Hon. Brian Francis: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on the ninth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples on Subdivisions A and B of Division 3 of Part 4 of Bill C-32, also known as the fall economic statement implementation act, 2022 which repeals the First Nations Land Management Act, contains transitional provisions related to the enactment of the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management and makes consequential amendments to other acts.
As Senator Patterson mentioned yesterday, during the evening of November 17, this chamber passed an order of reference instructing our committee to examine this matter and report back no later than December 5.
As a result, the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure promptly agreed to begin the pre-study the next week. On November 22, we heard from the Lands Advisory Board and the First Nations Land Management Resource Centre, which provide support to First Nations in implementing their land management regimes.
The next week, on November 30, we heard from Minister Patty Hajdu and Minister Marc Miller, as well as departmental officials. Following this meeting, the committee immediately proceeded to give drafting instructions to the analysts to ensure a report could be prepared and translated within the remaining three days.
It is the practice of our committee to invite rights holders or witnesses who are directly impacted by the legislation or other issues we examine. Unfortunately, none of the First Nations invited were available to appear in relation to Bill C-32. We also did not have sufficient time to reach out to others, or to give them sufficient time to respond or prepare.
That being said, we received a brief from Gambler First Nation on November 28. In addition, on December 1, the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples received a request to appear from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., or MKO.
Since it was not possible to schedule another meeting so late in the week to hear from the organization, and to meet the reporting deadline of December 5, the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure immediately agreed to invite MKO to submit a brief by Sunday, December 4, so that their input could be added to the evidence received as part of the pre-study. We further recommended that MKO contact the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance — which I understand the organization has already done.
I want to make clear that the inability of the committee to hear from the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, or MKO, should not be interpreted as a lack of willingness or desire from the Committee on Indigenous Peoples to hear from Indigenous individuals, communities or organizations who have concerns and recommendations or to identify weaknesses or shortcomings at this stage.
I can say with full confidence that the Committee on Indigenous Peoples, and, specifically, the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, is committed to ensuring that diverse experiences and perspectives are accounted for in our work. We prioritize inviting affected Indigenous individuals, communities and organizations.
In my capacity as chair, I informed the Senate on December 6 that the ninth report was deposited with the Clerk a day earlier, and moved that it be placed on the Orders of the Day for consideration yesterday.
Since the report does not reflect all the evidence received, we deliberately pursued this option so that senators could speak to the brief submitted by MKO and other matters related to the ninth report.
On that note, I wish to thank Senator McCallum for providing a comprehensive summary of the important concerns and recommendations raised by MKO. I also wish to thank Senator Patterson for helping add clarity into the constraints faced by the Committee on Indigenous Peoples, and likely others.
In the interest of time, I will not repeat what either said but rather encourage all to read their speeches and the testimony or evidence received by the Committee on Indigenous Peoples related to Bill C-32.
I further hope that the members of the Committee on National Finance have an opportunity to hear directly from MKO and perhaps others in relation to the proposed Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management Act.
Before I conclude, I want to echo some of the comments made by Senator Patterson yesterday. It is indeed troubling that time constraints, and sometimes technical and resource challenges, prevent committees from hearing directly from First Nations and Indigenous people in general, whose lives are altered by decisions made in this place and the other.
I understand that we have a limited number of sitting days in a year. I also understand we must find ways to work effectively and efficiently. However, we are responsible for ensuring that the voices of historically marginalized, under-represented and oppressed individuals and groups are heard and acted on.
As a result, we need to do all we can to ensure that the legislation we adopt here achieves its intended aims and does not make matters worse. Indigenous people often say “Nothing about us, without us” to remind all of us that full and direct participation is needed at all stages of the policy-making process. Although we cannot always guarantee that all voices can be heard within our fast timelines, we should strive toward it.
We further cannot forget that witnesses who appear at our committees often do not have the same capacity as federal departments and agencies.
When it comes to Indigenous peoples, I can tell you there is significant interest in appearing as witnesses or providing evidence and documents when we examine legislation and other matters. However, every day, our people and communities must address multiple urgent and competing needs without having enough money, personnel, expertise and resources. If we add a lack of time to respond or prepare for invitations to these significant barriers, it should not surprise anyone that participation in the parliamentary process is not always a priority.
I know this first-hand from serving as the chief of my community for over a decade.
When pulled in different directions, there is often no option but to meet the immediate needs of the communities with the limited capacities we have. A week or two is simply not enough time to ensure Indigenous individuals, organizations and others with relevant expertise and experience on the legislation we are tasked to examine are aware, informed and engaged. Nor should that be the expectation. This burden should not be continuously placed on those with the most to lose from our decisions — and who have little to no capacity to take on more in a short timeline.
Colleagues, let’s not forget that our institution, practices and schedules do not always align with the realities of Indigenous and other racialized and marginalized groups. In addition to finding ways to do our work in a timely but constructive manner, we must acknowledge barriers to their participation and take steps to minimize or overcome them. If we do not, we run the risk of continuing to make decisions unilaterally without the input of those most affected by them. I know that is not what we want to see happen. I hope we can engage in further discussions on how to advance more inclusive and culturally sensitive approaches. Wela’lin, thank you.