Northern Ontario’s First Nations Voice: http://wawataynews.ca/
First Nations in northern Ontario fear the loss of their already limited reserve lands should new federal legislation allowing private property on reserves pass, says a Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) deputy grand chief.
Les Louttit, who held the housing and infrastructure portfolio during the last executive council before being reelected, said there is a big risk that First Nations right across Canada would end up losing land should there be private property on reserve.
“There are pros and cons to the proposed legislation, but I think we know from experiences elsewhere that there is the risk of expropriation of those private lands into non-Aboriginal ownership,” Louttit said. “It would continue to erode the size of the community proper, the reserve lands,” he said. “There is that danger.”
On the positive side, Louttit said that private property would allow community members to use their land as collateral for getting a mortgage, which could help alleviate the huge backlog of homes needed in NAN communities.
An estimated 5,000 new homes are required across NAN’s 49 communities, with thousands more houses in need of repairs.
Conservative MP Rob Clarke, a member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, introduced the bill into the House of Commons earlier this month.
Besides allowing First Nations to choose whether to instill private property on reserves, the bill also addresses other aspects of the Indian Act. It would remove remove all references to residential schools from the act and allow First Nations people living on reserve to write wills and estates.
Debate on the bill is expected to happen during the fall session.
Clarke told Windspeaker Newspaper that his bill is a start towards replacing or eliminating the Indian Act, which he called “cumbersome” and “archaic.”
“Everyone’s dream is to get rid of the Indian Act, but what I’m trying to do is start the ground work,” Clarke said to Windspeaker.
Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada John Duncan said in a statement that the government backs Clarke’s bill.
“The spirit of MP Clarke’s bill is something that I can support,” Duncan said. “Our government understands that there are impediments to the Indian Act. This is why we have worked in collaboration with our First Nations partners to develop the First Nations Electoral Reform Act, as well as the First Nation Land Management Act, and it is why we continue to work to create opportunities for First Nations communities to participate more fully in Canada’s economy.”
Yet First Nations across Canada have spoken out against the bill.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo has been a vocal opponent of the plan since it was first raised in the Conservative’s 2012 budget.
“First Nations, by and large, do not support private property,” he said in May.
Atleo added that many First Nations have other creative solutions for land use and development that would respect and preserve treaty rights, but which are not based on “externally imposed notions.”
Chiefs of NAN were briefed on the new bill during the Keywaywin conference in Kashechewan from August 14-16. Louttit said that NAN chiefs will analyze it in further detail to determine what the effects would be in NAN territory before responding the government.