Copyright © 2019 Senator Dennis Patterson.

Speech – 3R, C-70 (Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee Governance Agreement Bill)

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to this bill on third reading as the critic for the official opposition on the bill. I want to say at the outset that I will speak in support of passage of the bill, but before doing so, I would just like to explain why I’m not fully prepared to speak to this bill this afternoon.

I was keenly aware that the bill, which honours an agreement made in 2008, includes a payment of $200 million upon finalization of the legislation, and it appears that the payment will be expedited from current year funds available before March 31, 2018. So having reviewed the bill and having indeed no concerns about the bill and in fact wanting to give it my full support and the full support of the official opposition in the Senate, I would, of course, not want in any way to stand in the way of passage of the bill before March 31.

However, it was agreed that today the bill would be reported by our scroll process and referred to the next sitting of the Senate for third reading. Unfortunately, the sponsor of the bill is not able to be here today, and as critic of the bill I was preparing my notes to speak tomorrow.

But I am delighted to see the representatives of the Cree invited to this chamber this afternoon, and they were in full attendance at our committee this morning. I know they were promised the bill would be read on third reading all in one day. So out of respect for them, I am prepared to speak to the bill and recommend passage this afternoon.

This act gives effect to the Agreement on Cree Nation Governance between the Crees of Eeyou Istchee and the Government of Canada and amends the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, it makes related and consequential amendments to other acts.

You know, it’s been my great privilege as a senator over these past years, and particularly as a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, to participate in moments of historic significance. So I have previously been able to stand in this chamber and publicly support the creation of self-governing First Nations. I’ve participated in debates that have expanded the list of rights of Indigenous persons recognized by Canadian law and have stood with my fellow colleagues as we restored the Indigenous rights and privileges that were stripped away by past racist and paternalistic laws.

Today, colleagues, is no exception. After a long, hard-fought battle with the Crown stemming back to the days preceding the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and then following, unfortunately, litigation that the Cree Nation felt required to initiate in order to have that agreement respected, today they stand on the doorstep of a new era of self-governance, and this is an occasion to indeed celebrate.

With the passage of Bill C-70, we will be removing the final remaining oversight of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations from certain aspects of bylaw and financial administration of the Cree First Nations. It creates a stable long-term funding arrangement with Canada that is integral to ensure that valuable time and resources are spent on project implementation and program delivery as opposed to funding applications and reports.

The passage of this bill, as I mentioned, will see the final $200 million set aside after the signing in 2008 of the Agreement Concerning a New Relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee finally delivered directly to the Cree Nations.

I do believe it is also important to note that this bill serves as the example of a collaborative approach to legislating with an Indigenous partner. In achieving this agreement, which took 10 long years, the Cree had to overcome an impasse that lasted for years when there was an attempt to insert government policy on self-government in place of the solemn agreement that was committed to in the Cree agreement.

(1450)

We encountered the same issue in working on the creation of Nunavut, when self-government policy, we were told by federal officials, would prevent the Inuit from discussing the creation of a new government in conjunction with the settlement of the Nunavut land claim.

So I sympathize with the Cree and commend them for having persisted and waited to have a true self-government agreement that gives them the authority and the integrity and the independence that they’ve shown they’ve deserved.

I want to mention that I was very impressed, in looking at this bill and in hearing from the Cree in committee this morning, that the level of consultation and communication throughout this process has been impressive. It is important that we continue to involve Indigenous people in the act of drafting legislation as opposed to speaking to them after the fact. This will ensure that their concerns and voices are heard and included in the development of legislation right from the start. It shows that governments cannot continue to impose legislation on Indigenous peoples, while at the same time claiming we want to move forward in a renewed relationship with them.

I want to warmly congratulate the Cree. They are a model of inspiration, I believe, to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, being the first to have developed a comprehensive agreement, pioneers in comprehensive land claims agreements in the country, along with the Inuit of Nunavik. They have developed economic opportunities from that land claim agreement, while at the same time preserving and enhancing their language, their traditional and spiritual practices, and their close connection with the land and the renewable-resource economy.

They have shown that economic development is a route to strengthening language and culture and self-reliance. In that respect, I once again congratulate them and hope that they will continue to inspire other Aboriginal peoples in Canada to find that balance between economic development and the preservation of their language and culture. The two can work together. They need not be in conflict.

Honourable senators, I would urge you all to support Bill C-70, and I leave you with one final thought. Today, in committee, Grand Chief Dr. Abel Bosum stated:

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Europeans in Eeyou Istchee. But, by the time they arrived, we had already been there, as self-governing Indigenous nations, for thousands of years.

So Cree self-government is not starting today with the Cree Nation Governance Agreement, its companion, the Cree Constitution and Bill C-70, their implementing legislation, important though they are.

Then what is their significance for us today? They are of critical importance, for two reasons. First, they build on the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement by bringing Cree Nation governance home to us, the Cree, where it belongs. Second, in doing so, they advance reconciliation between the Cree Nation and the Government of Canada.

So I commend this to you for passage. Thank you; meegwetch.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and bill read third time and passed.)