First Nations should take option

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

Manitoba First Nations should pay attention to what is going on in northwestern British Columbia.

The Nisga’a Nation is embarking on a revolution in property ownership.

Just recently, three Nisga’a residents announced their intent to obtain their property in fee simple. This is the land title familiar to most Canadians.

Some of these individuals announced they will be leveraging their property to build businesses.

The Nisga’a are able to transfer their lands to individual members because the Nisga’a National received their land collectively when they signed their modern treaty. As such, Nisga’a lands ceased to be reserve lands with the title vested in the Crown.

In Manitoba, First Nations do not own their own lands; they are owned by the Crown.

I have written about First Nation property rights in this space before, but it bears mentioning again.

Manitoba can lead in Canada by supporting First Nations property at the national level. It would be great if the major First Nation organizations in Manitoba pledged their support.

It is not clear when this federal government will be introducing a First Nation Property Ownership Act, although they have committed to doing so.

The legislation would be voluntary, so Manitoba bands could stand by those First Nations who want to opt into it.

As bands in Manitoba have signed historic Numbered Treaties, they would need to opt into the legislation.

Then it would be up to those First Nations to grant property rights to individuals. One possible misunderstanding is that the bill would turn over all lands to individuals. The bill actually would transfer it to First Nation governments who would then be empowered to transfer it to individuals, if they choose.

If Manitoba First Nations adopted this, they likely would be conservative and cautious in parcelling it out.

And that would be wise.

Full property rights can help alleviate the housing crisis on too many Manitoba bands. According to the First Nation Tax Commission, First Nation persons holding fee simple title to their land would be able to obtain mortgages without the need of a ministerial guarantee. These mortgage monies could then be used to either build new homes on their lands or improve existing ones. The investment of private capital could upgrade their homes.

In some other places, the housing crisis is leading some to take drastic measures.

One First Nation woman on one northwestern Ontario community is facing fines from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) for building a new home on her family’s traditional trap line. The MNR issued a stop work order and threatened her with a $10,000 fine because she did not have the permit.

When asked about her drastic move, Darlene Necan said, “We gotta do something. We can’t wait for Indian Affairs to don’t this by their rules. We cannot do that anymore.

We have to stand up on our feet.”

Fee simple rights are not a magic wand to the housing problems, but they could help the crisis.

Waiting on unsustainable government waiting lists is not the answer.

Hopefully, Manitoba bands take notice of the Nisga’a case study and throw their support behind optional property ownership legislation.