ARCHIVED - Joint Government of Canada/Assembly of First Nations Announcement of the Introduction of Bill C-30, the Specific Claims Tribunal Act and the Specific Claims Reform Political Agreement - November 27, 2007

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Transcript : Joint Government of Canada/Assembly of First Nations Announcement of the Introduction of Bill C-30, the Specific Claims Tribunal Act and the Specific Claims Reform Political Agreement - November 27, 2007" - Transcript

Hon. Chuck Strahl: Well good morning everyone. I do want to thank everyone for being here. Thank you Elders for your guidance and your remarks there. The Chiefs that are here. I'd like to recognize Barry Devolin, the Chair of our Aboriginal Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, Rod Bruinooge, my Parliamentary Secretary, and others that are here for what is a very nice and very important event in Ottawa here that's going to be celebrated across the country.

You're serving witness today to a dramatic and long overdue transformation in the relations, I believe, between First Nations and other Canadians. Another step today. Today the Stephen Harper government and the Assembly of First Nations are turning the page on a difficult period in our country's history B the legacy of unresolved specific claims. Specific claims deal with past grievances of First Nations. These grievances relate to Canada' s obligations under historic treaties, or the way it managed First Nations fund or other assets including reserve lands.

After decades of debate and false starts and foiled attempts our government is taking decisive action that will change the way specific claims are handled once and for all.

In the October 16th Speech from the Throne, we committed to present legislation on specific claims which will finally bring fairness and timely resolutions to the claims process. And so earlier today I had the honour to introduce Bill C-30, The Specific Claims Tribunal Act, in the House of Commons. This progressive legislation, developed in collaboration with the AFN, will establish an independent Specific Claims Tribunal to make binding decisions on specific claims that have been rejected for negotiation or when negotiations fail, or after three years of unsuccessful negotiations.

This is a critical step forward in implementing our Government's Specific Claims Action Plan announced by the Prime Minister on June 12th of this year. The Action Plan has four key elements:

And while we will always make every effort to achieve negotiated settlements and will only turn to the tribunal as a last result, we now have a powerful new tool when needed to settle these issues for all time.

As important as the substance of Bill C-30 is the new spirit of cooperation it embodies. Shortly after the Action Plan was announced, we established a Joint Specific Claims Task Force to shape the development of this legislation. And over the summer, members of the Task Force met regularly to identify the Bill's essential elements and to discuss and refine the text to ensure it is fair, balanced and in the best interest of all Canadians.

The Joint Task Force also developed a plan to ensure that the inquiry work presently underway at the current Indian Specific Claims Commission can be appropriately addressed in the transition to the new system.

Today's announcement is the direct result of a productive partnership with the Assembly of First Nations. The AFN played a pivotal role in determining the mandate and composition of the tribunal. We have agreed it will be composed of the equivalent of six full-time federally appointed Superior Court judges drawn from a roster of up to 18 members, with the necessary experience and credibility to resolve the complex legal and historic questions surrounding claims. Our Government will be bringing forth measures to ensure a full complement of judges to the Specific Claims Tribunal.

The AFN was also instrumental in developing clearly defined deadlines for the assessment of claims and for claims already in negotiation, to encourage the parties to negotiate effectively and efficiently in order to speed up the process. Because First Nations have waited long enough to have these long-standing issues addressed.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the Task Force's work is the powerful message it sends to all Canadians that the Assembly of First Nations and the Government and people of Canada are united in a common cause. We all want to resolve specific claims in a fair and final manner.

After 60 years of requests and recommendations by First Nations and experts to create an independent body to adjudicate claims, our Government is taking action to get it done. But today's announcement is just the beginning, not the end of our cooperation. Chief Fontaine and I are about to sign a political agreement, signifying that we will continue to work closely on policy work associated with specific claims.

And again, Chief Fontaine, it's a pleasure to share the podium on another historic occasion when we work together again to come to a common solution, working closely with the Assembly of First Nations to make sure that we consider all aspects of it to have an agreement that will stand the test of time and that we can go forward together.

The agreement sets out, the political agreement we are about to sign sets out, shared commitments to address several matters related to specific claims reform that fall outside the scope of the legislation, such as transition and process issues. This work will be carried initially by the Joint Task Force, which will remain operational through the end of this year.

The partnership will carry on thereafter under the joint direction of the National Chief and myself in the form of a standing specific claims liaison and oversight committee or similar body.

By signing this political agreement on specific claims reform we are signalling our mutual understanding in demonstrating our determination to chart a new course for a respectful and mutually beneficial future. One that will yield economic benefits, new opportunities and certainty for First Nations and all Canadians.

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to all members of the Joint Task Force, Chief Fontaine and Prime Minister Harper for his leadership in moving this important issue forward for all Canadians. I look forward to watching this success story unfold in the months and years ahead. This is truly a historic and great day to be Minister of Indian Affairs and I thank all people who have participated to make this day possible. Thank you very much.

Michel Roy: Thank you Minister for your remarks. It is with real honor that I introduce our next guest. I've crossed the way of the National Chief many, many times in the past. First of all we met when you were at the ISCC as Chief Commissioner at the time and then I had the privilege of crossing the way of the National Chief at Corrections, because both of us were involved in Corrections. And we got both of us our full release without condition.

So, now we are ... again we have an opportunity to work together on some of those very important issues. It gives me great pleasure to turn the floor over to First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine.

Phil Fontaine: Honourable Minister, Members of Parliament, regional Chiefs, Chief Commissioner Dupuis, Commissioner Sheila Purdy, my friends, thank you very much for joining us for this very important event for the country. I must say how very pleased that I've been presented with this opportunity to sign the political agreement with Minister Strahl regarding specific claims.

So many good people here today. It is important that the people in the audience bear witness to this political agreement. Just like members of the Assembly of First Nations Executive and I were able to bear witness earlier today to the tabling of the legislation Bill C-30.

Our people have consistently and passionately called for settlement of outstanding claims and the implementation of our treaties. Today we need to acknowledge these actions and agreements and commit to make them a reality. There has been a tremendous amount of work that has gone on behind the scenes to get us to this place here today.

I would like to extend my deepest appreciation and thanks to all those who worked tirelessly to advocate for specific claims reform, and in particular leadership from the First Nations community. There are many First Nations people, past and present, who were steadfast and tenacious in their struggle to ensure all agreements were fulfilled.

I want to acknowledge those who have gone before us. I know that it is from their experience and their knowledge that those of us here today have been able to continue to work towards a fair and just resolution of our claims. I also want to recognize and commend the Government of Canada and all parliamentarians for their courage and vision. It is apparent from these actions today that when's there political will, we can always find ways to resolve our differences.

Specifically, I'm very encouraged by this announcement today because, once the Bill becomes law, along with the commitment expressed in the political agreement, it has the potential to revolutionize the claims process. The settlement of outstanding claims is a debt owed to our people by Canada.

Under the previous specific claims process, the amount of time it took to resolve these claims was untenable. There's a current backlog of approximately 1,000 claims and it takes on average 13 years to receive a response to a claim.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples know that in 1996 and I quote, "transforming aboriginal economy from dependence to self-reliance will not be easy. The greatest boon for most First Nations will come from access to a fair share of land and resources." This lack of access to land and resources is still the single greatest impediment to achieving self-sufficiency for First Nation communities. Every claim settled means justice will finally be achieved, providing hope and opportunity for every First Nation involved.

This legislation and its companion piece, the political agreement, are significant milestones that are long overdue and long awaited by our people. The collaborative process engaged between the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada to reform the specific claims process was efficient and effective and, by the way, inclusive.

It is a model of partnership that could serve as a precedent for future collaborations on federal policy development and legislation that affects First Nations. The Assembly of First Nations has a clear mandate, a clear constituency and clear objectives when it comes to dealing with issues that affect our people in Canada.

The draft Bill, along with the political agreement that addresses other important issues related to specific claims reform, establishes a comprehensive approach to resolve specific claims. While this Bill is before the House of Commons, the Assembly of First Nations will work diligently with all First Nations across this country to inform them of the details of this new process.

We will also work with opposition parties and others to garner support for this Bill. We expect that once First Nations and the House of Commons have the opportunity to study and give due consideration to this Bill, it will receive significant support from all quarters.

Shortly, after I sign this political agreement with Minister Strahl, there will be regional sessions held to inform Chiefs from around the country about the contents of the legislation and about the political agreement. There will be discussions, debates and consideration. I am hopeful that we have turned the corner on how the Government will handle outstanding claims through the establishment of this Specific Claims Tribunal as well as the established time frame for dealing with these claims.

Again, I want to say I am happy, extremely happy to be here today, to sign this very important political agreement. I am happy to have witnessed the tabling of the legislation this morning and I am most happy to have you all here to acknowledge this event. Before I conclude my remarks here this morning, I want to pay special tribute to Minister Prentice for making it possible for us to be here today. Thank you Minister Prentice and Meegwetch!

Michel Roy: Thank you, National Chief, for your remarks. I would like now to invite Minister Strahl and National Chief to proceed to the table for the signing of the political agreement on specific claims.

Roger Augustine: Thank you National Chief, Minister Strahl. Indeed, a fabulous day. Thank you for your leadership. In the world of politics, sometimes the Great Spirit throws a little curve at us and I want to acknowledge the National Chief's Aunt Sophie passed away yesterday. I know today is a stressful day for you Chief and your strong leadership is recognized, acknowledged and respected by all First Nations. Once again, thank you. You are two great leaders present here today. Thank you for honoring us with your leadership.

Michel Roy: Thanks again to everyone who took part in this important event today in celebration of our joint efforts, which earlier this morning led to the introduction of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act and the signing of the political agreement on specific claims reform. And I would remind you, if you look at, you know, the theme here, by moving forward together I think that's where we are going now and this is the way for the future. Thank you everyone.

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