Madam Speaker, I speak in favour of the motion. I will focus on the crisis with aboriginal employment which we all know has historical roots.
The royal commission report on aboriginal people should have left no one questioning the cause of the crisis facing aboriginal people. Treaties were signed with aboriginal peoples, and the Government of Canada and the crown at the time of Confederation altered the treaty relationship, making aboriginal people and their lands the object of unilateral federal legislation.
In 1876 we had the first version of the Indian Act. These actions over time transformed independent, viable aboriginal nations into bands and individuals who were clients of a government department and wards of the state. This was not done with any consultation with the aboriginal peoples.
Canada's policy was intended to undermine aboriginal institutions and life patterns and to assimilate aboriginal people as individuals into mainstream society.
What I have just mentioned is almost word for word from the summary of the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Numerous actions were the instruments of the destruction: the Indian Act; the removal of jurisdiction from aboriginal governments; government control over who was recognized as an Indian; forced attendance by several generations of aboriginal children at residential schools; adoption of aboriginal children into non-aboriginal homes; the loss of two-thirds of the land set aside in treaty; the exclusion of aboriginal culture from processes related to education, justice, health and family services; and substitution of welfare for an effective economic base.
There are many people who believe that aboriginal people have had it easy and have no reason to complain. For those unbelievers let me read a few excerpts from a speech given by Father Hugonard on Saturday, May 27, 1916. Father Hugonard was with the Lebret Indian Industrial School.
The Indians are no longer lords of the Prairies.
Five tribes with different languages compose the Indian population.
The study of Indian languages is interesting and indicates their different characteristics.
They have no words to express metaphysical ideas of religion and such words had to be made.
Father Hugonard relayed the words of Chief Piapot.
The great spirit made berries for us and the white men have put fences around them. And told us: Do not go there: and those berries were made for us. The white people were using our wood, our hay and killing game. In order to be become sole masters of our land, they relegated us to small reservations as big as my hand, and made us promises as long as my arm; but the next year the promises were shorter and they are the length of my finger, and they keep only half of that.
Hugonard stated the mode of living on the reserve was widely different from what it had been on the prairies. Buffalo meat was replaced by bacon. They live in small houses without floors. Consequently their health was not as good as it was before when they lived in tepees, the site of which was often changed, and they decreased in number by about a half.
In 1882 the Parliament of Canada made an appropriation for the establishment of Indian schools.
At this point, Hugonard noted At first great difficulty was encountered in getting the parents to send their children to schools off reserve. Indians have a natural attachment for their children and like to have them around, more for their own gratification than for their own welfare.
It was this sick kind of belief that has resulted in the problems we have. Education was made compulsory because many aboriginals refused to send their children away.
Hugonard went on: “I believe the Indians of Canada have a useful and happy future”.
Father Hugonard concluded his address by saying:
A new problem in Indian matters may be arising; for a while, most Indians have been contributing splendidly to the Red Cross and Patriotic Funds, a great number of the ex-pupils of our Indian schools have enlisted and are now drilling or actually serving the Empire in France.
It is possible to predict what the effect of mingling with and being treated as equals of and knowing that they are in many cases the superiors of their white comrades will be upon these young soldiers when they return to their reserves. It will not be in their own interest or to the benefit of the country to allow them to leave their reserves and obtain the suffrage as no doubt some will demand; and while their ideas will have been broadened and the influence of the old generation of hunting Indians will be lessened—.
The policies of this government on aboriginal people are the cause of aboriginal dependence on government subsidies. They are the cause of poverty and the cause of unbelievably high crime rates and violence involving aboriginal people.
The department of Indian affairs acceptance of providing First Nations with substandard housing, education facilities and educational opportunities ensures that the proper infrastructure is in place in the way of roads and proper water and sewage systems equal to that of non-aboriginals and, dare I say, they were not treated with the same consideration of largely white communities.
The deplorable state of housing and living conditions on reserves saw in the last Parliament the government's having to be shamed into making even minimum moves. Not until New Democratic Party Manitoba MLAs Eric Robinson and Gerard Jennison brought media attention to conditions in Shamattawa where water was so high in methane that it would catch fire, not until then did the former Liberal member even attempt to act. Once the media died down, the promised improvements, less than half a finger, have never happened.
The royal commission report states aboriginal unemployment in the labour force rose from 15.4% in 1981 to 24.6% in 1991 despite advances in education. Aboriginal participation in the labour force is 57%, below that of all Canadians at 68%.
The cost to the economy in foregone income, $5.8 billion, plus the remedial expenditures lead to a loss of $7.5 billion annually. Some 300,000 new jobs will have to be created for aboriginal people in the next 20 years just to reach that liberal “it's okay to be there” 9% to 10% unemployment level.
Demographic pressures alone will increase the losses to the economy if the present trends continue to $11 billion in the year 2016.
In my riding aboriginal communities unemployment has always been unacceptably high, to some points 95%. Cuts to health and education saw decent paying positions cut in a number of communities. Hydro projects irreversibly altered ways of life and means of income to inland fishers and trappers.
Cuts to CN and VIA took jobs from many communities which were built up along the rail lines.
Seasonal workers are abundant in our communities. Cuts to EI have left proud people forced to go on welfare because they were short a few hours. Lack of government services and assistance by way of people with a voice, not a machine, has left many in a position of no assistance as they get frustrated trying to understand voice messages coming out of Brandon.
The understanding that was once available in northern offices is no longer there.
I listened to the member from Parkdale—High Park speak on her first day in the House. Her exuberance over her life in Canada was such that it reminded me of a cheerleader waving white and red pompoms. My life in Canada, as well as that of my family, grandparents and great-grandparents when they came from Ukraine and Sweden, has been great. That has not been the case for aboriginal people.
I was allowed to value and respect all my cultures. I was not denied access to my family as a result of wanting an education.
I have reflected on this part of Canadian history in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report for two reasons. First, I am sick of Reformers spouting off about treating aboriginal people the same and equally. Aboriginal people were not treated fairly or equally since the first contact with the Canadian government. We must go beyond what is expected for everyone else to right that wrong and to improve the rate of employment for aboriginal people.
We must remove all the hindrances, poverty, poor housing. The first step which requires no cost is an apology to aboriginal people for a government policy that fully intended to lead to cultural genocide. At a time when the government has seen fit to attain its economic surplus by using unemployment, at a time when government policy has people working two to three jobs to make a living, the government must commit to all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to go beyond that half a little finger election promise and create jobs, decent, make a living jobs.