Madam Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to rise on such an important issue for indigenous people, that of cultural property.
First, I would like to remind members that this government already committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
One would therefore expect that all legislation introduced by the government would be in keeping with the declaration, particularly when it comes to indigenous rights or issues. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case with the bill we have before us today.
I think it is important to point out that we will support this bill at second reading so that we can work with members to improve some of its aspects.
The cultural items that are currently held in museum archives, universities, and private homes were handmade from teachings and techniques passed down for generations among indigenous peoples. They are are necessary part of our self-identity, guaranteed by our inherent treaty rights, constitutional rights, and international human rights.
These are not artifacts belonging to some culture in pre-history. These bones are our ancestors, genetically proven. The clothing was worn by our cousins, the masks were carved by our uncles, the hunting tools were made with our fathers. The makasinan were sewn and beaded by our mothers.
I usually wear a sample, handmade pair of makasinan. The shoes are handcrafted of thick, brain-tanned moose hide, still smelling of the smoke that guarantees the leather stays soft, the same technique that has been used for thousands of years.
The financial considerations of indigenous communities regarding repatriation are not explicitly resolved in Bill C-391. I would like to know from the member what the bill proposes to do. For example, I know recently that in British Columbia, the government has allocated $2 million to help with repatriation efforts for indigenous peoples.
Imagine walking through a museum and coming across a bag made with one's mother, which was taken away at residential school and is now under glass. This has happened to indigenous peoples again and again. Imagine the loss when one cannot even keep a bag after having learned to bead as a small child.
There are cultural teachings about beadwork: leave a bead in the wrong place to reflect life's imperfections and keep us humble, a crucial value for many indigenous peoples around the world.
The makasinan are well-known, well worn, and have been to ceremonies, hunting camps, and visiting communities in many territories. The security guards, cafeteria staff, visitors, and my colleagues ask me why I wear slippers to work. These makasinan have meaning to me in a way slippers bought at a store will never have. They connect me to a time and a place, and remind me of what I have been taught to hold true.
I invite all members to come to my riding this summer. In my riding there is the Cree cultural centre called Aanischaaukamikw. For many years Cree elders have spoken of the need for a central place for the protection of our ways. They remind us that Cree culture must be captured, maintained, shared, celebrated, and practised. Aanischaaukamikw is the realization of that very vision.
The museum allows us to preserve and share the stories, legends, music, pictures, and physical objects that show the youth the Cree people's reverence for the land we have walked on for thousands of years.
This museum is an example of what is possible when we have our personal belongings returned to us and when we have the resources to properly restore and protect our heritage, share it with our children, and share it with others.
However, not all communities have the capacity right now to store or care for their objects. Some have developed arrangements to leave precious objects in museums for proper storage and care. Others have chosen a shared arrangement that allows objects to rotate between the community and the museum, which takes them back to conservation.
The current requirement on indigenous peoples to prove ownership and connection is onerous. Research costs, often paid by loans, can prevent communities from achieving successful repatriation claims. Indigenous peoples should not be blocked by financial constraints. That is contrary to the inherent rights to cultural identity and cultural connection.
The heart of the matter when we are talking about the importance of repatriation of cultural heritage is self-determination. In fact, cultural heritage is considered so important to national identity, self-determination, and international cultural diversity that many states—Pakistan, India, the U.S., and Bolivia, for example—have MOUs and agreements that regulate the exportation of cultural objects.
It is also part of the agenda of the Summit of the Americas, where governments in the western hemisphere pledged to enhance appreciation of indigenous cultures and cultural artifacts through various collaborative means.
The language in Bill C-391 is weak and leaves many of the bill's provisions unenforceable. “To promote and support the return”, for instance, “encourage owners”, and other similarly drafted wording leaves most of the bill as optional.
Since the protection of cultural property touches on so many different areas, responsibility for various aspects of policy development and enforcement involves multiple ministries and government agencies, raising the risk of inconsistent and even contradictory actions being taken if a coordinated mechanism is not in place.
I would like to see a strong mechanism contained within Bill C-391 for Canadian-nation-to-indigenous-nation agreements.
The language used in this bill must also reflect already accepted national and international definitions of cultural property. I am not currently satisfied that it does. Definitions can be found in the Quebec cultural property act, the Canadian cultural property export control list, UNESCO conventions, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I refer members to article 31, for instance, under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to article 12, paragraph 2, of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
There is a lot of potential for the bill to provide closure to many people around the world and in this country in particular. Ancestors can be reburied with respect. Stolen items can be returned to their owners. Cultural teachings and practices can be revived. I look forward to working with the member on the bill.