We're going to begin our 79th meeting, and I'll begin by recognizing that we're on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
First nations welcomed settlers. They helped us survive in a beautiful country, and we built what is considered to be the best country in the world. But the very people who helped the settlers have some injustices. They have things that we must address. One of the vehicles is through the land claims and the processes we use to try to address past harms and mistakes. That's why the committee, the MPs, decided to study land claims, both specific and comprehensive, to look at self-governance, modern treaties, and what's working and what's not.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are undertaking a study on specific claims and comprehensive land claims agreements.
We have panellists in front of us and at a distance. Welcome to our committee.
The process, quickly, is that you have 10 minutes, or less, to present. You're not obligated to take the full 10 minutes. It will give us a better chance to ask you more specific questions, because we go into rounds of questioning afterwards. I'll give you hints closer to the end of your time to give you an idea of whether you have to cut your presentation short.
We have in front of us Peter Di Gangi from the Algonquin Nation Secretariat . With him are Chief Wayne McKenzie from Timiscaming First Nation and Chief Harry St. Denis from Wolf Lake First Nation. By video conference, we have, from the Dehcho First Nations, Herb Norwegian, grand chief for the region. We were in Yellowknife on Monday, so I'm glad you could join us by video conference.
If there are no objections, I'll go by the list on the sheet. Herb, you have a pressing matter. Do you want to go second? How many presenters do we have?
[Witness speaks in Algonquin
I'll get right into our presentation.
Good morning, Chairperson and committee members. Welcome to Algonquin territory.
Yesterday we sent a long and detailed report to the clerk of the committee, which we ask you to review carefully. It contains much more important information than we are able to give today.
We are the Algonquin Nation Secretariat, which represents three Algonquin communities, Timiskaming, Wolf Lake, and Barriere Lake. Our territories are in Ontario and Quebec, from the headwater of the Ottawa River at Cabonga, across to the Dumoine, Kipawa, and Timiskaming watersheds. You have a map on which you can see all the Ottawa River basin and the location of the communities.
We assert unceded aboriginal title and rights to our traditional lands. We are within the Indian territory set out by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. We are parties to treaties with the British crown, made at Oswegatchie and Kahnawake in 1760 and Niagara in 1764, which recognized our title.
Our rights have never been extinguished by treaty or any other lawful means. It is important to add that we have never mandated any other group to negotiate our rights. There is much unfinished business between our people and Canada. Timiskaming received a reserve in 1854 but later lost more than 90% of its land because of boundary changes and shady surrenders. Barriere Lake did not receive a reserve until 1962, and even then it was only 59 acres, barely enough for housing. Wolf Lake, even though it has been recognized as a band by Canada since the 1800s, still has no reserve lands for community purposes. Our communities have specific and comprehensive claims. Despite years of trying, we have still not settled the land question.
Federal claim policies are a barrier to reconciliation. The main reason we have not been able to move toward reconciliation is the federal claims policies. The biggest problem is the conflict of interest. These claims are against the crown, but the crown is also the judge, jury, and banker. There have been efforts to make the specific claims policy more independent with the creation of the Specific Claims Tribunal, but in the comprehensive claims process, there is no independence at all. The only hope of escaping the government's conflict of interest is to go to court, which is risky and expensive.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UNDRIP, gives a solution to resolve this conflict of interest. Article 27 says it shall establish “a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process...to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples”. Article 28 says that we should get fair compensation for our lands. If the government is serious about implementing UNDRIP, it can start with articles 27 and 28.
We have raised these issues and recommended solutions many times in many forms, but nothing seems to change. Now here we are with another study. We have to wonder where it will end, but we have to come here today because resolution of these claims is essential to our legal, economic, and cultural survival.
Turning to specific claims, in September, the and INAC announced the federal government's commitment to completely overhaul the policy in co-operation with the first nations. We welcomed this, but we wonder where it will lead. We hope it is an honest effort to create an independent process that will give us justice.
For the committee's benefit, we strongly recommend the following:
We need a truly independent claims process. The Government of Canada must be removed from the assessment of claims against itself. This allows for continued conflict of interest and works against reconciliation.
Alternative arrangements for funding claims research and negotiations are also needed.
In the interim, while discussions are taking place to reform the policy, Canada should provide proper resources for INAC and the first nations to develop and negotiate specific claims. Canada's funding policies need to change to facilitate access to the tribunal, not create barriers. If Canada appeals a tribunal decision, it should provide funding for the first nations to ensure that they have a proper hearing.
Thank you, Madam Chair and committee members.
This is a very important issue, especially for the Algonquin Nation. It's an issue that we have been dealing with for at least 20 or 25 years, trying to get changes to the comprehensive claims policy.
We have made different attempts over the years, different recommendations to different governments. Before the Liberal government, of course, there was the Conservative government. Never have any of our recommendations been taken seriously or at least included. We've also made presentations to Mr. Eyford, who was the last one to review the comprehensive claims policy, and again, none of our recommendations were included in his report.
It is a very serious issue, especially these days with all the talk of reconciliation with the governments. You can't reconcile anything without reconciling the land issue. It's a fundamental aspect of our culture, our language, everything. It's also a fundamental aspect of our future in terms of economic development opportunities. Like everyone else, we need to have a say in what happens on our traditional territory.
I want to quote the right honourable . Any time he opens a meeting with first nations people, he always says:
I'd like to recognize the Algonquin Nation, on whose traditional territory we are gathering. We acknowledge them as the past, present, and future caretakers of this land.
How can we be the present and future caretakers of this land when we don't have a say, when we are expected to give up our title to the land of the future generations?
That is a direct quote from the right honourable Prime Minister, so if there's going to be some true reconciliation between the first nations peoples and the rest of Canada, it has to start on the basis of respect, respect that it is our territory, that we did not give it away. We did not sign treaties.
We have not authorized anybody else to negotiate on our behalf. Even though the Algonquins of Ontario are negotiating currently with the federal government and the Government of Ontario for the Ontario portion of Algonquin territory, because we are located on the Quebec side today does not mean that we don't have interests on the Ontario side. We have aboriginal title to parts of Ontario currently being negotiated by the Algonquins of Ontario, which includes people who have not had any intermarriage with Algonquin people for 200 years, and sometimes up to 300 years. They're going to be signing away title on our behalf.
Even if you take the situation with Chaudière Falls, that's up for negotiations as well with the Algonquins of Ontario. Of all those people, about 7,000 of them altogether right now, only 2,000 are registered Algonquins. They're going to be signing away title.
I use as an example the Chaudière Falls, Akikodjiwan, which was, and still is, a sacred site for the Algonquin people—all Algonquin people, not just the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn. We all used that site at one point in the past, and we should all have a say before anything is signed away, especially title for the Algonquin people.
I will end it there. I want to save some room for questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members, for giving me a bit more time.
Welcome to the great Dehcho. I heard that you people were here in the Yellowknife territory. I'm sorry I missed you. I was at a National Energy Board hearing in Fort Simpson on a pipeline crossing that is being disrupted because of leaks and things that are happening to it. That was rather important. My apologies.
I want to thank you for allowing me to speak to the committee. My name is Herb Norwegian. I am the grand chief of the Dehcho First Nations. The Dehcho territory is right smack in the middle of the Mackenzie River basin. We are situated west of Yellowknife and east of Whitehorse, right along the Yukon border. Our communities consist of 10 major communities in our territory. Our population is roughly 4,000.
We've been negotiating our claim with Canada since early 1990. The Dene and Métis from right down the valley got together back in the early 1980s. We were trying to get a claim agreement with the Mulroney government at that time. Things were moving right along, up until the whole question of extinguishment and certainty was put on the table. I think the claim was almost 90% complete. Then extinguishment came to the table and our people rejected it. They were not in a position to talk about extinguishment. As a result, the agreement in principle fell apart, and as a result of that, a number of regional groups broke off and, within a year or so, reached an agreement for themselves. The Tlicho, the Gwich'in, the Sahtu—various regions within the Dene Nation—reached agreement. There are still two or three other outstanding claims in the Dene Nation, and the Dehcho is one of them.
Our territory makes up roughly 220,000 square kilometres of land on both sides of the Mackenzie River. Over the last years since 1999, we have been able to bring together all our communities and again put a very serious position on the table. Our position is unique, because we bring together the Dene and the Métis. The Métis are related to the Dene—they are descendants of the Dene—and we stand together on all issues. We've been moving along quite well over the last few years. A number of things were created as a result of the work we've done and good, strong direction from our elders.
One thing we created was a framework agreement on how we are going to move forward and how we will work together and what the rules of engagement would be with Canada and of course the provincial kind of government at the table, which was the territorial agreement.
That agreement was signed. Following it, there were a couple of really good agreements that came out of it. One was the interim measures agreement.
The interim measures agreement was a creative piece of work. What we wanted to do was to make sure that the land was tied up. As we were negotiating, and we saw it in many different cases in which first nations were negotiating, and as the leaders were at the table, governments were literally giving land permits, licences. When the first nations were ready to sign final agreements, they found that most of the lands had been given out to third parties. We didn't want this to happen, so we created an interim measures agreement. In the interim measures agreement, what we also used was an order in council to withdraw lands throughout the Dehcho territory. Roughly 46% of our territory has been tied up in land withdrawals. We've been quite busy.
We also have a national park in our territory, adjacent to the Yukon border. Over the years we've been quite busy with that, because the park itself is controlled and managed by the Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada. We have a joint arrangement. We also have other agreements that are in place, where we have some very sensitive areas that we have held onto through the protected area strategy. It's been very creative, but close to 50% of our traditional territory is tied up in some form of protection.
We had been motoring right along and negotiating with Canada up until, I believe, in 1996, when the Conservative government came on board. We weren't using the comprehensive claim policy at that time. We were using a very well thought-out approach. There was going to be no discussion of surrender. We were talking about there being a coal management and jurisdiction arrangement on land.
We were moving right along, and then the election came along, and not too long after that the federal negotiator came to the table from Ottawa with a new mandate and put the position to the table. He literally said that there was a new game in town. From here on in, all of the discussions that took place would be put behind us, and now we would use the comprehensive claim policy to negotiate. That was a shock for us, but we were able to then regroup and look at the policy itself. In the meantime, we were still moving along and wanting to get the whole claim issue done, because we had already had the framework agreement in place. Roughly 48% of our territory was tied up in land withdrawals or protected areas.
Along with that, what we had also done was create a Dehcho land use plan. Today it's still very much alive and we're waiting for an agreement. It was a plan that was probably one of the first ones in the country, because it's a public plan where we have Canada, the territorial government, and the first nations group sitting together and working on a very detailed plan for our territory. It's been very creative for the last little while. We had all of this work on the table, and along comes this new approach, and so then we were able to figure out a way to get around that. We took the position that we didn't want to discuss extinguishment, and that the whole certainty thing had to be put aside, and only then would we start moving, and it didn't take long for us to start moving again.
It was roughly 10 years ago that we had this disruption. Today, we continue to negotiate, and we left the whole thing of extinguishment behind. Today we are now about 95% complete with our negotiations.
The big issue right now is, with the federal election completed and the territorial government election also having happened, we were ready to move and complete that last piece of work until the territorial government came back to us. They sat at the table, also. For the longest time, our position has always been that this is a treaty matter, it's an aboriginal title issue, and the discussion, when it comes to land and rights, has to be bilateral between Canada and the Dehcho.
We were working on that premise, and then there was a series of agreements that took place here in the Northwest Territories, one of them being the devolution of agreement where authority was transferred from the Department of Indian Affairs to the Northwest Territories government. All of a sudden, now we had a government who was enjoying the little authority that was given to them, and so they created some problems and told us that they are now our government and they want to be heard. It's one of those things where we're standing off. They want to come to the table. There's no movement. There hasn't been any movement for the last four months.
That's where we are right now. We're standing.
I see your signal, but this just goes on forever. I could hyperventilate on this stuff.
Thank you very much.
to all of our witnesses from the north and from the south. I would particularly like to thank our Algonquin hosts since it is their land, and I appreciate how they framed that.
As the member for Pontiac, of course I have had the opportunity to chat at length with Chief St. Denis, and I recall our last conversation, mostly on the issue of regulatory reform.
Chief McKenzie, it is really great to have you here as well, and to be able to discuss.
My colleague, Mr. Bossio, has been generous enough to afford me his time to ask questions today, so I hope we can have a bit more of a sustained conversation.
It is my hope and desire that in the years to come, starting in the near future and moving into the medium term, we will be able to bring about a process that reconciles all of the Algonquin Nation with all aspects of the crown—provincial and federal—so that we can move towards a brighter chapter in crown-Algonquin relations. There is so much work to be done. There is so much trust to be regained. The mountain is high. I don't make that statement lightly. It's going to take good faith on all sides.
Let us set aside the comprehensive claims policy as an approach. It clearly hasn't worked for the Algonquin. That has not been a success. You have outlined many criticisms you have, and I share a number of them.
I would like to ask both Chief McKenzie and Chief St. Denis to reflect on what an Algonquin-specific process looks like. If the federal government were to invent something brand new that was going to work specifically for the Algonquin, what would it look like from your perspective? Clearly there is not one unique Algonquin perspective, but if there were to be a better way of going about it, in the context of the Algonquin Nation, in the context of overlapping territorial claims, what would that look like, specifically?
I would love your opening comments on this. This is also an open invitation to a dialogue in written form because I would really like to get to the bottom of what could work.
The boundary itself is something that has been there for thousands of years. It's derived out of family units that have harvested their areas, watersheds, and mountainous areas. It's very clear where these families harvest. Those areas were carved up and we were able to connect them. As a result of that, we were able to design a boundary around the entire Dehcho territory.
Mind you, a good part of that boundary goes into other jurisdictions such as the Yukon, parts of B.C., and Alberta. Our area that we've traditionally harvested for thousands of years goes way beyond the existing borders that were created.
Over the last few years we've confined ourselves to looking at what we can protect at this point. We then arrived at what's called an interim measures agreement. For the purposes of the interim measures agreement, we used the existing boundaries, such as the Alberta boundary, the B.C. boundary, and the Yukon boundary. Those boundaries became our areas where we would be able to identify lands and talk about jurisdiction.
We also had some claims settled around us, one of them being the Sahtu. Around the Norman Wells area, they have a boundary as a result of their final agreement, a line that's north of us. Also, the Tlicho have a line to the east of us. We have existing boundaries that we were able to negotiate with our neighbouring first nations. There are another four or five first nations who we still need to negotiate with.
Boundaries are always issues that are left towards a final agreement. As you come close to the end, to your final agreement, the boundaries are the issue that you bring to the table and try to wrap up. Normally, these things are quite fast. The information is there; everyone is brought on side, and a good, healthy discussion takes place.
Thank you for taking the time to be here today.
From 2012 to 2015, I represented municipalities in southeastern British Columbia in treaty negotiations with the Ktunaxa First Nations. The discussions have been going on for about 12 years. The last meeting I was at they were reaching the agreement-in-principle stage. Through that very detailed process, the three years I was involved, I very much became a believer in treaties. Having said that, there are first nations who think there are ways to move forward other than treaties, and potentially other than court, these days the intermeasures that become permanent measures, for example. I'm really interested in hearing from all of the chiefs in terms of this given where things are.
I can tell you, Chief St. Denis, I absolutely agree. The reason that process moved forward is that all the negotiators, federal and provincial, had the best interests of the Ktunaxa in mind. It was a cash, the land, and a governance-structured discussion.
Given where you are, what do you think the best way to move forward is currently to achieve a better future? I believe treaties achieve a better future for everyone.
Thanks again. The name of the people you work for, the Ktunaxa, sounds very Dene, but from northern or southeastern B.C. It's interesting work that you've done.
In the Dehcho, we took a totally different spin on the whole notion of “treaty”. We have Métis people who live amongst us, and they are direct descendants of the Dene. Right away we were able to put the treaty aside and say that as a collective, because of our ancestry, we are all related. As a result, the Métis and the Dene have joined together and are now, today, negotiating with Canada.
The whole thing about the treaty was that it was not a tool to extinguish, although the other side tells you that they have their version of the treaty, which makes very clear that our rights have been extinguished to Canada. We, however, have taken the view that the treaty itself is a peace treaty. It's an arrangement whereby we would not declare war and we were not going to infringe upon the newcomers. We were able to arrive at that and there was that understanding, so we started negotiating.
The whole concept of the treaty recognizes our authority, our very own authority that we have as first nations people. Treaties actually are international documents that recognize the authority of the people you are doing business with. In our case, the Dehcho are signatories to the peace treaty of 1921. It became this whole issue of the land being clear, unsettled. This is where we are right now.
Thank you, Madam Chair and committee members, for inviting us here today.
Before we continue, I would first like to acknowledge that we are on unceded Algonquin territory.
Over the last several weeks, TARR Manitoba has been given the opportunity to absorb a variety of issues that have been brought forward by other groups directly affected by INAC claims policy and funding mandates. In order to enhance the conversation related to INAC's management of the claims process, we would like to provide TARR Manitoba's perspective relative to the unstable financial support for claims research and the associated impacts of funding cuts.
The Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Centre of Manitoba is located in Winnipeg. The research centre provides claims and historical research services on behalf of 54 of the 63 first nations of Manitoba.
The first nations in Manitoba are signatories to Treaties 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10. There are also five Manitoba Dakota first nations who are not signatories to treaty in Canada.
Within INAC's status of specific claims website, Manitoba is listed as having 51 settled claims, nine claims in active negotiations, two claims under assessment at the Department of Justice, six claims at the tribunal, 14 claims listed as “concluded with no lawful obligation found”, and 19 claims filed as “files closed”.
In relation to the “concluded with no lawful obligation found” and “files closed”, the website's information is somewhat misleading, because some of these claims are still being actively researched or intended to be researched contingent upon human and financial resources. Over and above these, the TARR Centre has an additional 17 claims in its current work plan. An undetermined number of claims have yet to be added; however, at this time the TARR Centre does not have the capacity to deal with them.
Over the past several years, research directors were forewarned by INAC that funding cuts were imminent, based on the position that the number of claims submitted to the specific claims branch, or SCB, for its assessment was the reflection of a research organization's progress. This philosophy was not new. Cuts had been going on for some years prior to that, but at a more subtle level.
SCB's position did not take into account, however, the number of claims still being processed at the claims research unit level. Instead, SCB should have assessed each claim as unique, with the knowledge that claims progress at different rates. Claims research does not simply flow in a seamless direction and can often become complicated because of unforeseen circumstances, such as political change, lack of internal resources, etc.
As the TARR Centre receives 100% of its funding through the research funding unit, or RFU, attempts were made to work directly with the RFU to prevent any further cuts. Other attempts were made to point out the inappropriateness of judging progress based solely on the number of claims submitted in a given year. However, explanations were to no avail.
In fiscal year 2014-15 the TARR Centre received a 60% funding cut. As a result, the Winnipeg-based staff of four employees consisting of a director, an office administrator, and two full-time researchers, was reduced to one employee. The Thompson-based office, which employed one researcher, was immediately shut down and its researcher subsequently laid off.
The damage and resulting repercussions have been severe for TARR Manitoba. The 60% cut in funding in 2014-15 effectively stalled claims research within Manitoba for several years, but also and probably more importantly, legitimately interfered with the first nations' right to pursue the claims process.
For three years, TARR Manitoba's staff consisted of one director and one research assistant to service 54 first nations clients within Manitoba. Currently, funding has rebounded to the pre-2014 levels and our staffing levels have stabilized to five. However, and I underscore this, the instability of funding makes it difficult to guarantee sufficient financial and human resources to conduct the work in an efficient manner. This again affects the first nations' right to pursue the claims process.
The TARR Centre has been forced to relocate twice in the last three years to accommodate the fluctuations in funding. With each move, more contracted library management services are needed to organize the centre's main stacks and journals, and more time is spent away from the claims process.
Each fiscal year requires a new contribution agreement between the RFU and TARR Manitoba. A new contribution agreement is provided to TARR Manitoba after the previously funded fiscal year, but there is little time for review or to discuss the agreement on account of the RFU's placing a hold on any further funding until the agreement is signed.
TARR Manitoba is typically spending from month to month as per the funding allotment stipulated within the contribution agreement. Any pause in the flow of monthly funds places TARR Manitoba in a vulnerable position. Bills and rent are typically late, and more administrative time is needed away from the claims process to mitigate the lack of funds. In the future, TARR Manitoba would like to have sufficient time to review and perhaps negotiate proposed contribution agreements.
Since 2008, supplementary funding has been made available during the last few months of the fiscal year. The research funding division of INAC has always maintained that this additional funding does not extend into the following fiscal year. Again, the funding agreement represents a one-time fiscal arrangement, and therefore, there is no guarantee of a stable level of funding from year to year.
The specific claims branch has been working collaboratively with the Assembly of First Nations to rectify the funding issue, but has so far been unable to formulate an adequate solution. Simply, there is no guarantee that there will be funding to operate adequately from year to year, and this does not allow for the proper momentum in claims research.
Recently, Canada has made changes to improve the claims process, such as the removal of the pre-Confederation bar on specific claims, the influx of additional financial resources to the process both within INAC and to first nations, and also the formation of the Canada-first nation body referred to as the joint technical working group, which was established to examine the claims issue.
We hope this trend continues. Canada, however, remains both the indicted and the chief justice throughout the claims process. Following the recommendations outlined by the JTWG, the AFN, and the the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, TARR Manitoba fully supports the notion that Canada must be removed from the claims process to ensure impartiality. The TARR Centre of Manitoba also hopes that a stable funding structure will be created to guarantee proactive claims research for its first nation members.
Thank you for your indulgence, and thank you for inviting me to speak about the comprehensive land claims process. It's an important issue, and I appreciate the opportunity to do so.
In 2014, I was asked by Bernard Valcourt, who was then the minister of aboriginal affairs, to lead Canada's engagement with aboriginal groups and key stakeholders about the renewal of Canada's comprehensive land claims policy. I delivered a report to the minister based on my findings in February 2015. I appreciate that three years can be an eternity in the development and implementation of public policy, but nevertheless, I believe that many of the findings and recommendations in my report remain relevant, and I will be pleased to answer any questions that committee members may have about the report.
I thought it would be useful to address three issues to get the discussion going. The first is the need, in my view, for Canada to maintain momentum at those treaty tables that have a realistic chance of a successful outcome. The reason I say that is when was appointed two years ago, her mandate letter set out an ambitious agenda of 13 priorities. Modern treaty making, however, was not included among those priorities, leaving many in the process to wonder where comprehensive claims fit into the government's commitment to reconciliation. Of the approximately 75 land claims at various stages of negotiation, there are, in my view, probably only eight or 10 that have a realistic chance of coming to a successful conclusion. My point is that Canada should identify priority tables and focus resources on completing those negotiations. I do note that the most recent mandate letter from Minister Bennett now identifies accelerating the process in the comprehensive claims process as one of her priorities.
A consideration, at the same time, should be placed on sunsetting the comprehensive claims process. Any of the indigenous communities that are interested in negotiating a modern treaty have been in the process for at least a decade. There isn't a lineup of indigenous groups waiting to get in. That's why it's important, in my opinion, for Canada to look at other options for reconciliation for those communities that either aren't interested in the modern treaty process or aren't capable of completing a modern treaty.
I do want to acknowledge that in May 2016 Canada endorsed a series of proposals for improving and expediting the treaty negotiation process in British Columbia. That is a helpful and important initiative. As well, Canada in recent years has demonstrated that it is prepared to be flexible and creative in addressing the interests of indigenous groups outside of the treaty process. There's been a wide ambit to that initiative. I'll give two examples that members of the committee may not be aware of. The first is the establishment of the major projects management office in British Columbia, and the work that has ensued by that office. Second, the participation of NRCan, Environment Canada, and Transport Canada was a very successful initiative in terms of addressing aboriginal interests in the development of infrastructure on the north coast of British Columbia, and specifically with the development of natural gas pipelines and LNG plants.
I appreciate that the Government of Canada is a difficult ship to steer, and that's why all departments need to demonstrate an interest and an ability to participate meaningfully in reconciliation. That leads to my second point, which is this. In my experience, the most tangible and immediate contribution that governments can make to the process of reconciliation is to support and promote capacity development in indigenous communities. That observation comes from my work as a lawyer in private practice in British Columbia. Over the past decade, I've acted for first nations communities, governments, and industry in the negotiation of modern treaties, reconciliation protocols, and impact and benefit agreements.
While those negotiations provide tremendous opportunities for aboriginal participants, they are also overwhelmingly challenging. I think it goes without saying that change is difficult to manage, and that's the case even more so when community leaders lack experience in complex negotiations.
It's also important not to lose sight of the fact that these agreements often change the dynamics of long-standing adversarial relationships. In many remote parts of British Columbia and the Yukon, where I work, community members are simply not ready to take up the range of employment and contracting opportunities that are offered by resource development.
That leads to this point. There are areas where I believe the crown has a role to build and develop capacity. Those include, for one example, adult education, ensuring that community members have basic numeracy and literacy skills so that they're job ready. Second, the crown has a role in funding social supports to address issues such as substance abuse, addiction, child care, and housing. Somewhat remarkably, the lack of driver's licences is a significant impediment to first nations employment in many remote areas of the province. That's an area where I believe the crown has a role in developing capacity.
Then there's a more overarching concern about governance capacity for first nations community leaders. I believe this can be accomplished by the government supporting the exchange of experiences between first nations leaders in different regions. I have done a lot of work in the oil and gas industry. There's certainly a role, I think, for the leadership of Alberta first nations communities to provide British Columbia first nations leaders with examples of how they've been able to address oil and gas developments in their area.
Mentorships and other initiatives are also important in terms of governance capacity.
Comprehensive community planning and the development of training and employment strategies are, in my experience, essential tools but require government support and funding. By default, it's fallen in large part on industry to address these needs, and it's an area where I believe that governments need to step up.
I want to make the point that the emphasis that government's place on initiatives such as modern treaties and implementing the United Nations declaration don't mean much in communities that struggle with chronic unemployment, poor educational outcomes, and pervasive social issues.
My third point relates to the implementation of modern treaties, and this will be my last point, Madam Chair. Although I wasn't asked to consider treaty implementation, when I prepared my report in 2014, it quickly became apparent that Canada has fallen behind in implementing treaty commitments. To illustrate this, many of you will be aware of the implementation problems with the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement, which led to civil litigation and ultimately a settlement in the amount of $1.4 billion. Treaty implementation is a problem. The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that the honour of the crown must inform the interpretation and implementation of modern treaties.
I know that you heard from Marg Rosling, who is a Vancouver lawyer who acts for the Nisga'a government. She made submissions to you on treaty implementation, and I concur fully with the submissions you've heard on that point.
I'll conclude on the point that modern treaty making is a complex and challenging undertaking. For any of you who are interested in the history of modern treaty making, all you need to do is look at the initial policy that was released in 1973 by Jean Chrétien, who was the minister of Indian affairs at the time. It's a two-page document. Events have quickly demonstrated that the challenges for governments and for first nations communities are, in many ways, overwhelming.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and members of the committee. Those are my opening comments.
Do you guys mind if I stand? I'm used to standing when I speak. I can't do it sitting down.
Good afternoon, standing committee members. My name is Glenn Archie. I am the head negotiator for Big Grassy River First Nation on the flood claim, which began in September 2009, so now we are eight or nine years into the process. You have my submission. Hopefully you had some time to read it. I hope you can ask me some questions.
I started negotiating back in 1999, when I first became a councillor for Big Grassy. I've been negotiating land claims that long, 22 years now. I've settled three land claims already, and I'm looking at a fourth one. We are doing three other claims, maybe two of which are going to the tribunal. One claim is being proposed to be pulled out of tribunal and into mediation now. That's where we are with five claims over the last 22 years that I've been involved.
When I arrived here, I heard some comments from my friend sitting here. I don't know who he is, but judging by how he speaks, he is my friend. Anyway, I just wanted to touch on that issue a bit as well.
You know the loan funding for first nations. Big Grassy is over $1.1 million, up in eight or nine years. That has a severe effect on our borrowing power for infrastructure and housing. It really stops us from providing services to our community, because that money is tied up. The Province of Ontario specifically provides grant funding each year to help us offset negotiation costs. That's where I think things should happen a bit more on the federal side. I think there should be grants. As they say, the Government of Canada is the jury and the hangman and the funder. You have one person sitting with three hats and judging everything. We need those separated in order to be effectively heard.
We also need things such as this for us to speak openly from the heart. I'm not going to speak from this. These are the facts. I'm going to speak to you guys from the heart here.
Our people have suffered for a long time, ever since colonialism came in. We've had to change our lives, our way of life. Our way of life is being depleted in the traditional and cultural aspect, in forestry, and in resources. Everything is being affected. Our people can no longer live by fishing alone, because our water is now contaminated. In our forests, the moose have died off. I'm not a doctor or a scientist, but we believe it's a brain-wasting disease. There goes our food as well. All the animals are being affected. That's only one part of the problems that we suffer.
Economically, we suffer greatly. We try to submit proposals to get my community out of the situation we are in, the poverty level. The funding organizations here refuse us right at the top. I'll give you an example. Back in 2000, we tried to develop a fishery processing plant, buying fish from all the communities in Treaty No. 3 and utilizing the existing quotas. That's what we had planned, to effectively bring in a better way of marketing fish for our people. We were denied at the funding agency level.
We were told that we were going to fish out the lake. No, we're not. We are going to utilize the existing quotas that each first nation has. It isn't going to go up; it isn't going to go down.
I have a colleague in Thunder Bay who is non-native. He phoned me up about four months ago and said that he had a fishery processing plant started, which blew me out of the water. Why did he get it, and why didn't we get it? That's my big question.
With regard to economic development, our people are oppressed and suppressed. We cannot go anywhere. We're trying to make our own lives, but the Government of Canada keeps stepping on our toes and keeps us down. That's the biggest problem I have right now. Our people cannot move anywhere. We try and try.
Racism out there is so unbelievable. Ever since Trump got in, everybody has the right now to say anything to anybody, any minority, and that's the fact that we face each and every day. I can go to a store and pay for my things there, and somebody just throws my change back. It's stuff like that.
The biggest problem we had was our being denied that fishery processing plant. We did all our homework. We did all the pre-qualifications that the province wanted and the federal government wanted. We did all that, we jumped all the hoops, and then at the end of the day we were denied.
Also, my first nation was willing to develop a water bottling company. I was a chief back then, and I was willing to invest in our community. We were denied there again, so we couldn't go anywhere.
We had inroads into a $4 million project to supply water at the B.C. winter games. That's how far ahead we were in planning.
We try hard in our community to bring our community above water, but at times we just keep getting pulled down.
Speaking of specific claims, I've been dealing with that mostly. I haven't dealt with any comprehensive claims, but mostly with specific claims.
Madam Chair, you're telling me I have three minutes. Gee, that went fast.
The funding situation is the one I want to bring up, as well as advance payments. When Canada accepts a claim for negotiation, then by definition Canada has accepted, for the purpose of the negotiation, that it breached its lawful obligation and that compensation is owing. Advance payments could be a way to provide something to the claimant at a time when it is needed, and it would be a way to mitigate the human impacts described above. It would also demonstrate good faith on the part of Canada, and it may provide momentum to the negotiations.
There is precedent in the insurance industry for advance payments, which are sometimes paid by the insurance companies once they are satisfied that they will be obligated to pay compensation. These payments are without prejudice and are recognized and protected by insurance policy terms, by contracts, and by court rules.
The advance payment procedure seems to be well suited to specific claims. At that point in time when a validation letter is sent out by Canada, a first nation claimant has already fully documented its claim, and Canada has already fully reviewed and assessed the claim and determined that it is partially or wholly liable. Why should this not be the point in time when Canada also advises the first nation that it will make an advance payment of a certain amount?
These are our elders. If we file a claim today, this elder is alive. Five years later, this elder is not here. These are the people who suffered the greatest impact of colonization, so why should these people continue to suffer? I think some answers should be given to these people. Help them try to live a comfortable life. It's our elders who are suffering.
We hear about the residential schools now, and that's been in the papers a lot and in the public eye. I was 28 years old when I became a chief, and the elders there told me that the residential schools broke our language. At that time, I did not see it because I spoke the Ojibwa language fluently, and all the people around me spoke the Ojibwa language. Now I see that break. I'm the last person of my age who can speak Ojibwa fluently. Everyone else can say a few words, but they cannot carry on a conversation as I can.
So we're losing our language as well, and that's a devastation that the residential schools had on our people. It was a very, very bad idea, I guess you could say, for aboriginal people. Yes, it taught us the western civilization. Yes, it taught us how to live here with today's society. Yes, we're able to live a little bit in that way, but we're not able to live in the way we would like to.
We're free people, just like any other nationality in this country. They are free to exercise their beliefs and how they want to live. How we live is culturally and traditionally. We used to live by the forest and the lakes, because God provided that food for us to live. He put us here for a reason, because there was food here and we could live here. That's why God put us here, and I strongly believe in God. We may call him the Creator, you guys call him God. He's the same person.
With that, I hope you understood and take into consideration what I had to present.