Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important debate regarding Bill C-374, an act to amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act.
I preface my remarks with an acknowledgement that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe peoples. Acknowledgements such as this are increasingly common today, as more and more Canadians recognize that indigenous peoples have been marginalized for far too long in this country. Bill C-374 proposes a tangible way to address this problem by legislating first nations, Métis, and Inuit representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, which recommends which historic places, persons, and events receive official designation to the minister responsible for Parks Canada.
I salute my colleague, the hon. member for Cloverdale—Langley City, for championing Bill C-374, and I am pleased to say that the Government of Canada will support this bill with amendments that would strengthen the legislation now before us.
To date, nearly 1,000 sites, 700 people, and 500 events have been given national historic designation. Behind every designation there is a story that is part of Canada's broader history. Canada's network of historic sites helps define us as a country.
The important role that indigenous peoples have played and continue to play in Canada has consistently been ignored or downplayed. As a result, most Canadians are not aware of indigenous history in the way that they should be. This is precisely why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Senator Murray Sinclair, called for a concerted effort to educate Canadians about indigenous history.
Among the commission's 94 calls to action are more than a dozen specific appeals for greater education about the history of indigenous peoples in Canada. Call to action 79 addresses the lack of indigenous representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Private Members' Bill C-374 responds directly to this call to action.
Since its establishment in 1919, the board has played a central role in this country's official historic designations. Ensuring additional first nations, Métis, and Inuit representation on the board will help in the long process to promote recognition and understanding of the history of indigenous peoples, and the important contributions they have made to Canada and their nations.
Under the current Historic Sites and Monuments Act, the board is comprised of 16 members. They include a representative from each province and territory, the librarian and archivist of Canada, and representatives from the Canadian Museum of History and Parks Canada.
Bill C-374 would authorize three additional representatives, for first nations, Inuit, and Métis, alongside existing provincial and territorial representation. By modernizing the board in this way, Canada would take one more step towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
For my colleagues to fully appreciate the context of Bill C-374, it is important to note that the Historic Sites and Monuments Act was first proposed in a Speech from the Throne in November 1952, to give a statutory basis to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in response to recommendations in the Massey commission report of 1951. To say that the government at the time paid little attention to indigenous history would be an understatement, given the history of assimilationist policy in Canada.
There have been many attempts by the board over the years to look in a serious way at indigenous history, but there have always been issues in reconciling the history with the existing narratives in the commemoration of Canada's history. I believe that can be partly attributed to the fact there has never been a legislative requirement for indigenous representation on the board.
Launched in 2000 by the then Canadian heritage minister, Sheila Copps, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada created the new commemorations initiative, one of the most effective programs for improving the representation of groups identified as under-represented within the national historic designation system. The purpose of the initiative was to enhance awareness of the history of indigenous peoples, women, and ethnocultural communities.
Before coming to a close in 2011, the initiative had a significant and positive impact on Canada's network of national historic sites, people, and events. The number of official designations for women and ethnocultural groups, for example, increased by 81% and 112% respectively. The number of official designations relating to the history of indigenous peoples increased by 31%.
The board, with the support of Parks Canada, continues to take steps to broaden the representation of indigenous peoples and historic designations. The text on many plaques, for instance, has been revised to more appropriately reflect indigenous perspectives on history. In some cases, indigenous language text has been added. However, these efforts are not enough to fill the gap. With indigenous representation, the board will be better able to include indigenous history and heritage values in the designation and commemoration process.
A report published in December by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development reached the same conclusion. To quote from the report, “Preserving Canada's Heritage: the Foundation for Tomorrow”, it states, “Indigenous peoples must be included on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada so that the Board integrates Indigenous history, heritage values and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.”
With respect to the amendments I mentioned earlier, we will propose to amend Bill C-374 to ensure that the text of the bill aligns more closely with the wording of call to action 79. Three other proposed amendments would further strengthen Bill C-374. One would clarify that the board can comprise up to 19 members. Two other amendments address matters related to expenses for board-related travel, accommodation, and for administrative and clerical work. With the proposed amendments, Bill C-374 would allow us to take another step toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples and implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
More than ever before, Canadians appreciate the relationship between the policies of past governments and the current circumstances of indigenous peoples. Canadians believe in justice. They believe that indigenous peoples should be able to participate equally and contribute fully to the commemoration of our shared history. This is part of what reconciliation is all about. The passage of Bill C-374 is only one step in the work required, as in order to fully implement call to action 79, we also need to revise the policies, criteria, and practices of the national program of historical commemoration to integrate indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada's national heritage and history.
The time has come to modernize the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in keeping with the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The legislation now before us from the member for Cloverdale—Langley City, along with the amendments I have outlined, will help to continue Canada's path toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples. I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me and support Bill C-374.