Recent media reports have suggested that the Conservative government will soon introduce legislation allowing private property ownership on reserve.(this was also telegraphed in Budget 2012)
According to government sources, this scheme will solve certain challenges facing First Nations, like the lack of housing supply and disrepair of existing housing, which has led to dangerous overcrowding. The fact is that this government has no plan to deal with the current housing crisis on reserve and their recent blundering of the Attawapiskat crisis shows just how out of touch they are.
The government’s own August 2010 audit of on
reserve housing showed that current funding is based on bad data and that the government cannot adequately demonstrate the extent to which funding for housing achieves expected outcomes. Now, rather than living up to their financial obligations, the Conservatives are looking to the free market to sort out the housing crisis for First Nations. Introducing private property ownership on reserve, a concept that First Nations overwhelmingly reject, will not solve the housing crisis. In fact, there is a danger it will worsen the housing situation as non-Aboriginals acquire reserve land.
The Conservative government’s legislative agenda for First Nations, Inuit and Métis issues – including this new, urgent drive for private property rights – simply does not reflect what Aboriginal people are calling for right across this country. First Nations specifically have been very clear on what their priorities are.
They want to ensure that, where their lands and rights are impacted, future development of natural resources is done in partnership with Aboriginal Canadians. They want to work with the government on closing the unacceptable gaps in outcomes for education and, to achieve this, close the deplorable per student funding gaps for Aboriginal students compared with the non-Aboriginal population. They want to ensure that unacceptable shortages of housing are addressed and that Aboriginal people have access to basic services like clean safe drinking water.
Rather than working with Aboriginal Canadians to make progress toward these priorities, the Conservative government has introduced “made in Ottawa” policy and legislation on a host of issues. Whether on drinking water, financial reporting, elections or matrimonial real property – government legislation failed to address the fundamental challenges faced by Aboriginal Canadians, and was forged without prior discussions with stakeholders on the specifics of bills before being tabled.
They proposed to transfer responsibility for drinking water to First Nations without addressing the significant capacity and funding shortfalls that currently exist. They proposed legislation requiring additional financial reporting requirements of First Nations without addressing the current overwhelming and cumbersome existing requirements that the Auditor General has repeatedly called on the government to fix. They have tabled First Nations election legislation that fails to properly incorporate the feedback of First Nations, Matrimonial Property legislation that ignores the major concerns expressed by Aboriginal women and have no proposal to close the funding gaps for education or to deal with the crisis in available housing.
Consultation and Rights
Now, the Conservative government is musing about making major changes to First Nations property ownership with no significant prior consultation; legislation which would fundamentally alter First Nations rights and their distinct connection to their traditional territories.
This comes on the heels of the Conservatives ramming through their omnibus kitchen sink budget bill, which radically altered Aboriginal participation in environmental assessments.
Last January at the Crown First Nations Gathering the Prime Minister committed to improving relationship and strong partnerships with First Nations based on respect for Aboriginal and Treaty rights. The Conservative government has followed that commitment up with a bill to unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act, a budget which radically altered the ability of Aboriginal people to participate in environmental assessments affecting their rights and traditional territories, and now a unilateral move to change property ownership on reserves.
Back in 2010 the Assembly of First Nations, citing concerns about non-Aboriginal people acquiring indigenous land and the likely erosion of collective rights, passed a resolution opposing private property ownership on reserve. The vast majority of First Nations Chiefs currently reject the introduction of private property ownership on reserve and yet the Conservative government seems bent on pursuing their own paternalistic agenda in the face of overwhelming opposition and likely conflict.
Both federal and provincial governments have a duty to consult Aboriginal peoples before making decisions that might adversely affect their rights and, in some circumstances, accommodate Aboriginal peoples’ concerns. This duty has been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. Further, let us not forget that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada signed, obliges Canada to obtain the “free, prior and informed consent” of indigenous peoples for matters affecting rights, territories, and resources.
This is a government that seems to have a pathological aversion to consultation with those impacted by their decisions. Mr. Harper and his government must start listening before acting and incorporating what they hear into how they approach their legislative agenda.
Many First Nations leaders have expressed huge concerns that ‘fee-simple’ could mean that bankruptcy or other dire circumstances would allow reserve land to be sold to non-aboriginal non-community members…. which could have the effect of a ‘paper punch’ going through a First Nations community until the reserve lands …. shared by the First Nations Community became more like a lace doily…. and eventually the elimnation of the reserve lands negotiated as their treaty rights…
The Parliamentary Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has undertaken a study on Land Use and Sustainable Development… Have a look at the website to see what we’ve been hearing….
including the poignant testimony of Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse
and the testimony of Manny Jules the proponent of this plan…