Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, presented on Friday, May 12, 2006, be concurred in.
I rise to speak on this motion with the hope that this government will acknowledge and understand the ramifications of its choice to kill the Kelowna accord. I believe it does not understand how gravely it has hurt first nations, Inuit and Métis communities, directly and indirectly.
Over the spring and summer, we have seen the Conservatives' attitude toward Kelowna regress, from saying that they supported the accord, to “putting the wheels on” the accord, to finally denying that it ever existed.
Not only did the government mislead Canadians, it also misled the aboriginal people of Canada. Premiers across Canada were shocked by the government's betrayal. For example, the Premier of Saskatchewan and the leader of the official opposition voted unanimously in support of a motion urging the federal government to implement the agreement.
First nation, Inuit and Métis leaders were stunned by the complete lack of consultation before the government chose not to honour the agreement. No one could believe the Conservative government would simply cut and run from its commitments.
Perhaps the Conservatives like to tell themselves that the new consensus struck at Kelowna was nothing significant. To do so, however, ignores this landmark agreement and reinforces over 100 years of distrust and shame.
Kelowna is a high-water mark, one achieved through collaboration and good faith, aimed at reconciling the wrongs of the past.
My elders tell me that in order to move forward, we must truly understand the past and the present to properly envision the future. We must understand the three phases of modern aboriginal-state relations. Every member in this House must be able to grasp these words before we are to truly understand what will be lost if the members of this House continue to vote against the Kelowna accord.
The first phase was an ad hoc/crisis phase. During this period of time from the 1950s until 1969, the federal government's approach to working with aboriginal people was with ad hoc responses to crises occurring in the communities. It was not until a crisis occurred that the government would respond. No medium, short or long term goals were ever taken. No constructive plans were ever enacted. This was simply and purely crisis management.
The second phase was an adversarial phase. The introduction of the 1969 white paper sparked aboriginal Canadians to respond strongly to its recommendations. Aboriginal people were tired of being swept under the rug and ignored until the last possible minute as they suffered misguided, imposed directives often disguised to assimilate the people and their lands.
From the 1970s until the mid-1990s, aboriginal Canadians found their voice and explored many avenues to speak out and affirm their rights. We demanded that our rights be recognized, respected and protected. We succeeded.
In the courts, we attained victories in Calder, Guerin, Baker Lake, Sparrow, Delgamuukw, Marshall, Powley, Haida, Mikisew and many others. First nations, Inuit and Métis rights were recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution. The United Nations also gave support to aboriginal Canadians, particularly in the case of Ms. Sandra Lovelace, who asserted her rights on the international stage and prevailed.
However, this was also a time of conflict, marked with protests, such as those at Oka, Ipperwash and others. Relationships were strained with increasing distrust and hostility. That had to end. We needed to move on and we did.
The relationship began to change in the mid-1990s. Canadian courts demanded that governments use political fora to address and deal with first nations, Inuit and Métis issues.
Self-government negotiations sprang up across the country, with an acceleration of programs being devolved to aboriginal control. Round tables were set up to deal with socio-economic issues. Real improvements in the lives of aboriginal people began to be made.
These were the three phases of aboriginal-state relations leading up to the Kelowna accord.
I also want to briefly make mention of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, RCAP, was concluded. RCAP emerged from the Oka crisis in 1990, with the then Progressive Conservative government realizing it could no longer ignore aboriginal people, something this government should take note of.
RCAP was incredibly ambitious in its vision and all-encompassing in its scope. Based on 177 days of hearings and 3,500 witnesses, a six volume, 5,000 page report could be boiled down to one key statement: that Canada can no longer allow aboriginal people to remain dependent upon the nation.
It laid out the history of how aboriginal people became dependent, of how their world became one of poverty and social upheaval. RCAP identified three characteristics of government action that led to this upheaval: first, the systematic denial of aboriginal peoples' nation status; second, the violation of most agreements made with aboriginal peoples; and third, the suppression of culture and institutions.
RCAP also made recommendations to overcome the incredibly challenging realities of dependency and poverty. In particular, it argued that substantial key investments be made with multi-year commitments. In time, those investments would pay for themselves, realizing net savings over the long term for the government. For example, RCAP recommended an immediate $3 billion investment in housing that would result in Canada recovering more than twice that amount over the next number of years.
Poverty has become the reason for expense, but empowerment of the people and communities will be the way out. If the Kelowna accord is not honoured, this situation of empowerment and moving beyond dependency will not be reversed. Moreover, it is incredibly unsettling that the three key factors of oppression identified in RCAP, which I went through, namely, the denial of nation status, abandonment of agreements, and suppression of culture and institutions, are once again the government's agenda.
This minority government has a negative trend of undoing much of the progress made over the last 10 years. This relationship building stage is giving way to an adversarial stage once again. Yes, we are moving backwards with the Conservative government.
First, it has denied the nation status of aboriginal people. The UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples has been strongly opposed by the Conservatives, mostly on the basis that it would “revive 'extinguished' rights”, as if section 35 of the Constitution and many Supreme Court decisions did not exist.
Second, it has violated agreements. Most important, of course, it trashed the Kelowna accord over the objections of the first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples of this country.
Third, it has suppressed culture and institutions. This is what it is doing with the cuts to literacy and skills training, scrapping the first nations SchoolNet program and the court challenges program, and cutting off funding for band elections.
I am not sure who the Conservative government purported to represent when it chose to kill the Kelowna accord. Everybody, and I mean everybody, wants the accord honoured.
The background or context of our choice is this. Let us look at some of the facts.
First, Canada is going through its most significant demographic shift in more than 50 years. Baby boomers are retiring while the aboriginal population is poised to enter the workforce in unprecedented numbers. The time to invest in education and post-secondary is now. At no other time has it been more important to support first nations, Inuit and Métis education.
Second, because of the baby boom occurring in the aboriginal community, we are experiencing overcrowded housing. It is not uncommon to see three families and up to 16 or so people living in one house. The Saskatoon StarPhoenix described in detail the results of this overcrowding on health, on education and on self-worth.
Black mould is killing the people of Black Lake in my riding and many other communities across Canada. An elder passed away literally having black mould growing in her lungs.
Tuberculosis is rampant in my riding. I urge members to read the article in the StarPhoenix of September 26 and see a woman, a wife, a mother, lying in a coma from the complications of tuberculosis. Her husband and family are devastated. My daughter, Taylor, had to live with TB medication for a year. The government has ignored the TB outbreak in Black Lake like it has ignored the TB outbreak in Garden Hill. How can kids study or do homework in these conditions?
The StarPhoenix editorial board called this a “public health horror”. The Regina Leader-Post editorial board called it “a national disgrace”. And the government is going to tell me that it is not going to vote in favour of solving these issues. I hope government members can sleep at night.
A key reason why the Kelowna accord is so crucially important is that it provides the means to empower aboriginal communities to respond to the facts I have just laid out for members. If the Conservatives do nothing, not only will opportunity be lost but another generation will be lost to dependency and poverty. This must not and cannot happen.
The Kelowna accord represents, in the context of this speech, two things: first, the progress of the aboriginal people, the progress that they have made to improve the lives of their people, to have government recognize their rights, and to ultimately take their rightful place in Canadian society. Of course, these struggles are best described in the three phases I spoke of earlier.
Second, we need to begin to see the recommendations made in RCAP in 1996 implemented. This report was widely supported by aboriginal leaders across the country as a report which began to finally recognize our struggles, but also provided solutions for consideration.
Therefore, the Kelowna accord represents hope for first nations, Métis and Inuit people, and prosperity for Canada. It is a high watermark in aboriginal state relations, clearly leading toward implementing the nation to nation relationship necessary to resolve longstanding conflicts related to the numerous issues that could only be addressed through an improved legislated relationship recognizing the jurisdictions of each party.
It represents a new consensus in which all parties at the table agreed to jointly work toward resolving, issues such as housing, health, economic development and more. For the first time, Métis, Inuit and first nations people would be allowed at the table to set the agenda, the objectives, and the action plans to address social justice issues which have for too long been rampant in our communities. Finally, the cost of doing nothing was clearly understood, or so we thought.
Enter the Conservative minority government. How things have changed for the worse. Aboriginal people were betrayed as the Kelowna accord was killed without a second thought. Let us look at this novice Conservative government performance over the last eight months.
Of course, the Kelowna accord was not honoured. The government barely respected the residential school agreement, as I am sure there were some detailed discussions against this in cabinet. It refused to sign onto the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. The government was able to convince one country to side with it after unsuccessfully trying to convince others with horrendous human rights violations against indigenous peoples in their countries.
The government dragged its feet on responding to the Caledonia land dispute. It undermined the Dehcho nations negotiations on the Mackenzie pipeline and I know there is more to come.
Why do I say this? Let us look at some of the trends emerging on the government side. Let us list them.
Trend no. 1, there is no consultation with aboriginal people. There was no consultation on a decision to kill the Kelowna accord, no consultation on Bill C-2, no consultation on the UN declaration, and no consultation on the water or limited consultation on the water quality panel it set up.
There was no consultation on land claim issues, no consultation and no role for aboriginal people on the ministerial advisory committee on child care spaces initiative, and no consultation on the post-secondary review process which, coincidentally, the AUCC does not feel is fair consultation anyway.
There was no consultation on cutting the aboriginal procurement strategy, no consultation on cuts to education capital, and no consultation on cutting funding to Ontario first nations elections. And of course, there was no consultation on the federal budget of 2006-07.
Overall, this Conservative government just does not care enough to consult with aboriginal people. Aboriginal people are getting the message that the government does not want to talk to them.
Trend no. 2, there is a diminishing of aboriginal rights. One of the principles of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples is the recognition of collective rights. In fact, the Minister of Indian Affairs stated in the Globe and Mail that “the text (in the declaration) could be used to revive rights that were lawfully extinguished or ceded by treaty.”
What rights were extinguished lawfully? This is the basis upon which aboriginal people have battled the government for decades. Aboriginal people were swindled and prevented from defending themselves. In fact, many first nations people could not even hire a lawyer to act on their behalf.
This tells the aboriginal people that the minister is not open to discussing aboriginal rights in a fair and reasonable manner, especially it seems, collective rights. I think there is a reason to why collective rights are being targeted.
The Minister of Indian Affairs was quoted as saying in a Saskatchewan newspaper that fee simple land ownership is the only solution to dealing with aboriginal poverty. This is an entirely American policy. In the United States the Dawes act of 1887 stole Indian land from the Indian people on the premise of eliminating poverty.
In the book, Reconciliation: First Nations Treaty Making in British Columbia, Mr. Penikett, who is a well-respected authority on aboriginal rights, writes a passage that states:
Theodore Roosevelt praised the Dawes Act as “a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass”. Through foreclosures and state tax collections, settlers soon grabbed all the best land. In less than a lifetime, Indians had lost half of their remaining lands in the United States.
Will this future Conservative government on reserve private land ownership legislation be known as the member for Calgary Centre-North act?
The minister's comments tell the first nations of Canada that the goal of the government is clearly not to respect their collective rights but to open up reserve lands for speculators. But, it does not end there.
The next issue the government is dressed in sheep's clothing on is matrimonial real property. Clearly, first nations women are not fairly or legally protected when it comes to the Indian Act. It is a very discriminatory piece of legislation that must be eliminated. In June 1992, Ms. Nellie Carlson of the group Indian Rights for Indian Women said:
Historically the Indian Act has thoroughly brainwashed us. Since 1869 Indian women already were legislated as to who she should be. Six times the Indian Act changed on Indian women. But each time she lost a little bit of her rights as an Indian.
To resolve this issue requires a very complex set of negotiations to take place. The respect and recognition of the first nations dispute resolution processes is necessary. The membership rules of the Indian Act, and specifically the Bill C-31 amendments must be changed to further protect the rights of first nations women.
Socio-economic conditions must be addressed. Recognition of women's rights within the communal land ownership context must be addressed effectively. If it is the plan of the Conservative government to establish fee simple land ownership in order to divide up matrimonial property upon dissolution of marriage, it will not work. If this is the plan, first nations women may end up losing more of their rights as Ms. Nellie Carlson described.
The move of the Conservative government is clearly to establish fee simple land ownership through any means possible, recognizing of course what the Prime Minister did recently when he stood proud to denounce the rights of the aboriginal people of this country as race-based.
Aboriginal people have fought hard to have their rights recognized through the avenues available to them in this democratic country. It is an embarrassment for us as Canadians to see the path upon which the Conservative government wants to take us.
I want to cite Mr. Penikett's book one more time. He talks extensively about the fears of aboriginal people when it comes to the Conservative government. He writes:
Judging from previous statements by Conservative MPs, the possibilities include Aboriginal leaders' worst nightmares:
Deeply cutting financial transfers for education, health and housing programs;
Using the constitution's notwithstanding clause to limit Canada's obligations to Aboriginal peoples;
Ending the separate Aboriginal fishery;
Adopting Harper mentor Tom Flanagan's proposal to legislate “extinguishment”;
Initiating Dawes Act-style privatizing tribal lands; and
Offering individual cash buyouts for Aboriginal rights and title--
Well, Mr. Penikett called it.
The Kelowna accord best represents the hopes and dreams of the aboriginal people of this country to be recognized as equals in their own country and as significant contributors to the building of this great country that today we are all so proud of. They want to be proud of Canada, too, but this government is making it very difficult.
The Conservative government knew that it was never a matter of enough money. The rich treasury that we have seen in the last few days clearly points to the fact that the Conservative government chose not to honour the Kelowna accord and to make cuts right where it hurts.