Mr. Speaker, since this is my first time to rise this session, I want to say how pleased I am to have the new role as deputy whip. It is an honour to continue my work on behalf of the great people of North Island—Powell River in this place.
In December, I was meant to be here to do my speech with the amazing member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. Sadly, I had to rush home to be with my mother, who had a stroke. I apologize to the member for missing his important speech and thank him for his kindness during a very difficult time for me and my family. As my mother slowly heals, it makes me reflect on how often many of us are here, away from home, and I hope that we all take time to appreciate the people who love us most.
When I was four, I was adopted after two years of my mother and I being part of my father's family. I did not find out I was adopted until I was almost nine. This is important today, because this is how I am able to say that my family is from Stellat'en First Nation, and my aunt is my hereditary chief, Hatix-kuwa, which means “peace within the frame of a house”. I am very honoured to be a part of my family and all the great and courageous work they do.
My granny, Minnie Mould, went to residential school from the time she was four until she was 16. The impact on our family has been powerful due to the abuse she suffered there. She has been gone for many years, but I can promise members that this is not a place where she would ever have thought one of her granddaughters would be speaking. There are days when I feel her spirit sigh with relief. She told me many times, “No complaining, we are still here.”
The very reason we are speaking to this bill today is that indigenous people are still here after many attempts to assimilate them. Today, we speak about how important this bill is, 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.
This bill would provide clarity. Across my riding of North Island—Powell River, communities and businesses are asking for clarity. They want to know how to move forward. They continuously ask me about this bill and ask for a secure definition of what nation to nation means.
This bill would move Canada in that direction by providing a legislative framework that would begin to harmonize Canadian laws with the UN declaration. To repeal the Indian Act means that we need a new legislative framework.
On April 12, 2016, the Minister of Justice stated in the House of Commons:
It is not easy to remove the shackles of 140 years of life under the Indian Act....
[T]he Indian Act is not a suitable system of government. It is not consistent with the rights enshrined in our Constitution, the principles as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
As Canada moves toward repealing the Indian Act, we require a new framework. In my riding, Tla'amin recently signed a treaty. It was a difficult process with a very close vote that was hard on the community in many ways. However, there was a very clear celebration, where the community members burned the Indian Act because it no longer applies to them. In a supportive movement of reconciliation, the wider community was invited and attended the ceremony.
The reality is that reconciliation is happening on the ground in many communities across Canada. I know of many in my riding. It is well past time that the federal government get on this pathway by passing this bill.
There are concerns. The biggest one I have heard is about the idea of indigenous communities having the power of veto.
Grand Chief Ed John said it best:
The bad thing about the media and those who don't support the declaration is, “How could those Indians have a veto?”
I think there's a misconstruction of the concept of free, prior, and informed consent. The better interpretation of free, prior, and informed consent.... Consent at the end of the day is a decision that's made after a process, so governments go through a process to come to some decision. First nations' governments are in that same place. First nations' governments will look at information ahead of time. They should be free from any coercion. It should be prior to decisions being made. There should be extensive consideration. It may require an environmental assessment process or some other process that would help inform the decision-making process.
Free, prior, and informed consent essentially, at its core, is about governments making decisions. When the Province of British Columbia, the provinces, the national government, the territorial governments, or municipal governments are making decisions, that's what they're doing.
This bill is not about giving away power; it is about making sure that everyone is at the table. Currently, in my riding, a very long-term issue has been gaining momentum as several indigenous communities have begun occupying fish farms. This has been a very divisive issue for many years. I want to be clear. There are some indigenous communities that support fish farms and some that do not. Within the communities themselves, there are people working for fish farms and some who are occupying them. The concerned indigenous communities have been asking for a process of consultation. The federal government has not shown up. Just last week, there were discussions between indigenous communities and the provincial government. The federal government was invited, specifically the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, but he did not show up. In fact, two DFO staff showed up, but no one from the minister's office.
My hope is that the government will take seriously the commitment of Bill C-262 and make sure everyone is at the table so the best decisions can be made. In my riding, workers and indigenous communities are filled with uncertainty, and this is not good for anyone. I hope to see the government respect the rights of indigenous leaders so that they have a voice on what happens in their territories and are part of the decision-making process.
Across my riding, the process of a nation-to-nation relationship is in action. A couple of summers ago, I went to Tahsis for a flag-raising ceremony. The communities of Gold River, Tahsis, and Mowachaht/Muchalaht signed an MOU on how to work together. The flag-raising was to add the Mowachaht/Muchalaht flag along with the Canadian, provincial, and town flags. The knowledge that they are all in this together has become a cornerstone of their economic and social decision-making.
These are not the only communities that have signed agreements. Tla'amin and Powell River, K'ómoks and the Town of Comox, the Village of Alert Bay and 'Namgis are but a few of the examples across the riding. They know that together they can work for the betterment of all of their people. Like my granny always said, “We are in this together”.
Last summer, I had the honour to participate in a discussion with a high school, the teachers and care people, in my riding on the issues of reconciliation. Many non-indigenous teachers asked how they can help when they are so worried they will cause harm without intending to, beautifully honest questions from people who really care. What we came to was simply this. We have to be honest about what we know and what we do not know. A safe place must be created for conversation and guidance from elders is a must. This is reconciliation in action.
A couple of weeks ago, a young indigenous man aged 19 committed suicide successfully in one of our communities. The impact has been painful, to say the least. We know in too many indigenous communities across Canada, we are losing our young people. Many of these communities are calling for help. This bill would increase the attention on the realities that too many indigenous communities face. These are the ongoing impacts of colonialism and with this bill, we would see a legislative framework that would begin to take into account the realities of intergenerational trauma, severe impoverishment, epidemics of suicide, impairment of mental and physical health, and the profound loss of hope, and they should receive the attention they so richly deserve. We are all in this together and it is time to face the history of Canada, to let go of blame and shame, and finally focus on working on healing. Our children deserve it and they can no longer wait.
Paulo Freire said, “Any situation in which some [individuals] prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate [human beings] from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.” For too long, indigenous communities across the country have been treated like objects that do not deserve the right to engage in the process of decision-making. This bill is a step toward reconciliation, a step in moving from words to action.
I must say that there is just so much that Canada and this place can learn from indigenous communities. In my riding, I have been approached my many people, indigenous and non-indigenous, asking if we could not work together here to change the culture of this place. Would it not be better if rather than yelling at one another, we spoke to one another, listened, and made decisions that were more balanced? I hope this bill leads us in that very direction.
I believe that reconciliation is also about learning from the first peoples of this land. There is much to learn.