That this House call on the government to: (a) abandon its confrontational approach to First Nations, Métis and Inuit in favour of a nation-to-nation dialogue; (b) make treaty implementation, as well as the settlement and implementation of land claims, a priority, including in Labrador; and (c) begin negotiations in good faith with NunatuKavut Community Council on their comprehensive land claim that has been without a response since 1991.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on behalf of New Democrats on this important motion before the House. I will be sharing my time with the member for Manicouagan.
New Democrats have put forward this motion today because of what we have been seeing over the last many years, actually for decades, particularly under the current government, which is that first nations, Metis, and Inuit continue to have their rights overridden by the government in any number of ways.
We have seen unilateral impositions of legislation, evidenced most recently by the fact that debate was once against shut down on Bill S-2, matrimonial real property rights. For the 31st time, the government has invoked time allocation.
One of the reasons we are bringing this forward is the context in which we are operating, but I want to put it in the context of some international documents. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, article 10 says:
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.
That seems a very appropriate section of the UN declaration when we are talking about land claims. Treaties, comprehensive land claims, self-government agreements are now part of the Canadian landscape, and unfortunately, from coast to coast to coast, we have far too many examples where the government has simply refused to move forward in negotiating in good faith.
In case Canadians think that this is something new that the government should have some responsibility to take part in, I want to refer to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples where it refers to the 1763 Proclamation. The proclamation portrays aboriginal nations as autonomous political units. It goes on to say that aboriginal nations hold inherent authority over their internal affairs and the power to deal with the Crown by way of treaty and agreement. It also says that land concession is thus to be effected by mutual agreement or treaty.
One would think that a document from 1763 would actually continue to help shape and inform government policy, but sadly, in this country, nations have been forced to the courts to try to get the government to come to the table in good faith. We have any number of court decisions that continue to reaffirm indigenous rights and title. I cannot go through them all, because apparently there are about 180 of them, but there are some very key ones.
In the Calder decision in 1973, this was the first time that courts acknowledged that aboriginal title to the land had existed, and that this significant case would pave the way for addressing aboriginal title in Canada.
In Guerin, 1984, it established that aboriginal title was a sui generis right and the Crown had a fiduciary duty to protect it for aboriginal peoples.
In Van der Peet, 1996, there was established a set of criteria to determine whether an aboriginal right was protected as an existing aboriginal right under the Canadian Constitution, and just recently we had the Daniels decision that said all aboriginal peoples in Canada, including Metis and non-status Indians, are included in federal jurisdiction under 91(24) of the Constitution.
We have also had some provincial court decisions that continue to reaffirm rights and title and the duty to consult. We had the decision in December 12, 2007, where the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal delivered its decision in Newfoundland and Labrador v. the Labrador Metis Nation, and the Labrador Metis Nation is now known as NunatuKavut.
This was a unanimous decision and the court upheld that the province has a duty to consult the respondents in respect of their asserted aboriginal rights.
Why is this important? We have first peoples in this country who have been here for millennia. They are the people who lived on this land when the settlers came. I will talk a little bit about who the people of NunatuKavut are. NunatuKavut, from their website, says:
Our Aboriginal ancestors lived in Labrador long before Europeans set foot on North American soil. The land was part of them, and they were part of the land.
For Canadians who are listening, these communities line the southern coastal interior waterways of Labrador. They go on to say:
We are the more than 6,000 southern Inuit of Labrador. We are proud of who we are and what we've accomplished. Our rights are protected and enshrined in the Constitution of Canada. No one can take them from us. Our traditions resonate with the ways of our elders. Our respect for the environment, the sharing of our harvest, our knowledge of traditional medicines and practices, and our care for each other can be traced directly to our Aboriginal heritage.
It is very important that what we have here is, from coast to coast to coast, government refusal to respect the honour of the Crown and its judiciary responsibilities, and to respect Section 35 of the Constitution, which protects aboriginal rights and title. This series of court decisions continues to reinforce that duty for Canada to come to the table and negotiate in good faith.
Here is the reality. From coast to coast to coast, aboriginal peoples are being forced to take action to enforce their rights and title as the government refuses to negotiate or honour its duty to consult and accommodate.
On the east coast, we have seen hunger strikes, blockades, and arrests. The NunatuKavut submitted a land claim for consideration back in 1991. To date, this claim has not been accepted for negotiation. I would like to say that this is an isolated case. However, again, what we see from coast to coast to coast is that there are nations that have been in negotiations with the government for decades. The government simply refuses to act in good faith.
I had one elder who said to me that 70 years ago, when he was only nine years old, he sat at the knee of his grandfather. Here we are, 70 years later and his nation still does not have a treaty or a comprehensive land claim. It is shameful that we continue to have to have this conversation when we have such deep roots in our Constitution, in court decisions, in the royal proclamation that say that rights and title were reaffirmed and that the government does have a responsibility to protect and to negotiate.
We do not only have the NunatuKavut, who submitted their land claim in 1991. We heard just yesterday that the Innu will be shutting down Muskrat Falls because of the fact that racism continues in this country and their rights and title are not being recognized. Meanwhile, development continues and the NunatuKavummiut are watching it happen. They have not been consulted and accommodated. As I mentioned earlier, these are people with a very long history in what is now known as Labrador.
On the east coast, we have had this situation since 1991 where the government refuses to go ahead and negotiate the claim that was submitted in good faith by the NunatuKavummiut. On the west coast, we also have the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group being forced to take its case to the human rights commission of the Organization of American States. We have domestic court decisions that continue to reaffirm rights and title, but now we also have to go internationally because we cannot get the government to the table.
The Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group has a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the 1884 expropriation of over 237 hectares of resource-rich land from the traditional territories of the Hul'qumi'num peoples on Vancouver Island. The Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group alleges that Canada has violated international human rights norms by refusing to negotiate for any form of redress for the expropriated lands, which are now mostly in the hands of large forestry companies, and by failing to protect Hul'qumi'num interests while the dispute remains unresolved. They go on to say that in agreeing to hear the complaint, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled that the available mechanisms to resolve this dispute in Canada, whether through the negotiation or the B.C. treaty process, are too onerous and too constrained in their protection of human rights to live up to the standards of international justice.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come from the Grand Council of the Crees said:
Fair and timely resolution of land and resource disputes is essential for reconciliation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada and for closing the unacceptable gap in standard of living facing so many Indigenous communities.
We can see that indigenous peoples in Canada are being failed consistently by the government, despite the fact that we have numerous court decisions that reaffirm the right to their lands and their right to the sharing of resources that are being developed on these lands.
I encourage all members to support this very important motion.