Mr. Speaker, I want to address the House on Bill C-55, the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act.
I would like first to make some general comments regarding how this legislation came about. We had two previous bills dealing with the Yukon land settlement, the land claims and the self-government issue. I was somewhat perturbed as to the lack of understanding by the member who just spoke in terms of the relationship that the First Nations have in the country. I think oftentimes such ignorance misleads the general public. I do not blame the member. I think it is just a lack of knowledge and lack of awareness of that information.
I have always said that the first order of business in this country should be with the first peoples, the First Nations, in Canada. After all it is the First Nations that were here to welcome many of the newcomers who are here in this country, including members who are sitting in this House.
It is through the generosity of the First Nations people that many Canadians have benefited from the lands and resources in this country. In many parts of Canada there are still outstanding claims that have to be settled with First Nations.
In my area in Manitoba we have treaties that were signed a long time ago and in parts of B.C., the territories and Yukon treaties were never entered into. As a matter of fact this land claim settlement that we have just made I think is the conclusion of the outstanding business that needed to be settled with First Nations people in Canada. It is a modern day treaty that provides the wherewithal for First Nations to be self-sufficient and self-governing.
As the member has stated, Canadians need to be aware of what commitments the federal government is making to First Nations. We need to look at what promises have been made by First Nations to this country. They have through treaties shared the land and resources with the rest of the people in this country.
The question is not asked by First Nations: "What are we committing ourselves to, to other people?" There is no hesitation at all to bind our future generations so that we can share our land and resources with the newcomers. As a matter of fact this commitment and these promises are forever. The treaties state as long as the sun shines and the grass grows and the river flows that is our commitment. We expect governments to reciprocate that kind of understanding to our people.
As the member asked, what is the government promising to First Nations in the country? We have waited well over 100 years to address these issues. We have First Nations in Yukon who have waited a long time to settle these outstanding claims.
All these years governments have reaped the resources from Yukon. Canadians have benefited from those resources but across the country today the First Nations people still lack basic human needs such as housing which many Canadian people take for granted.
As a First Nations member I have been involved in this process for a long time, trying to educate the general public about these issues as to how generous we have been as First Nations people. That is a kind of understanding that I hope hon. members across will understand, that somehow in settling this land claim we are depriving ordinary Canadians. That is not so.
If the government were to look at the past 100 years in terms of the lands and resources that it has had and how much revenue it has obtained from these lands and resources that First Nations shared in the country, it would see that it runs into billions of dollars. If the First Nations people would even obtain a small percentage of the revenues generated from the lands and resources alone there would not be any government handouts. Oftentimes First Nations people come to governments to seek help. Oftentimes it is humiliating because it appears we are beggars and are seeking handouts.
The truth of the matter is that the aboriginal people, the First Nations people, have given much already and have had very little in return. It is time that governments honoured their obligations to First Nations people in this country. We are not asking for anything more or anything for less. We are just asking governments to live up to their promises.
Another question I want to address is the hon. member's notion of self-government. The hon. member said that self-government should not be more than a municipality. That is another lack of understanding the hon. member has. In the country it was
the Queen and her officials, the sovereign country of England, who entered into treaties with First Nations in the country. Therefore, we have a nation entering into an agreement with a group of people in the country and it certainly was not a municipality. It was the First Nations.
The notion of a treaty making process is a right that the aboriginal people, the First Nation people, have had for thousands of years. A treaty making process only validates and recognizes that the First Nations have been self-governing for a very long time. That is something that needs to be understood by Canadians and by governments in the country.
We have a special and unique relationship with Canada. I do not mean that we are special in a way that we are better off than other people. No other group of people in the country has that kind of relationship with governments except the First Nations.
By signing treaties we were entering agreements with another government and did things we understood. We have been very accommodating to other governments and Canadians. It is time we begin to reap from the land the resources that we once had control over.
I am extremely pleased to speak in support of the legislation that deserves the backing of hon. members from both sides of the House. The people of Yukon are nearly unanimous in expressing the view that it is time to move forward with the settlement on the Yukon Indians land claim. Bill C-55 is the final building block in the legislative foundation.
Hon. members are well aware that the Yukon Indians' umbrella final agreement was 21 years in the making. People who were not even born when the negotiations began now have families of their own. With Parliament's endorsement of Bill C-55, the benefits of the agreement, including money, can begin to flow to these families.
The claim agreement will do nothing less than ensure an equitable and prosperous future for Yukon Indian children and youth. It will also recognize First Nation seniors for their perseverance, patience and guidance, as well as compensate them for many years of hardship.
It will give Yukon Indians of all ages a chance for a new beginning, a new partnership with governments in the management of Yukon lands and resources.
Hon. members are also aware that the umbrella final agreement was ratified by all the affected parties: the federal and territorial governments, Yukon First Nations, business interests and non-aboriginal residents of Yukon.
It is supported by the stakeholders because of the certainty of land ownership and the rights it will bring to Yukon. This certainty is essential if mineral and energy development projects are to go forward, creating jobs, income and business opportunities for all residents of Yukon.
We must acknowledge and respond to this support by moving Bill C-55 through this House as quickly as possible. To do otherwise would be reckless and irresponsible and would damage the crown's credibility among First Nations, northerners and all Canadians.
The legislation before us today will establish a new surface rights regime and a surface rights board for Yukon. The creation of the board was a key element of the umbrella final agreement and is, therefore, a legitimate commitment by the Government of Canada to all residents of Yukon.
If there is one thing that stands out about the bill it is the extent of the consultative process that has been proceeded with since its introduction to the House. Both the general public and affected interest groups in Yukon were widely consulted last year by federal officials when guidelines for Bill C-55 were being developed.
They were also consulted on a number of occasions on the wording and contents of the bill. Several groups from the mining industry participated in the legislative drafting process, including the Yukon Chamber of Mines, the Klondike Placer Miners Association, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and the Mining Association of Canada.
The interests of the petroleum industry, which also has an important stake in the issue of surface rights, were well represented by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The Yukon Territorial Government also provided input as did the Council for Yukon Indians, various Yukon First Nations and the Gwitch'in Tribal Council.
Public input was solicited by sending drafting guidelines to major interest groups, including the Yukon Trappers Association, the Yukon Outfitters Association. An advertisement was also placed in Yukon newspapers announcing the availability of guidelines for review by the public.
Consultation on a first draft of the legislation began 15 months ago in June, 1993 when a draft bill was sent to all interest groups. Later that month a meeting was held with these groups in Whitehorse. Subsequent parts of the bill were distributed to groups in October and February. This was followed by additional meetings with the Council for Yukon Indians and the territorial governments in Vancouver in March and with other interest groups in Whitehorse in April.
Based on the output received at these meetings and through other channels, another part of the bill was produced and distributed this past June. Further meetings were held with different stakeholders in July, August and September, leading to more changes to the bill.
My intention here is not to provide details of every meeting that has been held on Bill C-55, but it is important for the House to recognize that the government has made an extraordinary effort to hear the concerns of stakeholders who will be affected by the creation of a new surface rights regime in Yukon.
Most concerns were met but some compromises were necessary. The bill that has been introduced is consistent with the provisions of the land claims agreement and is in the best interests of all Yukon residents in the interests of open, accessible and responsive public government.
Hon. members would be hard pressed to find any stakeholder group in Yukon that opposes the basic principles that underlie this bill. The different groups may not agree with how every i has been dotted and every t crossed, but they do agree on the need for a territorially based surface rights board that will oversee a stable, fair and responsible regime.
It is my belief that we must seize this opportunity to put this new regime in place. As I stated earlier, further delay at this time is not only unnecessary but will jeopardize the implementation of the final agreements of Yukon First Nations.
I might remind hon. members that such agreements have been already reached with four Yukon First Nations: The Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation, the First Nation of-