January 31, 2013 - Standing with First Nations

      Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow my colleague, the newly elected member for Victoria, who I know has a proud history of work with aboriginal people. It is certainly a pleasure to work with him in the House.

It is an honour for me to rise today to speak to the NDP motion, a motion that truly reflects the principles of the NDP and a motion that also truly serves as a test for the government.

This opposition day motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, and supported by all of us really goes beyond the day-to-day actions of the House and the day-to-debates of the House. It gives the chance to the House, to the government, to other opposition parties, to stand with us and recognize that we need to change course, that Parliament needs to change course and that first nations, Métis and Inuit people deserve better from Parliament.

We are recognizing the broad-based demand for action, and that is fundamental to who we are as New Democrats, recognizing that the people who have started Idle No More, who have been part of the rallies, who have been part of the flash mob round dances, who have been part of the workshops and information sessions, who have been to Parliament, demanding meetings with ministers and, of course, with the Prime Minister, are saying that things need to change.

I am also honoured to rise as the MP for Churchill in support of the motion. I have the pleasure of representing 33 first nations across northern Manitoba and many Métis communities.

I come from a vibrant part of Canada, with tremendous diversity, with a very rich history and tremendous opportunity. However, there is no question that the challenges we face in the north are tremendous, and those challenges are even greater and more extreme for many aboriginal people in northern Manitoba.

Aboriginal people in northern Manitoba and across Canada face extreme levels of poverty and high unemployment. In my consistency alone, 42% of aboriginal people have less than a high school diploma. Many of them live in conditions that can only be characterized as third world.

In fact, we know that at the international level, first nations in Canada are rated 63rd on the United Nations' human development index. That reality is not just in numbers. It can be seen clearly if one visits any of the first nations in northern Manitoba and so many across Canada. People will see substandard housing, with 10, 15 and over 20 people sharing one home because there is inadequate housing. People succumb to illness, like the basic flu, in much greater numbers because there is no running water in their communities. Young people reach the point of wishing to take their own lives and many unfortunately we lose to suicide because they feel they have no hope and nothing to live for. So many people from communities unfortunately fall through the cracks and end up in the correctional system, making it so Canada has some of the highest rates of indigenous people in its correctional system, disproportionate to the number of indigenous people in Canada.

As many of us know, this is the result of a dark history of colonization and oppression. Unfortunately, government after government, at the federal level, have not managed to break free and chart a new course. Despite promises to do the opposite, they have shown, through their actions, that they are willing to continue the paternalistic, colonialist relationship that has been around for so long.

One need not look any further than the last few years in Parliament. The Prime Minister of Canada rose and gave an apology some years ago for the atrocity of the residential school experience.

I remember being at the offices of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the head office of the northern chiefs, and sharing with so many people who were moved, survivors, families of survivors, non-aboriginal people as well, by this apology, an apology that I am proud our late leader Jack Layton helped realize.

Instead of truly standing by those words of changing course and committing to a new relationship with first nations, Métis and Inuit people, the government did more of the same.

Bill C-38 and most recently Bill C-45 came up with a tremendous attack on treaty rights of first nations people and aboriginal rights more broadly. There was a lack of consultation at every step along the way, particularly when it came to control over treaty lands and the lands that aboriginal people hold title to.

Aboriginal peoples' voices, despite the constitutional responsibility to consult, were silenced and ignored by the Conservative government.

One wishes that was the end of the story. However, in the last few years there have been unprecedented cuts to organizations and institutions that truly speak on behalf and with aboriginal people. I would like to mention some of those: Sisters in Spirit; the First Nations Statistical Institute; the Aboriginal Healing Foundation; the National Centre for First Nations Governance; the Assembly of First Nations; Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; Native Women's Association; the National Aboriginal Health Organization; Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada; and the list goes on.

In the fall of 2012 we heard that tribal councils and aboriginal political organizations, like in my region, the Keewatin Tribal Council, the Swampy Cree Tribal Council, MKO, SCO, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, would be cut disproportionately.

These are the voices of aboriginal people. These are institutions that look out for housing, education, advocate on behalf of communities, work in conjunction with band councils and fight for aboriginal communities that are, in many cases, remote and do not have a voice at the table.

The other side of the coin is that first nations, Métis and Inuit people have had enough. There is no better example than the last few months in our country, where we have witnessed what is singularly one of the most historic events in aboriginal people and their leadership in recent history. We have seen an unprecedented approach to fighting back against the government through the Idle No More movement, through the leadership and courage many leaders have taken, and through immense sacrifice.

I want to take a moment during my speech to recognize two people I can call friends: Grand Elder Raymond Robinson of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation, who joined Chief Theresa Spence on Victoria Island to commit to a hunger strike in order to call the federal government to action, and Wilson Hartie from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, who also was on a hunger strike, calling for the Prime Minister to act. These two men, their families and their communities took a stand. These two men made an ultimate sacrifice, asking all of us to act.

I also want to recognize the organizers of Idle No More in my home community, in Thompson: Lisa Currier, Clint Saulteaux, Val Charlette and the many people who helped to raise awareness and to worked with young people who said, “We've had enough”.

The opposition day motion today reflects those voices. Not only should the budget of 2013 commit to economic outcomes for first nations, Inuit and Métis people, but the government needs to commit to action on treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of aboriginal Canadians.

This has gone on long enough. We have a chance to stand with aboriginal people across the country and make history, to chart a new course that respects the treaties and truly honours the anniversary of the royal proclamation of 250 years, which we will celebrate this year. This is a chance to do much better and show the international community that in a country as wealthy as Canada its first peoples must live in dignity.

I want to share the words that both Wilson and Raymond shared with me on many occasions. They said to me, “I'm doing this for my children and my grandchildren. I'm not doing it for politics or for attention. I'm doing it for things to change”. I want to thank them. In their words and honour, I would like to ask the government and Parliament to finally change course, support the opposition day motion and commit to building a better day with aboriginal peoples in Canada.