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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is peoples.

NDP MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Natural Resources April 17th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, most of those so-called agreements are letters of understanding, MOUs. We can hardly call them agreements.

A letter of understanding does not mean consent for the project. We have had enough of these false characterizations at the expense of indigenous communities. The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, which represents over half of all first nations in the province, remains resolutely opposed to the project.

When will this government finally get serious about its most important relationship, the relationship with indigenous peoples?

Natural Resources April 17th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, indigenous opposition to Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion is strong, it is growing, and several first nations have already taken the government to court for having violated its constitutional duty to consult. It is a sad day when, despite lofty rhetoric, the government also is ignoring its constitutional obligations.

The government wants to talk about the rule of law. How about respecting section 35 of the Constitution? How about respecting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples' free, prior, and informed consent? Whatever happened to that most important relationship with indigenous peoples?

The Budget February 28th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, it is always enjoyable to listen to my friend. He is a great colleague on the standing committee for aboriginal affairs as well.

Speaking about social deficits in our country, the member is fully aware of the importance of housing in indigenous communities. He was part of the study we did on suicide among young indigenous people. We heard from almost every testimony about housing and the importance of responding to that crisis in aboriginal communities.

The budget provides for $600 million over three years, which is $200 million per year for the next three years for on-reserve housing. If we break that down to the some 630 indigenous communities, it amounts to about $320,000 per community per year. The member knows the cost of construction in the north. That is about one house per community for the next three years. Does he think that is sufficient with respect to housing for indigenous communities?

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice System February 14th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, earlier a member talked about living on a reserve. I still do too.

My dear hope is that this type of case will not surface again in the future. I faced exclusion throughout my life and still do to this day. That needs to stop. The words “reconciliation” and “justice” go together, and if we are truly committed to reconciliation and justice, there cannot be reconciliation in this country in the absence of justice.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice System February 14th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, these types of situations have already been studied to death. I mentioned the aboriginal justice commission of Manitoba which looked into the 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne. It is a similar case. In this case, the commissioner's report recommended that the Criminal Code be changed with respect to jurors. When I look at that report and the quote that I read a while ago, that is the first step we need to take in this type of situation.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice System February 14th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I think the basis of our work in all the things that we do, either from a policy perspective or a legislative perspective, needs to be based on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The norms contained in the UN declaration are the minimum standards for the survival of the dignity, well-being, and security of indigenous peoples in this place.

I am grateful that the government has supported Bill C-262, because that is the kind of basic framework we need in this country.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice System February 14th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

When I heard of the verdict in the trial for the murder of Colten Boushie, I sent out one tweet and one tweet only saying that I went to law school because I believed in justice in this country, but the decision of the court totally devastated that belief. The system needs to change in this country.

I was taught by my elders that the spirit and intent in the words of our treaties that we share with Canada allowed for just co-existence, and the preservation of Indian ways of being and indigenous laws. The injustices that indigenous peoples experience in their daily lives and in special circumstances like murder are built into the Canadian legal system and political framework. The peremptory norm of non-discrimination, a fundamental tenet in international human rights law, requires that indigenous peoples have access to justice on an equal basis to the general population. How we do that is the question.

Lawyers need training and education. Criminal crown prosecutors should have specific directives. Gladue rights only address the problems at the sentencing level. What about before that? It is equally important. Police also need training to establish protocols. We must consider how police investigate themselves when an error or a tragedy occurs.

I strongly recommend that the House consider the 2013 study, “Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” on access to justice. Wilton Littlechild, a well-known grand chief, participated in the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. The work has already been done by excellent people at the expert mechanism level in the report that I just referred to by the Manitoba aboriginal commission. We can continue from there.

We cannot discard, in my view, the knowledge and experience of our ancestors and elders, who remind us that the treaties contain all we need for a framework that ensures justice for all peoples who live in this land we call Canada.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice System February 14th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I looked up a report that was made back in 1991, reviewed by the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission of Manitoba, which Senator Sinclair was on. The report talked about the use of peremptory challenges to exclude indigenous peoples from jury. I want to read a passage of that report. It says, “We believe that the exclusion of potential jurors on the basis of their race is an unacceptable and probably unconstitutional practice which should be ended by reform of the method of juror selection.”

What does my colleague think about that passage from that report, almost 30 years ago? Do we have to wait for another Boushie case to move on these issues?

Rights of Indigenous Peoples February 14th, 2018

[Member spoke in Cree]


Mr. Speaker, I want to start by honouring the memory of the late Colten Boushie, because this tragedy, which I have lost sleep over since it happened, is an equally tragic reminder of where things are in this country they call Canada. The underlying discrimination, the denial of rights, and the impoverishment are pervasive in this country for indigenous peoples, as they are for indigenous peoples all over the world. The discrimination and other human rights violations indigenous peoples face or encounter throughout Canada are at crisis levels. It is as simple as that. Indigenous peoples, families, youth, women, and children are all impacted, with ongoing, devastating effects.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be the framework for reconciliation to ensure that present and future generations of indigenous peoples and individuals will be treated as equal to other peoples, while recognizing our right to be different, and respected as such.

Self-determination is not just a word. Self-determination is the most basic human right, for indigenous peoples as well, without which other human rights cannot be fully enjoyed.

There is hope in the words of the Prime Minister, and I thanked him in Cree for those words. While I appreciate the Prime Minister's words today, we need to make sure that this time it is for real. One of the most unacceptable things politicians can do is to quash the hope of the most vulnerable in our society by breaking yet another promise. That cannot happen. I will not let that happen again. We have known that for 150 years. We have faced broken promises for 150 years. Guess what. We will not let that happen again for the next 150 years.

Everyone's friend internationally, Desmond Tutu, once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

The “rising tide of anger” are the words of the Prime Minister. The rising tide of anger we feel in this country at the moment will reach further heights if he does not deliver on his commitments today, because we all know that there is another case coming down for a ruling: Tina Fontaine. I am frightened by the prospect of another negative outcome for indigenous peoples. I am frightened about that moment coming up.

We need to make sure that we deliver on our promises. We need to go from words to action now. I heard the same words from the mouth of the Prime Minister during the last federal election campaign. I heard the same words from the Prime Minister after his election. I heard the same words from the Prime Minister when he spoke in December 2015, after his election, to the Assembly of First Nations. He talked about the United Nations declaration. He talked about delivering on that promise. Let us make sure that it happens for real this time.

There are many files and issues we can fix right now that we could not fix two years ago when the Liberals were elected. They were elected on those promises, yet indigenous peoples in this country continue to face discrimination and injustice. We cannot claim that we are upholding the honour of the crown if we continue to not respect the human rights of indigenous peoples in this country. The denial of the rights of indigenous peoples continues under the current government, despite its promise of real change. I remember those promises. I was in that campaign as well.

We would like to remind members of the resistance of the government to the ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. It took four compliance orders following the ruling. To give another example, there is a lack of access to the fishing rights of my brothers and sisters in the Nuu-chah-nulth territory on the west coast of British Columbia, despite the fact that they won their court case 10 years ago. Governments have spent millions of dollars fighting this case over the years.

Indigenous women and girls continue to go missing or are murdered. Our youth continue to take their own lives. Free, prior, and informed consent is not being used in major projects, such as Site C, Kinder Morgan, and Muskrat Falls. In fact, we are even threatened by the Minister of Natural Resources if we dare to oppose these projects.

I could go on with the list of things we could fix right away. It is possible. The frameworks are there. Let us start going beyond the MOUs, the framework agreements, the engagement sessions, and the litany of expressions the Liberals have been using. I have negotiated for 30 years with governments and third parties. In our jargon, we call that delay tactics. We call that a policy of “we will do it, eventually.”

I believe in reconciliation. I believe in justice for indigenous peoples. I think we all can agree with those concepts in this country now, since the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There were major recommendations contained in that report we should all endorse right now.

When I say that there are already frameworks in this country, I am talking about the section 35 aboriginal and treaty rights. I am talking about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am also talking about our treaties. I am talking about our international obligations as a member state of the United Nations. We are signatories to major conventions in that regard. The two international human rights covenants speak to the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples. That is another framework.

Before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, the Supreme Court of this country, the highest court of this land, talked about reconciliation. In doing so, the Supreme Court said, in the 2004 Haida Nation case, that the objective is “to reconcile pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty”. “Assumed” is not my word. It is the Supreme Court's.

In the spirit of reconciliation, and also in the spirit of collaboration with the government, I want to propose a couple of suggestions for the work ahead of us. I have always offered my support in collaboration with any party in power, and I continue to do so to this day, especially with regard to the human rights of the first peoples of this country.

The framework should contain several key elements.

The first element is that indigenous peoples' rights are human rights. Let us start using that language in this place and in this country. The human rights of indigenous peoples have been treated as human rights for three decades within the United Nations system. I think we should start doing that today in this country.

The second element is that international human rights standards need to be followed, and not just those contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The third element is that we need special measures. In view of the ongoing impacts of colonization, which we cannot deny, discrimination, land and resource dispossession, and marginalization, the vulnerability and disadvantages of indigenous peoples are exacerbated. Let us recognize that as well. Therefore, special measures are required for a wide range of matters. These would include safeguarding the cultures, languages, and land and resource rights of indigenous peoples.

The fourth element is equality and non-discrimination, as affirmed in the preamble of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such

That is a direct quote from the preamble of the UN declaration.

The Prime Minister has often said that cultural diversity in this country is important to him. There is yet another opportunity to maintain, protect, and promote the indigenous languages in this country, and we need to do that collaboratively. Again, as a Cree language speaker, I can assist the Prime Minister in this endeavour.

The fifth element is repudiation of the doctrine of superiority. Both the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the UN declaration condemn these doctrines as invalid and scientifically false.

The sixth element is consultation and co-operation, and the Prime Minister mentioned that.

The seventh element is that the free, prior, and informed consent concept needs to be acknowledged, endorsed, and embraced in our country. In many cases, after full and fair consideration of the rights of all those involved, the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples must prevail.

The eighth element is environment and development, which is important. In order to achieve sustainable and equitable development from an indigenous perspective, environmental protection must constitute an integral part of the development process. It cannot considered in isolation from it.

The ninth element is legislative and other measures. Again, the Prime Minister talked about that today, and I thank him for that. We need to do that in order to move forward as a nation.

The 10th element is a human rights-based approach. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues underlined that at the international, regional, and national levels, the human rights of indigenous peoples were always relevant if such rights were at risk of being undermined. Let us recall that again.

The 11th element is that there needs to be some form of restitution of lands and territories. That is also in the UN declaration. It is also says that when it is not possible, just, fair, and equitable compensation needs to happen for indigenous peoples.

Finally, is the revitalization of indigenous languages and cultures. The UN declaration articles 11 to 14 affirm that indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize their languages and cultures, and states have obligations to take effective measures in this regard. Such actions serve to reinforce indigenous peoples' rights to live in peace and security as distinct peoples. All peoples, including indigenous peoples, contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures around the world.

[Member speaks in Cree]


Very briefly, those concluding remarks were words of thanks and gratitude for me to be able to stand in this place, as a person who was born literally on the land under a tent some 50-more years ago, and to speak in the House and with the Prime Minister. I am very grateful for that. It has been a long journey.

I offer my collaboration to the government to achieve those commitments expressed by the Prime Minister. One of the most beautiful words in Cree is NaweeDjawaagan, which means he or she who walks by my side. I offer my friendship to all of us.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act February 5th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, meegwetch.

[Member spoke in Cree]


I wanted to start by expressing my gratitude. I would like to thank all of the members who have spoken about this very important bill, even those who expressed concerns about it. I appreciate their comments. I am looking forward to taking a very close look at this bill in committee because I think some of the questions and concerns people raised are worth discussing.

I know I only have five minutes, but there are a couple of things that are important to talk about in reply.

It was said that the UN declaration is an aspirational document. I have heard that before and I heard it again today. I want to respond to that. I also heard that the UN declaration is going to create some uncertainty in this country. I want to respond to that as well. Let me remind members that Bill C-262 is the first piece of legislation in the country that explicitly rejects colonialism. If we are going to move on to reconciliation, then we have to reject colonialism. It cannot continue within that framework in this country.

This is what former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said about the declaration:

The Declaration is a visionary step towards addressing the human rights of indigenous peoples...and provides a momentous opportunity for States and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation and ensure that the past is not repeated.

The other thing I heard in this place today is that Bill C-262 might be incompatible with our Constitution as it stands today. Back in 2008, in response to that very same claim, over 100 experts, law professors, international human rights experts, and scholars said:

The Declaration provides a principled framework that promises a vision of justice and reconciliation. In our considered opinion, it is consistent with the Canadian Constitution and Charter and is profoundly important for fulfilling their promise.

It is important to remind people of that very fact. It is important to remind people that it is not appropriate to try to read provisions of the declaration in isolation. When we talk about prior and informed consent, we have to read those provisions alongside the other provisions. There are 46 provisions in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we have to combine them.

Paragraph 3 of article 46 of the UN declaration states:

The provisions set forth in this Declaration shall be interpreted in accordance with the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and good faith.

I think one of the reasons that article was drafted in that way is that we need to balance the rights that are enshrined for indigenous peoples contained in the UN declaration with the rights of others. That is important to remember when considering the UN declaration.

I thank all the members who stood up to speak to the bill. I look forward to the work in committee on the bill.