Conflict on Alberta First Nation demonstrates limits of long term leasing

Blog, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

Trouble may be brewing on Siksika Nation, a Blackfoot First Nation located near Calgary, as community members rejected a new negotiated 50-year lease agreement with a non-aboriginal resort association.

This means resort owners may have to abandon cabins they have built on the property.

A deal between Hidden Valley Golf Resort and the Siksika Nation is set to expire in December 2013. The resort leases reserve lands and the 300 cabin owners pay an annual fee to the First Nation.

The resort also includes a golf course, restaurant, and a man-made lake.

A double majority (a true majority of the community members) had to vote yes in the referendum to accept the deal that would have provided over $22 million over the next 50 years.

Some say relations between the band and resort ownership soured when a resort manager shot a band member’s dog and told a resort employee to bury the dog on band land.

Some are saying the band leadership did not communicate enough with band members about the deal.

But, the tenuous nature of the agreement with the resort association highlights problems of long term property rights and investment protection for non-aboriginal parties leasing on reserve land under the designation processes of the Indian Act.

If the deal can be affected by local politics, there are problems for secure property rights and investment that benefits the entire First Nation.

If a deal is not approved, cabin owners will have to dismantle or abandon cabins  and property at great cost. This may make future investment less likely.

To advance economic development on reserves, First Nations  need better property rights protections for non-aboriginal partners. Short and long-term leasing is not cutting it.

Bands clearly need real property ownership as proposed by the First Nations Property Ownership Act.