Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
[Witness speaks in Cree]
In Cree, Mr. Chairman, I basically said that I'm very happy to be here. I acknowledged the men and women, all my friends around the table, and gave a heartfelt thank you for the welcome here.
I have a bit of a presentation to go through on behalf of our Assembly of First Nations, so I'll get right to it. You each have a copy of it in your kit.
When I was asked to be here, and to focus on certain agenda items and certain topics, but to focus more on “misconception training”—that's what people wanted to get into—I said, okay, I can prepare a package to talk about structure, governance, inherent rights, treaty rights, some constitutional dialogue on the time frames of things that impacted on us as first nations people, some of the recent Supreme Court decisions, and our recent December 10 meeting, where the committed to a certain number of things. That's the outline of what I want to get into here this afternoon.
The AFN, our Assembly of First Nations, is a national advocacy organization representing 634 first nations across Canada with 58 different indigenous languages. You can name a reserve, any reserve....
In British Columbia there are 203 first nations. In Alberta you have 47. In Saskatchewan you have 74. In Manitoba you have 67. In Ontario you have 134, and in Quebec 42. On the east coast there are 30-plus first nations, with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs. In the NWT you have 40-plus first nations. Yukon has 14. In total you have 634 first nations, with 58 different languages that are unique. I stress that.
The Assembly of First Nations is made up of those different nations, different tribes. Some have pre-Confederation treaties. Some have numbered treaties, Victorian treaties. Some have modern-day treaties. Some are inside the Indian Act and some are outside the Indian Act. So it's about knowing who you're working with, the background, the politics.
At the AFN we have 10 regional chiefs, one from every province, who sit with me as my executive. Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, from la belle province du Québec, sits with me, along with Regional Chief Day from Ontario. We all sit together monthly. We have quarterly meetings, but we also bring together our chiefs of Canada twice a year: three days in December and three days in July.
The national chief is elected by the 634 chiefs every three years. I go to the polls in July 2018, so you're stuck with me for the next number of years. I don't plan on going anywhere.
At the AFN we also have resolutions. Our chiefs give us mandates, resolutions, and direction, political direction. We also have chiefs committees. With 10 regional chiefs, I hand out portfolios. For example, we're having an education forum. That's the portfolio of Regional Chief Bobby Cameron from Saskatchewan. You have 500 people at the Delta today talking about education and the path forward, about legislation. Who holds the pen if we draft legislation so that there's stable funding in place for schools, and O and M operations on the reserve? All of these things are being talked about. In health care it's Regional Chief Day. We have chiefs committees on health and on education. That's our structure as the Assembly of First Nations.
Now, a lot of people will say—on this slide here, I've applied it myself from Little Black Bear—that we put the Creator on top, and then the people. All of the people, on reserve and off reserve, get to vote for our chief and council at Little Black Bear. Because of the Supreme Court of Canada's Corbiere decision, no matter where you reside, whether you live in Ottawa, Toronto, Regina, or Vancouver.... When there's an election at Little Black Bear, I have the right to go home and vote. There's no exclusion. That's the Corbiere decision. Our chiefs and councils represent all their membership. That's the first point I'll make. Little Black Bear is one reserve out of those 634.
Then we belong to a thing called an agency, File Hills Agency, five reserves that work together back home. We provide our stand-alone police service agreement back home. We have health care services. We work together as five reserves: Star Blanket, Okanese, Peepeekisis, Little Black Bear, and Carry the Kettle. There's no election there, but we work together to provide services.
Then we belong to a thing called the tribal council, the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council. There are 11 reserves that work together as a tribal council back in Saskatchewan. Again, they get together, the chiefs and council, and elect a tribal chief or tribal chair, whatever you want to call it. There are services and programs, a little bit of politics sometimes, and advocacy. That's what it is.
Then there's FSIN. Little Black Bear belongs to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. There are 74 reserves in Saskatchewan, and they work together politically under that umbrella.
Little Black Bear as well belongs to the Assembly of First Nations, 634 first nations.
I take the time to explain this because wherever you're from, as members of Parliament, you might have first nations in your territory. Apply that to them. They'll have a similar structure. They'll have a similar way of being organized. Whether you're from northern Ontario, Quebec, or B.C., it's similar. You just have to know the structure.
The AFN, I say, is on the bottom, not on top. That's how I explain these things. It's an advocacy organization. It's respectful of the diversity. It's responsive to the needs that have been identified by our chiefs and leaders across Canada, and it's relevant as a national organization for bringing about policy and legislative change.
Then I also put to the side Little Black Bear as a signatory to Treaty 4. We're part of the Victorian treaties, the numbered treaties. I put that there just to show you. When we talk about inherent rights and treaty rights and self-determination, I use that as an example. We might be 4.5% of Canada's population as indigenous peoples, but we're not ethnic minorities. We're indigenous peoples with the inherent right to self-determination. We have our own languages, our own laws, our own lands, our own people, and our own identifiable forms of government, the five elements you need in international law for that right to self-determination to be recognized and respected. We have them.
That was exercised when we entered into this nation-to-nation relationship with the crown in right of Canada, the crown in right of Great Britain. Because of the 1982 patriation of the Constitution, it is now the crown in right of Canada. That's for treaties, nation to nation. We always used to say that nations make treaties; treaties do not make nations. Now, because we agree to coexist and share the land and resource wealth, we're all treaty people: everyone in this room, including me, we're all treaty people.
That treaty relationship we hold onto very dearly. That sovereign, that relationship with the crown is something we respect very greatly, because it's a covenant. That sanctity of contract, that sanctity of agreement is something we hold very dearly as indigenous peoples. It is like the shaking of a hand, the coming together of indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples, when you see a treaty medallion. You see that on the medallion it says for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow. Queen Victoria is on the back of that medallion. But as well, it is the Creator watching. That's why we say it's a covenant. Ceremonies were utilized in the consecration of that nation-to-nation agreement.
In Treaty 4, in treaties, the nations there are the Cree peoples, the Nakota Assiniboine peoples, and the Saulteaux/Anishinabe Ojibwa peoples. Three different nations or tribes are signatories to Treaty 4. There are 34 first nations chiefs.
That's a little bit of the overview in terms of structure. Just think about all your own first nations now.
There's the issue of portability of rights we have to get our heads around. I'm not a treaty Indian just because I live on the reserve. Portability of rights and portability of services and programs all have to be contemplated now. I have the right to vote for my chief and council. Now 50% of our people reside off reserve, off the community. That's an important point to raise.
As I said to our officials this morning at the Delta, when we talk about Indian control of Indian education and the need to invest in proper schools on the reserve, and making sure that on the one hand there are math, science, literacy, and numeracy, what's equally important on the other hand are your languages and your sense of tradition. There are two systems. Our children walk in both worlds. We need to balance that. But bear in mind as well that we need to work with provincial governments, because 50% of our people reside off the reserve, in cities, so it's about influencing those systems in the cities and towns as well. What we need to work on is twofold. Put that as itself now.
The next slide is on the time frame. These things are important because they're part of Canada's Constitution. All these things that I'm going to be talking about are part of it. I start the timeline with this thing called the doctrine of discovery. It's very important.
It's very important, and I call it an illegal and racist doctrine. That's what I say. There are terms that I'm using now called “assumed Crown sovereignty” and “assumed Crown jurisdiction”, because that doctrine of discovery is coming under fire not only nationally, but internationally, within the United Nations, which is why we're trying to get an audience with Pope Francis.
This is a whole story unto itself, this doctrine of discovery, but you can start with that piece. From there, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 is very important, because the crown recognized first nations title to land and territory. It's a very important piece of legislation or, if you will, our agreement. That's part of Canada's addendums to the Constitution.
Next, I talk about the nation-to-nation relationship and the treaty-making process. There are the pre-Confederation treaties, the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior treaties, and the numbered treaties. John A. Macdonald was the prime minister of the day. He realized that he didn't have title to the territory lands, so he devised an instrument called treaties, and he tasked Alexander Morris, on behalf of the crown, the Queen, to go out and cut a deal with the Indians out west. Alexander Morris was the treaty commissioner. It was a very high office. That was the making of the treaties in the 1800s.
I've put the residential schools next, which were established in the 1800s. This is a very important timeline. It's a very important piece of work that had a negative impact on indigenous peoples.
Then, of course, there's the BNA Act. Why have I put that there? Because of section 91(24): the federal government is responsible for Indians and Indian lands. It doesn't say “Indians on Indian lands”. It just says Indians and Indian lands. That's further recognition of title.
Then I talk about the Imperial Order in Council of 1870. It's part of Canada's Constitution. Basically, in English words, it says that for what lands are taken up for settlement in the Northwest Territories—it doesn't say “Indians” or “first nations”, but uses the word “aborigines”—they are supposed to be compensated on a fair and equitable basis when lands are taken up for settlement. That's a very important piece of work, that 1870 order in council.
Then there's the Indian Act of 1876, which we still have to this day. Why I've put it there is that right up until 1951 it was illegal for Indians to get access to legal counsel. We couldn't have access to a lawyer until 1951. We couldn't leave the reserve without a permit until 1951. The Indian Act is a big challenge for us now, but it's still there.
Between the residential school system and the Indian Act, between those two things, you can see the hurt and the harm that have been done to our people, including breaking up our governance system and imposing two-year elective systems, throwing out the clan mothers, throwing out our hereditary chiefs, and throwing out our traditional chiefs. All of our ways of governing ourselves were no good, and you imposed a two-year elective system, this Indian Act. So the challenges in 2016 and beyond are about what we do now to move beyond the Indian Act. That's the big challenge for us.
There's the NRTA of 1930. People want to talk about a national energy strategy. People want to talk about resource revenue sharing. The natural resources transfer agreement was unilaterally passed in 1930 by the federal government, passed in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. They had total control in their provincial boundaries over the oil, the coal, the potash, the uranium, the trees, the water, everything. It was unilaterally done in section 10 in 1930: “subject to existing trusts, this will be done”. We've always maintained that there's a crown/federal fiduciary trust obligation.
In 1974 the modern treaty-making process kicked in because of the Calder decision, as well as the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and all those things. Then in 1982, the patriation of the Constitution, section 35, existing aboriginal treaty rights are recognized and affirmed: a full box of rights or empty box of rights, and what process to utilize to fill that up: a political process and/or legal process? Then, of course, there's the UN declaration of 2007.
The timeline is very important. Just to get our heads around the constitutional framework, that is why we say there's a crown federal fiduciary trust obligation to Indians and first nations people. That's there.
Legally now, there were the recent Delgamuukw and Sparrow Supreme Court of Canada decisions. All members of Parliament should know all these cases. All 338 members of Parliament should know the things I'm talking about: Delgamuukw, Sparrow, the Haida, Mikisew Cree, the Marshall decision on the east coast, the treaty right to commercial fish. This is the first time ever that the Supreme Court of Canada went back and made an addendum to its initial ruling because of Marshall. I just flag these ones, some of the high-level ones. Then, of course, there is Tsilhqot’in around aboriginal rights and title.
The judicial branch of government is saying something very clearly when it comes to rights recognition, aboriginal rights and title, treaty rights. How many Supreme Court of Canada decisions were we winning? We see that. That shows you this right here.
We say these are all rights that are minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of indigenous people, no question. The issue is that the judicial branch is saying this, but the legislative and the executive branches of governments are not keeping up with the policy and legislative changes as dictated by this one over here. That's the challenge moving forward. That the legislative and the executive branches of governments have to keep up with what the judicial branch is saying, and that means policy and legislative changes. So, put that on the shelf now.
Before October 19, we campaigned very hard in the sense of getting our issues onto all the party platform agendas, every one. I tried to get on the caucuses. I've been to the Liberal caucus. I've been to the NDP caucus. I talked to as many members of Parliament from the Conservatives as I could. I went to the Green caucus. There were a couple of people. Educating and making them aware of what the issues are in closing the gap, this was what we used. This was before October 19.
There are six themes: strengthening first nations, families, and communities; sharing equitable funding, in other words lifting the 2% funding cap that's been there for 20 years; upholding aboriginal treaty rights; respecting the environment, which means looking at Bill and Bill and more involvement on resource projects across Canada, the Energy Board; revitalizing indigenous languages; and implementing the TRC calls to action.
That was before October 19. We had the come to our chiefs assembly in December. He committed to five items. You can see the reflection, you can see the mirror almost, if you will, to what we put as priority items as indigenous peoples.
First, a national inquiry be committed to the chiefs of Canada. That's ongoing. It's in the preconsultation phase now. Three ministers are leading that good process.
Second, making significant investments in education is very important. How do you get out of poverty? Good quality education.
Third, he talked about removing the 2% funding cap that's been in place, which is a cap on potential, a cap on growth. The fiscal frameworks that exist now through the contribution agreements don't keep up with inflation, don't keep up with the rising population. The fastest growing segment in Canada is young first nation men and women. It's not based on needs, so the gap that needs to be closed is huge. We talked about moving that and moving toward long-term sustainable funding relationships with the crown so that there's predictability.
Fourth, he talked about implementing the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is very important, along with a full federal law review of imposed legislation.
I expand that one to include not only federal laws but also policies, because a comprehensive claims policy, the specific claims policy, the inherent right to self-government policy, and the additions-to-reserve policy haven't been updated in 20-plus years, and they're based on flawed views on termination of rights and title, not recognition of rights and title, as referenced in those Supreme Court of Canada decisions.
There has to be not only a federal law review but a federal law and policy review to get into line with what your own Supreme Court is saying. So, there is much work to do going forward.
This, friends and relatives, is just an overview.
I want to show, from one reserve's perspective—my home reserve where I grew up, Little Black Bear—how it all fits in going forward. On March 22 we're hoping these key strategic investments will be made in all these areas to close the gap.
With regard to the gap I am referring to, on the United Nations human development index, Canada is rated sixth. When you apply the same indices to indigenous peoples, we're 63rd. That's what needs to be addressed.
More and more Canadians are saying that it is not right, and we have to make the investments in education and training. Dealing with 130 boil-water advisories, potable water, and overcrowded housing—all those negative stats—are what that gap represents, and people are getting it. That's what we have to work on collectively together.
Mr. Chairman, that's my Indian Studies 101. That's my misconceptions training or whatever. There is a lot more we could have gone into, but that's where I want to leave it right now, and there might be questions or comments from around the table.