Madam Chair, I appear before the committee today because I believe in Bill C-14 and I believe deeply that our country's north has a brilliant economic future that can benefit not only the Tlicho but all Canadians.
I want to start by recognizing one of the most thorough, outstanding, and hard-working negotiating teams, the Tlicho negotiating team, headed by Chief Charlie Jim Nitsiza and chief negotiator. I also want to recognize their Deline neighbours from Sahtu region in the Northwest Territories, to the north of them on Great Bear Lake, who are here in attendance. They are the self-government negotiating team headed by sub-Chief Andrew John Kenny and Danny Gaudet, the self-government negotiator. It's traditional to observe and to show support by observing, and they're here to do that.
I am here to provide support to the minister, and also to the groups that have come before us, especially the Tlicho, on this occasion when we discuss their bill.
My belief is founded on solid evidence that the time is right for the proud Tlicho people to take ownership of a significant portion of their traditional lands. If we look to the facts, the Tlicho have demonstrated a remarkable ability to absorb, adapt, adjust, and apply entrepreneurial and business skills. Furthermore, the north has vast stores of natural resources, the full extent of which we can only estimate. I'm certain Bill C-14 will create synergies between these two facts and give rise to the entrepreneurial spirit among the Tlicho that will become an engine of development across the north and for the betterment of Canada.
Examples abound, as the minister indicated, of the Tlicho making astute and visionary decisions about the 39,000 square kilometres in question in the bill before us today. The Tlicho's business acumen was fully evident as it negotiated partnership agreements with, as the minister indicated, the two largest diamond mining firms in the region, BHP Billiton and Diavik. Notably, Canada will soon become the world's third-largest producer of diamonds. These agreements are virtually unprecedented, nationally and globally.
The benefits of partnership extend well beyond economics. The diamond mining companies also contribute to training programs, scholarships, and infrastructure improvements in Tlicho communities. The Tlicho's burgeoning business partnerships will also lead inexorably to a higher standard of living, and therefore a higher quality of life for the people of the north. As you see, Madam Chair, the Tlicho's judicious dealings with private companies have acted as a catalyst for increased self-reliance and improved educational opportunities.
Madam Chair, I ask the honourable committee members to recognize that Bill C-14 will help establish the secure and prosperous future for the Tlicho. The legislation mandates that the Tlicho establish effective and democratic governments. It also guarantees them representation on resource management boards. These mechanisms will enable the Tlicho to exercise greater control over lands and resources.
Bill C-14 guarantees that all adult residents, including those who are not Tlicho citizens, will be eligible voters in the local elections. This bears repeating because there is a sense that this is an undemocratic process and an agreement that speaks to a rather isolated, marginalized provision for one group of people. This is not so. The head of each community government must be a Tlicho citizen, but half of the councillors can be persons who are not Tlicho citizens. In this way, Bill C-14 not only contributes to the investment the Tlicho have made in their futures, but it also ensures that all northern voices are heard by the Tlicho community governments.
Among these voices, Madam Chair, are the increasingly strong voices of the women in the community. We have a member who is legal counsel who is a first-ever Tlicho member to be called to the bar, Bertha Rabesca Zoe. She's a very committed and hard-working member of this team. There's room for women in the Tlicho government. The committee members will find as they analyze the agreement that it supports gender equality in many ways.
The agreement gives all Tlicho citizens, including women, a larger voice in governance. Tlicho citizens, regardless of gender, will have equal access to the benefits provided under the agreement. Women play a strong role in the Tlicho communities. In fact, the majority of Tlicho people in post-secondary education are women, who will eventually play strong roles in the community and government structures under the Tlicho agreement.
As you know, Madam Chair, under the terms of the Indian Act, first nations face numerous obstacles to economic development. What you may not recognize is that by clarifying legal status and ownership of resources, this bill provides the certainty sought by private sector investors. The Tlicho agreement draws a distinction between land rights and non-land rights. Certainty is achieved for both land- and non-land-based rights, and finality is achieved for land rights.
The Tlicho appreciate the opportunity that stands before them, and 84% of those who voted were in favour of the agreement. This means there is overwhelming support by the Tlicho, who are more than ready to participate in the development of the vast natural resources, and in turn, the northern communities. We have an opportunity with Bill C-14 to strike a balance between economic development and respect for cultural self-determination.
I ask the honourable committee members to give this bill the careful consideration it deserves and make the most of this opportunity.
Thank you. Mahsi cho.