I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to the 34th meeting of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
We are gathered here today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin/Anishnaabe nation.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses, the committee members and members of the public who have joined us this afternoon.
I’d like to now welcome the witnesses who have joined us this afternoon as we continue to study Bill at committee stage.
With us today are Mr. Ellis Ross, a member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, who is with us in person, and Chief Willie Sellars, Williams Lake First Nation.
Therefore, we will proceed with our only witness at the moment, Mr. Ellis Ross, member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Hopefully, Chief Willie Sellars will join us very shortly.
As usual, to ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
Members or witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services in English, French and Inuktitut are available. Please be patient with the interpretation. There can be a delay.
For those in the video conference.... There isn't anybody there, at the moment, other than members, so I will skip that part.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name and, of course, unmute yourself when it's your time to speak, then mute yourself afterwards. There is a “raise hand” feature if you need to bring something to my attention. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, of course, put your mike on mute.
I remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
The way it works, Mr. Ellis, is that you will be invited to make a five-minute opening remark, after which we will proceed with questions.
If you are ready, Mr. Ellis, welcome. The microphone is yours for the next five minutes.
I was last here 10 years ago to talk about the exact same subject matter, but in a different context. I was here to get the Government of Canada to support LNG development in B.C.
I'll open up by saying that I'm not here to ask for money. I'm not here to debate the Indian Act. I'm not here for any of that, because.... Ultimately, what I'm after is independence for my band and the surrounding bands. The only way we can do that is by engaging in resource development for LNG, forestry and mining.
I'm here to tell you that the issues my band faced 10 years ago are non-existent today, because of our engagement. We were one of the few bands that went from being one of the poorest nations in B.C. to one of the wealthiest, including through land acquirement. We don't talk about poverty, welfare or unemployment insurance anymore. We don't even talk about the Indian Act.
We talk about what's next. We talk about the idea that since we're already fully engaged in the economy and society of B.C., what else can we do? This means independence at the band council level, which doesn't need Ottawa money anymore. It doesn't need the B.C. government anymore, right down to the individual, including the single mom and the guy who just got out of prison at the age of 55 and wants to stay out of prison—a good friend of mine.
Unfortunately, the word we're talking about here today—“reconciliation”—has been misused for the last 10 years for every single political issue under the sun, while ignoring the dreadful shame that is Canada's, meaning aboriginals who are stuck in prison or kids going to government care or poverty and the violence of poverty and ultimately suicide.
“Reconciliation” had a definition in the case law that was decided pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution. It was decided. This was all worked out, right up until the Haida court case of 2004. Now the word “reconciliation” has been misused to the point where nobody knows what it means anymore. It's been twisted around, and yet, time after time, in example after example, we see the results of what true reconciliation means, as dictated by the courts of B.C. in Canada. It's a shame. It's an absolute shame that it has come to this.
In your deliberations when you're talking about developing an act to talk about reconciliation, I ask that you look at the issues facing aboriginals all across Canada in terms of the unemployment rate and how it hasn't succeeded. Look as well at bands like mine, at how they've succeeded, and at how they're trying to make that spread across B.C. to neighbouring first nations communities.
There is reconciliation happening at the political and economic levels among first nations, because not every first nation has had the advantage of my first nation. It's all based on location—location, location, location. These are age-old differences that go back to way before white contact.
My message to you today is about what not to do. I wish you'd talk, in your deliberations, about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, something I opposed when it first came to Canada over 10 years ago. I opposed it in B.C., but I voted for it, because I didn't want my party to be labelled as racist.
If you follow the lead of B.C., you will be doing a disservice not only to first nations in Canada but also to the general society, because that was an unrealistic political statement made by the B.C. government. They have not lived up to a single promise or commitment they made in UNDRIP—what they now call “DRIPA”.
To give you an idea of how unrealistic this is, they promised to consult every band in B.C. on every single piece of legislation that passed through the legislature. They also promised to align every single law in B.C. with UNDRIP. That is impossible. It's unrealistic, but they claimed they could do it. Now, their answers are.... Some of the legislation going through has not gone through a consultation process with first nations communities—the true rights and title holders, by the way. Instead, they went and talked to advocacy groups.
The other thing they did was provide notice of legislation to first nations—203 bands. That is not consultation, as dictated by the courts. They also conceded that legislation and some of the bills passed through the House did not have rights entitlement infringement questions involved with them, so they did not notify first nations.
That is not what they promised in the legislature. It was a political statement. They have not actually realized one commitment in UNDRIP. A lot of the DRIP Act in B.C. was redundant and meaningless.
By that I mean that every first nation has the right to save their language. We knew that. Every first nation has the right to save their culture. We knew that. We didn't need legislation to tell us that.
The redundancy I'm talking about is the idea that Canada is a lot further ahead than other nations around the world, including with section 35 of the Constitution. Canada is one of the few countries that recognized rights and included them in their constitutions. Yes, it took a long time to define that in the courts. One of the greatest things that happened was the court case that came down in 2004—the Haida court case that fully defined the duty of government and the responsibilities of first nations to respond, in a meaningful manner, when the Crown comes to consult on infringement issues.
It was working. From 2004 to 2017, it was working. The economy was going well with LNG, forestry and mining. First nations, more importantly, were getting involved and getting ahead. It didn't do anything to society. If anything, it strengthened our society. It strengthened B.C. In B.C., that has all now been put aside for the sake of politics. There are no drilling permits for LNG. They are actually going to shut down forestry, at opposition of first nations.
Those are my comments. Thank you very much.
I'm glad you referred to that, because I remember those days.
I'll say that even the definition.... We all want reconciliation, I believe. I really do believe that. I think most Canadians do. Oxford describes reconciliation as the restoration of friendly relations. Isn't that something we would all appreciate? Absolutely.
I toured around northern Canada as the northern affairs minister. I've spoken with many indigenous people—Inuit in Nunavut, Wet'suwet'en in northern B.C.—all across the north. Among all peoples, 80% to 85% are supportive of natural resource development as a key part of reconciliation, because it's prosperity for peoples. It means everybody is doing well. We can all do better.
You spoke to it a bit in the community of the Haisla. I want you to expand on that again. If this government decided to pursue reconciliation where it really makes change on the ground, it would help people in communities like the Haisla. Explain a bit again and extrapolate how good it could be if they were to truly pursue it.
It's not just first nations' success we're talking about that matters. Come to my committee and see the single mom who's off welfare or my friend who stayed out of prison.
When you talk about resource development at the first nations stage, you have to remember that revenues and benefits don't all go to the first nations. The government gets benefits. The government then turns around and uses that money for highways, hospitals and schools—even our paycheques as politicians. Everybody benefits from that, non-first nations and first nations alike.
The reconciliation we're talking about, I think, should be characterized as a political and legal relationship that has to be mended, because right now, first nations participate in every part of society I just mentioned. We love the hospitals, our cellphones and the highways. It's this political obstruction we have at the courts, which had been settled for the last 10 years, that we're now having to go back and revisit.
At the end of the day, true reconciliation at the economic level benefits everybody, and you're seeing it in action when we're talking about our daily lives. Everything we take for granted is what first nations actually want. They want to get a mortgage, which is happening right now, today. They want to go to the hospital. They want a doctor and a nurse. They want a new cellphone. It's this political definition of “reconciliation” that's holding us back.
That's without a doubt. My parents both went to residential school, but they weren't taken; they were sent by their parents. My mother was sent to learn how to look after a household. My dad was sent because his mother died and there was no one else to look after him. They would not tell me about any of the abuse they faced.
I've done this job now for 18 years, and there's a wide spectrum of things that happen to first nations. It wasn't just residential school. There was the idea that first nations couldn't even get legal representation. There was this racist attitude at the time that we were no better than animals in the field. There's a lot to make up for.
In today's context, you can't ignore the fact that a lot of our people are still living on the streets. I don't think reconciliation benefits the person who went to prison at the age of 16 in Oakalla. I don't think he's willing to have a conversation about any type of bill that doesn't speak to how he's living or wants to live.
I put out a pamphlet when I first heard about the idea of reconciliation being used for political purposes. I tried to educate everybody, including my own people, about everything that happened and the general nature—not only my band but bands all across Canada. I tried to tell them why we have to do better for today's generation and the next generation.
Yes, it's definitely important to talk about residential schools in truth and reconciliation. However, in my mind, if it doesn't translate into actually making futures better for aboriginals and in turn making a country stronger, I don't see the point.
That's without a doubt.
I'll be a bit prejudiced here. Violent criminal activities that hurt other people, including aboriginals, can't be put in that light. They can't be.
I'm taking my experience as chief counsellor. When we had our public meetings, they asked for more police presence in our community—which we couldn't get, by the way. We were fighting to have more RCMP, especially on weekends. The activities in my community ranged from peeping Toms to speeding, but my community drew the line when other people got hurt. That included domestic violence.
I think we have to be really careful here. I don't think violence actually knows any race. When you hurt somebody, especially if it's fatal, the laws of Canada and B.C. have to prevail.
I'd also like to thank Mr. Ross for his testimony.
Mr. Ross, you talked about a number of things in your opening remarks, and I was intrigued by two terms. We're discussing Bill , of course, but you she went upstream of that when you talked about the concept of reconciliation being used for political purposes, for example, and the fact that the very concept of reconciliation is being overused or not accurately defined.
On the one hand, how would you define the word “reconciliation” and on the other, what are the implications of reconciliation in concrete terms?
Could you also clarify what you meant when you said that the concept was used for political purposes?
I first heard the word “reconciliation” when I read the case law, the Haida court case in 2004, when the judgment came down. It described the government's duty to address infringements on rights and title. The judge who used it said that we had to start addressing these because, let's face it, no one was going anywhere and we also had a duty to the greater society to make this work.
Originally I didn't agree, because I thought the priority for government should be to address this, but as I learned later on, I couldn't draw a line between first nations and non-first nations. I couldn't do it, especially since I enjoyed having hospitals, schools and roads and I had non-first nations in my family. I have non-first nations in my community. There is no way that I would single them out and say that they're different just because of reconciliation.
Over the last 10 or 15 years, no matter what the issue has been regarding first nations, I have always seen the word “reconciliation” pop up, and there was a whole spectrum of reasons it was used. Nobody actually brought the definition of “reconciliation” back to the case law where it started. There is no starting point, in my opinion, to the definition of “reconciliation”. Everybody has a different definition, and if there's a specific objective they want, then it seems convenient to bring up that word or it seems convenient to talk about some type of process, but if you don't have a starting point or if you don't have a clear definition of what a process is or what a word is or what it's meant to mean, you're going to have a tough time trying to achieve your objectives.
We didn't even talk about reconciliation back in our community. All we knew was that everything we had in place up until that date—the programs, the government funding, the suicide hotlines—all failed, every single thing. It wasn't until we walked away from the government funding, all of the government programs and all the hotlines and we focused entirely on economic development that we realized that yes, inadvertently we've actually solved all of our social issues.
I know you're talking about Bill in a specific manner, but on reconciliation itself, I still believe that if we're not addressing the social ills that plagued first nations, then it's just going to be another committee, and it will be open to interpretation by no matter who is in government to actually use that unless you have clear objectives.
It's like the premise is flawed, if I understood you correctly.
I'd like to ask another question that's also related to what we're discussing today.
In your opinion, the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada are becoming flawed, as I understand it.
In that case, should the calls to action also be questioned?
I would venture to guess that the council itself, which is downstream of all this, would be irrelevant to you. I'm sorry for using those words, but I'm trying to understand your position on the commission, the calls to action and the council we're discussing today.
I don't actually know the details of what you're talking about. I do know you're talking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings and whatnot. When that first came out, I was part of the chief and council of Haisla and I didn't read that fully, because I was living the issues that I just talked about. I live on reserve. I still live on reserve today. When you're talking about violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, unemployment and poverty and you live those and you want to change those, then these reports don't mean much.
I don't know anybody in my circle who has read that report. In fact, I think today I'm still the only first nation member of my community who has read the Indian Act. I didn't understand it. I think I'm still one of only two people who have read as much on case law principles as possible to try to define rights and title, because I was just trying to find a way to address social ills. This is part of the frustration I have in terms of these kinds of talks going on all across Canada: Nobody talks about what we're trying to achieve.
It just seems like a high-level discussion on how to make us feel good about something when first nations people are still committing suicide. They are getting hooked on fentanyl and crystal meth. They're on the streets. There is no real authority to address all the people who are living off reserve in our urban centres.
Now, with the ability that my band has and their own choice, we say that we will help anybody on our band list, no matter where they live in the world. We're going to help them with drug addiction issues. We're going to help them with bus passes. We're going to help them with recreation. We're going to help them with travel, and—guess what—Ottawa can't say anything about it, because this is all our own money. It's not mandated by Indian Act funding agreements.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Ross, for appearing. It's always a pleasure listening to you speak.
I want to talk a bit about what you were talking about—economic reconciliation. In this context, I want to talk about the structure of this committee. The transitional board under Bill is appointed by the minister. This transitional board gets to decide how the subsequent committee will be formed. The next committee that's formed then sets the structure going forward for years and decades to come.
Right now there is no plan for the immediate future to put groups like the Native Women's Association or anyone even talking about economic reconciliation at that original table to set the plan going forward.
Harold Calla, who I'm sure you know—yes, you know him quite well—was in the committee just a few days ago. He said we need somebody at the table who wants to talk about economic reconciliation. Would you agree with Harold Calla's comments?
Yes, I would—and Clarence Louie out of the Okanagan. A number of aboriginal leaders feel strongly that economic reconciliation not only lifts up first nations but also obviously lifts up the provinces and the country. The proof is out there.
In my community, for example, the economic reconciliation that we participated in not only made us one of the wealthiest bands in B.C., but it also, for some reason, got rid of the alcohol parties. I think a study should be made in that respect. Where did all the house parties go?
When I grew up, every weekend I knew of five or six houses that you could travel to, house to house to house, in one night. That's all gone. Instead, we have young aboriginals getting mortgages in their own right without depending on Indian Affairs or their band council. They're going on vacation. They're planning futures for their children.
To my mind, and from what I've experienced in the last 18 years, reconciliation is a buzzword. Without the concrete results of seeing somebody get off the welfare list, or seeing somebody get away from the idea of committing suicide or their children going to government care.... I keep coming back to a phrase I heard a long time ago: “This is Canada's shame; how do we fix it?” Well, government, you can't; if you could fix it, it would have been fixed long ago. If you're going to do something, then do something in partnership with first nations that can make their band councils—and, more importantly, their band members—independent.
If you want an example, come to my village, Kitamaat Village, B.C. I'll show you around.
I'm sorry to interrupt you here, Mr. Ross.
It's hard for us to suggest amendments to the bill if you're unable to tell the committee whether a national reconciliation council could do a good job, since you are not familiar with the calls to action.
However, I'd like to come back to something that's been on my mind, but I don't have much time left.
According to you, you've said a lot of disturbing things. Personally, I'd like to hear what you have to say. In committee, we can hear everything. In fact, it's our duty to do so as elected officials.
I urge you to give us other examples or remind us of ones you gave earlier as to your positions or ideas that are not popular or that put a target on your back—those are your words, definitely not mine.
Thank you, honourable Chair.
Members of the committee, I am pleased to be here representing the MMF, the national government of the Red River Métis. I appear as the ambassador responsible for inter-nation and international relations, appointed as such by President Chartrand and the MMF cabinet.
On previous occasions, I have appeared as president of the Métis National Council, which we once belonged to. It was a position I held from October 2003 until the end of September last year, 2021.
The Manitoba Métis Federation formally withdrew its membership in the MNC organization on September 29, 2021. On July 6, 2021, the Manitoba Métis Federation executed the Manitoba Métis Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement with Canada, copies of which I believe you have. By this agreement, the MMF's inherent right to self-government is recognized and affirmed. We are the only Métis nation government recognized as having such by the federal government since President Louis Riel brought the Métis nation into Confederation through the Manitoba Act, 1870. The agreement clearly states that the MMF represents the Red River Métis wherever they may live, whether inside or outside of Manitoba and, for that matter, whether inside or outside of Canada. In this connection, Red River Métis is synonymous with the historic Métis nation and its citizens.
The MMF general assembly in 2014 adopted a resolution that opened its citizenship application process to Red River Métis living outside of the geographic borders of the province of Manitoba. At its general assembly held this past weekend, the MMF adopted a resolution declaring the MMF to be the national government of the Red River Métis. Between June and September of this year, a beyond-borders task force, of which I was the lead, visited 14 cities within the homeland in western Canada and the northern United States as well as cities outside of the homeland, in British Columbia and the cities of Ottawa and Toronto, which are places to which a number of our citizens have relocated for employment and other purposes, although they are still registered citizens of the national government of the Red River Métis.
My government is prepared to support Bill even though there is still unfinished business in connection with reconciliation and the Métis nation experience in day schools and residential schools, in particular in the Île-à-la-Crosse Residential School, which I attended for 10 years, followed by a year and a half at the Charlebois Residence in La Pas, Manitoba.
My government is pleased with the legislation enacted by the federal government over the past several years. This includes the legislation creating the two departments that have replaced the Department of Indian Affairs as well as legislation aimed at the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In particular, both the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Act and the Department of Indigenous Services Act, in their definition sections, state that “Indigenous governing body means a council, government or other entity that is authorized to act on behalf of an Indigenous group, community or people that holds rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.”
In their respective preambles, both state that “the Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with...the Métis...through renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government...relationships based on affirmation and implementation of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act of 2011, in the preamble, refers to the “Métis Nation” and other indigenous peoples, which, “throughout [our] history...lived in the lands that are now [in] Canada, with their distinct identities, cultures and ways of life;” and says that “Canada rejects all forms of colonialism”.
We remain concerned, however, that the federal government has not kept pace with the reconciliation process, in particular the nation-to-nation, government-to-government and reconstituting of indigenous nations initiatives—in our case, the Métis nation.
With the establishment of the section 35 rights reconciliation tables for indigenous peoples in 2016, the federal government, in relation to the Métis nation, chose only to have four tables with only the then governing members of the Métis National Council, and refused to establish one with the Métis National Council itself, the then national body representing the Métis nation, and I underscore “the then body representing the Métis nation”. This has led to the further consolidation of the colonial boundaries established in 1905 with the creation of the Province of Saskatchewan and the Province of Alberta and the dismemberment of the historic Métis nation homeland in western Canada.
Nevertheless, today we are moving toward one nation, one people, which accords with the federal government's reconstituting indigenous nations initiatives—in our case, the historic Métis nation. In this connection, we are opposed to and will oppose any federal legislation that attempts to further divide or dismember our homeland and, in particular, legislation that purports to give provincial Métis organizations self-government recognition under section 35.
Not only are we, the Red River Métis, facing threats from within; we are also facing threats from without our nation, from outside of our nation, with hundreds of thousands of individuals of mixed ancestry in Ontario, Quebec and the maritime provinces claiming to be Métis and perpetrating cultural and identity theft.
In order to prevent further injustice to the Métis nation, the MMF—the national government of the Red River Métis—must be included in the proposed council, unless the act is meant to deal only with indigenous organizations and not governments. This, however, cannot be the intent, as it would exclude the sole and legitimate government, the sole and legitimate representative of the historic Métis nation: the Red River Métis and its national government.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Ambassador, for being here today and sharing your knowledge with us. We do appreciate that.
In your comments, you said that you would support Bill .
My first question is a two-part question.
First, is that in the sense of the way it is, or are you looking for any changes or amendments that we might talk about in the next few minutes?
Second, maybe you can include in there reference to some comments that the Manitoba Métis Federation president, Mr. Chartrand, made back in June of 2022, which I would interpret as not supporting this legislation. He said:
I think Canada needs to catch up with their agreements that they’ve signed [and] commitments they’ve made.... I am looking forward to a call or a letter with minister Miller...whoever is going to be the lead [on this], to advise the Red River Métis of our involvement.”
You're saying you support it, but the president didn't seem to be supporting it back at the end of June. Was there a call or was there some interaction that has changed your federation's position on this piece of legislation?
My government—and I personally, but I'm not here to represent myself—is unlike any other government, or, if you want to call us an organization, we'd be unlike any other organization. As I've said ad nauseam, and I will say it again here today, the Métis and our residential schools are not covered by the apology. We are not part of the mandate of the TRC. We don't believe we're covered by the recommendations, because they had no mandate. We may fall into it by happenstance, but none of ours....
In fact, I haven't even read them, and I was president at the time. When it was released, I was two blocks away in my apartment, watching it live at the Delta, an event I wasn't even invited to, so it has nothing to do with us, really. I think that's one of the points that President Chartrand is making. We can deal with you, being the government, particularly the federal government, on a bilateral basis, on a government-to-government basis, to address the issues that remain outstanding, in addition to....
You know very well Île-à-la-Crosse, in your riding.
Thank you to the witness for appearing today. I think that he and I are probably the only two residential school survivors in the room right now. It's really good to hear his point of view.
As an indigenous person and a Métis, I was quite excited to see this board structured, set up and moving forward.
There are many things happening under the label of reconciliation. UNDRIP is one of them, along with the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations and some of the changes to self-government policies. There are many things we can point to that are happening and quite exciting in the world of indigenous people. I think most people would agree.
Most indigenous governments would agree that there has to be oversight. Most indigenous governments don't trust governments. It's important to be able to make sure we're still moving forward to reach the goals we set up.
When it comes to the composition and work of the national council for reconciliation, I think there are some important seats that need to be held by people who went through the residential schools and federal day schools. They need to be included and involved. Right now, I see many national organizations pushing for more seats.
I want to get your opinion on what you think about having seats set aside for people who are residential school and federal day school survivors, or maybe even traditional knowledge holders—people from your organization and government who carry a lot of knowledge and can take it forward.
Therein lies the problem as well.
Our government—and I think this is what President Chartrand was getting toward—doesn't need any intermediary between the national government of the Red River Métis and the federal government or any other government. We should be dealing with all of these issues on a bilateral basis ourselves. If there is going to be—and I imagine there will be—a body such as this, then fine, but it shouldn't be a replacement of legitimate indigenous governments dealing with other governments.
There are three orders of government in this country. There are indigenous governments, the federal government and provincial governments. Under them, you have municipal governments. We need to ensure that creating this council does not diminish the role and authority of legitimate indigenous governments.
I'm glad you raised the mandate. I read it, and I have to finally read one or two of the recommendations. As I said, I've never read the calls to action, but I read those ones that were mentioned. It talks in broad terms, but my sense is still that it's going to be more of a mandate. We'll be looking at the implementation of the calls to action rather than something broader. In previous discussions with then-, she'd say, “No, no. It's not just the calls to action. It's going to be across the board on everything”, but it doesn't also say that in the bill. I suppose if it did, we'd question more why a non-profit corporation is being put in a position where it's going to be usurping, potentially, the role of legitimate indigenous governments.
I stated this, but I'll state it again. Primarily, it's because we were not included. The Métis nation was not included. The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2006-2007 dealt only with residential schools that were paid for by the federal government.
I was on the floor of the House of Commons as leader of the Métis nation then, when the Prime Minister made the apology. I was there because some 200 Métis went to these residential schools. There are 200 fortunate Métis, because they got something out of it. It was unfortunate that they had to go, but fortunate because they were covered by the apology and got some compensation. However, we weren't. We raised it, and I raised in on the floor. We've been raising it since, but nothing has been done by the federal government. It's like we don't matter.
I see these orange shirts that say "Every Child Matters". I'd like to go and say, "Except if you're Métis", but I can't do that to every orange shirt that I see out there.
No government, Conservative or Liberal, is doing anything about it, and the reason is that it was church-run. They weren't funding the church to run residential schools for Métis, so we were excluded from the TRC mandate.
I attended two or three of them as an invited guest to go and make this message that we're still there. We pleaded with the commission to put in a specific resolution that the Île-à-la-Crosse school be dealt with. They put in a weak resolution along the way that all the rest should be dealt with, but we weren't addressed and we're still not being addressed. I didn't read it for that purpose, because...what for?
Even this body that's being set up isn't for us; it's for others. I hope it goes ahead for the benefit of others, but it's hard for us to embrace it, because we're excluded. It's similar to when the Province of Quebec was left out in September of 1981 in Canada's Constitution. People who are excluded don't feel like participating to the greatest degree possible. We should continue working the way we have been.
The Métis nation has made substantial strides—don't get me wrong—particularly over the life of this past government. For example, in four federal budgets, we got over $3 billion. That was the first time in our history we were included in the federal budget. The government is trying to do other things.
One of the things the government also did, which you should keep your eye open for, was amend the Indian Act less than a year ago or so. That's thrown the doors wide open. All of a sudden, half of my nieces and nephews at home are applying for Indian status. My brothers and sister aren't, but because it was so wide open.... We have no connection to the Indian community, but it's been thrown wide open.
It's doing a disservice to the Métis nation and its citizens, and doing a disservice to the Indian community, to have all these people coming. It's the same across a lot of Canada. People who have mixed ancestry are coming forward, saying, “We're Métis now, because we found some great ancestor some way back in the generations”—
I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Chartier. I would keep listening to you for a long time, but I have two more questions for you. Of course, if you want to round out your answers, you can send us your comments or the rest of your remarks in writing. We will be happy to read them.
At the end of the day, to the government you represent, may I say that the calls to action are not legitimate?
Next, would you still like to be included on the council or would you prefer not to be included because you were not consulted and you don't feel you're represented in the calls to action?
Finally, I have a third question for you, so I think you will have to send a written response, actually.
What do you recommend for the Red River Métis nation? You started to answer this question earlier.
That's a very big question. Essentially, I firmly believe that for those indigenous peoples who suffered at the residential school and are covered by the apology, the mandate and the calls for action, something more should be done. If that's the vehicle they choose to participate with, fine. In either this stage or in a strengthened one, that's up to them.
Again, we wouldn't want to say that we want to be on there, because then we kind of would be saying that we support what happened in the past, that everything is fine and dandy, that we don't need to deal with our issues and that our issues are no longer outstanding because they're being dealt with. I don't believe we really want to get engaged. As I was saying earlier, I think we want to continue working on a government-to-government basis, dealing directly with the federal government and not through some non-profit organization.
One of the things I vehemently oppose is Parliament passing legislation that's going to be entrenching falseness in legislation in terms of who represents whom. As I say, the federal government isn't keeping up with its reconciliation initiatives. One of its big initiatives was reconstituting indigenous nations, and we at the Manitoba Métis Federation, which was declared last weekend the national government of the Red River Métis—the Red River Métis meaning citizens of the historic Métis nation wherever they live, in Canada or outside of Canada—are the legitimate government of the Métis nation.
The Métis National Council is a membership organization made up four governing members. The courts in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, just over the last two to three years, have said that they're not governments and are nothing more than voluntary membership organizations. The Métis can belong to them if they wish or don't wish. There is an initiative under these 35 reconciliation tables that brought in and that she refused for the national body. There we could have kept some national principles that would have guided these, instead of creating these silos of self-government bodies by province, carving up our nation. It's like municipalities in Quebec becoming recognized governments and carving up the Québécois nation, so we're totally opposed to that. As for the MNC staying in there representing the Métis nation, I would call it an illegitimate act.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's been a long time since I last saw you. I think it was in New York, when the United Nations met to address issues of the indigenous peoples. I think that was the first time we met.
When I became a member of Parliament, the members of the NDP appointed me to monitor or to work with Mark Miller and to become a member of this committee in terms of indigenous and northern affairs. I monitor the work that's being done by the ministers. I always have a huge task, and I'm learning along the way. I am just learning about the issues that Métis nations face.
It states here in Bill , under paragraph 10(1)(c), that one member will be from the Métis National Council. I understand that you identify this as just a body, and not as part of the government. Now, when there is a member of the Métis nation, aren't you concerned that in terms of the reconciliation process, the Métis nation will not be represented in the reconciliation process?
Thank you for that.
There are many things at play here. One is the commission itself, and one is who represents the legitimate interests of a people, in this case the Métis nation.
As I said earlier, as long as the MNC is referred to as what it is, a not-for-profit organization with a membership base, it can represent whoever it wants, wherever it wants, and we can't stop that. However, if it comes to the point.... I think there's still some potential through the section 35 rights reconciliation table that each of these three provincial bodies would be recognized under section 35 rights by province. We totally oppose that, because then it's just carving up our nation, destroying our nation and doing what English Canada couldn't do in 1870 and 1885.
English Canada today is trying the same thing through the back door by using Parliament to divide us. We won't stand for that, but in fact, we've already.... The national government of the Red River Métis already has thousands of registered citizens throughout the Prairies and outside of the Prairies, people who have moved, so we will continue on this path.
The federal government, approved by cabinet, has already signed the self-governing agreement, the only one of its kind. On the one hand, it can't say that it recognizes us and our government and that we represent our people wherever they may live, and then turn around and say it is going to recognize a non-profit pan-aboriginal organization, which the MNC has become, and thwart our future.
There's going to have to be some balancing. That's why I say the federal government is not keeping up with the progress of reconciliation that has happened since 2015.
Well, it depends on what the purpose of the bill is. I'm not clear yet on what the purpose is. In my mind, I see the purpose as being the implementation of the calls to action. That's the primary focus, at least. However, I know there are what some people call “weasel words”. There are some very broad words elsewhere that say it's to deal with everything, but what is that “everything”? What does that mean?
If it's going to deal with more than just the calls to action, perhaps it should address the issues you raised. For the Métis nation, there are so many issues we need raised, aside from the residential schools issue. There's still the dispossession of our lands and resources through the Dominion Lands Act and the scrip system that came about—in other words, the allocation of lands on an individual basis—to destroy our nation. It was done in such a shabby way and benefited white speculators.
In fact, in the 2003 Blais case, the Supreme Court of Canada, without being asked, referred to the scrip speculation and devaluation as “a sorry chapter in our nation's history”. Even they know it. Everybody knows we got screwed, yet we're excluded from specific land claim processes. We're not engaged in the processes set up by the federal government.
We decided to take action in northwest Saskatchewan in 2019, but the federal government is ganging up on us with the Métis nation of Alberta and the Métis nation of Saskatchewan, saying that as individuals, we're aggrieved. We have no right to be in court. Only these provincial bodies can be in court on section 35 rights.
The federal government is fighting us on a lot of issues, but they should be opening the door. I have written to former prime ministers Paul Martin and Harper to try to set up some kind of royal commission to deal with the land rights issues of the Métis and to give us money to take it to court and let the courts decide. Nothing's happening on that. When it comes to the Métis, we're not even afterthoughts. We're just brought along.
We have benefited; don't take me wrong. We were part of the legislation I referred to—health legislation, languages legislation, child and family services. We were part of the codevelopment of it. That's coming from, I think, the work that was taking place in the TRC. We benefited from it. We didn't say, “No, we're not going to benefit”, but it wasn't aimed at us. We had to be brought along, because they wanted the three aboriginal peoples contained in Canada's Constitution. We have benefited, to some degree.
Again, our big issues are not addressed. We're saying we don't want this non-profit body or organization to usurp the role of our legitimate governments in resolving our issues, which are critical to us.
We're a bit tight for another round.
The advantage for you, Ambassador, is that you've had the floor to yourself and haven't had to share it. I think we asked a lot of questions.
Thank you for coming today. I'm assuming you came from Manitoba. We're very glad you were able to join us and give your views on this very important subject. Thank you, Ambassador Chartier.
With that, colleagues, I'm going to adjourn the meeting.
This meeting is adjourned.