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Federal Hansard

Adjournment Proceedings

Legislative Assembly of Canada
Federal Hansard
May 4, 2006

Aboriginal Affairs

Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo-Cowichan, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister to act on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, explicitly created to prevent another Oka from happening.

I asked because the people of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory found it necessary to take action due to the failure of the federal government to deal with its well researched claim to land near Caledonia.

I asked because the federal government has failed to take action on the recommendations of the royal commission. It still has not responded a decade later.

The government has not devoted enough resources to assessing, negotiating and settling claims. There was not a penny in the budget to indicate that any claims will be settled in the coming year. What is the Conservative government going to do to accelerate the settlement of claims and resolve the backlog?

The uncertainty felt by many first nations across this country is directly linked to outstanding land claims. The Six Nations is only one example, but a telling one. They have watched as surrounding communities have continued to grow right up to the boundaries of their reserve while the government drags out negotiations on Six Nations' claims.

Where are the principles the federal government uses to ensure that the honour of the Crown is upheld in all land dealings with first nations? Or is the mantra that "it is cheaper to negotiate than to settle land claims"?

Many claims take five years just to be given initial consideration. I have met with chiefs who were trained as children to negotiate land claims and they now realize they may die before there is resolution.

Testifying in front of the aboriginal affairs committee, the Indian Claims Commission said that a delay in giving a first nation a substantive answer of any kind is equal to denial of the claim. What is fair and reasonable about that?

Will the Conservatives agree to establish an independent claims tribunal that can impose settlement deadlines and/or rule on claims settlements where the federal government is unreasonably delaying negotiated settlement?

First nations and aboriginal peoples across this country are asking for something that is fair and reasonable. When will the government act?

Mr. Rod Bruinooge (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, CPC): Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question.

I intend to touch on all three topics raised in her question: the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Indian Claims Commission, and events near Caledonia, Ontario.

In the 10 years since the royal commission concluded, its report has inspired all of us who believe the federal government can do better in its efforts to support aboriginal Canadians. I cannot do justice to a five volume report in a four minute speech, but I can tell my hon. friend that I see common threads in the themes identified in the report and the priorities addressed in this week's budget.

The commissioners sought out women's perspectives and considered the needs of aboriginal youth. The hon. Minister of Finance announced $450 million in new money over two years for key priorities like aboriginal education, support for women, children and families, and on reserve housing and water.

As well, the commissioner's report specifically addressed the needs of aboriginal Canadians in urban communities and in the north. Likewise, we have also set aside $300 million for off reserve housing in the provinces and another $300 million for affordable housing in the three territories.

As for the Indian Claims Commission, the government believes that the independence of the commission is critical. We are open to new ideas that will help first nations resolve claims in a fair and efficient manner.

My hon. friend may be aware that the minister served on the commission for 10 years. He came into his new office with a clear understanding that this system is far from perfect. Our government will seek ways to improve the process and to ensure that settlements are reached on a faster basis.

Finally, we must address the events near Caledonia, Ontario. I know I can speak for each and every member of the House when I express my wish for a peaceful, honourable and long-lasting solution.

The minister has taken a number of important steps to enhance the dialogue between the Government of Ontario, Haldimand County and, of course, Six Nations members.

He appointed a fact-finder in March. He has been in constant contact with federal officials at the table, his provincial counterpart, the Hon. David Ramsay, and his cabinet colleague, the member for Haldimand--Norfolk. Yesterday, he appointed the Hon. Barbara McDougall to be the special federal representative in the talks.

Progress at the table has been promising. That progress builds on a long history of neighbourly relations between Haldimand County residents and Six Nations members. The many historic bonds between these two communities point the way toward a solution.

To bring these three separate topics together, the royal commission noted that the federal government has not always addressed aboriginal people in a just way. The Indian Claims Commission demonstrates that current systems are not always an effective expression of the government's best intentions.

However, relationships between communities, between individual Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, are strong, and that goodwill can carry us through the current challenges.

Ms. Jean Crowder: Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his response, but I have to say that we are looking at decade after decade of lack of action around land claims.

The litany goes on in communities across the country. There is Garden Hill, with outbreaks of tuberculosis, with 3,500 people and only 4% of the people actually having access to running water. There is Kasechewan, with another emergency crisis there, and where is the money for the funding for the housing? Now we have Caledonia, a nation of people who have waited decades for some justice in this country. Six Nations people are a peaceful people. They deserve to be recognized for the long-standing claims that they have brought to the table.

On another topic, what is the status of discussions on an alternative approach to Bill C-6, the 2003 specific claims resolution act? Is the federal government considering implementing Bill C-6 without the consent of first nations and is Parliament going to be informed of the discussions on this? ).

Mr. Rod Bruinooge: Mr. Speaker, our government is moving forward on all the issues that have been raised. We are doing so after moving through a period of 13 years of inaction. Our minister has taken the initiative in his first days in office and I am glad to be a part of the government as it is in fact moving forward on the responsibilities that have been left by the side by the previous government.

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