moved that Bill C-391, an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of aboriginal cultural property, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to thank my seconder today, the hon. member for Edmonton Centre, and my assistant Joel Henderson, who worked so hard to develop and draft this bill, and to make so many contacts in Canada and around the world.
This is an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of aboriginal cultural property.
For me, the story started at the Millbrook First Nation near Truro, Nova Scotia. I was at the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre, admiring a beautiful robe in a glass case. I was fascinated by the workmanship, the detail, and everything about the robe.
The curator of the facility, Heather Stevens, came over to me and said, "It is a beautiful robe, isn't it?” I said, “Yes, it is.” She said, “It's too bad it is not the original one.” I asked her what she meant. She said that the original one was in a museum in Melbourne, Australia. It was taken there in 1852 and it has resided in Australia for 166 years.
It means so much to the Millbrook First Nation to have this robe there, even if it is a copy. However, to have the original repatriated would mean so much to the youth in the community, because the youth want to know about their culture and their roots. They want to know where they came from. They want to know everything they can find out about their culture from hundreds of years ago. The best way to do that is to be able to see the workmanship, the details, and the artifacts that people produced in those times.
The purpose of this bill is just to ensure that a small indigenous community, a Métis, Inuit, or first nations community, has another voice with it when it seeks to repatriate an artifact that has become available. It is not about taking artifacts away from people, or out of museums that have collected them and that appreciate their collection.
When an artifact becomes available, there should be a process in place where a small community or an indigenous community can approach a government agency or a government body, sit around a table, and discuss the challenges of getting the artifact back. It might be transportation, restoration, the display process, money, or negotiations, but in many cases the indigenous communities need another voice, and that is what this is about. It is about adding another voice to the efforts to repatriate first nations, Inuit, and Métis artifacts.
We are asking the government to establish a process that people can go to, not only indigenous people, but people who have artifacts. It is amazing that since we first tabled this bill, Bill C-391, we have had two organizations come to our office to tell us that they have indigenous artifacts that they would like to return to their proper owners, but they do not know where to return them. Such a facility and such a process would have in place the ability to receive information about artifacts that are available, ensure that they go to the right place, and provide the proper transportation, protection, restoration, and so on.
This is not about taking artifacts out of other places against people's will or preference. This is about taking advantage of an opportunity when it arises.
The robe I am talking about is fascinating. It is in Melbourne, Australia. It was purchased in 1843 by a gentleman from Prince Edward Island. I do not think he was from Malpeque, but he was from Prince Edward Island. He moved to Australia in 1852. When he passed away, he bequeathed the robe to the museum, which has taken really good care of it ever since. It is not on display, but the museum curators in Melbourne are taking good care of it. We have had communications back and forth about the robe, and we appreciate the care they have taken of it. Maybe some day the robe could come back to the indigenous community where it was made, to be part of the culture and part of the spirit of the community.
Originally, my goal was really quite simple: to make sure that there was a process to bring back artifacts. However, it has taken on a whole new direction for me. It has been much more meaningful, with much more depth to it.
I went to an indigenous tourism meeting the other night. It had nothing to do with this, but the president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada talked about the repatriation of artifacts as part of their culture and their ability to increase tourism and economic development.
He said that it was too bad there is not legislation. Well, this is the legislation Keith Henry was talking about and it will serve the purpose that he was talking about, so there is an economic development element to it as well as a cultural element.
Yesterday I met with an indigenous senator, Mary Jane McCallum. It is interesting that we just talked about residential schools here, because she was in a residential school from the age of five until she was a teenager. Then she sought a career in dentistry, of all things.
It was an amazing discussion that I had with Senator Mary Jane McCallum. She talked about the residential schools, but she tried to give me a hint of what artifacts mean to aboriginal and indigenous peoples, more than I could have thought. She talked about the spirit involved with every artifact and told me about how that robe that is down in Australia carries with it the spirit of all the people who had anything to do with it. She talked about the people who made the robe, looked after it, and cared for it, and that their spirit is with that robe in Australia. I kind of got the impression that she thought those spirits wanted to come home, and I agree with her.
Then, amazingly enough, we had a chance to talk to the secretary-general of the Commonwealth Association of Museums, Catherine Cole. She deals with 53 countries that have museums. She told us about how repatriation of aboriginal artifacts is very important to them. It is one of their main goals. Some countries even have virtual museums; when they cannot bring the artifacts back, they take pictures of them, record them, and have them in a virtual museum with the hope that someday they will be repatriated.
I had a visit this week from the High Commissioner of Australia, Her Excellency Natasha Smith. She came to talk about the museum in Melbourne, but she also came to tell us that repatriation of indigenous artifacts is very important to Australia. They have a major focus on repatriation of remains and artifacts of their indigenous peoples. It is very important. She went on to tell me that they feel it is a responsibility under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and that under that declaration, we have an obligation to make sure indigenous peoples have access to their artifacts, history, and culture for education and ceremonies. They feel it is very much a part of that, and they support that view of the declaration, as does Canada.
Then today I had a visit from a young Inuit man. He was so excited about this legislation that it inspired me. He grew up in a northern Labrador community, and his words were that “repatriation is the root of reconciliation”. He said it several times. I was most impressed. He told me that in one of the communities in the north, they have actually created an award for organizations that have repatriated artifacts from cultural finds. One of the first to get the award was the University of Chicago, which worked with the community to repatriate 22 remains that had been taken from a graveyard in the north, I think around 1911 or 1912. They were returned, and the community awarded the University of Chicago this award for cultural repatriation.
I have heard so many voices about this issue. What started out to be a small exercise with a good purpose has turned out to be not only cultural but economic, and it is not only economic but spiritual. It is not only spiritual but very meaningful to all of these communities. I am so pleased that we have been able to do this.
We have contacted a wide range of people in indigenous communities all over Canada and the U.S. We have compared legislation. This proposed legislation is not as strong as some legislation, but it is stronger than others. The U.S. has legislation that requires facilities to turn over artifacts to indigenous peoples, and if they receive any money from the federal government at all, they are required to turn it over. Our legislation would not require that. It puts in place a process that aboriginal and indigenous communities can use if they identify an artifact that becomes available. We tried to come up with a middle road on this legislation. We have done a lot of work on it to try to make sure that it would suit everybody but at the same time not offend anybody.
The whole journey has been amazing, just to see how it has blossomed into other things, other than just a simple return of artifacts. It has impressed on me, and moved me, how meaningful it is to the indigenous people to have this in place. Already, even though we have only had first reading, and now the first hour of second reading, two organizations have called my office to say they have indigenous artifacts and are not sure what to do with them. They want to make sure they get into the right hands.
We are going to reach out to these organizations and make sure those artifacts get to the right people, to the right organizations, in the right communities. If this bill is successful, then it will include a process where people with indigenous artifacts can come in and say, “I have these artifacts. I want to make sure they get into the hands of the proper people. I understand how important they are. I understand that they part of the spirit of the community.”
We hope that this will be a receptacle for indigenous artifacts, as well as a way to handle them when they do arrive or are made available. I hope that receptacle will be part of that bill.
In the meantime, as an indigenous person suggested to me yesterday, I should say that if anyone has artifacts that are at risk of being discarded or finding their way to an inappropriate place, I urge them to call my office in Amherst or Truro, Nova Scotia, or Ottawa, or go to my website at http://bcasey.liberal.ca/. We will make sure that they are connected with the right people, and these artifacts will be protected and saved.
That winds up my remarks, but I do want to refer to the United Nations declaration which states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs.
We agree with this. I agree with it. It continues:
This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.
That is artifacts like the robe I am talking about. It goes on to say:
...cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.
States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects...
That is exactly what this bill calls for. It calls to establish a process to make sure we do not let any aboriginal, indigenous, Métis, first nations artifact slip through our fingers. We want to make sure they get back to the proper communities, so they can appreciate them and understand their incredible cultures, and also share them with non-indigenous peoples.