Treaty”.
We are starting to see a theme here: land claims, numbered treaties. I will get to B.C. in a minute about the spirit and intent. It continues:
It is a very simple answer. Non-Indigenous People were granted the right to live in Indigenous Peoples' territories so long as they maintained peace and respected the land. In exchange Indigenous Peoples were to receive benefits such as health care and education.
We see the government continuing to quibble about what those treaties meant instead of honouring their spirit and intent and moving the treaties that were signed decades ago into the modern day to honour those commitments.
I will touch briefly on the B.C. treaty process. I come from British Columbia, and I need to talk about this. An article titled “Report on treaty negotiations holds key to progress” says that those treaties are very important in terms of the economic development and stability in British Columbia.
There is resource development happening in British Columbia. Without movement forward on those treaties, we will not have the economic stability that is important for first nations, for Métis, for Inuit in the north, and for the rest of British Columbians and Canadians. I urge all members of this House to support this important motion.