Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Opposition):
Honourable senators, I am not speaking to this bill as the critic. Our esteemed colleague, Senator Dyck is our critic. However, as she could not be here today, she asked me to read you a few words that she wrote down.
This is Senator Dyck speaking:
Honourable senators, I wish to speak today at third reading on Bill C-16, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Governance Act. I wish to make some general remarks on this bill.
I would first like to thank the members of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and the witnesses from the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs for allowing us to conduct a thorough and quite expansive discussion on the implications of this bill before us, as well as the larger area of legislative options available to First Nations as they move away from the Indian Act.
Bill C-16 is a piece of legislation that gives effect to the governance agreement that has been negotiated. As this is a stand-alone self-government agreement, absent in dealing with the issues of land and Aboriginal rights, there are no section 35 constitutional protections.
What is important to point out is that these section 35 questions can be addressed in subsequent negotiations between the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and the governments of Canada and Manitoba. How this agreement fits into the larger concept of self-government was succinctly stated by my colleague Senator Sibbeston at committee.
The difference is that the agreement and this bill can be amended by Parliament. In this case, Parliament is supreme in terms of changing it.
But in a different one, where section 35 is involved, where the agreement is protected and recognized under section 35 of the Constitution, Parliament is not supreme. Section 35 of the Constitution is supreme and would protect the agreement, so there's a difference. It's not as weighty or enforceable as a treaty or a modern land claim that has the protection of section 35. There's a real difference, and this is lighter, in a sense.
My honourable colleague's interventions put this bill rightly in the continuum of First Nation governance. While it moves away from the Indian Act, this bill has not fully reached treaty status or a comprehensive land claim. As witnesses for the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation told the committee, at this moment, this is the option that Sioux Valley Dakota Nation chose to pursue. It is also reassuring that they are pursuing negotiations with the Government of Canada to address their other outstanding issues dealing with section 35 rights. We wish them well in their ongoing negotiations with the Government of Canada.
One of the concerns I had was that this bill would become the only legislative option for First Nations to move out from under the Indian Act. I didn't want to see a situation down the road where First Nations had their hands tied, going forward with negotiations with the Government of Canada, especially when dealing with coming to resolution on section 35 rights.
I was assured by the officials from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and Justice Canada that this was not the case.
I would like to read into the record the remarks of Mr. Lee Webber, lead counsel from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and Justice Canada. He stated:
The senators generally might find it useful to refer to the Government of Canada's inherent right policy. That is the policy pursuant to which Canada engaged in these negotiations, or at least most of the years of these negotiations. That is the policy that governs the Government of Canada's participation in self-government negotiations at multiple tables.
In that policy, it is very clearly spelled out that a range of possible mechanisms can be adopted by the parties at negotiation tables as they see fit. They can treaty protect an agreement. They can create a contract. They can have legislation. There is this menu of possibilities, and it is in the policy explicitly that essentially there's no one-size-fits-all approach.
Senator Dyck continues:
I am glad that these comments were stated by officials of the Government of Canada in the context of this bill. This is an important point for both the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and other First Nations looking at their options in moving away from the Indian Act.
I would like to congratulate Chief Vincent Tacan and the people of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation for their perseverance and hard work through a 16-year process.