Good morning, Madam Chair and committee members. Thank you for having us here today to talk to you about comprehensive claims, specific claims, self-government, and some of the related negotiation and implementation processes that we have.
I would also like to acknowledge that we are on unceded Algonquin territory.
My name is Perry Billingsley. I'm the associate assistant deputy minister with the treaties and aboriginal government sector in the department. With me today I have Stephen Gagnon, who is the director general of the specific claims branch in treaties and aboriginal government, as well as Julie Mugford, who is the senior director of modern treaty implementation.
Today my goal is to provide an overview of federal negotiation processes to address indigenous rights and interests, as a bit of background for the questions that will follow. I will also speak to some of what we have learned from our indigenous partners and to our vision for moving forward with policy and policy reform.
What I hope to demonstrate is that to truly renew relationships with indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership, we need to acknowledge that different contexts and priorities require differing approaches to resolving rights issues. While we've had some successes with our policies to date, they need to be updated to better reflect the interests and priorities of indigenous peoples in negotiations. We need to expand our tool kit if we are to address the rights and interests of first nations, Inuit, and Métis across Canada.
We have tabled a number of handouts to facilitate further discussion and questions.
When we enter into negotiations with indigenous groups, we are coming to the table as partners, with the shared goal of advancing self-determination and self-government.
Currently, the department is negotiating several different types of agreements with indigenous groups. These agreements are related to the aboriginal and treaty rights set out in section 35 of the Constitution.
Through these various negotiation processes, we are working collaboratively with indigenous communities to advance their rights and interests, to build and renew relationships, to advance self-determination and reconciliation, and to close socio-economic gaps.
The department also negotiates specific claims settlements. Specific claims are made by first nations against the federal government that relate to issues with respect to the administration of land and other first nations assets and to the fulfillment of the pre-1975 treaties.
Canada's comprehensive land claims negotiation policy was first adopted in 1973 to address unresolved land claims and assertions of aboriginal rights not dealt with by treaty or other legal means. It has evolved over time, but the general purpose is to negotiate agreements to provide greater certainty over the ownership, use, and management of lands and natural resources.
In 1995, Canada released the inherent right policy, which recognizes the inherent right of self-government as a right under section 35. It advocates implementing self-government through practical and negotiated agreements.
In terms of outcomes and impacts of the kinds of agreements we negotiate, we look to census and national household survey data to point to better socio-economic outcomes for indigenous groups that have completed modern treaties and self-government agreements.
To use education outcomes as an example, census data from 1991 to 2011 show that as a group, self-governing first nations outperform the census category of registered Indians on reserve in terms of absolute educational outcomes as well as rates of change in improvements. Self-governing first nations have consistently lower high school non-completion and consistently higher post-secondary completion rates than the category of registered Indians on reserve.
The sectoral self-government agreement on education with the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia illustrates this effect.
The Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia have seen improvements such as an 89% graduation rate in 2014-15, more than twice the average of all first nations schools in Canada, as well as improvements in literacy, numeracy, school attendance, and student retention.
Canada and the Anishinabek in Ontario hope to replicate the success with the sectoral agreement on education and the companion agreement with the Province of Ontario that was signed this summer with the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario.
I do want to say that negotiated agreements are only as good as their implementation. Federal departments in the past have found themselves challenged in meeting their legal obligations under modern treaties, which has been costly to Canada in terms of litigation.
More recently we have worked with the Land Claims Agreement Coalition, a group of representatives from different indigenous groups that have settled their land claims, and strengthened federal internal governance through the whole-of-government approach to modern treaty implementation, which was released in July 2015 along with a statement of principles on the federal approach to modern treaty implementation.
We've made positive inroads, but much remains to be done. We're continuing to work to improve our implementation efforts.
Canada also engages in negotiations, as noted earlier, to resolve historic grievances that first nations have against the crown. Since 1982, first nations have been able to make specific claims against Canada regarding the administration of land and other first nations assets, as well as the fulfillment of the terms of pre-1975 treaties.
The specific claims policy seeks to discharge the crown's outstanding legal obligations through negotiated settlements and achieve resolution of long-standing claims. Resolving specific claims is critical to rebuilding relationships with first nations. To date, Canada has settled almost 450 claims through negotiation. However, in recent years, we have heard concerns that first nations have with the specific claims process.
During a review of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act in 2015, first nations expressed concerns with the operation of the process, particularly with information sharing, the use of mediation, and funding.
Several recent reports, including reports from the Auditor General and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, have concluded that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada isn't managing the resolution of specific claims in an appropriate or timely manner.
In response to these concerns, since June 2016 we have been engaged in a collaborative process with first nations, first nations organizations including the Assembly of First Nations, and other interested groups, to identify fair and practical measures to improve the process.
Since 2015, we've taken steps to address key concerns through a new approach in negotiations.
The new approach is called the “recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination discussion”. These interest-based discussions are about furthering self-determination through dialogue and partnership on the issues and interests that indigenous groups bring forward.
In conclusion, we know that a new section 35 policy suite is needed to replace and update our existing policy framework. Our rights recognition discussions are a starting point for this change, but we've been working with groups across the country to look at how we approach negotiations, how we negotiate, and the kinds of agreements that we're reaching. We continue to work with indigenous partners to guide our policy reforms.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.
Before I get into my line of questions, I want to put forward a notice of motion pursuant to our standing order. As people may be aware, there have been huge and significant wildfires in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan that have had very significant effects on indigenous communities, whether those of the Ashcroft Indian Band, who lost half their homes, or communities in Manitoba from which, in the dead of night, people were moved to an evacuation centre for many weeks.
I don't want to take up a lot of committee time with this, but I think it might be important to have a meeting or two that looked at this particular issue. I'll just read out the notice of motion. I know we'll have time, but I wanted to get it on the record, because I think it is a very urgent and emergent situation concerning which we should make sure things are running smoothly.
The motion is:
|That pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Committee immediately undertake a study on the long term impacts of this summer's wildfires on First Nations communities; that this study be comprised of no less than two meetings; and that witnesses include, but are not limited to, the Minister of Indigenous services and the Chair of the Ad Hoc Cabinet Committee on Federal Recovery Efforts for 2017 Wildfires; and that the Committee report its findings to the House.
Because it was such an emergency—it impacted so many communities, and even with such things as hunting there are issues—I hope that when we get to discuss this motion people will have had time to reflect on it and we can deal with it.
Thank you, Madam Chair, for indulging me on this.
Turning now to the witnesses, first of all thank you. We have talked about this particular study for a long time. I think we've bitten off a very large topic. Unfortunately, our colleague Mr. McLeod isn't with us. I know he was particularly interested in ensuring that it was a very comprehensive....
I'm going to come at it from a bit of a self-interest perspective, because I'm from British Columbia. Would it be accurate to say that out of all of the provinces and territories, the outstanding issues are perhaps largest in British Columbia? Would that be accurate, in terms of not having anything in place?
Could you speak to that for me?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to say from the outset, welcome back to all of you. When we left, it was summer. Now we've come back, it's still summer. That's kind of fun for all of us.
First of all, I took great interest in the proposal to do the study, because I come from a region where the first modern treaty was signed back in 1975—the first treaty that involved a province as well. It was kind of interesting how development happened from there on.
I smiled when you said that negotiated agreements are only as good as their implementation. You're dead right when you say that, because it was a challenge for us to negotiate the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement from the outset. Little did we know that the greatest challenge was the implementation. I always use the example of chapter 28, on social and community development, where it is said that on an equal basis, Canada and Quebec will construct community centres in every Cree village. That took about 25 years to implement, because it was claimed by both governments that there was no definition of a community centre. It's true, but it's rather bad faith, if you ask me.
You used a lot of United Nations declaration language in your presentation. I noticed “respect”, “co-operation”, ”partnership”. The principles that we find in the preamble of the UN declaration are now put forth by this government as basic principles for this renewed nation-to-nation relationship. I agree with that approach.
You also talk about self-determination. I recall reading the mandate letters, both to the and to the . Both referred to the UN declaration as a basis of a new nation-to-nation relationship. The has used that as the basis for a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples.
My question, very simply, is this. Has there been thought put into using the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the basis for a new policy? You agree that it needs to be updated. “Updated” is the word you used. Is that a feasible proposition?
As Romeo said, welcome back, everyone. It's great to be back around the table to deal with this important, but, yes, very large issue around land claims.
I have the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte in my riding, and they have been negotiating the Tyendinaga or Culbertson Tract land claim since 2003. I actually moderated a town hall discussion in 2007 on this issue, when it looked like the government was seized with doing negotiation. That lasted about a year, and then nothing. Everything is kind of pulled back now. I know that we are entering into negotiations with them again, and thankfully it looks like there is going to be some progress on some fronts.
In the south, the agreements are now in areas that have become developed, and this adds a much more complicated component to negotiating these agreements.
My question is, what can we change? We're going to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte as part of our travel plan a week Friday, so we'll be hearing from them, but I want to hear from you. What do we need to do? What do we need to change to speed up the process of negotiating these agreements?
The specific land claim agreements.... Yes, we say we're going to do three years, and then three years, and then the tribunal, but when you're dealing with an issue this complicated.... What can we change that will help resolve this?