Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise today to support Bill C-262, which was introduced by my colleague and friend from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.
The purpose of this bill is to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the place we now call Canada, we must take this opportunity to pursue genuine reconciliation with indigenous peoples. A good look at the living conditions of many of Canada's first nations might dampen our celebratory mood.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Drafted over a period of more than 20 years in collaboration with indigenous nations around the world, this living human rights instrument seeks to enhance harmonious relations between states and indigenous peoples.
Unfortunately, Canadian governments of the past 150 years have opposed the adoption of this declaration and its fundamental principles or have failed to take the necessary measures to implement it, a pattern that continues today.
I was very pleased to learn recently that there is some openness among certain members of this government, and I hope that we have enough support to finally implement this important declaration within our own legislative framework.
It is unacceptable and particularly shameful that a disconnect still persists between the official recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies that allow those rights to be fully implemented on the ground. It is high time that we did something, that we stopped talking and started acting, so that the first peoples of this country do not have to wait another second for their fundamental rights to be protected, respected, and recognized.
I sincerely thank my colleague and dear friend from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for playing such an important role in actively contributing to the drafting of this declaration. Above all, I congratulate him on having the courage and daring to introduce Bill C-262, giving us this historic opportunity to debate the fundamental rights of indigenous people here in the House of Commons.
The fight for indigenous rights is very near and dear to me. However, it is very frustrating that so much work remains to be done to ensure the survival, dignity, and well-being of indigenous peoples in Canada.
In 2012, as the official opposition housing critic, I went on an extensive Canada-wide tour to determine the extent of the housing crisis in our country. As long as I live, I will never forget the time I spent in the ridings of my colleagues from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.
Thanks to them, I had the opportunity to meet with northern Inuit and Cree communities from Nunavik and members of the first nations of northern Saskatchewan. That is when theory became reality, and I grasped the scope of the indigenous housing problem in Canada.
I have a hard time understanding how the government can remain so idle on this file when we know that it is not uncommon, in indigenous communities, to see 15 family members living under one roof, with walls covered in mould, often with no access to potable water. They are living in conditions that we would never accept if those conditions were as widespread in the non-indigenous population.
What is more, the housing units they live in are not adapted to their traditional way of life or to the climate. This painful reality affects them deeply, but no targeted strategy was included in the national housing strategy that was announced less than two weeks ago.
Housing is not the only area in which they experience discrimination. As we speak, indigenous men, women and children are still subject to archaic, colonial, racist, discriminatory, and sexist laws. Indigenous peoples continue to be excluded and marginalized and to suffer serious violations of their fundamental rights.
Intergenerational trauma, the wave of suicides, and the deterioration of mental and physical health should receive the attention they deserve. I could go on and on, as there are many problems.
What is certain is that past and current colonialist measures and policies of governments and churches have resulted in the dispossession of their lands and resources, the shameful residential school system, and the cultural genocide brought on by the denial and destruction of indigenous languages and cultures.
It is now 2017, and our country claims to be in an era of reconciliation. If the time for reconciliation has truly arrived, if we are truly sincere, these actions must stop immediately.
It is imperative that we stop talking and start acting, because the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples are no longer negotiable. They are universal and should be treated accordingly.
Members will surely recall that last year, in call to action no. 43, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called on the federal government “to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.”
In call to action no. 44, the commission called on the government to “develop a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Today, Bill C-262 gives us an opportunity to reject our colonial past and to reverse the historical patterns and decisions that were imposed and that threatened the survival of many indigenous peoples. It gives us the opportunity to adopt a new approach based on justice, equality, respect for human rights, and good faith, an approach that should have been taken and recognized a long time ago.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets out a series of human rights and fundamental freedoms that indigenous peoples have the right to enjoy. Article 9 of the declaration specifically states that:
Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.
The days of forced assimilation and cultural genocide are over. Whether we are talking about education, health, or environmental protection, preserving their identity and their customs and traditions has to be the top priority.
The declaration also allows for the right to self-determination, the right to maintain and develop their own political, religious, cultural, and educational institutions, and the protection of their cultural and intellectual property.
Article 33 of the declaration states that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the States in which they live.
[They also] have the right to determine the structures and to select the membership of their institutions in accordance with their own procedures.
Another key aspect of the declaration is control over their own lands, territories, and natural resources. The history of the indigenous peoples teaches us that they have lived on these lands since time immemorial.
Despite treaties and commitments to live in harmony on this land, the settlers did not keep their promises. There needs to be a return of lands, territory, and resources, as well as fair and equitable compensation.
On that note, article 19 of the declaration states, and I quote:
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
This article of the declaration would allow us to change the way we do things and our historically colonialist attitude and implement a process for true nation-to-nation negotiation, on equal terms.
The declaration also provides for fair and mutually acceptable procedures to resolve conflicts between indigenous peoples and states, including procedures such as negotiations, mediation, arbitration, the creation of national and international courts, and regional mechanisms for denouncing and examining human rights violations.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the culmination of more than 25 years of collaboration, and the bill from the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou will enable this country to build a truly meaningful nation-to-nation relationship at last.
This legislative framework will allow us to leave a lasting legacy by gradually correcting the mistakes of the past, serving as a catalyst that will ultimately lead to the repeal of the shameful Indian Act, and effectively banning the discriminatory doctrines of discovery and terra nullius.
Lastly, this legislative framework will affirm the significant value of the national reconciliation process. Without justice, there can be no reconciliation in Canada.
It is high time we adopted and implemented the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, so that the fundamental rights of first nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples can finally be restored and recognized.
In closing, I would like to note that we are on unceded Anishinabe territory.