Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I also rise to speak to Bill C-63. I am honoured to be here today to support the Deline people as we deal with the Deline Final Self-Government Agreement.
As my colleague, Senator Sibbeston, has said, we had a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples last night. Our committee members have worked very hard as a team, regardless of political affiliation. We have worked very hard to accommodate the Deline because they are here this week and we wanted to speed the process up. So we dealt with this measure as expeditiously as possible so that they could participate in the final approval of their agreement. This is a historic occasion.
We did speed things up. We did sort of bend a few rules that we have in the Senate in order to accommodate this process this afternoon. Although it could be called an accelerated process, we did our due diligence. I think a good part of that has to be attributed to Senator Sibbeston. Senator Sibbeston, who is from and lives in the Northwest Territories, speaks their language. Nothing is more important than to be able to communicate with people in their own language because when it is translated into English, we lose some of the deeper meaning. As we heard from Senator Sibbeston, the Deline people are deeply spiritual and much of the language is built upon those meanings that probably don't translate into English.
Senator Sibbeston, I know, has spent many years interacting with the Deline, so he is very familiar with what has been going on with them as they have been moving towards their self-government agreement. So though one could say we accelerated the process, I think as a committee, we had deep confidence because we knew that we had a man on the ground that speaks their language. So we have confidence that what we did last night was completely appropriate.
In addition to that, the other members of the committee asked very good questions and we had officials, as was said by Senator Sibbeston and Senator Tannas, from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs; the Northwest Territories; Chief Kenny from the Deline First Nation; Chief Negotiator, Danny Gaudet; we had their legal counsel, Mr. Crane; and Georgina Dolphus representing the Deline Land Corporation. Those were the people from the Deline group.
Interestingly, the Deline have had a land claim agreement since 1993. What I thought was the greatest thing about this self-government agreement is that they are creating a government that is much more seamless and integrated than we have in the rest of Canada. Essentially, they are combining a municipality, which involves public members, non-Deline people, Deline people, and the Northwest Territories. They're going to deliver services that don't have any regard to which group of people you belong to.
We all know, in this chamber, that Aboriginal people living in Canada often fall between the cracks whether we live on reserve or off reserve. We often do not know if the federal government will pay for health benefits or schooling. The Deline have broken beyond that and are creating a government where it doesn't matter. So I think they have a superior form of government.
When I asked the officials from the Aboriginal Affairs department about that, it kind of stunned them and it took them a moment to realize — well yes, this is an improvement over what the rest of Canada has for Aboriginal people. So the Deline have done an amazing amount of work. Of course, they are guided by their elders who are the wisdom keepers and who are also, as they told us last night, fulfilling a prophecy that their elders had seen.
I feel incredibly humbled to be part of this and I want to thank all committee members and the chair.
One of the questions that our chair asked last night was with regard to the time it took — 19 years to finalize, and it really isn't finalized — to come to this agreement. So he asked why it has taken 19 years and the Chief Negotiator for the Deline, Mr. Gaudet responded — well, there are probably two reasons:
. . . I think there is fear. I don't know. I can't really speak for the government. I think there's a fear that Aboriginal groups negotiating self-government want to be sovereign and don't want to be part of the country. I can only speak about our case, but the reality is quite the opposite; we want to be part of this country and part of the Northwest Territories. We want to work with Canada. The first thing we have to get rid of is the fear.
That's the fear on the part of Aboriginal Affairs and the federal government. Mr Gaudet continues:
The second thing is that sometimes we look too hard for certainty. Everybody wants to know exactly what everything is going to look like, smell like and taste like before they can agree. Even in the Aboriginal case, we want everything, but it's unrealistic to think that way. It would be ideal if we were allowed to negotiate and then come back later and finish up, but use this to start going to start building capacity and governing ourselves and develop working relationships with the government. Show us it can be done and we will give you more responsibility later. I think that would really speed up many of those agreements and get them done because the reality of what we're doing is negotiating agreements that are going to have to change with time, and we should recognize that.
Those are very wise words and, in fact, it was pointed out that this is a living document. They will continue to negotiate with the federal government as they take on more and more areas of responsibility, such as in health. So it's a living document and it may well serve as the model for other Aboriginal groups in Canada as a way to proceed.
As I said before, the Deline are very strong in their culture. They have retained their language, their spirituality. We're honoured to have opened our session last night with prayers. I wish them the very best. I know that things will go very well with them.
It is great to have you here this afternoon. Thank you.