Hon. Ethel Blondin-Andrew (Minister of State (Northern Development), Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, today is indeed a historic day for Canada, the Tlicho and the House. Today it is our solemn duty to consider the merits of Bill C-14 as we enter the final debate in the House on the Tlicho agreement. I am convinced that a close examination of the proposed legislation will reveal its numerous advantages for the Tlicho, for the north and for Canada.
I wish to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for their support and valuable insight, as the bill has worked its way through the House rather expeditiously. The legislation is a testament of what we can achieve together when we work in partnership.
On that note, I would also like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of all those who have been working with such unwavering determination to see the bill become a reality. We are honoured to have with us today the Tlicho leadership, elders, and members of the community who have worked so hard.
We have the Tlicho chiefs from all the Tlicho communities in the House today: Grand Chief Joe Rabesca, Chief Charlie Jim Nitsiza from Whati and his wife, Chief Archie Wetrade from Gameti and his spouse as well, Chief Joseph Judas from Wekweti and Chief Clifford Daniels from Behchoko. All these people have their spouses with them.
The Elders Advisory Council has also travelled to Ottawa for this historic day, representedd by Alexi Arrowmaker, Jimmy B. Rabesca, Joe Migwi and Harry Simpson. The Tlicho negotiators are here as well. They are John B. Zoe, Ted Blondin, Eddie Erasmus and James Wahshie. The legal counsel are Colin Salter and Bertha Rabesca-Zoe.
This is a delegation that deserves to be here and to see the benefits of their really hard work over the years and decades. A delegation of people whose support was crucial in getting to this point includes Violet Camsell-Blondin, Frances Erasmus, Georgina Franki and James Rabesca. All of these people demonstrated selfless dedication and perseverance in making the agreement possible. They spent a lot of time on the road away from their families and communities making. They did not consider it to be a sacrifice but rather a dedication in seeing a future for their people.
For more than 10 years the Tlicho, the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories have worked toward this agreement. The legislation before us today is a response to changing circumstances and challenging conditions. It represents nothing less than the inspiration of a proud and determined people committed to flourish in today's north and in Canada.
The enactment of Bill C-14, and the agreement that it enshrines, will not only foster greater economic and social development in the Tlicho communities, it will also allow us, as a country, to build on the great progress we have made in resolving aboriginal issues.
After all, this is one of the most prosperous and successful aboriginal communities in the north. The agreement defines and delineates Tlicho rights with respect to lands, resources and self-government. Indeed, many observers have stated publicly that the clarification of Tlicho rights may well be the single most advantageous aspect of the agreement.
This clarity will lead to substantial benefits for the Tlicho and for all Canadians. It was a truly visionary and forward thinking move that back in the 1960s, Tlicho leaders began a comprehensive process of consultation and negotiation upon recognizing the need to protect their traditional way of life and seeing the opportunity to benefit from modern enterprise.
Their objective, as captured by Chief Jimmy Bruneau, was to become strong like two people, to blend traditional beliefs with modern practices. During the past 10 years, the Tlicho people have realized Chief Bruneau's vision. They have moved decisively to protect their past and secure their future by following an approach based on traditional, and modern beliefs and practices.
After 16 years of being in the House, I am not prone to being nervous, but I am quite nervous today. I am a little intimidated because these are very powerful people and very powerful leaders from my riding. This is such an important piece of legislation that I am afraid to make a mistake.
To ensure the survival of their culture, the Tlicho people drafted and ratified a constitution that honours their language and customs. It is important to note that the Tlicho constitution states clearly that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the Tlicho government thereby protecting the democratic rights and freedoms of those who reside on Tlicho lands. Non-Tlicho citizens, for instance, may be appointed or elected to serve in Tlicho institutions.
To foster economic and social prosperity, the Tlicho negotiated mutually beneficial agreements with private companies and public sector organizations. To facilitate greater cooperation with neighbouring aboriginal groups, the Tlicho finalized overlap agreements that have clarified land boundaries.
The fact that the Tlicho people are one of the most progressive aboriginal groups in Canada is linked to their consultative and collaborative abilities, their careful consideration of every voice, and their willingness to accept dissent yet still achieve consensus. I have personally watched the consultation process that they used in bringing all of their people along every step of the way. The way in which they engaged the elders to be informed and all of their citizens to be part of this was really quite an extraordinary piece of work in and of itself.
Enacting this piece of legislation could not be more timely because of the readiness of the Tlicho people to advance to true and complete self-government. The Tlicho people have amply demonstrated their ability to exercise the powers granted under Bill C-14 wisely. After all, the Tlicho have established and maintained a series of successful partnerships to deliver social services, develop economic opportunities, and build community infrastructure.
The Tlicho were the first aboriginal group in Canada to establish an independent school board, and today operate five schools with a high school graduation rate that has far exceeded expectations from just a decade ago.
Today they also run a seniors residence, and this residence is magic. It is a wonderful accommodation of what people need in terms of modern medical needs and care, and also traditional needs. They also have a day care centre and a prenatal group.
The Tlicho have collaborated on projects to improve physical infrastructure in the north. In addition to building and maintaining their own airport, the Tlicho people, in collaboration with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, established a run-of-the-river hydro generating station on the Snare River-Snare Cascades. Today the station generates approximately 7% of the region's electrical capacity.
The Tlicho people are involved in numerous ventures across a range of economic sectors such as tourism and mining. They secured impact benefit agreements with two diamond mining companies, Diavik and BHP Billiton. These agreements deliver significant benefits such as employment and contracting opportunities, along with training and scholarship programs.
To maximize the potential long term benefits of the diamond mines, the Tlicho partnered with ATCO Frontec to create Tlicho Logistics. This giant company supplies support services to mining projects and ensures that Tlicho employees receive on the job training in effective management and administration practices. With these skills, the Tlicho are more likely to succeed on future projects.
This focus on economic development has not diminished the Tlicho's strong connection to heritage. The trails of our ancestors program is but one small example. This annual 10 day canoe trip, led by Tlicho elders and leaders, enables up to 200 community members of all ages to fish, hunt, paddle, and camp together on traditional waterways and lands. The trip celebrates the spiritual bond with the land that has long been a central feature of Tlicho culture.
To guarantee that future generations can also connect with their traditional lands, the Tlicho people negotiated the agreement at the heart of Bill C-14. Under the agreement, the Tlicho will acquire approximately 39,000 square kilometres of territory, along with rights over subsurface resources. To manage this effectively, the Tlicho government will be created. Among other responsibilities, this government will manage resources and enact laws in areas such as aboriginal language and culture.
The roles and responsibilities of all elected officials are set out in the Tlicho constitution. The constitution includes a number of provisions to ensure that the Tlicho government is politically and financially accountable and that the rights and freedoms of all residents, including non-Tlicho citizens, are protected.
Along with these new powers, the Tlicho would assume several new responsibilities. Once Bill C-14 becomes law, for instance, the Indian Act would no longer apply to the Tlicho people. They would however be subject to all federal legislation of general application such as the Criminal Code. Like all Canadians, the Tlicho would continue to be subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill C-14 would have little effect on Canada's international legal obligations. As legal counsel for the Tlicho stated clearly to the committee reviewing the bill, “There is nothing in this agreement that interferes with Canada's jurisdiction to enter into international agreements”.
I am convinced that the agreement will soon have a significant and positive impact within Canada as the Tlicho realize the numerous advantages that self-government would make available. With an open, transparent and accountable government in place, the Tlicho would be better able to attract new investors and business partners, and foster economic growth.
They have done that without legislation already and Bill C-14 would empower that move even more. The Tlicho would be better able to design and deliver enhanced social services and improve the availability of safe and affordable housing. The Tlicho people would also be better able to develop a high quality education system that meets the needs of their communities.
Ultimately, as Tlicho communities grow stronger and more self-sufficient, all Canadians stand to benefit. Furthermore, the success of the Tlicho would be a success for Canada. The Tlicho would inspire other aboriginal communities to realize their own vision of self-government and prosperity.
Today we have an opportunity to send a clear message to all Canadians that the government is determined to work with aboriginal communities and enable them to reach their whole potential. The legislation before us today carries the principled and worthy aspirations of a people, and provides a road map for other first nations, Inuit, Metis and northerners to follow.
I hope that I can count on the support of my hon. colleagues to help us move the legislation to the Senate for final approval in order to give the Tlicho people the tools they need to build the future they deserve and desire.
Bill C-14 is an outstanding piece of work put together by the people from my territory and from their own territory. These people have a long history and an attachment to their land, and a vision for their people. This is what the real Canada is all about. Canada is about a place of equal opportunity for everyone. This legislation gives full expression to what the leadership has as a vision for its people.
I implore my hon. colleagues to support Bill C-14 and help us get it through so that we can have a full and complete cycle of Tlicho legislation in place.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Tlicho Land Claims and Self-Government Act