Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-391, which has been proposed by the member for Cumberland—Colchester.
As my colleague previously stated, the bill is not perfect. There were some amendments to it that the Liberals should have taken into consideration at the committee stage. However, ultimately, reconciliation is important and is something that this side of the House takes very seriously. Repatriating indigenous human remains and cultural property is a crucial step in that process. It is also something that is very important to Canada's indigenous people, and I respect their desire to achieve this. Because of that, my colleagues and I can ultimately support the bill and its intended purpose.
I would like to provide some background on the bill we are discussing today, the aboriginal cultural property repatriation act.
It should be noted that aboriginal cultural property is defined in the bill as “objects of historical, social, ceremonial or cultural importance to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada”. If passed, the bill would require the Minister of Canadian Heritage to co-operate with first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada to develop and evaluate a national strategy on aboriginal cultural property repatriation.
This is important because many items of aboriginal cultural property were taken, purchased, traded and gathered by different groups, including missionaries, collectors, government agents and others, during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of these items are as precious as ancestral human skeletons and sacred objects. Many of these items have since been placed in museums and institutions, where they are on display or studied. For the most part, this was done without any consultation or approval from aboriginal communities. They were left out of the decision-making process. They are now requesting to be involved and in some cases to have the property returned to their people. This is not an unreasonable request.
The bill is an important step in supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, two things that those of us on this side of the House have supported. We believe in the importance of broadening Canadians' historical literacy and appreciation, and we support initiatives that educate and that celebrate Canadian history. This obviously includes the rich and important history and culture of Canada's aboriginal peoples.
The purpose and the important step toward reconciliation that would be facilitated through the bill has been reiterated by various stakeholders. Hearing from these stakeholders is an important part of the process and also of determining the appropriateness of legislation like this.
For instance, we heard Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade tell the CBC that his community has been working on repatriating several important artifacts. In reference to this piece of legislation, he said:
It has cultural significance and it has historical importance to have it back....
Having federal legislation will make it a little easier with the support of the federal government....
The committee had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Clément Chartier, the president of the Métis National Council, who stated:
Bill C-391 is a good first step for Canada to reconcile these injustices. It will serve to make way for indigenous peoples to reclaim their cultural property and to guide all involved in processes that should ultimately make everyone feel that this is the right course of action. The repatriation of aboriginal cultural property is going to speed up the process of cultural renewal for indigenous peoples. It will reflect a time Canadians should not be proud of, and support a time in which Canadians can take great pride.
The committee also heard from Ms. Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. She also stated her support for Bill C-391:
I will say that when I'm reading this bill, it indicates that artifacts can be used for educational purposes. This is very important, in my view. It is very important to us Inuit that Inuit artifacts be inside Nunavut, which they are not. They are housed somewhere else.
The young people should see their own way now in Canada.
That is an important point. The process would allow indigenous young people to actually see items and artifacts of significance from their history that reflect their heritage. They can learn from seeing these items with their own eyes and develop a strong sense of pride in their history and ancestors.
There are still steps needed to figure out how to deal with what was often mentioned by stakeholders during committee meetings, but taking this first step is important and significant and is one my colleagues and I are supportive of.
That being said, I would be remiss not to reiterate what my colleague has previously stated, which is that this bill must not in any way tamper with private property or force anyone to give up legally acquired artifacts. It is important that this concept be respected, even though we only have verbal assurances, because the bill does not specifically mention the protection of private property. Therefore, we are expecting that there would be no consequential changes to private property in Canada.
I need to bring this point up because even though we have been assured by the member for Cumberland—Colchester that this would not be the case, there are stakeholders who have voiced concerns about this. Because the Liberals were not in favour of amendments proposed by concerned stakeholders, it is important that verbal assurances be upheld on this point.
To conclude, I want to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward this bill. It is an important step in the right direction. I am happy to support this legislation, and I know that my colleagues are also in agreement. I think there are some important elements that need to be respected. Ultimately, I am pleased to support this bill, and I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this important subject.