Last Monday, I stood up in the Legislature to provide my perspective on Motion 29, which would amend the Tsawwassen First Nation’s treaty to allow them to benefit from tax exemptions.
This was an important step forward for the Tsawwassen First Nation in exercising their right to self-determination, and I was thrilled to see Chief Kim Baird join us in the House.
The behaviour of the other elected members during this occasion, in which invited Indigenous guests were present, was horrendous. I was deeply embarrassed by their inappropriate use of debate, and the decision of some to leave before the motion had passed.
This was not acceptable. We must do better.
Mr. Speaker, ÍY SȻÁĆEL SIÁM.
[SENĆOŦEN was spoken.]
My name is SȾHENEP. My dad is TSAYWESUT. My grandfather’s name is also TELQUILUM. We need to figure out how it is that we’re related. My grandfather was from Klammi. So not too far away, from a geographic perspective, from Tsawwassen. When I hear that name spoken, it’s close to me.
Welcome, Chief Kim Baird, to the House today.
I feel like part of me wants to sort of apologize for this whole thing. It’s unnecessary on a variety of different fronts, frankly, and I feel sort of embarrassed with the way this conversation and this situation has unfolded.
If you grew up on an Indian reserve in this country, then you know what tax exemptions are and how they’re talked about and, really, what it’s about. If you’ve not grown up on an Indian reserve in this country, then it’s unlikely that you understand how tax exemptions are used against Indigenous people and how what might seem like a seemingly innocuous conversation about tax exemptions and whether or not a Crown government should grant a tax exemption to an Indigenous nation with a treaty and an agreement to make those treaties and the policy changes — how those feelings might be. I just want to acknowledge that.
Tax exemptions are often used as part of the narrative around Indigenous people that, frankly, we’re hoping to leave in our past and move on from. Unfortunately, it shows up today here in this institution, because it really is an instrument of this institution — those stories that are told about Indigenous people and tax exemptions.
If you look right down at the root of it, of course, it’s an important reality about sovereign nations and how they interact with each other and the rights that they have from each other and the liberties that some sovereign nations may take over other sovereign nations and how they might use power and authority over them. So I think that it’s important just to acknowledge that and to name that.
I think it’s also just important to acknowledge and to name the day that you had to spend here today. I mean, you may have wanted to come and hang out with us here in Victoria, in the Legislature. But as you pointed out, as Chemkwaat has pointed out, there’s other business that needs to be taken care of in your community today that you weren’t able to take care of because of this process that’s happened.
I think that, from our perspective, there’s a time and a place to make a point, and then there’s a time and a place to allow that point to be made elsewhere. There’s no doubt that I have expressed my challenges with the management of this assembly, of maybe the process to how we get here today, the decision that’s made about a policy between the federal and provincial governments, about how we use or not use our committees to be able to have discussions about policies that are going to be implicating not just the Tsawwassen agreement but also the other agreements and how those conversations are probably better at a higher-level policy.
When we’re sitting in this assembly and we’re speaking with the leadership, the speaker from another nation, we should be here like we are in our families in the longhouse. We should be unified. That’s a failure of this House to not be unified before today, and I’m sorry for that.
No, please don’t take advantage of that.
What happened this afternoon is an embarrassment of this House. The way that business is conducted between Indigenous nations, to stand up and play our politics in this place in front of leaders of an Indigenous nation is inappropriate. I was going to leave that out until we decided to start banging our desks in this place. I’m sorry. I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed because we should have done this work about the policy so that then there are not questions about what happens when other nations want to bring it up.
This agreement doesn’t have implications for other agreements. If those nations want to bring forward this request, because that’s the desire of those nations, they have every right to do it.
We should have had this conversation at a high policy level. I have been asking, as I have, alongside my colleagues, to be using the Aboriginal Affairs Committee for exactly this purpose. There is a time and a place. But this business was done. The policy was passed. The opportunity to take advantage of that was not before us, the way that it has been used here.
We have a situation where…. We have the leaders of another nation sitting here. We have members standing up and leaving. What is that saying about this place? It has been 40 minutes. We can’t even spend 40 minutes to listen and to honour this conversation. We asked them here. We demanded that they be here.
This hits right at the core for Indigenous people. There are certain narratives in this country that have been used to define Indigenous people, and taxation is one of them. Our relatives in Tsawwassen have made the decision for the right to self-determination, which we have all agreed to in this House, and to take control of their taxation.
My colleagues in the official opposition are correct. These policy decisions need to be made at a committee level. We can build all-party support so we can stand, just like we do in our longhouses, together, as a family. When we invite the leaders of other nations in here, we are doing business as a family, just like the business that they brought before us was done in their house.
They didn’t bring any of the politics or the business. They came and made a request of us. We need to be prepared and to be able to respond to that request in the unanimity of the whole Legislative Assembly.
Yes, the government has the right to make this policy change. They have the majority. Even if we wanted to drag it out…. We could, and then, in the end, the decision would be made. But those are weak decisions. Those aren’t strong decisions.
As the government has repeated over and over again, when we talk about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act…. The strength in that act was that this House stood together as a family — an indication to Indigenous people that we stand together. No matter what happens in our elections, we are moving forward on this journey, in this direction, in full agreement.
That’s the benefit of that committee, which the member from Langara was pointing out. That’s the benefit of that process. The questions of the members in the official opposition about the amount and all of that could have been asked. It could have been done in camera. There could have been members from the Tsawwassen technical team here to have the conversation about it. We could have come out of camera. We could have had that conversation. That was at a time months ago, and we missed that opportunity.
The reality of what has played out today is…. In my opinion, as I’ve seen these relationships go, it’s unacceptable for us to introduce the partisan aspects that have been brought into this. We are undermining the credibility and the integrity of our work together as a Legislative Assembly in delivering a consistent message to our relatives and to leaders across the province that we can act as a Legislative Assembly and that we can use the tools of this Legislative Assembly in an effective way to ensure that when we have guests in our House, we’re not playing politics in here. We are speaking as a family, united.
I can tell you. If this happened in our longhouse…. If a family does not act together, you hear about it. This isn’t a popular thing to stand up and say, but I feel like I need to say it. If this was a family that was not acting together in unity….
The onus is on the government to do it properly. The onus is on us in opposition to do it respectfully so that when we have guests in our House, they see us working together. That is what’s going to demonstrate to the Indigenous people in this province that we are serious about reconciliation.
I absolutely support our relative’s right to self-determination. I absolutely recognize the extreme obstacle…. The requirements that the federal and provincial governments put on the B.C. treaty process are the reason why nations, including mine, are not part of the B.C. treaty process. I am thrilled that we are no longer referring to these as final agreements but living agreements between legitimate governing bodies in this province. If we continue on that path, then we will be working towards reconciliation in a good way.
Please, let’s use the tools that we have in here so that when we have guests in our House, we can operate as a family, just like we do, in a good way. Then the questions that are put in front of this place are done in the appropriate place, not here, at the last minute, with the guests sitting here watching this debate happen. There is a time and a place for that. It has made me very uncomfortable to listen to this conversation while we have these guests in our House.
With that, I’m going to take my seat. I’m going to support this motion. I will support the motions of the other Indigenous nations that want to bring this question forward as well. This is their right to self-determination.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak these words today.