Madam Speaker, considering the ethnological concepts that will be addressed in this speech, it is important to provide some context in which to frame the intellectual exercise about to take place.
Having spent the past few months in this House and at a number of different meetings of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, today I can offer some underlying reasons for the almost total lack of aboriginal popular support for Canada's political dynamic.
The first nations' historical passiveness toward the democratic process, as observed in this House, reflects a desire to distance themselves from the utilitarian relationship that has gradually developed between the aboriginal communities and the Canadian government. When I talk about a utilitarian relationship, of course I am talking about it in a purely pernicious sense since, too often, aboriginal identity issues are used for advancing some sort of political platform.
It seems that too often the socio-cultural issues of the first nations are brought to the public's attention only if there are political gains to be made by the various parties sitting in this House.
This perception stems from certain aboriginal apprehensions associated with the fraudulent manoeuvres of supposedly bygone days and is fuelled mainly by a strong sense of powerlessness against a system that is removed from the social realities of contemporary tribal communities.
I am deliberately putting the emphasis on the concept of “community” since my argument focuses mainly on the living conditions of Indians living on reserves. I differentiate between Indians living on and off reserve because during the last committee meeting, a representative of the commission on aboriginal peoples indicated that there was a certain inequity, there were certain noticeable differences between the living conditions of Indians living in urban centres off reserves and those living on reserve. I am emphasizing that difference today.
For six months now, I have been doing my best to introduce my colleagues to a culturally relevant vision of the Indian issues that enter into our debates and parliamentary work. This has led me to comment on certain statements made by my colleagues on issues such as access to housing and essential services for remote reserves in Canada.
I am bringing this up today in connection with the comment made by the hon. member who spoke before me. At the beginning of the week he sent me a press release on the situation as experienced by members of the Attawapiskat community.
He began by saying that aboriginals living in that community are now reduced to living in camps. In response, I jokingly said—jokes are a typical Innu way of changing the subject and defusing the tension—that aboriginal communities have been living in camps for 30,000 years. There is nothing new under the sun. But what is distressing is that this is not a choice for these communities; they are being forced into it out of necessity. I feel that this is a sorry state of affairs in 2011 since access to basic services should go hand in hand with the notion of being a Canadian citizen.
It is sometimes wise to boil ideas down to their most basic concept. This is one tactic, one characteristic of my nation—we always try to return to traditional reasoning when faced with a difficult situation. Often, we find solutions to uncomfortable situations in the community.
This vision, which is part of the community I come from, is extremely useful when looking at possible solutions to the daily problems faced by the Innu nation. It is one of the reasons that we ask questions of elders, who take on the task of applying a traditional vision when it comes to contentious issues and issues of identity. And when I say contentious, I mean situations that pit certain community members against one another.
In the past, we used a consensus process; it was a type of community justice. If there were disputes between people in the community, this process resolved many issues in the end. There was an adversarial aspect: people would openly state the problem and a solution would often be found through collaboration.
That said, even those with ancestral knowledge, the elders, within my home community fully realize that they cannot completely dismiss modern socio-economic realities when looking at the living conditions of band members. That is why I must agree with the argument presented by my colleagues who say that access the basic commodities, such as running water, potable water in fact, is one of the intrinsic rights of a Canadian citizen.
The simple fact that nearly 2,000 aboriginal households in Canada do not have access to running water illustrates the urgency of the situation. This alone is enough to justify a unified effort by all levels of government in order to address this matter of national interest. Needless to say, it is the federal government's duty to preserve human dignity in this country. In that regard and under international law, drinking water is recognized as essential and a prerequisite to exercising human rights. Without drinking water, exercising human rights would be rather difficult, since, after two or three days, there would no longer be any humans.
With that in mind, in my speech I plan to highlight certain industry practices that specifically affect the integrity of water resources in Canada's isolated communities. Exploration and mining activities north of the 50th parallel present a significant risk in terms of contamination of groundwater, which is vital to isolated communities that have only limited recourses when it comes to access to drinking water. I am addressing the issue from the perspective of the 50th parallel because it is relevant to my culture and my background. Many resource exploration initiatives are taking place at this time, either near or north of the 50th parallel. History shows that these lands are inhabited mainly by remote aboriginal communities that are cut off from the rest of the world.
I emphasize this little-known aspect—the harmful impact of industrial practices on the living conditions in aboriginal communities—because many instances of damage and deterioration in first nations' water resources have been brought to my attention in the context of my job. In fact, I plan to go to Kitigan Zibi over the weekend—along with one of my colleagues whom this concerns directly, since the community is in his riding—in order to address some concerns raised by residents there. I will be able to shed some light on the situation and update the House when I return.
My brief experience in this Parliament leads me to believe that the current political and economic climate favours the indiscriminate extraction of mineral resources in remote regions. This suits the unfortunate plans of an all-powerful industry that cares nothing for the concept of corporate social responsibility because each social unit north of the 50th parallel is so isolated. With this speech I am giving notice that I will be keeping an eye on industry practices in traditional first nations territories. Damage to the water resources in isolated communities is just one of the adverse effects of putting economic interests first in this country.
I assure the House that I will use all means at my disposal to ensure that social and environmental considerations will temper the initiatives put forward by a government which, through wilful blindness fueled by purely mercantile considerations, is contributing to the ruin and perdition of the nation.