Mrs. Lise Bourgault (Argenteuil -Papineau) moved:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of creating the Societe Immobiliere Oka-Kanesatake (SIOK) and to transfer to the Socidte the budget already allocated by Treasury Board for the purposes of negotiating the reunification of lands at Oka-Kanesatake.
She said: Mr. Speaker, when I tabled the motion to create the Societe immobiliere Oka-Kanesatake, there were and, in fact, still are many problems with the difficult negotiations on reunification of Indian lands at Kanesatake and also with the agenda now being discussed with federal negotiator Bernard Roy. Things have come a long way, but even today, the process that was designed to find a comprehensive solution to this very complex problem is terribly slow, which adds to the lack of understanding that prevails between both communities.
Perhaps I could put things into perspective and introduce the many parties that are concerned about the eventual outcome. First, the municipality of the parish of Oka, where about 50 or 60 non-aboriginal families live within the Mohawk lands of Kanesatake.
For the municipalities in the parish it is a very special problem because these families no longer wish to live on federal Indian land. These families are faced daily with the fact that, unlike other Canadians, they do not have peaceful enjoyment of their property, they constantly
feel and are often told, unfortunately, that the place is not theirs, that they are living on Indian lands and that those lands are being claimed and belong to the aboriginal people.
So these white people, these non-aboriginals would like to see this rather unusual situation cleared up as soon as possible. For the municipality, it means losing 50 ratepayers, so it is a rather unusual and in fact unique problem, both for non-aboriginal and aboriginal people in the parish.
In the municipality of the village of Oka, aboriginal people, between 50 and 55 families, live in the village surrounded by non-aboriginal lands. It is more or less a checkerboard situation. We have aboriginals living within lands owned by white people and non-aboriginals living within aboriginal lands. So there is a very real problem.
What jurisdiction applies to an aboriginal person living on federal land in the municipality of the village? Do provincial and municipal laws apply? Does the municipal building code apply? According to a recent judgment in the Jean-Roch Simon case, which is being appealed, the judge said that in the municipality, provincial and municipal laws applied, and just because it was federal land did not mean that these people could build homes that did not conform to the municipal code.
We have the Kanesatake Band Council, whose members were elected by their peers for the first time. This provisional council is supposed to set up a more permanent election procedure, based on their own by-laws, by the end of June 1992. The Band Council is responsible for day to day administration, for all land claims negotiations, for the agenda now being negotiated with the federal negotiator, land reunification, and economic development. In other words, they have a lot on then-plate.
There is the federal-provincial negotiating committee which includes the mayor of the parish, Mr. Patry, who was appointed, if you recall, during the crisis in 1990. Mr. Roy had been involved at the time, and was appointed
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Private Members' Business
federal negotiator in charge of negotiations with the aboriginal people. Subsequently, of course, there were a number of problems which held up the committee's work for quite some time, and a number of meetings could not be held. Obviously, without meetings the parties cannot discuss the concerns of both communities.
Furthermore, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development maintains its fiduciary role visa-vis the aboriginal people. The department is therefore very much in the picture, because to the aboriginals, the department is their federal counterpart, since they will only negotiate from government to government. This means the entire regional office of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is still very much involved in this matter.
A number of associations and groups were formed since the events in Oka in 1990. To name only the larger ones, there is the Association of Property Owners inside Kanesatake, also known as APIK. These people represent the interests of about 60 families which live in the aboriginal checkerboard.
They did a simply outstanding job and I must take the opportunity again to congratulate the leaders of this association who with their well-prepared and articulate presentations were able to convince the government that their problems were real. I can tell those who live in this area that I am particularly concerned about their daily problems and they know that I am looking after their situation regularly.
The Oka Chamber of Commerce, through its president, Michel Bond, is very concerned about economic development in the region. Everyone is wondering what parcels of land and houses might be bought for the reunification of the natives' land holdings. People wonder if it might be their own house. For the whole business community in the area, it is a big problem and they want it settled. They have continually shown leadership. The Chamber of Commerce recently formed a coalition of local non-profit organizations including the Oka farmers' wives, the united craftswomen and the owners' association, in short, any charitable or other group in Oka.
Mr. Speaker, I have left the most important for last. Mentioning it last in no way affects its importance. The citizens of this great region live in a unique territory which is unmatched. Quite legitimately, they want to
know what will happen to them tomorrow. Will their house, street or neighborhood be considered for the land reunification? Can they enlarge their house? Can they demolish it? Can they build a swimming pool? Can they rent their house? Can they enjoy their property in peace? Those are legitimate questions that any home owner has. In that area, they raise them all the time. I say again that we must make a very big effort at communicating with those people, because the citizens of Oka want their community to be as it was before. They want to live in peace in that wonderful region, Mr. Speaker, which you should visit one day.
Now there is a last offer. The Kanesatake Mohawks always said that the Oka pine grove was sacred land and that any negotiation with the federal negotiator could succeed only if the Mohawks recovered that part of the territory adjoining the famous parcel of land bought from Mr. Rousseau, and the Jardins d'Oka. It is now a municipal park which is not used by non-natives, it must be said. I think that the Oka council is quite aware of it, and many people with whom I have spoken are well aware that the pine grove park is a wonderful spot, but is used by the natives for various ancestral reasons.
The home owners south of highway 344, who you recall were the first to be thrown out when the armed warriors took Oka on July 11, 1990, a date now famous in the minds of my constituents in that part of the riding, lived and still live in a rather unusual situation. You see, the pine grove is on the north and these home owners are on the south, so the government cannot create a reserve behind, which I think neither the native people of Oka nor the whites want to have. This is what the government has done. It asked whether the village of Oka would be interested in a transfer of property. To solve the problem of those living south of highway 344, the government would buy that land, between 12 and 15 properties, and in exchange, the village would turn over the pine grove to the negotiating committee so that the federal negotiator could see the light at the end of the tunnel and finally conclude what I would call a peace treaty, Mr. Speaker, which is what everyone wants.
What we did not know but have since learned is that the residents of Girouard Street, the owners that are neighbours at the back of the residences south of highway 344, are very concerned. They say this: "If the federal government transfers the properties south of highway 344 to the municipality, the latter could lay out a
March 30, 1992
park or do anything it wants." The owners have told me: "Madam Bourgault, we do not want someday to find ourselves, through circumstances, with a park adjacent to our backyards, a park that could eventually belong to aboriginal people." This situation presents a particular problem for those residents, a problem that the government, as well as the municipality and the federal negotiator, must take into account.
Those are only a few of the problems. Of course, all those people and organizations have retained the services of lawyers. There are several lawyers from various firms involved in this issue who try, as best they can, to protect the interests of their clients. There is all kinds of speculation; there is a lot of hearsay, "I heard that", "maybe that", and "possibilities that". In fact, there are so many rumors that we must absolutely establish a communication process as soon as possible.
The Hon. Monique Landty has two big responsibilities since, on the one hand, as minister of state for Indian affairs, she is responsible for aboriginal rights and, on the other hand, as a minister for the region of Laval-Rive-Nord, she is the regional responsible minister. Therefore, she finds herself in a rather difficult position, but I must say that she works very hard. She has never stopped working on this issue, and she was always available when people wanted to meet with her. She has done all that she can and I must say that she does not always get the necessaiy support, including from myself as well as from aboriginal people that do not necessarily support her efforts. This issue is so unique and so complex that we must look at it in a unique fashion. It is not easy for a government to find a unique solution to a unique problem.
It is for all those reasons, Mr. Speaker, that I propose the creation of the Societe Immobiliere Oka-Kanesa-take, of which I would like to enumerate some objectives: to transfer the reunification of lands process, as well as the budget allocated by Treasury Board for that purpose, to a local authority; to allow more open negotiations, by establishing a legitimate intermediary between the two communities; to reduce the over-all costs of the reunification of lands; to accelerate negotiations at every level by reducing to a minimum the present delays; to bring together the two communities; to ensure stability and continuity to the negotiation process;
Private Members' Business
to create a favourable climate for the economic and social development of the communities, and so on.
The government has decided to open a local public works office to accelerate the process as regards anything that can be negotiated at the table. When negotiators come to the conclusion that a piece of land is necessary for unification purposes, rather than wait until the end, and in order to solve the problem of non-aboriginal people that are like hostages in those negotiations, Public Works Canada will act immediately. The office just opened and there have been problems because aboriginal people have demonstrated to keep that office from opening. Once again, this was because of a lack of communication and because the aboriginal people did not know the role of that office. This office is there to answer legitimate questions from the people, such as: "Is my house being considered? Is it going to be bought or not?"
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the coalition and the Chamber of Commerce are still holding meetings and I think that it is not only up to the federal government or the provincial government to settle the problems of these two communities. They will have to learn to compromise in order to live together. They have no choice. Nobody is about to be deported and the federal government will not expropriate. One Mirabel was enough. We do not want to create another similar situation.
Therefore, it is a matter of mutual agreement. But again, there must be consistency. We cannot buy up all of Oka. The federal government cannot acquire the ownership of the whole area and the Mohawks from Kanesa-take must understand that white people are living there too and will continue to do so. That is the way it is and there is nothing we can do about it. The two communities must immediately start to look for local means to help one another understand their respective specific needs and interests.
Mr. Speaker, I am convinced that the government made the right decision when it decided to open an office there, although I have to admit that, personally, I would have preferred all matters to go through a Societe Immobiliere Oka-Kanesatake. We did resolve the sensitive issue of Mirabel expropriations with the Societe Immobiliere du Canada in Mirabel, and things went just fine. The local people dealt with the government offi-
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Private Members' Business
cials in charge of buying and selling the land. This leads me to believe that, had we put one single local unit in charge of the entire process, there would have been no problem. There would not have been such a big problem due to lack of communication, misgivings about what a mandate is, the perception some may have regarding the sale or transfer of the lands known as the pines for the property south of highway 344, all legitimate questions the people have after going though the dreadful crisis they experienced.
Let us not forget that the events of the summer of 1990 have left indelible scars on these people's minds. Of course, each time a problem arises in Oka, the people who have not yet recovered from that crisis will get very insecure. It is only normal that they ask questions and want their concerns answered.
In closing, I wish we had created that agency, but the government decided otherwise and I am prepared to work with Public Works, Indian and Northern Affairs and the negotiating committee. However, I would really like to know when the negotiations will be over. When are we going to see the light at the end of the tunnel at the negotiating table. It looks so complicated to many people, but it seems to me that, with a little good will, considering the serious unemployment situation in Ka-nesatake, considering that economic concerns must be resolved without delay, it would be time to set aside all those animosities and act to restore good relations and put an end to those negotiations which are dragging on and are not conducive to bringing the two communities closer together.
Topic: PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Subtopic: ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS