Bill to Give Effect to the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement and to Amend Other Acts

Bill to Amend--Second Reading

June 14, 2022

Hon. Patti LaBoucane-Benson

Moved second reading of Bill S-10, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement, to amend the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act and the Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

She said: Honourable senators, before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that I have always lived on and am speaking to you today from this beautiful Treaty 6 territory, where we are all treaty people.

I am pleased today to speak to the second reading of Bill S-10, which advances Indigenous self-government for the shíshálh Nation and Anishinabek Nation. This bill is a reflection of our country’s commitment to work with First Nation partners to implement their inherent right to self-government and self-determination and to support their visions of a better future for their communities. It supports Canada’s goal of addressing our long history of colonization and it’s a tangible action toward reconciliation.

Honourable senators, let’s take a step back for a moment to reflect upon what self-government means for Indigenous communities. For thousands of years before contact, Indigenous peoples operated their own forms of government. They established and enforced their own laws with their own forms of leadership, and they divided responsibilities according to their customs. When settlers arrived on the shores of this land now known as Canada, some pacts and partnerships were forged with Indigenous groups through treaties, trade agreements and military alliances. However, the rights of Indigenous peoples were gradually eroded with each new colonial decision, policy and law. The treaties and partnerships were neither upheld nor respected.

In 1876, the government passed the Indian Act, which imposed a colonial system of governance on First Nations. It actively erased systems that had been in place for centuries, and it failed to recognize the unique needs and aspirations of communities. But Indigenous inherent rights to governance were never relinquished and, in 1982, they were reaffirmed in section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. Now Canada is working to undo federally imposed systems of governance and reaffirming the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples.

Self-government agreements support this process. These agreements set out law-making authority in many areas, including how to educate their children, how to manage their lands, how to protect their cultures and languages and how to build their economies and create jobs.

Senators, Bill S-10 is dual-pronged. First, it contains measures that would modernize the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act and, second, it supports the implementation of the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement. I will provide some context for both.

In 1986, the shíshálh Nation became the first Indigenous nation in Canada to achieve self‑government with their own self‑governance act. Now, almost 40 years later, the legislation is showing its age.

When I spoke with shíshálh Chief Warren Paull today, he said that, in 1986, their constitution was basically a cut-and-paste from the Indian Act. There just wasn’t time to think about it deeply. Now, over 30 years later, they want to decolonize their constitution. Canada’s policies and relationships with Indigenous partners have evolved and now, at the request of the community, we know this arrangement must evolve, too.

For the past two years, the government has been collaborating with the shíshálh Nation on proposed amendments to their self‑government legislation. The most symbolic of these changes is an update to the act’s name. If approved, it would transition to the “shíshálh Nation Self-Government Act,” removing the Crown-imposed anglicized name and spelling of “Sechelt.”

Other changes include removing outdated provisions that are not required under modern self-government arrangements; confirming lawmaking powers over social and welfare services, including child and family services for all shíshálh Nation members; and allowing the establishment of new land registries, as an alternative to the Indian Act reserve land register.

The shíshálh Nation is a leader in the realm of Indigenous self‑governance, and these amendments uphold their leadership. Support for this bill would show that Canada continues to be an active partner in supporting nation-to-nation relationships with self-governing Indigenous partners, not only now but on an ongoing basis as their needs evolve in the future.

The second part of this bill is the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement Act. In April 2022, Minister Marc Miller joined the Anishinabek First Nations leaders in signing the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement, and the proposed governance agreement act would bring this agreement into effect. This historic agreement recognizes Anishinabek control over their government and law-making powers in four key areas: leadership selection, citizenship, language and culture and government operations.

Notably, this would be the second self-government agreement concluded by the nation in a span of five years. In 2018, 23 First Nations signed a self-government agreement recognizing Anishinabek control over education on-reserve. And there’s a third one on the horizon; in 2021, an agreement in principle on Anishinabek child, youth and family well-being was reached, which lays out a road map for negotiating a final agreement in the future.

Honourable senators, the Anishinabek First Nations are ready to reclaim their inherent rights to governance. We simply need to support them.

Before concluding, it’s important to note that this legislation was drafted and co-developed in partnership with both First Nations. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the work of the shíshálh Council and Anishinabek Nation in developing these pieces of legislation. After years and years of work, both of these initiatives have strong support from these First Nations partners. I can think of no better reason for us to work efficiently and without delay on this bill.

Honourable senators, we must take action. The proposed shíshálh Nation Self-Government Act and the proposed Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement Act are just two examples of how the Government of Canada can support First Nations and all Indigenous peoples in achieving their inspiring visions of a better future for all of their citizens. It’s not the federal government’s place to control or oversee the affairs of Indigenous peoples. This bill helps remove the federal government from that colonial role.

If we want to have any hope of addressing the long history of colonization in this country, we must support initiatives like this. We must respect and acknowledge the long-standing and established practice of Indigenous governance. And we must lift up arrangements that are created by Indigenous communities, for Indigenous communities, so that they can achieve their own visions of success.

I thank the honourable senators for their time, and I would respectfully ask that we send this bill to committee today, without delay. Thank you, marsee and hiy hiy.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Would Senator LaBoucane-Benson accept a question?

Senator LaBoucane-Benson

I will.

Hon. Pat Duncan [ + ]

Senator LaBoucane-Benson, you spoke of the consultation with the shíshálh First Nation. Can you also outline, or must it wait until committee to outline, what consultation process took place with self-governing Yukon First Nations and the Yukon government?

Senator LaBoucane-Benson

Thank you, Senator Duncan. I have not spoken with the Yukon government nor the First Nations there, but I do know that the act removes an outdated provision requiring Governor-in-Council approval prior to entering into financial agreements between Canada and Yukon First Nations. This was a provision that was removed in the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act; they’re doing that right now. Because that was a copy-and-paste into the Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act, they made that change as well, but we will have to wait until committee study to find out the details of consultation. I hope that answers your question.

Senator Duncan [ + ]

Yes. Senator LaBoucane-Benson, is it possible that this “cut-and-paste,” as you refer to it, took place at the technical level, rather than the political level?

Senator LaBoucane-Benson

I cannot answer for sure, and we really do need to ask that question in committee, but it seems to me to be a technical cut-and-paste. But, again, this needs to be resolved in committee.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-10, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement, to amend the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act and the Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

As noted in the title, this bill has three purposes: one, to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation governance agreement; two, to amend the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act; and, three, to amend the Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act. But the primary purpose is the first one, which is reflected in the choice of a short title of the bill, the “Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement Act.”

At the outset, I want to acknowledge that the process of restoring respectful nation-to-nation relationships with the First Nations of Canada has been, and continues to be, a lengthy and arduous process with Indigenous peoples of Canada. Recognizing their inherent right to self-determination and their need for support as they move out from under the Indian Act and transition to self-government is critical and ongoing.

The bill which we have before us today is the culmination of more than 20 years of work between numerous governments and the Anishinabek Nation. As noted on the Anishinabek Nation’s website, self-government negotiations between Anishinabek Nation and the government began in 1995, led to an agreement in principle in 2007 and concluded in 2019.

This agreement, and the bill which puts it into effect, is a testament to the diligence, persistence and patience of the Anishinaabe people. It also reflects the sincere desire of Canadians to see true and lasting reconciliation with our First Peoples from coast to coast to coast.

Although I stand in the role of the critic of this bill, I and the Conservative caucus support it wholeheartedly. We applaud the efforts of all those who have been involved in the negotiations and consultations over the last 20 years and pray the enactment of this bill will help to bring us closer to our common goal of reconciliation and restoration of jurisdiction.

Honourable senators, as I mentioned, this bill puts into effect the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement signed on April 6 of this year. It is a self-government agreement between Canada, the Anishinabek Nation and the First Nations that approved the agreement by vote.

The Anishinabek Nation represents 39 First Nations throughout the province of Ontario, from Golden Lake in the east, to Sarnia in the south to Thunder Bay and Lake Nipigon in the north. These nations have an approximate combined population of 65,000 citizens, about one third of the province of Ontario’s First Nation population.

Each of the 39 Anishinabek Nation communities decides for themselves whether they wish to ratify the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement or not using the ratification process set out in the agreement. Those who choose to approve the agreement will be able to make their own decisions about how their elections will be held, who their citizens are and how their governments will operate, as well as how best to protect and promote Anishinaabe language and culture. Once in effect, the parts of the Indian Act that deal with governance will no longer apply to the signatory Anishinabek First Nations. To date, six First Nations have completed the ratification process and are signatories to the agreement.

This is not the first self-government agreement negotiated with the Anishinabek Nation. In 2018, the parties concluded a self‑government agreement on education, which is now in effect for 23 Anishinabek First Nations in Ontario. This agreement builds on the previous one and is the next step towards the restoration of jurisdiction to the Anishinabek Nation over their own affairs, including governance, education, social services, jurisdiction, economic development and health.

In addition to giving effect to the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement, the legislation before us today also amends the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act and the Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act. The Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act, which was passed in 1986 after 15 years of negotiation and consultation, was the first formal Aboriginal self-government arrangement in Canada. The act enabled the Sechelt Indian Band to exercise and maintain self‑governance on Sechelt lands and to regain control over and the administration of the resources and services available to its members.

Bill S-10 amends the preamble of the act and updates a number of terms contained in the act, including the name of the nation. This reflects the desires and the will of the Sechelt Nation and brings the legislation into line with ongoing developments. The amendment to the Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act is quite minor, removing a total of nine words from section 24 of the act in order to streamline the process of entering into agreements for the provision of funding to the First Nations covered by the act. There are also numerous consequential amendments which the bill makes to other acts to bring them into alignment with the changes.

Honourable senators, it is not often that we stand in this chamber and speak with one voice, but on this bill I believe we are. Although the journey towards reconciliation and the restoration of First Peoples jurisdiction over their own affairs is a long one, it is one we must take, and we must take it together. Thank you.

Senator Duncan [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise in support of the proposed amendments to the Sechelt Indian Band Self‑Government Act, but I also want to speak with regard to the provisions for the Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act.

Senators have heard me speak several times about the Yukon, and — to borrow the phrase from the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief in the Yukon — “a Yukon that leads.”

Following up on my question to Senator LaBoucane-Benson, I asked her about what consultation process had taken place. I asked that because, by way of a bit of background, there are challenges in negotiating these agreements — the land claim agreements and the self-governing agreements. The process for the umbrella final agreement under which all self-governing agreements are negotiated in the Yukon began with discussions in the 1970s with the document Together Today for our Children Tomorrow and concluded in the 1990s. They take a great deal of time, thought and work on the part of all parties involved.

Of the 14 Yukon First Nations, 11 have self-governing agreements. As I mentioned, it’s not an easy task to reach these self-government agreements. The real challenge is giving life and meaning to the agreements.

I mentioned a consultation process. It is clearly set out in the policies and procedures of the Government of Yukon — that is, how consultation must take place in order to ensure that it is a true consultation process. A part of giving life and meaning to these agreements is ensuring we live up to them.

This minor change — a “cut and paste,” as was discussed — after my consultation and discussions with the grand chief, I believe took place at the technical level and by technicians. Really, this is a minor technical amendment, but it gives life and meaning and respect to the self-government agreements that are so important.

When I say “self-governing agreements,” what I’m referring to is also a government-to-government relationship between the Government of Yukon and the government of, for example, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation; or the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation in Dawson City; the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow. These government-to-government relationships are really the life and meaning of self-governing agreements. They treat one another with respect, understanding and recognition of a new relationship. They are recognition, again, of “a Yukon that leads” in this particular area.

I support this amendment, and I am looking forward to committee discussions, further elaboration on what has gone on in terms of the background to this piece of legislation and the “cut and paste,” as it was referred to. And I look forward to being able to further elaborate at third reading and explain to my colleagues how the government-to-government relationship works on the ground in such manners as the Yukon Forum that is held annually with First Nation chiefs, the Government of Yukon, and how it is heard and understood as well by the Government of Canada.

I’m proud to be able to stand in support of this legislation and to recognize the work of the individuals who worked so hard in the public service of First Nation governments, the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon in ensuring that we do indeed give life and meaning to self-governing agreements and respect to one another.

I look forward to committee debate on this and supporting it further at third reading.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Are honourable senators ready for the question?

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and bill read second time.)

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