I call the meeting to order. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and a motion passed by this committee on a study of specific and comprehensive land claims agreements, this is our third city in a cross-country tour to talk to experts, community members, and political representatives on land claims, specific and comprehensive.
We normally recognize the historical lands and the peoples that were here because we're beginning a process, finally, of Canada looking at truth and reconciliation on a broader scale. We are on the homeland of the Wendat. I come from the Prairies, where the history is that many people moved through the area as they migrated with the buffalo. I'd just like to recognize that this is the homeland.
We're going to start. We have, in the first panel, Eleanor Bernard from the Mi'kmaw, from Nova Scotia. We also have Constant Awashish, who's the grand chief.
Welcome. We're very happy that you found a way to come, despite the big storms last night, and that you're here. Thank you.
Please go ahead. You have 10 minutes to present, and then after the presentations are done, we'll have an opportunity for questions from the MPs around the table. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Honourable members of this committee, good morning.
[The witness speaks Atikamekw]
My name is Constant Awashish. I am the Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation.
I only received this invitation last Friday. I would like to make a comment, without animosity. We tabled a brief, but we would have liked it to be longer. We did what we could despite the short notice. I will try to inform you as best I can to help you in your work.
The Atikamekw Nation has 7,700 members, and I am their Grand Chief. Our nation has been negotiating with governments since 1979, close to 40 years. The topic of today's study is comprehensive land claims negotiations. The members and politicians of the Atikamekw nation often wonder whether there is a real will to come to an agreement with us, since there are always new developments that arise during the negotiations.
Our natural resources and territories are being exploited, and this is increasing. That has always been the case, and that has not slowed down at all since 1979. We deplore that fact.
After several meetings with our members, and several surveys, we concluded that comprehensive negotiations are still relevant and still important in the eyes of the communities of the Atikamekw Nation.
We believe that comprehensive negotiations will give us the tools we need to develop as a nation and as a first people of this country.
You are aware of the economic and social situation of most of the first nations of Canada. In your work you have probably been made aware of indigenous reality and the Atikamekw Nation is no exception. In our communities, unemployment rates are high, a lot of people must resort to social assistance, and there are almost no jobs. Despite the fact that our natural resources are exploited on our territory, there are very few spinoff benefits for our communities.
When a resource is developed there is a value added chain. Despite that, no jobs are created for us, and the profits and fees often go to the government. For centuries, the Atikamekw nation has received nothing. That is a situation we deplore as members of this country, Canada. I do not think that the situation is viable in the long term.
That is the viewpoint of the Atikamekw Nation on that, and this is a message I have been delivering for three years now.
In speaking about the Atikamekw Nation, I am also speaking about all of the first nations. I think that in order to have a prosperous country or province, indigenous nations must also prosper.
We are all interrelated economically. As I already mentioned, if a first nation develops economically, if it has a good rate of progress and employability, if there is a lot of work there and if it can develop its own natural resources in its own way, there will be economic benefits for the neighbouring regions and towns, which will lead to economic benefits for the province, which will also be felt in Canada. I think that is today's reality. We must invest in first nations to give them an opportunity to develop their economies. They have to have the opportunity of shaping their own destinies.
There has been much talk of reconciliation over the past few years. In my opinion, reconciliation implies recognizing mistakes. As we speak, that is almost done. Now there has to be an acknowledgement of mistakes regarding economic development. What are we going to offer first nations so that they may develop their economies? How are we going to allow them to participate or contribute to the economic development of the province or country? That is the message I have been trying to deliver from the outset.
As Grand Chief, I am often asked what we will do if we manage to conclude an agreement or a treaty and if we have our territory, our self-government, and some funding. I am asked how we will develop our territory. One thing is certain and that is that we cannot pick up and leave with our territory. That is why, on the topic of developing our territory, I always mention the interrelationship among all of the people of Canada. We want to develop our territory precisely in order to make a greater contribution to the evolution of this country. To get there we have to be given the means to do so. The Atikamekw Nation believes that the best way to get there is through a treaty.
For the Atikamekw Nation, the important thing is to arrive at something concrete. Soon we will have been negotiating for 40 years. The duration of those negotiations is perplexing to the nation. That is an issue that must be solved. In my opinion, to correct things, we have to bring politicians closer to the negotiating table. Often, we play a game of cat and mouse. We ask for certain things from our negotiators, they propose objectives and recommendations at the negotiating table. But when they arrive at the table, the door is closed and they are told that that is not part of the mandate. Where is the negotiation in that? In my opinion, the politicians need to pull up a chair and come closer to the negotiating table to make things move more quickly.
That is the intention of the Atikamekw Nation this year. Our objective is to settle this matter by the month of June 2018.
Within the Atikamekw Nation, there is increasing disillusionment with regard to the duration of negotiations and the will of governments. The month of June 2018 will be very important for us, as we will decide whether to continue the negotiations or simply to use pressure tactics to accelerate the process and pursue our objective, which is the sovereignty of our territory. As I said, this would be a last resort, and what we want is pure and simple participation from the government. We want the government to truly commit, one hundred percent, to the negotiations, so that we may be given the means to contribute to the development and growth of the country that is today known as Canada.
[Witness speaks in Mi'kmaq
Good morning, my name is Eleanor Bernard. I am the executive director for Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey. I have been in this position for 15 years.
Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey is a regional management organization, with a self-government agreement in education in Nova Scotia. Twelve of the 13 Mi'kmaq bands in Nova Scotia are part of MK. As a part of the MK bands, they exercise jurisdiction over education in their communities. The Mi'kmaq Education Act requires the negotiation of a funding agreement. To date, each one of these agreements have been for five years.
MK has experienced a wide variety of issues in negotiating the funding agreement. The issues that are experienced by the MK in negotiating the five-year funding agreements are the following. There's the failure to commence new negotiations on a timely basis; they've always been late. There's also a failure of the federal negotiators to obtain a mandate to negotiate. They come to the table and never have a mandate, or at least have never presented us with a mandate. Also, the turnover of negotiators during negotiations has been really high.
As a part of the agreement clearly states, negotiations are to begin within the time frame that should provide enough time to conclude the negotiations before the current agreement expires. In the last 15 years, there have been several extensions to the MK agreement because the federal negotiators do not have a mandate from the government. Currently, we're in negotiations for a new funding agreement. That expired on March 31, 2016. We're still in negotiations. If there is no funding agreement in place, the legislation dies as of April 1, 2018.
There have also been several negotiators. That caused another delay in the conclusion of negotiations. During one of the past negotiations, the federal government has switched negotiators five times in the course of negotiations. This has caused so many delays as we've always had to start from scratch with the new negotiator.
It is also particularly troublesome when the federal government agrees, and indicates in an agreement, that they will provide funding for the MK with their proportionate share of enhanced funding that the government provides to other first nations' communities, and doesn't abide by these sections of the funding agreement. Of the $3.6996 billion promised in budget 2016, MK has been informed we are eligible for only three out of the 10 subactivities. That is a proportionate share of less than 30% of the total budget. It is our opinion that success is being punished. And when I say “success”, across the country MK bands have an 87.6% graduation rate, and this has been consistent in the last number of years.
Then there is the situation where they forget to send funding in the quarterly instalments of the grant. There have been several occasions where the federal government has forgotten to send money to the MK. It's just a simple matter that the region forgot us. Our payments are late getting to us, and therefore the communities suffer, resulting in their having to cash-manage education until the government finally sends us our payments.
I have my website at the bottom of this document and all of this information is on our website. Our annual report, which we do regularly, always passed in on time, is on our website.
We also have capital as a part of our funding agreement. Each community would not have been able to rebuild or build a school in their community alone, so the chiefs in our area have taken on the task of pooling their capital dollars to build at least one school where it's needed in a five-year period.
One of our largest communities, Eskasoni, which is where I'm from, has 1,100 students, out of our 2,900 total nominal roll. That school was built in the 1970s, so in the next funding agreement we will need to rebuild Eskasoni, and we're not getting any extra capital dollars. The money we are able to pool for capital is approximately $1.6 million per year over the five years, totalling—you guys can do the math—about $7 million. That's not going to build or replace a school in Eskasoni.
We have success. Not only are our students graduating in high numbers; they're also graduating within their age-appropriate level. We have all these charts, all this data collected, and our data is improving yearly. Our communities are now familiar with data collection and the reasons we're collecting data and we're doing very well in that area.
We're also improving in our literacy and numeracy rates. Our rates are not as high as we would like them to be. We have a lot more work to do. I don't think the work ever ends in education, for me anyway. The bottom line for us is the best interests of our students.
It's really appropriate that I'm here this week to tell you all about this because it is going to be residential school survivors' day, Orange Shirt Day, and every child matters.
[Witness speaks in Mi'kmaq]
Thank you both for coming here today. I know it was on short notice. We appreciate your taking the time.
It is unfortunate that the notice was so short that you weren't able to provide the brief that you would have liked to, and that we could have benefited from.
We've said this previously. It's not too late. If you could please provide a brief, we can still make it part of the committee's testimony. It would assist us in the creation of our report. You probably have until mid- to the end of October.
I'd like to have a better understanding of the historical perspective, Grand Chief Awashish, to get a sense of some of the injustice that's happened through the negotiating process. It's a comprehensive land treaty that you're negotiating, I assume.
Yes. I know the negotiation has been going for 40 years, so there's a lot of work already done, but sometimes the approach is different from one negotiator to another. There's always the problem of mandate too. The negotiator doesn't always have the mandate to go further with what he can do.
As an example, we talk about full property on a settled land and we ask for that much, and we tell our negotiator to go ask for this for this and that reason. When he goes to the table for negotiations, on the other side, the answer is always, “But we don't have the mandate.” What are we doing here? Are we negotiating or are we just signing a Virgin, Bell, or a Vidéotron contract in the end?
It's all the same from coast to coast. It's the same approach, even though we have different issues and different social development levels. I think it's very important. That's what I was trying to explain earlier. We need the politics to get closer, because we don't want it to continue for another 15, 20, or 40 years. I don't know how long it could take. The politics need to get closer to the negotiation table so that we can close this matter and not leave it to the next generation.
Thank you to both witnesses. It's certainly a pleasure to be here in Quebec City. It's a beautiful little city. I haven't been here for a couple of years.
This question will go to both our witnesses because it really speaks to a larger issue. As you're aware, the government has decided to split Indian Affairs, INAC, into two parts, one dealing with the relationship of the crown. I think we're going to reserve judgment. I think there is opportunity within her plan, but there are also challenges in terms of having just another bureaucracy.
If you were going to advise the minister on her new department and her mandate in terms of moving these issues forward, and again it relates to land claims, the education agreement, and self-government agreements, what advice would you give her? She's in the process of doing this work as we speak.
From my young experience—I was not even born when they started negotiating—what I think is that there are many factors, and one of the factors is good faith. For a long time good faith was not present at the table. It has started getting better for a couple of years maybe. For two or three years it's getting better and is taking place at the table but also there is something very particular with our negotiations at the Atikamekw first nations. We're negotiating
an agreement in principle.
I don't know how you say that in English. This agreement in principle is very detailed. There is a lot of detail. It's almost acting as a final agreement, so maybe that's the reason it takes longer for the Atikamekw Nation. For a while we were questioning this approach. In my mind in an agreement in principle you put the number, you put what's going to be in the final agreement, what's the size of the territory. It's the big picture. That's what is supposed to be in an
agreement in principle.
But for us our agreement in principle is getting very detailed and in the end it's going to act as a final agreement. Maybe that's one of the reasons.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, the negotiators are always changing. Sometimes it's federal and the good faith is not there. Sometimes it is provincial and the good faith is not there. We are stuck in between. At the provincial level natural resources is their competence, so sometimes natural resources are a big issue and it's hard to get an agreement on this. It's a mix of different factors that is making this a long time.
There is no major project on our territory. Maybe that's the reason. There are some places in Canada where they had major projects and what the government needed was to develop those projects and they put all their resources, everything to get an agreement very fast because there was something major going on in this land and they wanted it done really fast. Maybe for us that situation is not there.
[The member speaks Cree
I want to begin with you, Grand Chief Awashish. I am delighted to speak to you in French, because we have held several meetings strictly in English, and I also want to give the interpreters some work to do.
You said several things in your testimony that raised several questions for me. You spoke about an agreement in principle that was signed, and about the more intense development of resources on the territory. I want to know if you think there is a link between the two, particularly since this committee must study specific and comprehensive land claims policies, and we will have to make recommendations in that regard.
You spoke about the length of your negotiations. Do you think there is a link between existing policies, on the one hand, and the ongoing length of those negotiations, on the other? If so, what are the obstacles that currently exist at the federal level?
I agree with you. The backdrop is a very unfair situation, since while you negotiate, the development of your traditional territory is continuing and its resources continue to be exploited.
I'd like to know if you have any recommendations to make. Should we impose a moratorium in this type of situation? I would like to hear your opinion on that.
There are definitely some issues with the comprehensive claims policy.
You are talking about moratoriums, but moratoriums have already been imposed in Quebec, precisely to stop the development of our lands during the negotiation. That worked briefly, but, as I said, it does not last long. The development continues, as the economy must keep going, and that's very disappointing. I don't know whether the committee has the power to change things when it comes to the development of our lands and whether it has the mandate to make the necessary recommendations. I don't know if the government has the will to take that kind of action to stop development on our land. That can certainly hurt the economy. I think that the economy may currently be the strongest voice in the world.
As I mentioned, we feel that the comprehensive claims policy should be reconciled with the economy. That is what the Atikamekw believe. Negotiators at Canadian central tables are following a negotiation framework, and they cannot depart from it. That often causes problems from one region to another. Certain approaches may work for someone in British Columbia or in the Northwest Territories, but not elsewhere. The coast-to-coast approach does not work. I think that approaches should be more specific to a particular region, especially when it comes to economic development.
For your information, the Atikamekw Nation is currently participating in two tables, at the national level, with 40 other nations and the federal government. One of those tables is considering the financial relationship with first nations, and there seems to be a will to develop a new approach in that respect. The other table is trying to determine what fiscal approach should be used in comprehensive negotiations with first nations. We have a number of approaches, a number of questions. We have brought a lot of grist to the mill. We are trying to change the new approach. That is what's important today. I believe that economic development is important for the Atikamekw Nation and the new generation of Atikamekw. We are trying to find solutions that will benefit everyone—us, as well as Quebeckers and Canadians.
Earlier, I talked about the interconnectedness of all Canadians. First nations must have the means to develop, so that they can contribute to a better Canada. We need realistic approaches to accomplish that. We are working extensively with indicators to try to find an approach that would be specific to each nation, while taking into account remoteness, education levels and community infrastructure. So several factors need to be taken into consideration.
The Atikamekw Nation is ready. If the government wants to talk about the economy, economic development, catching up socioeconomically and closing the gap, the Atikamekw Nation is ready. We have been leaders at those tables so far. We have put questions to both other first nations' representative and government representatives. When figures—indicators—are requested, other nations don't have them. We do, and we are ready to get things done in a positive way so that the project would be viable over the long term. The coast-to-coast approach is often problematic, since every region has its own specific characteristics.
Those indicators are not set; they have not been selected. We, the Atikamekw, are ready.
Thank you. I'll try it in English. When I have the opportunity to speak English, I enjoy it. My partner speaks English only; she does not speak French at all. I have to honour her.
As I was saying earlier to Romeo, in June 2018, it will be 40 years for us. That's what my people are telling me. Forty years is too long. I don't think we're going anywhere. We have a $35-million debt from negotiating. Our elders ask, “Why do we have to pay to negotiate when they're supposed to be the ones to come to us to negotiate about our land?”
We never sold. We never surrendered. We never exchanged our land. We are in a state of law, and by the rule of law here in Canada, this is still our land. How do we address this?
“They are supposed to come negotiate with us. Why do we have to pay for that?” That is what our elders say.
We have many stories. We record all our elders. They tell us what happened when the first settlers came from overseas, 500 years ago. They tell us all the stories about how we retreated slowly inland. We have all that. We have all our legends, all our stories. We can tell you the real story of Canada, if people want to listen.
June 2018 is the date when we want something very concrete to give to our people, for our youth. Let me tell you something about Atikamekw Nation. We are 7,800 right now, and 70% are under 35 years old. Of that 70%, 50% are 12 years old and under.
What are we going to do? Those are the ones I'm targeting. We have to help them. We have to give them the tools. We need to give them recognition.
I know what happened to us is very bad, but I think we have moved past that. We want to be recognized as citizens, first-class citizens. I want to give our people, our youth, pride in being who they are, pride in practising their culture, pride in speaking their language, and the chance to participate in the economic development of this country.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'll continue with education, if you don't mind.
I'll give you some numbers from my province. I was a trustee for 10 years, and the numbers aren't good. Graduation rates for indigenous students in Regina public schools have climbed 11%. They were at 42%, so it was a mandate from the province that all 28 school boards would start working together here, so we are now at 53% in Regina. Provincially we are at 43% graduation rates for indigenous students, so when you came out last week with 87.6% and I saw that—ouch!— there is a big difference here.
We know there are issues. From grade 10 to grade 12 you get credit for the graduation rates. For me, it doesn't matter if a kid takes five years to get that, but the provincial governments are always down to three years. They count only the graduation rates from grades 10, 11, and 12, those three years, but we know there are students whose home life.... I don't care as long as they graduate. In our province, we really have had trouble saying that if it takes a student five years to go from grade 10 to grade 12, we're there with him. We want to push him across that finish line.
I'm just going to peel back those numbers, because data is the biggest thing in all of this. You have data collection, and I want to get it because we don't share data. We're all used to hiding it because we're embarrassed by our numbers.
Share some of that data on that 87.6% graduation rate.
Yes. We're looking at not only the graduation rate. We figure our graduation rates by the number of students who come in September and tell us that it is their graduation year, that they are going to be graduating. Of the students who indicate that this is their year, 87% are graduating.
I just want to point out one community, Eskasoni. I went to high school in the provincial system, and when I graduated from high school a few years ago, in 1981, I was one of five. When I started in grade 10, there were 160 of us attending that provincial high school. In three years, five of us graduated from high school.
Today, just last June in my community of Eskasoni, 60 students were graduating from high school in their community, and that number has been consistent over the last number of years in that community. I believe it's because the students are attending high school in the community. Their language is being recognized. They do have language courses. They also have the provincial curriculum that they have to follow, and they're doing really well. I believe it is because they have a sense of belonging. It's their school and there is pride in their language and culture.
There's a different formula, and I think the best for us is to preserve our rights, aboriginal title, and our land. We want general recognition of our rights. To paint a picture of this, let's say the government recognizes all our rights and our titles on the land, but we're going to put in an agreement all the rights you can exert on the territory provided by the treaty. All the rest that we didn't mention in the treaty, let's say we put that in a high cloud, in a box on the side.
Eventually, maybe, they're going to be reborn. Eventually, depending on the evolution of society, the evolution of the economic situation, or maybe an evolution.... I don't know what's going to happen in the future. I don't want to be all apocalyptic here, but I don't know.
When you look around, geopolitically, at what is going on around the world, sometimes it's kind of worrying for Canada, for me anyway. All empires fall. That's the story of mankind. We want to still be there. We are going to still be there. We are going to still practise our culture and our language.
We talked about language earlier, and I forgot to mention in the opening comments that the Atikamekw language is the most preserved first nation language in North America; 98% of our people speak our language, which is very fascinating. It should be looked at as a plus value for this country. People should share our pride in this fact. It's a gift to humanity. That's how people have to look at it. It's part of the old language that was spoken on the earth, and we are still speaking this language. Today, I want Canadians to share that pride, help us preserve our language, and develop this country together for a better future for our next generation.
When I say “a better future for our next generation”, I'm not talking only about my youth. I'm talking about your youth too. What are we going to give them? Are we going to give them the problem in the future, and we never assessed this problem? I think, for the best of us, when you look around the world, we have to come together, work together, and preserve what's good in Canada, preserve our land, and also ourselves.
I believe and I'm sure—and I will be there if I am still alive—if something happens, we will still be defending our land in the future, and we will be defending everybody who is on the land. If that's your kids, your grandkids, your great-great-grandkids, we will be there to defend them. That's how we think, as first nations. That's how we think, as the Atikamekw Nation. That's how you have to think, too. Invest in our youth, invest in our economic development, invest in our culture and language preservation, and invest in our pride. That's what Canada has to do, to invest in our pride. We will stand up and we will be strong beside you, and together we'll create a great country.
Ninety-eight per cent is incredibly impressive, and if it were in the area of our study, I would want to know how you do it. But I do have some questions, and maybe we can talk off-line about how your community has had such success, because for the language, 98% is amazing.
What I want to get into is your earlier remarks about the resource-sharing economic opportunities. Of course, everyone comes from different areas of our country, where different things are happening. I also appreciate the comments about how we need to be more regionally sensitive in terms of what we are doing and where we are going. I look at British Columba, for example. Some people are negotiating comprehensive treaties, and others have chosen not to at this time, but regardless, they are all negotiating when activity is happening on their land. For example, the provincial government now shares 37% royalties from a mine. This is on top of any equity investments or economic benefits of the company. This is royalty sharing.
In the province of Quebec, are there any of those sorts of relationships so that, as you are interim in your negotiations, your communities benefit from the resources?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I will continue in the same vein as my colleague Cathy McLeod.
At hearings held earlier this week in Vancouver and in Winnipeg, we heard that concluding an agreement with an aboriginal nation was beneficial for that nation's economy, but also for the province and the country. I think it is important to recognize that. You also highlighted this.
In the study we are conducting on the federal comprehensive claims policy, a number of witnesses have pointed out the need to build an adequate foundation in our relationship with aboriginals. A number of people also talked about the role the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could play.
I quickly read your fairly recent declaration of sovereignty. I don't see anything in it that would be incompatible with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Have you also thought about that?
That is part of first nations' DNA. We are very patient, but as I said, not much time is left before the new generation starts pushing for a new approach to be adopted.
For a very long time, I advocated a different approach. In general assembly, members of our nation still believe in that option. June 2018 is when we will know where we are going. Of course, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is extraterritorial. We are familiar with the United Nations. It is an organization to which you subscribe or don't. Will countries want to interfere in what is happening in another country?
We see what is happening internationally, especially in North Korea. A number of countries are engaged in conflicts and don't really get along. The United Nations is an organization that relies on persuasion. Humanity has become aware of the importance of indigenous culture and of recognizing indigenous rights, as well as the fact that it constitutes humanity's heritage. That is the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I am becoming a bit more sceptical, but I still believe that we will get somewhere soon. As I said, the next few months will be very important for the future.
One of the practices that was criticized almost unanimously in our meetings is that of giving loans for negotiations of comprehensive claims. Earlier, you said in English:
Why do we have to pay to negotiate?
That is a fundamental issue for me. That practice is often called into question, but people forget the other part of that equation, which consists in continuing to pay negotiators without a mandate and replacing them constantly with other negotiators, also without a mandate. Our committee must condemn that practice. While you have been negotiating, for 40 years, the wealth of your land continues to be taken away from you. I think that is an absolutely unacceptable situation.
You talked about the rule of law, which is so important in this matter. That is why I looked at your declaration again. When I asked you about this earlier, you said that you refused to use the moratorium option. However, we are talking about your land and your resources here.
We must give a great deal of thought to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court on the issue, especially the Haida Nation case, which calls for reconciling our pre-existing sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty. If we really want to talk about reconciliation, we must build on that principle, right?
I completely agree with that.
Reconciliation must occur at all levels. It also includes recognizing what has been done to first nations throughout history, including assimilation and cultural extermination attempts. Just like you, I wonder why we should pay for the negotiation. That practice has been around for very long time.
I completely agree with regard to moratoriums. After a while, the moratorium ends. That has happened a number of times with respect to different issues. Governments' express will would really be needed in this case.
We have to understand that governments have an interest in resolving the issue with first nations. That will benefit first nations, but it will also benefit everyone else. This problem cannot be allowed to persist forever.
I think my time is up.
Welcome. We'll officially convene the meeting. The second panel is here. We're very pleased that you're here representing the Essipit Innu First Nation.
We're talking about land claims, comprehensive and specific. This committee has the ability to take evidence that you present, prepare a report from the analysts, and make recommendations, which we will then present to the Government of Canada. We look forward to hearing your challenges, your advice, and take that into consideration, and I will remind you that you're able to present briefs, supplementary materials, up to the final date of October 20.
We're going to start. You have 15 minutes to present, and then we go into a period of questions. Why don't you get started?
My name is Martin Dufour, and I am the Chief of the Essipit Innu First Nation. Joining me is Marc Chaloult, Coordinator, Treaty and Public Affairs, at Essipit.
Thank you very much for the invitation.
The Essipit Innu First Nation was invited to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs to share our experience with specific claims and comprehensive land claims. I accepted the invitation on behalf the Essipit Innu, but only to address the question of specific claims.
We also submitted a brief relating the experience of the Essipit lnnu with the specific claims process, including comments and recommendations. Today, we will summerize the points raised in that brief, after which we will be happy to answer your questions.
As of today, the nation has two active claims filed with the federal government: the insufficient allocation of land when the reserve was established in 1892 and the unlawful surrender of the Chemin du Quai in 1904.
Let us begin with the claim pertaining to the establishment of the reserve.
The small size of the reserve and the fact that we are enclosed in the municipality of Les Escoumins have always been major issues for my community. In the 1980s, we launched an expansion project, and it was then that we learned that the situation should have been very different.
Based on the documents we obtained, we can see that our community had been deprived of more than half of our rightful reserve lands for more than 100 years, during which time we could have had better access to the St. Lawrence River. The historical situation is clear and well documented.
In 1881, Canada agreed in writing to acquire approximately 230 acres of land for the establishment of a reserve for our community, but only 97 acres were ever acquired. Moreover, our research revealed that the 97 acres of land acquired by Canada in 1892 were never given legal reserve status. This latest discovery gave Canada the leeway it needed to resolve a controversial situation in the 1890s involving a road crossing our reserve to get to a wharf under federal jurisdiction.
In 1903, the Mayor of Les Escoumins took steps to build a road that crossed the reserve to get to a new federal wharf. Everyone believed that the land had Indian reserve status when proceedings for the surrender of land pursuant to the Indian Act were initiated. However, we believe that the surrender was not carried out in compliance with applicable legal and fiduciary obligations.
While we were in the process of expanding our reserve, Canada demanded in writing that we resolve the issue of the Chemin du Quai before it would confirm official reserve status and, ultimately, authorize the expansion project. Therefore, we had to concede the Chemin du Quai, located at the centre of our reserve, and cleave our community in two. We were finally granted reserve status, but excluding the Chemin du Quai. It is easy to see why this pressure and unlawful surrender constitute our second claim, for which we have not yet received compensation.
Let us return to our first specific claim, filed in 1994 with the Canadian government, regarding the insufficient allocation of land. Ten years later, in 2004, Canada denied our specific claim. Its position, reiterated in 2012, was to deny everything. The stage was set for a lengthy legal dispute, first before the Indian Specific Claims Commission, and ultimately the Specific Claims Tribunal.
On January 30, 2017, the Specific Claims Tribunal rendered a decision finding that Canada had failed to fulfill its fiduciary obligation and that its actions did not respect the honour of the Crown. The tribunal recognized that Canada acted wrongfully when it acquired 97 acres of land after having agreed to acquire 230 acres for the establishment of the Essipit reserve.
Twenty-four years of disputes and legal proceedings were required to obtain recognition of wrongdoing that seemed to us most obvious. Ten years passed between the time the claim was filed and Canada's initial response in 2004.
In addition to considerable delays in the review of claims filed with the Specific Claims Branch, we can only conclude that proceedings before the Specific Claims Tribunal are equally long and difficult. Instead of attempting to simplify and streamline the process, Canada added to the burden by systematically denying any potentially prejudicial material, thereby requiring the submission of thousands of documents.
Fortunately, Canada has not submitted an application for the judicial review of the decision rendered in our case, as it has in several other cases in which it was deemed liable by the tribunal.
The battle is not yet won, however, as we must now discuss the matter of compensation with Canada, a process that is currently underway.
We also want to address the issue of funding today.
Although funding was provided under the specific claims policy, we were faced with a significant decrease in funding when we needed funding the most in preparation for the trial. In June 2016, three months before the hearing, we received one-third of the amount that we deemed necessary. Between the two hearings on responsibility, we had to make an additional request for funds, having quickly exhausted all the money allocated. Again this year, while Canada's responsibility is recognized and we are starting the second part of the litigation requiring a number of expert opinions, the federal government cut almost $60,000 from our request of $208,000. In addition to these challenges specific to the Essipiunnuat, to which we can testify, we have some general remarks and recommendations to make today.
First, we believe that the government's rigid process of processing specific claims can no longer co-exist with the reconciliation principles currently advocated by the federal government. These findings were actually the subject of a statement by Minister Bennett and Minister Wilson-Raybould at the beginning of September.
We deplore the fact that this monetary compensation should not be simply calculated through a standard mathematical formula as Canada claims. Any loss of profit, loss of opportunity, collateral damage, profits obtained from third parties or the Crown as a result of the default should be taken into account in the calculation of financial compensation. Damages as a result of the failure to establish the boundaries of our lands, as well as the absence of clear titles and official status, should also be part of the compensation, especially for all the frustration and aggravation experienced by the community because of these territorial ambiguities. Sticking strictly to legal principles does not do justice to the spiritual and cultural importance we attach to our lands.
The reparation is not comprehensive, and there's the rub. The narrow scope of the specific claims policy and the Specific Claims Tribunal Act does not provide for any form of compensation other than money. There is no provision for a rehabilitating remedy, no apologies, no regrets or even doubts, let alone a guarantee that such mistakes will not happen again. There is nothing to heal the wounds and to rectify the injustice.
The honourable thing to do would be to include in the regulations and orders of the tribunal measures to recognize and right past wrongs. For example, making a public apology, formally acknowledging the obligations to indigenous peoples, publicizing and publicly explaining settlement agreements are measures that Canada could adopt to further make amends.
It should also be noted that the tribunal cannot order exemplary or punitive damages, or damages for cultural or spiritual losses. The tribunal has no power to sanction or punish the Crown's mismanagement, which it has recognized in our case. How is the guilty party punished? In no way whatsoever. The tribunal simply orders it to give back what it has taken, without any deterrent.
The lack of specific remedies for the collateral damage that may have been caused through Canada's fault in our dealings with third parties is another flaw in the current process. For example, the Crown's shortcomings have resulted in contentious relations between the municipality of Les Escoumins, its residents and our community, and we are still feeling the effects today.
Territorial disputes have created a climate of animosity between the members of the community and the people of Les Escoumins, as well as between the municipality and the council of the nation, leaving historical marks. Why not support the community with intercommunity projects toward joint infrastructure or bicultural affirmation, or by creating a joint development fund? A number of avenues are possible.
To sum up, we have never chosen to share such a relationship with the federal government. We have no choice but to rely on and trust the government.
Do we have a single guarantee that such a mistake will not happen again today? You can guess the answer.
The main change we want is a change in attitude. Instead of addressing specific claims in an adversarial context where Canada first seeks to limit its responsibility, we want to see an approach consistent with the unique and ongoing relationship between our nations. The approach being used right now is incompatible with the desired reconciliation.
Let me conclude with an example. You give your house keys to a neighbour who then steals a number of things in your absence. A court simply asks the neighbour to return the stolen property, which he does. However, that court asks you to give the keys to the neighbour again, since he proved to be trustworthy by returning the stolen goods. Would you?
I must say that, right now, the relationship is improving, because we decided to talk to each other. We told ourselves that there may be financial means to help us set up joint projects. We did not wait for the government. Right away, we started to set up joint projects. We started with small projects between $5,000 and $6,000. We bought an ice resurfacer, for example. We started to build a climate of trust and to really tell people the truth.
We would also like the federal government to tell the truth and to explain some things to the Canadians and Quebeckers around us. It can explain the problem that arose when the reserve was created and that, instead of obtaining one square kilometre of territory, we received 0.4 square kilometres. Why were we surrounded by a fence with barbed wire and why was a barrier placed at the entrance? We were put in there like cattle. We were told to grow potatoes, when we were hunters and fishers, and we should have had access to the river to be able to fish salmon. Those issues all led to the salmon war in the 1980s, when we had to assert ourselves and say that we had a right to that resource. That's what we did. Things weren't rosy. I was very young at the time. Shots were fired.
We bought a first outfitter in the 1980s. Our neighbours said that the Innu would empty the lakes and kill the moose in the area. We were the first ones to hire fish and wildlife conservation technicians to count the number of fish that had to be taken from some lakes. We bought a second outfitter. Now we have five outfitters. This helps create jobs for our people and develop a sense of pride in the community.
At the time, it seemed that the people from the surrounding municipalities were a little jealous that we, the Innu, were successful. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we decided to take our destiny into our own hands. We have not stopped since. You came to see the mistamek, the big fish or whales. We have a whale watching company, we have continued to develop commercial fisheries, and so on.
I can tell you that, if the federal government, or any government, provided funding for joint projects with the surrounding municipalities of certain First Nations, it would go a long way to reconciling the peoples.
I want to put this in context. This was a so-called reserve, because it wasn't recognized as a reserve, although it was federal land. It must be said, and it is mentioned in our brief but not in this presentation, that to repair the situation, instead of adding some acres to the 97 to make up for the 230, the government asked for a diminution in the amount of money they had paid to the person who had just swindled them. They got swindled and we got swindled at the same time.
That was one of the explanations. When we came back with that notion, they said we should have asked for more land. Here we are. We have some families who are being taken from one area and brought into—let's face it—a swamp. They used to live in Pointe-à-la-Croix, a nice place, and were transferred into a swamp. They are not allowed to get out of there. I remember when we were questioning the people, they said they're not even allowed to go outside the fences for raspberries and blueberries because it's not theirs.
A few decades later, they're still there. They were asked repeatedly to go to Pessamit, where they should all be. The government attempted to get all the Innus into Pessamit, which is a deportation. However, it didn't work. Every time they brought the Innus to Pessamit, about 150 or 110 kilometres from our reserve, the Innus went back to their original lands.
We stayed there and what developed is what I call a war mentality. There were four specific wars because of the situation where you're sitting on 0.4 square kilometres. One was the salmon war, which Martin mentioned. Then there was another one when we asked for another 0.4 kilometres. That was a war. It was settled with two-by-fours. It was not a nice situation. Then there was the unemployment insurance war, because we were accused of hiring people. That was not recognized by the judges, by the way. More recently, there was what we call the “yellow sign” war where it was postered all over the place in Les Escoumins. That's when I came in as a crisis manager in 2004. We were in the middle of a crisis. It was said there would be no negotiating with the Innus; they would never be given territory.
This is the context. We're saying to the people outside the reserve, it's as if we were asking for more than we deserve or more than should be given, which is not a fact. If things had been explained to them, such as we were swindled from the beginning. From the beginning, the municipality had 240 square kilometres. We have 0.8, and we had to fight for the extra 0.4.
That's what we mean when we say relations had been broken based on false assessments that we were just asking for too much. We were told we couldn't ask for all that because we already had enough. No, and that has poisoned the relations.
Let's be honest, Les Escoumins council has managed, with new generations, to bring back peace where we are embarking on partnerships. We are trying to work with them, but our argument here is that this should be one of the aspects of retribution in the sense of helping us mend this situation. Let's put some money and effort into working together with the communities around us.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My thanks to our two witnesses. I completely agree with what my colleague just said. That's a very clear example of a specific claim that did not move forward.
You mentioned reasons that are quite understandable but unacceptable. I don't want to criticize my friend Mr. Amos, but I have visited the Essipit community at least a dozen times in the past 20 years. I even went to one of its outfitters with Sylvain Ross, with whom I studied law and who remains a friend. I know he has gone hunting, but I would like you to say hello to him from me.
You mentioned the federal government's dishonourable behaviour in those cases. I find that behaviour quite deplorable. In our previous hearings, a number of people mentioned the need to establish an independent process for those specific claims. For the time being, the federal government remains both judge and jury, which seems completely unfair in those types of cases. Could you elaborate on that? In addition, in your recommendations, you said that there is monetary compensation only and nothing else. In the communities, that type of situation often creates tension between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.
We may see this in terms of the exemplary damage claims that are sometimes referred to the tribunal. This lack of remedy for the tensions that have been caused is a major issue for us. We have often faced this problem in a number of regions in Quebec, including mine in northern Quebec. I think your proposal for a joint development fund is extremely generous, especially in light of what happened with those two specific issues. In a way, it is to bring about peace, as Mr. Chaloult has just said. Could you expand on that? I think it is important when we talk about reconciliation to propose concrete actions to that end.
Have you previously proposed anything similar to the federal government or is this the first time you are doing so, here before the committee?
I would simply like to add that this is still a fairly new concept.
While the squabble was in full swing, in 2008, we withdrew from any fight where people would go so far as to shout.
The council, which wasn't yet being led by Chief Dufour, but ended up being during this process, went to see the company that was hiring in the region, Boisaco. Its leaders knew that cubic metres of territory had to be allocated to us through the treaty, which had not yet been signed. The workers are fetching wood in the area of Manicouagan, right now. We told the business leaders that we could work together. We have also offered to invest in the processing of wood waste into pellets.
The beauty of all this is that we would seek as many grants as possible from the federal government. As a First Nation, we have access to grants. A person could meet with a municipal representative to see what we could do. And that's what we did. The company announced a partnership with Essipit and, a week later, the posters disappeared.
We understood something. We realized that this was a rather innovative way of working. It doesn't work like this everywhere.
Then, Chief Dufour continued the work with several other companies.
Mr. Saganash was saying there is no sense in the fact that you have to pay to negotiate. We're trying to get back something that was taken. Chief Dufour said earlier that if somebody leaves with your furniture and your house and gives it back, he's not your friend until you can trust him again. So that's one thing.
I think the other aspect, in answer specifically to your question, is that the government tells us that we can't negotiate and get land back, and we understand that. It's all municipal territory around. We won't start another war. We tried to get 0.4 kilometres a few years ago, and it nearly did start a war. We're not going to do that again. But we're told that we're not going to get money either, so we're trying to come up with innovative ways of doing things, like the funds that we're suggesting.
We have a problem right now with water, and we share that problem with Les Escoumins, and maybe we could do something together, that type of thing. We were mentioning simple things like maybe retribution through words, saying, “We're sorry we've done that. Maybe we shouldn't have done that. Is there any other way that we could fix...?”
In other words, what we're saying is that it's the mentality that makes no sense. We had to go through a process that cost us a fortune, not in the millions but in the hundreds of thousands of dollars until we ran dry and had to beg for more money to continue. We had a judgment in January of this year that says you are right, but now we're in a situation where we're being asked, what exactly have you suffered as far as money is concerned? And we just said so. We're at war with our neighbours. We've been at war with our neighbours for almost 100 years, and you want us to put money into that. It's hard. It's difficult. Yes, we're trying to do it.
Had we had access to the gulf.... We're fishermen and we're hunters. We hunt seals. Had we had access to the river maybe we could have done.... But, no, they were all cliffs; we couldn't reach the river. The only place where there was a sand embankment wasn't on the reserve. How do you put money to that? Yes, we could have been a bigger reserve. No, probably other people, families, wouldn't have left and gone to Pessamit. They would have stayed there.
There are many aspects that are hard to put money to. That's why we're looking for innovative ways and we're saying, “Let's change the system.” We do understand that there are exceptions to this rule, but in our case I don't think they apply. I don't think we could go back and say that this municipal territory is not yours anymore, but it's ours because we were stolen from. We couldn't do that.
Through territorial negotiation, we are going to get some land back, which is great.
I have said what I had to say.
Thank you for your articulate testimony. It really illustrated the challenges, the frustrations, with concrete examples, so thank you for that.
What you have also done, as my colleague Romeo Saganash said, is that you've been very generous in terms of your relationship with your neighbours. Some witnesses have talked about it a little bit, saying, we need public education, we need to do some things, but I think you did it in the most concrete way that I've heard.
Really, that is the federal government's job. You're doing the work that perhaps the federal government should have been taking on in terms of working with communities, working that whole community relationship piece, in terms of your neighbours understanding what the history is, why the government is doing what it's doing, and what our legal obligations are. You're having to deal with the brunt of very difficult relationships, and I thank you for that.
I also was very intrigued by your suggestion in terms of relationships, basically a reconciliation infrastructure kind of thought, something to move communities forward in a positive way. I thought that was certainly a very interesting recommendation. As we know, communities have lived side by side for many thousands of years in that area, but some of the people who live there in the communities now are innocent of the government's misdeeds also over the years, so we have that work to do.
I can't recall. I know it's in the comprehensive and we've heard from other witnesses, but within the specific claims process is there significant cash settlements or something up front for willing seller, willing buyer? Has that been any part of the strategic...? Perhaps someone has a strategic piece of property and you see that as an important part of your interests. During your transitional time frame of negotiations, have there been any opportunities in that area or is there any recognition of that?
On the central theme of the negotiation, I would add that we've never been in favour of the “just in case” approach because we can't predict the future. If I understood you correctly, all the potential lawsuits would be suppressed by putting money on the table.
In 50 or 75 years, we can't expect first nations to be frozen into a model and not move. If society moves, the first nations will move as well.
First of all, as Mr. Dufour said, we don't have problems with the first nations around us because they are Innu with whom we already have signed agreements. Second, the idea of paying in advance for wrongs that might occur has never been in the logic or the dynamic of the negotiations so far.
As for the legal aspect of your question, I can't comment too much.
No, I don't think I'll be long.
I asked a question earlier, but you didn't have time to answer it. That's why I wanted to come back to it at the end.
It relates to the process before us that deals with specific claims. You talked about the antagonistic nature of the process. I understand you very well, especially since during this process the behaviour demonstrated by the federal government was often very cavalier, even when it was faced with its constitutional obligations. The government is supposed to act honourably in this process.
I would like your opinion on the recommendation that several witness panels have made since our hearings in Vancouver and Winnipeg, to have an independent process, on the one hand.
On the other hand, I can't help but point out that, despite the January 30, 2017 ruling, when the court agreed with you that it was the fault of the federal government, you still had to continue to bear the burden, because the only hope you have at this point is the settlement of the comprehensive claim for other lands. So this is a treaty that no one knows when it will end. You started your negotiations with the Atikamekw a long time ago. It's been 40 years now.
Despite this favourable court ruling, there is still no settlement in sight. So you continue to bear the burden for all this.
As far as the independent tribunal is concerned, I think that might be a solution, or we could adopt more flexible criteria, because we have clearly demonstrated that the Crown was wrong in our case. The evidence was blatant. So why was it not accepted on our first request? That remains to be defined. However, having an independent tribunal could be a solution, yes.
In terms of compensation related to the favourable ruling for our specific claims case, I think it's impossible for us to get land because of that, but only money. Indeed, within the comprehensive land negotiation, the plan is to obtain many surplus lands. We are talking about all the outfitting lands as well as the lands somewhat adjacent to the Innu Assi, which is the fee simple land. As far as Essipit is concerned, it is about 345 square kilometres. However, this has not yet been done.
Is there a plan B? There is always expansion of the reserve, which we have already begun. We have managed to increase the reserve by half. From 0.4 square kilometres, we are at 0.8 square kilometres. It's pretty ridiculous when you think about it. It might be possible to expand the reserve, but I don't think it will be up to 200 or 300 square kilometres.