Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's good to be on Algonquin land this early in the morning.
I wish to thank you for giving me this opportunity to appear before you and talk about Bill C-62, An Act to give effect to the Yale First Nation Final Agreement.
This bill is the final step in the ratification of the Yale First Nation Final Agreement. It crystallizes nearly 20 years of negotiations, consultations, compromises, accommodations and creative solutions. This agreement represents the aspirations of the Yale First Nation people for future generations. It contains the blueprint for self governance within, and protected by, the Constitution of Canada and will provide a future free of the constraints of the Indian Act.
The bill before the House contains a number of key elements, some of which I would like to highlight today.
Yale First Nation will receive a capital transfer of $10.7 million; $2.2 million to promote economic development; one-time funding of $1.4 million and annual funding of $1.25 million to implement the agreement. Yale First Nation will receive an addition of 1,749 hectares of provincial crown land to its existing 217 hectares of reserve lands. It will control these lands by using its law-making authorities set out in the final agreement.
Yale First Nation members will have the right to harvest fish in accordance with agreed-upon allocations set out in the final agreement for food, social and ceremonial purposes in a designated area of the Fraser River. The commercial fishery is set out in a harvest agreement, which does not form part of the final agreement. It provides for fishing licenses to be issued to the Yale First Nation by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Mr. Chair, some neighbouring first nations have raised concerns regarding this agreement. I will now outline the steps that have been taken to address those concerns.
Sixty-nine first nation bands and related organizations claim asserted territories that intersect with the Yale First Nation's asserted territory. In January 2008, Canada and B.C. jointly invited each one of them to review what was then the Yale First Nation agreement in principle and convey any concerns regarding potential impacts the agreement might have had on their claimed interest. The vast majority of these bands and organizations have not raised any specific concerns with the Yale First Nation final agreement.
For those who did raise concerns, consultation meetings were conducted. During the course of these consultations, several accommodations were made, including within the final agreement itself. A brief summary of those would be as follows. Concerns were raised by the chief of the Chehalis band regarding a harvest area that included the eastern shoreline of Harrison Lake. With the support of Chief Hope, the Yale First Nation harvest area was adjusted to exclude the shoreline.
Next, Spuzzum band members expressed concerns during their consultation meetings regarding the access to a provincial crown land area, Frozen Lakes, which was offered as part of the land package that would eventually become Yale First Nation land. Yale First Nation agreed to add treaty language identifying these lands as open to the public.
Finally, during consultation with the Stó:lo Xwexwilmexw Treaty Association and the Stó:lo Tribal Council, we heard that their claim to aboriginal rights to access fishing and cultural sites in areas that will form Yale First Nation lands could be negatively impacted by the Yale First Nation final agreement.
Further, they strongly advocated that they required unfettered access to those lands and suggested that we remove all Yale First Nation reserves north of the town of Yale from Yale First Nation lands.
Regarding the timing of consultations with Stó:lo, Canada and B.C. shared the draft final agreement with Stó:lo in April 2009 and with the remaining overlap groups in July 2009. Throughout the remainder of that year, Canada and B.C. negotiated additional treaty provisions regarding access to Yale treaty lands in an effort to balance Stó:lo concerns with Yale's interest in concluding a treaty.
After meeting with Stó:lo to explain the changes made, the revised final agreement was shared with all 69 first nation entities in January 2012. The final agreement was initialled in February 2012.
A number of accommodations have been made.
The final agreement was amended to include a unique access provision to allow “reasonable public access” to Yale First Nation lands. When concerns were raised by the Stó:lo that the grounds for reasonable access might be too subjective, the parties agreed to a further change. This included the addition in the final agreement of objective criteria by which to consider access requests.
To address a Stó:lo concern regarding the scope of access that would be considered, the parties agreed to include in the final agreement first nation traditional purposes as a basis for the exercise of reasonable access.
Finally, the Yale First Nation proposed a long-term binding agreement with the Stó:lo that details an inclusive process to identify individuals and sites where access would be agreed upon, thus allowing those individuals access and use of Yale First Nation lands without requiring them to request access. The proposed agreement also includes a dispute resolution provision. As I understand it, this offer is still available to the Stó:lo.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I would like to respond briefly to a bill amendment proposal made by the Stó:lo representative at this committee earlier this week. The proposal would place a new requirement on Yale and Stó:lo to conclude a common understanding regarding a very significant portion of Yale treaty settlement lands before those lands could form part of the treaty.
The Yale-Stó:lo disagreement has been ongoing for decades, and I have, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, no reason to conclude that it will be resolved shortly. In fact, as you all know, I'm sure, the independent mediator appointed to seek a resolution confirmed this.
The Stó:lo proposal would also cover an area where a number of current and long-standing Yale reserves are located. It is not at all clear how the proposal could address the uncertainty created by such lands, including: current Yale reserves having a conditional status; who would own and manage the lands; and how long it might take before any actual certainty in the area could be achieved.
Mr. Chair, this fundamental and substantive change to Bill C-62 would require the B.C. government and Yale to rewrite a five-year agreement, causing a delay of years.
The chief commissioner of the British Columbia Treaty Commission has identified how the B.C. treaty process is intended to work and that overlapping claims cannot result in a veto by one first nation over another first nation's effort to move ahead with a modern treaty, and improve the life of their members.
Yale has incurred loan debts over 20 years of good faith negotiations and should have the opportunity to benefit from its negotiated treaty. It is time, I suggest, to move forward, not backward, and to help create greater opportunities for the Yale First Nation and others who live and work in the surrounding area.
The Government of Canada, the Government of British Columbia, and the Yale First Nation remain willing to continue the consultation process, at least up to the effective date of the final agreement in 2015.
We are willing to receive any new information not previously considered and to continue to engage with the overlapping first nations to seek a neutrally satisfactory solution.
But Mr. Chair, this agreement is about reconciliation with the Yale First Nation. It will bring certainty to the Yale First Nation's rights and titles, and it will provide greater opportunities for the local economy, to the benefit of all Canadian citizens, First Nation or otherwise, who live in the area. It is the foundation for rebuilding a relationship and supports the realization of a better future for the Yale First Nation.
I ask that my colleagues join with me in support of this vital demonstration of our government's commitment, and the commitment of all Canadians, to completing the unfinished business of settling treaties in British Columbia.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.