Finalizing land claims

Blog, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

A stir has erupted over media reports by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) that the federal government is adopting a “take-it-or-leave-it” position with First Nation communities involved in specific land claims, which are claims involving the Crown not properly discharging its duties to Native communities.

Apparently, the reports say that if the community does not accept the government’s final offer, the claim would be sent to the Specific Claims Tribunal for decision. The problem for some bands is the tribunal is capped at $250 million a year in awards, so some feel they would lose out in compensation.

The AFN is insisting the government clarify its position.

While the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has issued a reply, saying the media reports are inaccurate, there is nothing wrong with trying to speed up the land claims process. This is one of the main reasons the Specific Claims Tribunal was established in the first place.

I argued before in a Frontier Centre policy paper that establishing a firm filing deadline and a sunset clause would encourage  First Nations to get on with finalizing these matters. It is in the interests of lawyers and consultants hired by the bands to continue these processes indefinitely. I argued the award provided by the tribunal should not be capped as an incentive to bring forward all claims.

Lack of land clarity impacts the First Nation economies involved and prevents long-term decision making.  So, it is the best interests of Native communities to support quick and final resolutions of these claims. Investors and Indian bands have a harder time finalizing partnerships amidst this uncertainty. It also certainly costs all of Canada in foregone economic activity. So, Ottawa should put the resources into land claims for the long term benefit.

While the approach raised in the news account (but denied by ANAC) is questionable, the goal of expediting all land claims is an admirable goal for all involved.