moved that Bill C-262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
[Member spoke in Cree]
Mr. Speaker, I just thanked the Anishinaabe for allowing us to be in this place at this moment. We often forget that there are families who lived on this territory before Parliament Hill was established and that is the Pinaceae family. I want to thank them for allowing us to be on their territory, and we always need to recognize that fact.
I want to say from the outset how privileged I feel to be able to stand in this place and talk about the fundamental rights of the first peoples of this country. I say privileged because there are a lot of indigenous people in this country who do not have that voice, so I am privileged to be able to stand in this room and speak on their behalf so that they can be heard as well. My mom only speaks Cree, and I do not think she would be able to be a member of Parliament because of that very fact. She only speaks Cree, and this place does not allow us to be able to do that. Therefore, I want to honour those people who are not often often heard and are not often listened to.
It is also quite fitting that this bill is being debated on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. We are now beginning to discuss the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples as human rights. That does not happen a lot, very rarely as a matter of fact, so it is important that we remind ourselves that the indigenous peoples' fundamental rights in this country are indeed human rights.
Bill C-262 would also allow us to begin to redress the past wrongs, the past injustices that were inflicted on indigenous people. This is the main objective of Bill C-262, to recognize that on one hand they are human rights but on the other hand that we begin to redress the past injustices that were inflicted on the first peoples of this country.
Mr. Speaker, you already know that I am a survivor of the residential school system where I spent 10 years incarcerated culturally, politically, linguistically, spiritually even, in the residential school system. I set out to do exactly two things coming out of residential school: first, to go back to the land where I come from and live off the land, hunting, fishing, and trapping. That is exactly what I did the first year I came out of residential school. The other thing I said to myself was that when I came out the objective for me that I set out was to reconcile with the people who had put me away for 10 years. That was my objective, to reconcile with the people who had put me away for 10 years.
Bill C-262 is my response and my extended hand to you, Mr. Speaker, for reconciliation and, of course, through you to all Canadians and to all parliamentarians in this place.
There are momentous occasions and this is a momentous occasion for all of us as parliamentarians. One of the things that we can do in the name of reconciliation is to adopt this framework that I am proposing through Bill C-262. I do not need to remind members that the world is watching. This is an occasion for us all to show that we are truly sorry and the world that we in 2017, in this time of reconciliation with indigenous peoples, are ready for what I am proposing in the bill, namely, that our minimum standards for relations with the indigenous peoples of this country be those set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I want to thank the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and their colleagues for finally accepting that this should be a framework for reconciliation in this country. I also want to thank previous members of Parliament who have proposed similar instruments in this place, in particular two other MPs who have proposed similar bills here.
The UN declaration has been decades in the making. In fact, it took more than 20 years to achieve. It has been 10 years since the UN General Assembly formally accepted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There is no member state in the world as we speak that objects to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In fact, the United Nations has reaffirmed at least five times in the past this declaration as a universal human rights declaration.
This is a momentous opportunity to set a global precedent that is expected of a country like Canada. It is the responsibility of parliamentarians, as the UN charter calls us to do, to respect and promote all human rights, including the human rights of indigenous peoples. The rule of law in this country obliges us to respect the Constitution, and in the Constitution there are the section 35 rights of indigenous peoples. That is what the rule of law is. It calls on us to respect and promote the universal rights of indigenous peoples.
I want to remind my fellow members that with Bill C-262, we are not creating new law or new rights. Those rights are fundamental and they exist. They are inherent. They exist because we exist as indigenous people.
In that sense, it is important to recognize that we need to continue to promote, and we have an obligation as a country to promote, those fundamental rights.
Bill C-262 also does away with colonialism in this country, very explicitly. We have explicit ties with our territories. We have spiritual ties with our territories. We need to recognize that once and for all.
Bill C-262 is about human rights. Bill C-262 is about justice. Bill C-262 is about reconciliation. If we are true to our commitment to reconciliation, this is the first step in that direction. No one in this place, or in the galleries, opposes the human rights of indigenous peoples. No one in this place opposes human rights. No one in this place is opposed to reconciliation.
This is the way forward. This is a first step in the right direction. Let us stop talking about those rights and the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples of this country; let us do something about it. This is what we are proposing today.
I want to quote former secretary-general of the UN when, in talking about the declaration in 2008, he said that the declaration is “a visionary step towards addressing the human rights of Indigenous peoples”, and, he added, “a momentous opportunity for States and Indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation and ensure that the past is not repeated.
It is important to realize that this is one of the most important pieces of legislation this House will have to deal with. We are talking about the first peoples of this country. We are talking about the fundamental human rights of the first peoples of this country. This is a step in the right direction.
In closing, I wish to underline that I am committed to, and am looking forward to, working with the ministers across the way on improving the rights of indigenous peoples. The work can only be fully achieved if we all work together. That is what I am proposing: the recognition that the rights must remain in the framework of international human rights standards.
I know my time is almost up, but I also want to quote what many have said in the past with respect to the UN declaration. The former attorney general of British Columbia had this to say recently about the UN declaration:
There's a better approach. As the Supreme Court of Canada has said now on several occasions, Indigenous peoples are the beneficial owners of their traditional lands. They have the right—guaranteed by our Constitution and reflected in UNDRIP....
I agree with that. That is the road we need to take from now on.
I appreciate this moment to discuss Bill C-262 to recognize those rights we have as the first peoples of this country. If we are serious about reconciliation in this country, we need to take that path of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have waited far too long to get here. We are here now. This is an opportunity for this House to recognize that those universal rights that also belong to indigenous peoples need to be enshrined in our way of doing things in this country.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the many promoters of the bill. I call them the Steve Heinrichs of the country, and there are several of them in the gallery today. I want to thank them for their support. Without them, we would not be standing here talking about this today.