May 30, 2018

Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon—Grasswood)
2018-05-30 17:56 [p.19938]

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak to Bill C-391, an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of aboriginal cultural property. While this bill has very good intentions, aspects of it could lead to unforeseen consequences and it is consequently in need of much amendment.
As we all know, first nation communities play a critical role throughout this great country, contributing to our great cultural diversity and history. The cultural artifacts of first nation peoples provide all Canadians with opportunities to learn lessons from the past, understand the present, and view the future with greater awareness and clarity. To ensure that the cultural artifacts of first nations continue to educate, inform, and inspire Canadians across this country, significant dialogue took place way back in 1994 between the Canadian Museums Association and the Assembly of First Nations with the goal of ensuring that the common interest of Canadians would be met by these important cultural artifacts. They developed a joint recommendation through many consultations, which advocated that there be moral and ethical frameworks for the display and interpretation of first nation cultural artifacts and for resolving disputes. The report of the Canadian Museum Association and the Assembly of First Nations found that museum collections do recognize the importance of cultural objects. These objects represent cultural history and values, and are therefore sources of learning, pride, and self-esteem.
The primary concern of first peoples is the importance of the cultural collections within their own communities. Nonetheless, there is a general recognition of these collections and that the institutions that care for them serve a wider function and can contribute to greater public education and awareness of the significant cultural contributions made by first peoples in this country. Clearly, we all want to ensure that as many Canadians as possible are able to learn about first nation cultures and to discover from these artifacts the rich cultural heritage of first nation peoples. It is in the common interest of all Canadians that we continue to educate and inform them about the amazing contributions that have been made by first nation people throughout history, right up to the present day.
Disconcertingly, the Canadian Museums Association was not consulted prior to the introduction of this bill. That is troubling. It is unfortunate, considering the vast body of work that has been done by this marvellous organization, along with numerous first nations, in the field of first nations’ cultural artifacts, and how best to promote mutual interest.
One of the principles brought forward by the joint recommendation of the Canadian Museums Association and the Assembly of First Nations is that museums and first peoples should work together to correct the inequities that characterized their relationship in the past. In particular, the desire and authority of first peoples to speak for themselves should definitely be recognized and affirmed by museums. However, given that the Canadian Museums Association was not consulted prior to the introduction of this bill, the partnership highlighted by this principle from the joint recommendations seems to have been forgotten during the drafting of the bill. That is unfortunate, because the relationship between the AFN and the Canadian Museums Association goes back to 1984 with respect to the artifacts we are discussing today.
In recognition that the presentation and interpretation of first nations’ cultural artifacts represents a significant public good for this country in terms of the wealth of knowledge, perspective, and understanding that they provide Canadians across this country, and in keeping with the recommendations resulting from the excellent work by the Canadian Museums Association and the AFN, we will propose an amendment that would ensure that consideration be given to the public interest in artifacts being available to Canadians in a way that enhances knowledge and appreciation of aboriginal culture.
Furthermore, we will propose that steps be taken to ensure that first nations cultural artifacts are preserved in a way that they will be available to instruct and inspire all future generations of Canadians, who will only benefit from this cultural property and heritage.
Our amendment will seek to ensure that consideration is given to how best to adequately preserve and protect the quality and integrity of aboriginal cultural property. No common interest is served when cultural artifacts are damaged or even destroyed, and we should be taking every precaution possible to ensure that these cultural artifacts survive for the benefit of all Canadians. Such a consideration is currently absent within Bill C-391 in its present state, and we believe that this amendment would better serve the intentions of the bill by removing unforeseen consequences.
Additionally, we note with some trepidation that the bill includes a very broad definition of aboriginal cultural property. This is defined in the bill as “objects of historical, social, ceremonial, or cultural importance to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.”
One outcome that we want to avoid in the bill is a chilling effect on the thriving first nation arts sector, in which our first nation artisans and craftspeople produce many stunning works that are then bought by people around the world. The income these artists generate through this sector is very important for many families. I saw that firsthand when I had an opportunity to go to Nunavut in January. When the plane lands in a community, the artists come out and are really thrilled to show off their work to those new to the community.
We definitely want to protect their work. We want to make sure that people are not discouraged from purchasing the works of art produced by these talented first nation artisans for fear that this work may be repatriated in the future. That is why we will propose an amendment that would ensure that such a strategy does not have the effect of harming or discouraging the importance of commercial trade by aboriginal artists in the creation and sale of art, design, and fashion.
Finally, as my colleague from York—Simcoe noted, we will propose an amendment that would ensure that the proposed repatriation policy would only affect artifacts that individuals or museums are no longer interested in possessing. This is in the spirit of the remarks made by the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester across the aisle, who said that the intent is not to force anyone to give up any artifacts. It also opens the door or encourages owners to display artifacts that are in storage or currently not on display, either at their own facility or at other facilities across this great nation by lending them out.
First nations culture is incredibly important for Canada. It serves to broaden the perspectives, knowledge, and understanding of all Canadians. We need to make sure that we are doing everything to ensure that first nations cultural artifacts continue to teach and inspire all of us both now and in the generations to come.