Mr. Chairman, I wish to take only a few minutes on this item in order to bring to the attention of the minister one or two matters relating to Indian affairs.
I think the minister will recall that some two weeks ago I suggested that he should look into the possibility of replacing houses on Indian reserves as one way of providing employment. I wish to return to that subject again today. It has been mentioned earlier by other hon. members in relation to their own areas, and I want to give one example in my own constituency.
The one I have particularly in mind is the Valley river reserve, which is not a large reserve but is a good example of a community where new houses need to be built. A study of conditions there would show why a new approach should be made toward the provision of accommodation on this reserve. At present a number of log buildings are in existence which have been occupied for many years, and which in my opinion are not fit for human habitation.
The policy which has been followed in the past has been to provide a certain amount of money each year in the budgets of various agencies for the purpose of constructing new frame houses. It has usually worked out in practice, at least in my part of the country, that an Indian reserve of the ordinary size receives about two new houses a year. This rate of replacing outmoded log buildings which are unsanitary and which make no provision for even a minimum of comfort is, in the first place, much too slow. There is also another problem which arises. When a decision is being made as to who shall occupy these new houses-the one or two which are provided each year-there is always an understandable scramble among the residents of the reserve as to who shall occupy the property. I do not know on what basis the tenancies are decided, but I do know that a great deal of discontent and local friction is caused when there are only one or two new houses to be occupied and a dozen or more people wish to occupy them.
I believe it is totally unnecessary, particularly at a time like the present when we seem to have surplus building material and when we certainly have surplus labour, to ration these new frame houses on such a stingy scale. I think the department should take a square look at this situation and replace those old log buildings, where they
exist on the reserves, with good modern frame homes, because it is time the old buildings were scrapped.
I believe the minister should consider going ahead with a full-scale program of house replacement on those reserves, a program which, incidentally, would cut out the scramble which now takes place for the few new homes now available and bring about a much more satisfactory condition on these reserves from the point of view of sanitation. I hope the minister will look into this question and inform the committee what he has in mind in this respect, because when I raised the matter two weeks ago he said in his reply that he was very much interested and would have an investigation made.
I also wish to bring to the minister's attention the necessity for making some provision for the introduction of local industries into the reserves. About a year ago the province of Manitoba appointed an economist to make a survey of living conditions on the reserves and the possibility of setting up local industries. I have not yet seen any report of this survey and perhaps one is not yet available, but I suggest that the department should co-operate with the effort which is being made by the province of Manitoba and with the efforts of other provinces which I am sure, are acting along similar lines. The department could then integrate its own plans with the efforts being made on the provincial level to break the impasse which now exists on many of these Indian reserves where traditional means of living, mainly fishing, hunting and trapping, have been exhausted and where the Indians must now either evacuate their reserves to seek employment elsewhere or find some other means of earning a livelihood.
Most of the Indian reserves in Manitoba are located near a lake or a large river and a good deal of fishing is engaged in, but there are some reserves which are not located near water and whose timber supplies have been exhausted not, I may say, by the Indians themselves but as the result of a rather doubtful system in the past of allocating timber licences to private individuals. However the situation came about, the fact remains that many of these reserves are completely impoverished, and I think an extra effort must be made now by the department and agencies at the provincial level in co-operation to try to bring in some industries to help sustain these communities.
I do not think there is any one type of industry that would be universally applicable to all the reserves, but I could give a few examples of types that might be applicable in the province of Manitoba.
In a few instances there are still substantial stands of timber near Indian reserves, and from time to time these timber stands are put up for bids by private individuals or firms under the tender system. I believe if the government were to supply the capital and give some encouragement and help from the organizational point of view they could assist the Indians on the various reserves to form co-operatives to engage in lumber production, and perhaps something could be accomplished.
I have talked to quite a number of Indians on these reserves who have expressed keen interest in that type of industry. Obviously they could not finance it themselves because they simply do not have the capital, but if the government would advance the capital to enable them to set up a co-operative saw mill, planing mill or some small industry having to do with lumber products, they would be prepared to repay the advance over a period of time. They do not want to be given anything, but they do need pump priming of that sort.
I think many of them would be prepared to enter into such a co-operative arrangement and take full responsibility at the local level for the operation of an industry of that kind. Over a period of years they would pay off the debt and then they would own the industry themselves. With the timber stands still available I think that is a very good possibility in certain parts of Manitoba.
Another possibility would be fish filleting and processing plants. On those reserves located near reasonably large lakes such as lake Winnipegosis, lake Winnipeg, lake Manitoba and others in my province there is some possibility of providing employment if fish filleting and processing plants are established. Some canning of fish products could also be done, and perhaps also some canning of poultry products.
The point of the whole thing is that something of that sort must be done on these reserves to provide full employment, if possible, or at least part-time employment during the slack season when the Indians cannot find employment elsewhere. It would have the effect of giving them a certain amount of self-confidence and security right on the reserves.
Unless we take some steps along that line the only alternative I can see is for the department to make a determined effort to have the Indian population become fully acquainted with agriculture. That has been tried on several of the reserves in my area, and I must admit that it has not been too successful. There are many reasons for that such as lack of know-how, lack of proper
Supply-Citizenship and Immigration equipment with which to start, and there may also be others. Unless the department is prepared to try a land settlement scheme and change the Indian from his traditional methods of earning a living to what to him would be a new method of making a living then the other alternative I have mentioned may have to be employed and small local industries established which would operate on a self-sustaining basis and provide local employment and an opportunity for the local people to take a good share of the responsibility.
I want to emphasize that last factor, because I am not advocating that the government should establish industries on these reserves and appoint a manager or some sort of commissar to run them. I believe the Indians would prefer to own these industries co-operatively and take full responsibility for the success of their operation. They have no hope whatever of doing so themselves because of the simple fact that they do not have the capital or the possibility of borrowing the necessary money. They have no collateral to pledge if they want to try to raise the necessary money, because in many cases the Indian Act prevents them from offering any collateral.
I hope the minister will look into these two matters carefully, because if the situation on other reserves throughout Canada is the same as on the several in my constituency I must say we have very little to be proud of, in that we are not providing much leadership to the Indians on the reserves. I hope the situation is better elsewhere.
There is one more matter I want to mention, having to do with a complaint I have received from a number of Indians on reserves in my area. I am passing on this complaint because Indians have made it to me. It is said that the field representatives attached to the various agencies throughout the province, whose duty it is to assist the Indians and give them advice respecting the limited agricultural activities in which they take part and to check on their living conditions and other matters, do not visit the reserves often enough.
The minister can check for himself and find out how authentic the complaint is. It is said that there has been a tendency for these field representatives to become pen pushers, to sit behind a desk at the Indian agency and try to run their business from there. We all know that in a job of that kind you cannot properly fulfil your responsibility as a field representative or instructor on an Indian reserve by sitting behind a desk and issuing orders or writing letters. The men must be there on the job. They must
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Supply-Citizenship and Immigration go into the homes of the Indians, discuss matters with them, listen to their grievances and try to do something about them.
As I say, I am not making any charge because I do not know the exact facts. However, these complaints have come to my attention with a fair degree of regularity in the last year or two. I believe the situation requires investigation, to see whether the men appointed as liaison officers or instructors on the various reserves are actually on the job in the field doing what they were appointed to do instead of sitting behind desks pushing papers around. I hope the minister will also look into that situation. (Translation):
Subtopic: REQUEST FOR CONTINUATION OF BRANCH LINE PASSENGER SERVICE