Monday, October 15, 2007

Kim Baird speaking in the legislature on Oct 15th 2007

Address from the Bar of the House

K. Baird: Mr. Speaker, hon. Members, ladies and gentlemen, I'm very honoured to be addressing the Legislature today and further honoured to represent my community. The fact that so many members of my community are here to support me gives me strength and holds me up.

For the Tsawwassen people this is a time of great hope and optimism, a challenging yet exciting time. It is a time for revival and renewal. It is a time when we will take back our rightful place as a community equal to others through our treaty.

I say take back our rightful place, because we have a long and proud history that predates the birth of this province. For thousands of years we used and occupied a large territory that was abundant in fish, shellfish, wildlife and other resources.
The Tsawwassen treaty means many things to many people. In my view, one of the important things this treaty achieves is the new relationship between Tsawwassen, British Columbia and Canada. It achieves reconciliation, and I mean true reconciliation.

To me true reconciliation signifies real action and tangible change. True reconciliation is the product of this treaty. It proves to the world that reasonable people can sit down and settle historical wrongs. It proves that a modern society can correct the mistakes of the past while providing for differences in values and cultures. As first nations, as British Columbians and Canadians, we should all be very proud.

My presence here today is symbolic of true reconciliation. Our reconciliation was born of hard work and hard-fought compromises, so very painful to my community.

I also have reflected on other recent events that I view as very important steps towards reconciliation. The Hon. Steven Point's recent appointment as British Columbia's 28th Lieutenant-Governor is one of these recent events, a significant step in our history. Even the covering up of the murals offensive to so many is important, because in my view, true reconciliation is a culmination of steps where we try our best to better understand and accommodate each other. Though we try our best, accommodation comes through change that can often be painful and rocky.

This past July, after 14 years at the negotiation table, we ratified our treaty. After an enormous information campaign mounted by our council, staff and supportive community members and through careful review, members of my community ratified our treaty by a resounding 70 percent.

That is why I am here today.

The treaty will be debated here in this Legislature before travelling to Parliament Hill in Ottawa for final debate and, hopefully, formal ratification.

There were times I thought this day would never come. I'm so relieved to be able to stand before you and to launch a debate that will decide the fate of the future for all of us. Our people have waited for well over 100 years for this moment.

I like to think that our ancestors would be proud. I also like to think that some of our aboriginal leaders who are no longer with us and who devoted their whole lives to the notion of treaty-making, which has afforded me the opportunity to negotiate our treaty, would celebrate our achievement too - or in recent times, those members who have recently left us and who provided such strong support for the idea of true reconciliation.

I'm so grateful to trail-blazers who have taken this journey before us, such as the Nisga'a.

I must pause and reflect a little bit on our journey to today. In our language, Halq'em-ylem, the word "Tsawwassen" is translated into English as "land facing the sea." It also provides an accurate description of our home, our current reserve and most of our treaty lands being located in what is now known as Roberts Bank in Delta on the southern Strait of Georgia, near the Canada-U.S. border.

We were accomplished fishers. Salmon and sturgeon were mainstays of our traditional diet. This is still the case today. In small skiffs with powerful motors, also known a mosquito fleet, we fish for salmon, oolichan and crab, primarily. In fact, because of urbanization of our territory, fish is one of the only renewable resources we have access to and, as such, is of vital importance to our community.

Fish provides for cultural and social processes that are very important for our identity. I should say that I've read many draft treaty chapters in between sets while fishing in my own little gill-netter as well.

Our traditional territory was bordered on the northeast by the watersheds that feed into Pitt Lake down Pitt River to Pitt Meadows, where they empty into the Fraser River. It includes Burns Bog and part of New Westminster following the outflow of the river just south of Sea Island. From Sea Island it cuts across the strait to Galiano Island and includes all of Saltspring, Pender and Saturna islands. From there, the territory continues northeast to include the Point Roberts peninsula and the watersheds of the Serpentine and Nicomekl rivers. We have never surrendered this territory of ours.

Our ancestors were also skilled hunters. Waterfowl, ducks, mallards and loons as well as sea mammals such as porpoises, seals and sea lions formed part of their diet. The tidal flats at Westham Island and Boundary Bay were favoured duck-hunting areas. Today our hunters get most of our ducks fronting our existing reserve. Elk, deer, black bear and beaver were hunted in season, supplementing the regular diet of fish.

Ancient Tsawwassen people greatly relied on western red and yellow cedar, which provided homes, firewood, food, tools for carving and cooking, great ocean-going canoes, clothing and ceremonial gear. Food was abundant. A trade and barter system was in place. Specialized services were also exchanged.

We also had extensive practices and ceremonies that dealt with governance functions in our longhouse. Our longhouse systems also ensured the redistribution of wealth to make certain our people would survive. Experts are still learning how complex these practices were and are. This is a far cry from the portrayal of aboriginal people as savages.

I don't want to dwell on the impacts of European contact too much, but there are facts we need to consider. We can't underestimate the impact European contact has had on our communities. Over the past century our lives were much diminished by newcomers, who first took our labours for furs and fish but then later took our lands and resources and considered us a nuisance when our labour was no longer desired.

Residential schools forever changed the face of our communities, due to the apprehension of our children and discouragement of our culture and language. These impacts will face us for many more generations, and as a mother of two small children, I cannot tell you how distressed I feel when I think of what has happened to our ancestors.

Sadly, either these tools or similar tools of colonialism were used throughout the world at this unfortunate time in world history. More specific to us, tools of land title and other rights of newcomers were mapped over our territories, effectively erasing our presence and marginalizing us to the fringes of our territory and broader society.

In more recent times, these tools have evolved to land-use designations, official community plans and livable regions strategies.

Again, other people mapped over our territories, without our input, all the while with unextinguished aboriginal title that still underlies our territory. Does this sound extreme? For sure, land use and development issues are key issues in our treaty and in the lower mainland as well. In fact, this is the crux of controversy because of the importance of these issues.

Consider the clause in our treaty that stipulates the transfer of 207 hectares to us from the agricultural land reserve. Some of you may have heard of this. In the countdown to the final agreement, we made it clear we needed those lands in order to live and grow, to set up businesses and build houses. No other aspect of our treaty resulted in as much controversy - so many headlines. Some critics - including columnists, environmentalists and politicians - are trying to block our treaty because of the agricultural land reserve issue.

Critics choose to ignore Tsawwassen's history of being victims of industrial and urban development to the benefit of everyone but us. The naysayers do not seem to care that they are calling for the continued exclusion of Tsawwassen from opportunities everyone else has enjoyed. "So what of Tsawwassen First Nations legitimate economic needs? So what of Tsawwassen First Nations land base needs? Let's just continue to ignore Tsawwassen First Nations needs."

I try not to become too disheartened, and I hope the members of my community take the same approach, because the facts speak for themselves. Today we have a tiny postage stamp of a reserve, a small fraction of a percentage of our traditional territory fronting a dead body of water trapped between two massive industrial operations. Our land and aquatic ecosystems have been fouled beyond human comprehension.

The ferry causeway with its millions of cars and trucks dissects our reserve to the south. Deltaport, with its 24-7 coal and container traffic, coats our houses with diesel particulate. Trucks and trains keep us awake at night. Consider, too, the bulldozing of a Tsawwassen longhouse for the construction of the ferry terminal causeway. No consultation. These industrial operations that include a manmade island terminal and a causeway linking them to the mainland have virtually destroyed our beaches, at least our ability to use them as we had once traditionally.

The ALR issue is just one of the compromises required for the conclusion of this treaty. Although this is one of the more publicly controversial aspects of it, make no mistake that my community has had to make a number of compromises too. I've highlighted this issue because I was worried it would overtake our collective mutual objective of reconciling aboriginal rights and title with the Crown.

I think I can say on my and my community's behalf that true reconciliation requires this treaty receive broad support. I want our treaty to have the support of as many parties and individuals as possible. To have it become a political football due to various specific public policy issues, in my view, sullies the whole point of true reconciliation.

Compromises are indeed difficult but also very necessary. I think that there are many other reasons why this treaty represents true reconciliation. I'm very excited by the fact that the Tsawwassen people will no longer be tethered to the archaic Indian Act, an act which has failed all of us.

We no longer have to have our aspirations subject to a legion of bureaucrats purporting to have our best interests at heart. True reconciliation as set out in the Tsawwassen treaty from this day forward will bring the end of that paternalistic act. Today true reconciliation also means access to financial resources and economic opportunities which will be used for economic development and infrastructure development.

True reconciliation will also provide services and programs to Tsawwassen members. While my community has endorsed our treaty, we still worry about our future. We have much work to do to implement our treaty and to undo the legacy of oppression. In the homes of our reserve you can feel both a sense of excitement and a sense of apprehension. The real work begins now. We must put our mind to developing our governance structures and institutions. Being ready for self-governance will require much effort by all of my members.

The treaty is a legal document, of course � a framework that ensures we can enter the economic and political mainstream of Canada. Now as equals, we enter the economic, political and social mainstream with all the rights and all the responsibilities. It also enables many new things. Our new relationship, such as within the membership of the GVRD, now known as Metro Vancouver, is a historic feat in itself. Today we are on the cutting edge of true reconciliation.

Our treaty is the right fit for our nation. More land, cash and resources provide us the opportunity to create a healthy and viable community, free from the constraints of the Indian Act. We now have the tools to operate as a self-governing nation for the first time in 131 years, since the first Indian Act was introduced.

The Tsawwassen treaty, clause by clause, emphasizes self-reliance, personal responsibility and modern education. It allows us to pursue meaningful employment from the resources of our territory for our own people. In other words, a quality of life comparable to other British Columbians.

To everyone, it provides economic and legal certainty and gives us a fighting chance to establish legitimate economic independence, to prosper in common with our non-aboriginal neighbours in a new and proud Canada.

In closing, I want to share this thought with you. I am often asked whether it has been worth it - all the years at the negotiation table and the endless meetings under a seemingly endless series of new governments, ministers and officials, so many with new protocols and new directives that often contradicted earlier ones. Far too often we had to start over in the face of these realities.

I have been very fortunate to have dedicated and loyal Tsawwassen members by my side for the negotiations. They're here on the floor with me today. They have also persevered through the ups and downs.

No one was more surprised than I was when we did conclude a treaty. These negotiations are complex. At times the gulf between our respective communities seemed insurmountable. Even though we completed our treaty, there are still parts of it that I find offensive, but in answer to whether it was worth it? Yes - a resounding yes.

When I began this process I was a young woman, 20 years old. Now I am what I like to think of as a youngish 37. Today I have two girls, aged ten months and four. I am confident that they will study, work and live in a new and different world defined by hope and fuelled by optimism, while being proud of their heritage.

I have to add that I am also glad that in the future, when my girls visit this building, they will not feel embarrassed by how their ancestors are portrayed on those murals.

The future is very bright for my children and all the children for my community, if the treaty is signed by the three parties. I hope their world will be so much better than the one their ancestors faced for too long.

We are decolonizing through accommodation of our differences, not assimilation. That, Mr. Speaker, I trust you'll agree, is the ultimate benefit of true reconciliation. [Applause.]

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