Madam Speaker, the young indigenous people whom I met with in the office of the Minister of Northern Affairs were not radical activists. They were sensitive, young indigenous people expressing the importance of the land, water and air.
One young woman, who had slept in the Minister of Northern Affairs' office for over 10 days, tearfully expressed to me how upsetting it was to see the images and hear from the people being arrested for what they believed in, friendships that began a year ago and then having to witness their new friend being arrested earlier this month.
I believe we have learned from the crises at Oka and Ipperwash, in Caledonia and Gustafsen Lake. I believe the police also understand its role in that. Last year, we said that we never wanted to see again the images of police having to use force in an indigenous community in order to keep the peace.
Canada is counting on us to work together to create the space for respectful dialogue with the Wet'suwet'en peoples. We all want this dispute resolved in a peaceful and durable manner.
The rhetoric and divisive tactics from the other side are irresponsible. We want the Wet'suwet'en peoples to come together and resolve their differences of opinion. We want to work with both the elected chiefs in council and the hereditary chiefs toward a future outside the Indian Act, where, as a nation, they can choose the governance of their choosing, write their own laws and finally be able to have their rights affirmed, as they take decisions with respect to their land, water and air in the best interests of their children and seven generations out.
We are inspired by the courageous Wet'suwet'en people who took the recognition of their rise to the Supreme Court of Canada in the Delgamuukw case in 1997. However, we need to be clear that the court did not at that time grant title to their lands. It affirmed the rights of the Wet'suwet'en, but said the question of title was to be determined at a later time.
It has been more than 20 years, through many federal and provincial governments, and the Wet'suwet'en people are understandably impatient for the question of title to be resolved. I look forward to working together on an out-of-court process to determine title.
The Wet'suwet'en have worked hard on those next steps within the B.C. treaty process and more recently, since 2018, on specific claims, negotiation preparedness, nation rebuilding, with funding from the government for research.
Two years ago I signed an agreement with the hereditary chiefs of the Office of the Wet'suwet'en on asserting their rights on child and family services. At the signing, there was some overlap. Some of the hereditary chiefs also hold or have held office within their communities as chiefs and/or councillors.
Across Canada, over half of the Indian Act bands are sitting down at tables to work on their priorities as they assert their jurisdiction. From education to fisheries to child and family services to policing to court systems, we have made important strides forward in the hard work of what Lee Crowchild describes as “deconstructing the effects of colonization.”
In British Columbia, we have been inspired by the work of the B.C. summit as they have been able to articulate and sign, with us and the B.C. government, a new policy that will, once and for all, eliminate the concepts of extinguishment, cede and surrender for future treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.
This new B.C. policy is transformative. It represents years of hard work that has eliminated so many of the obstacles that impeded the treaty process. It will be an essential tool as we are able to accelerate the progress to self-determination. I believe the B.C. policy can provide a template for nations from coast to coast to coast.
We have together agreed that no longer will loans be necessary for first nations to fund their negotiations in Canada. We are forgiving outstanding past loans and, in some cases, paying back nations for loans that had already been repaid.
For over two years, we have worked with the already self-governing nations on a collaborative fiscal agreement that will provide stable, predictable funding, which will finally properly fund the running of their governments.
This new funding arrangement will provide them with much more money than they would have received under the Indian Act.
The conditions are right to move the relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada to one based on the affirmation of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. It has been exciting to watch the creativity and innovation presented by the Ktunaxa and Stó:lo nations in their negotiations of modern treaties.
We were inspired to see the hereditary chiefs and elected chief and council of the Heiltsuk Nation work together to sign agreement with Canada on their path to self-government.
We are also grateful to the B.C. government for its important work on reconciliation, including the passage of Bill 41, implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I would like to thank Murray Rankin for his important work for B.C. on lands and title with the Wet'suwet'en nation and Nathan Cullen for his work with all those involved in the current impasse.
We have see that real progress can be made when hereditary and elected leadership come together with a shared vision of nation rebuilding and work together on a clear route to self-determination.
I look forward to having these conversations with the Wet'suwet'en nation.
We have an obligation to move beyond the good work we are doing on child and family services to a meaningful discussion on reconstituting the Wet'suwet'en nation.
It is time to build on the Delgamuukw decision, time to show that issues of rights and title can be solved through meaningful dialogue
My job is to ensure that Canada finds out-of-court solutions and to fast-track negotiations and agreements that make real change possible.
I hope that shortly we will be able to sit down with the hereditary chiefs of Wet'suwet'en and work together on their short and long-term goals.
There are many parts of Canada where title is very difficult to determine. Many nations occupied the land for different generations. There are other areas like Tsilhqot'in's title land and Haida Gwai where there is clear evidence that the land has been occupied by one nation for millennia.
We are at a critical time in Canada. We need to deal effectively with the uncertainty. Canadians want to see indigenous rights honoured. They are impatient for meaningful progress. Canadians are counting on us to implement a set of rules and processes in which section 35 of our Constitution can be honourably implemented.
Passing legislation and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, is one way to move forward.
Canadians acknowledge that there has been a difference of opinion among the Wet'suwet'en peoples. As was said, 20 elected chiefs and councils have agreed to the project in consultation with their people. Women leaders have expressed an opinion that the project can help eliminate poverty or provide meaningful work for their young men and reduce domestic violence and incarceration
Crystal Smith, chief councillor for Haisla nation, is in favour of the pipeline. She eloquently said this morning on Ottawa Morning that the solutions would be found within the Wet'suwet'en nation and that the outside voices were not helpful.
There needs to be unity and consensus within the community, and today's debate is not helping.
Some have expressed that in an indigenous world view providing an energy source that will reduce China's reliance on coal is good for mother earth We are hoping the Wet'suwet'en people will be able to come together to take these decisions together, decisions that are in the best interests of their children and their children for generations to come.
We applaud the thousands of young Canadians fighting for climate justice.
We know that they need hope. They want to see a real plan to deal with the climate emergency. We believe we have an effective plan in place, from clean tech, renewable energy, public transit and protection of the land and water.
We want the young people of Canada and all those who have been warning about climate change for decades to feel heard.
They need hope, and they need to feel involved in coming up with real solutions.
As I mentioned Tuesday night, we have invested in and are inspired by the work of Val Napoleon and John Burrows at the Indigenous Law Lodge at UVIC. They will be able to do the research on the laws of many nations, so they are able to create a governance structures and constitutions in keeping with their laws.
It is so important to understand the damage done by colonization and residential schools that has led to sometimes different interpretations of traditional legal practices and customs.
We think that, one day, Canada will be able to integrate indigenous law into Canada's legislative process, just as it did with common law and civil law.
We are also striving to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action and to increase awareness of our shared history.
We need all the indigenous leadership to know that we are serious about rebuilding trust and working with respect, as the Minister of Indigenous Services and the Prime Minister have expressed in such a heartfelt way.
Following up on the repeated and public personal commitments by the Prime Minister and the B.C. premier and our letters of February 16 and yesterday, I and the B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation continue to offer our commitment to a process based upon trust and mutual respect to address the urgent issues of concern to the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation.
We wrote to them on February 16, offering an urgent meeting with us, and we were willing to meet in Smithers if that was agreeable to them. In an effort to exemplify our commitment and recognizing the urgency of the situation, both of us travelled to Victoria on Monday to allow for short-notice travel to Smithers if that was their reply.
While we have not yet been able to meet in person, we have continued the dialogue through multiple conversations with some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in order to clarify a path forward. That was an important step, and we thank them for coming to the discussion with the same commitment for a peaceful resolution. We understand that they have urgent issues to resolve and require dedicated attention from both levels of government in working with them to chart a peaceful path forward.
We are committed to finding a mutually acceptable process with them and the Wet’suwet’en nation to sit down and address the urgent and long-term issues at hand. We wrote again yesterday to arrange an in-person meeting. We hope that the Wet’suwet’en will be able to express to those in solidarity with them that it is now time for them to stand down and let us get back to work with Wet’suwet’en nation with its own laws and governance and work nation to nation with the Crown. I am hoping to be able to return to British Columbia as soon as possible to continue that work.
In closing, I have to say that as a physician, I was trained to first do no harm. I believe today's debate is harmful to the progress we need to make in order to get to a durable solution.