Government management of First Nations lands the problem

Blog, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

I was interviewed by a campus radio station in Winnipeg this morning. The main question was why I supported the proposed First Nations Property Ownership Act that is expected to be introduced in Parliament next year.

The main reason I gave was the the federal government has historically done such a dismal job handling First Nations lands, resources and assets. It’s time to put indigenous peoples in the driver’s seat for a change.

The central problem is the land tenure system involves the government holding native lands as a trustee. Title is vested in the Crown not the First Nations themselves. Originally done with good intentions as a way to protect indigenous peoples from squatting settlers, the trustee relationship assumes that First Nations are incapable of handling their own affairs.

Let’s look at the record of the government, shall we? Since the establishment of the reserve system at the start of the 19th century, much of the First Nation land base was lost. Who was at the helm? Government. A specific claims land claims policy exists today because the federal government mishandled First Nations lands or assets.

First Nations having their own lands would have much more of an incentive to preserve those lands for future generations. They would also have more incentive to derive full benefits from their own lands and resources without a federal middleman. Time to give them a shot. We can start by recognizing who the real culprit has been all along.