Mr. Speaker, first I would like to clarify something which the previous speaker said, that the opposition did not want to take part in the Indian Act. I want to make it clear that the official opposition wants to get rid of the Indian Act, but we want to do it by consulting with first nations. We do not want to act like the Conservatives and tell the first nations what they want. We want them to tell us what they want. That is something strange for the Conservative Party.
I am happy to speak to this legislation concerning amendments to the Indian Act. This bill is important as it deals with deleting sections of the Indian Act on wills and estates, sales of produce, trade with certain people, and the sections on residential schools. It also calls on the government to make an annual report to Parliament on its progress on dismantling the Indian Act.
It is important for other reasons too. I am always happy to have another opportunity to speak about the four first nation communities in Nickel Belt, and specifically a few recent events that relate very much to the matter of consulting with first nation communities, which is an important element of our debate.
Nickel Belt's first nation communities include Nipissing First Nation, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, which I will speak about later, and also the Wahnapitae First Nation, which is extensively involved with Glencore Xtrata mining projects. They monitor the environment for this mining company along with the water. They do this because Glencore Xtrata consulted with the first nations. That is very important. The other first nation in my community is the Mattagami First Nation. They work very closely with a company called IAMGOLD. The reason they work very closely with this mining company is that the mining company consulted with the Mattagami First Nation. They work very well together.
If the Conservatives would start consulting with first nations, they would find that first nations are really interested in consulting. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are not.
These first nations make contributions to the social and economic life of our region. Given some of the urgent crisis in conditions in some first nation communities in the county, I want to say that these four communities find themselves in pretty good shape. This is the result of their leadership and community members. It is not to say there are no challenges, but it is to recognize the work that has been done there.
When I see a bill like this one regarding changes being made that so affect the lives of our aboriginal and first nation members, I would want to assume that they have been consulted about the changes, but that would be a bad assumption in this case with this bill. Sadly, it is a bad assumption, given the sorry record of the Conservatives and the past Liberal governments.
We do not support this bill for several reasons, including this glaring lack of consultation. The sponsor did not consult with first nations before presenting his bill. I was in his riding this summer. His constituents are very upset with him because he did not consult with them before he presented this bill.
It may be all well and good to delete some archaic provisions of the Indian Act, such as the sale of produce; however, it is not right to proceed to delete other sections, such as the provisions on wills and estates, which could put first nation citizens living on reserve in legal limbo because there is no guarantee that provincial legislation would appear to protect them.
Equally important, we object to the deletion of the provisions on residential schools. This was supposed to be in government legislation, not hidden in a private member's bill. New Democrats would like to see those provisions dealt with by the minister as promised to first nations at the first truth and reconciliation national ceremony.
Let me tell members about those recent events in my first nation communities that underline the importance of consultation with them.
Back in 2003, when the commission on boundaries decided it would split the Nipissing First Nation in two, one-third of it coming to Nickel Belt and two-thirds going to the Nipissing riding, it did not consult with the first nation and it made a very bad decision.
Fortunately this last commission will make this decision right. How will they make it right? By joining the community together and by consulting with the first nations to see what they wanted. The Nipissing First Nation members made it clear that they wanted to be together in one riding, and thankfully the commission listened to them.
Nipissing First Nation has also just recently concluded a $124 million land claim settlement. In the next month, it will be receiving financial compensation for over 100,000 acres that were lost to it due to an inaccurate survey done long ago. I was happy to do my part in getting the payment out to the Nipissing First Nation members, and I congratulate the minister for his role as well.
I mention it because the land claim settlement came about by consultation and listening. This must be at the heart of righting the relationships with our aboriginal brothers and sisters.
My second event to cite is a recent CBC Radio town hall in which I was happy to participate that took place at the Atikamesheng Anishnawbek First Nation. It addressed many pressing national and regional issues concerning them. The town hall was called Aboriginality: Living Together. The conversation about Canada's relationship with first nations has reached a critical point, and that relationship is critical to successful communities in northeastern Ontario. I would like to thank Markus Schwabe from CBC for putting this on. It was very informative and very good.
We talked about a lot of issues during that town hall. There was a round table set up and we had Mrs. Naponse at this round table. We had Chief Miller at this round table and we had John Rodriguez, an educator and former mayor, plus we had a Franco-Ontarian artist married to a first nations person.
We talked about a lot of things during this panel discussion, but the thing that impressed me the most was the number of people in that community centre, and the vast majority of them were white people. Every single one of them who got up to speak said that the government should consult with the first nations. That is exactly how the opposition feels.
For many years, first nations have said that the Indian Act is holding back progress. It does govern almost every aspect of life for people living on reserve. In July 2011 at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, National Chief Shawn Atleo said it was time to set aside the Indian Act and dismantle the Department of Indian Affairs to create two smaller departments, one to administer a government-to-government relationship, and the other to provide services to first nations. He also said that it was a process that must be led by first nations; again, consultations.
New Democrats want to work with first nations to develop modern legislation that helps first nations communities thrive. This process must be led by the first nations and deal with priorities that have been identified, like education for first nations children.
New Democrats do not want to tinker with the Indian Act and make any changes that would have unintended consequences. There needs to be a detailed study of changes that must be made and how that should happen, provincial law not necessarily being applicable on reserve in the case of dissent about property or an estate, as one simple example.
AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, who had repeatedly called for the abolition of the Indian Act, criticized the unilateral approach taken by the sponsor of this bill when introducing legislation of such significance without the involvement of first nations.
In closing, the results of this unilateral approach are as predictable as they are tragic. The Auditor General says that over the years things have gotten worse and the gap in quality of life is widening. We must have genuine consultation.