Thanks, Mr. Chair.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
To all the distinguished members of the committee, I'm very happy to be here acknowledging you all as friends and relatives. I also acknowledge the Algonquin peoples for hosting this on their ancestral lands. For me, from our AFN, I'm happy to be here.
I want to share some perspectives. I'm very honoured to speak here on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations regarding Bill C-100. I'll also say a few words about the process to negotiate, ratify and implement the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement.
Trade in resources and goods in this land, I always say, began with us, the indigenous peoples. The participation now in 2019 in international trade should not be seen merely as part of history. Going forward, how do we get more involved?
As self-determining peoples, we have interests and rights respecting today's international trade agreements. We've always said that for far too long we have not seen the benefits from international trade flow to our businesses or to our communities as first nations people. These facts should form a part of legal and political frameworks when Canada explores new free trade agreements. I've always said, from a first nations perspective in Canada, that whenever Canada goes out to negotiate or discuss anything from softwood lumber to trees, anything from potash in southern Saskatchewan, to uranium in the north or any oil, coal, or whatever natural resource it is, indigenous peoples should be involved and should be participating, because there's respect or reference that we still have unextinguished aboriginal title and rights to the land and territory and resources. It's a simple fact. So we need to be involved.
When Canada, through Minister Chrystia Freeland, welcomed me to be on the NAFTA advisory committee, it was very important, because to date, indigenous peoples haven't been involved. We also had indigenous officials working as part of the working group. In the end, we'll say that this work resulted in the most inclusive international trade agreement for indigenous peoples to date. It's not perfect, but to date it's the best that we have in Canada.
With the ratification of the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement, we would take a step to making international trade more aware of and more equitable in its treatment of indigenous peoples, and especially for indigenous women entrepreneurs. We still have more work to do.
We believe the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement is a step in the right direction with the new general exception for indigenous rights with respect to inherent and aboriginal and treaty rights. As well, with specific preferences to carve out procurement benefits and other opportunities for indigenous businesses and service providers, there's also a promise of future co-operation to enhance indigenous businesses. As well, importantly, the investor-state dispute settlement process, which was a threat to indigenous people's rights, will be phased out for Canada. This is the groundwork for positive change.
While the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement is a new example of the difference it makes to engage with indigenous peoples at an early stage, there must be increased opportunities for first nations participation not only in international trade negotiations but also in trade missions.
Canada should extend an official role to first nations in negotiations of all international agreements on trade and investments that impact inherent treaty aboriginal rights. This would better reflect the nation-to-nation relationship and the whole-of-government commitment by Canada to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, the inclusion of first nations leads to better decisions and better outcomes.
With regard to Bill C-100, what I'm recommending to all the committee members here is that there should be in place a non-derogation clause. It's a safe clause, that nothing in this agreement will affect existing aboriginal treaty rights, which are affirmed in section 35 of Canada's Constitution. I'm making that recommendation as well as that it be interpreted and implemented consistent with those rights in section 35. It's good to have it ratified by Canada, the United States and Mexico on one hand, but each nation-state will come back and do some sort of legislation with the implementation. That's the piece we're looking at making the recommendation on. I'm not advising that we open up the agreement; no, leave it the way it is, but move in tandem with the other two countries to get it ratified. We have to be careful to be not too fast and not too slow, because if one of the three countries doesn't get it ratified, the deal is not going to be implemented.
It's not just that international trade and investment agreements can impact our rights, but also how the agreement is implemented through domestic regulatory and policy matters. That has to be looked at. Once the agreement is ratified, we must work together to realize the economic gains and ensure the provisions related to indigenous peoples in international trade agreements are implemented in a manner that brings greater economic equity to first nations peoples.
The first area where indigenous peoples can see the benefits from this agreement is government procurement. Procurement is always a big thing. Everybody says this should be easy, that it's low-hanging fruit. Canada must move from policies and objectives to mandatory requirements for procuring goods and services from first nations businesses. The Assembly of First Nations is ready to work with Canada to make sure we develop legislation together for social procurement that benefits first nations and other indigenous peoples.
The only other thing I'd like to share here before concluding is there are three or four very important bills we want to see passed before this week is up. Bill C-91 on languages, Bill C-92 on child welfare, and two private members' bills, Bill C-262 and Bill C-337, all need to be passed. If in the event the legislature is called back, those should form the priority. But we're hoping and praying that all MPs, all the leadership here on Parliament Hill, will get behind and pass those pieces of legislation as soon as possible.
That's it, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for the time.