Joined: 18 Aug 2004
|Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2008 3:04 pm Post subject: Aboriginal land claims and Indian business ventures?
|What's holding up so many aboriginal land claims and First Nations business ventures in Canada?
From Impossible Odds:
The Landmark Treaty of British Columbia's Tsawwassen First
Nation will abolish its reserve, add to its land base and end the tax exemption that has long defined Indian identity in Canada. Opposition is fierce, but the province's chief negotiator argues that the agreement will give Tsawwassen what they seek most - control of their destiny.
By Kiwi treaty negotiating champ, Katherine Gordon
|The federal government exerts its control over qualifying aboriginal people in Canada with a 132-year-old statute known as the Indian Act. The legislation provides a tax exemption for Indians living and working on reserves and annual program funding delivered by INAC. But the Indian Act also has significant drawbacks. INAC's $5.5 billion budget for the services it provides to Indian reserves is split among more than 1,200 organizations across the country, including 640 Indian bands, or First Nations. INAC funding is never adequate to meet community needs, and it is difficult for bands to raise their own revenue. Nobody on a reserve owns land outright, either individually or collectively, making it next to impossible to borrow money from a bank to build or buy a house or start a business on a reserve. Band governments, in the form of elected chiefs and councils, have limited bylaw-making powers and are shackled by a heavy-handed federal bureaucracy that sets priorities for how government funding is spent on reserves. Bands must troop, hat in hand, to Ottawa for permission to undertake major initiatives. ...
(Chief Kim) Baird's vision for the treaty included three principal elements: land for housing, community and economic ventures; self-government; and finally, cash. ...
Baird proposed, for example, that the treaty include 1,172 hectares of crown land - representing less than one per cent of the territory to which the Tsawwassen claimed aboriginal title - far in excess of what the two governments had in mind. The same was true of cash. The governments offered $10 million, a quarter of what Baird and her financial advisers had asked for. As for governance, the Tsawwassen wanted to ensure their powers would have constitutional protection: an abhorrent idea to the provincial government in power at that time.
In the end - nearly five years later - the Tsawwassen came down on land, the governments went up on cash and the province caved on constitutional protection of self-government. At the signing of the treaty in December, 2006, Jim Prentice, then Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, acknowledged in front of the Tsawwassen community that the sun had finally set on his role in their lives: "This treaty will provide you with the tools and authority to take control of your own future." ...
... Farmers in Delta are fiercely protective of the municipality's dwindling agricultural lands and want to prevent possible development on the property the Tsawwwassen will assume as part of the treaty, much of which falls on prime vegetable and berry farmland. Farming associations criticized the transfer, as did most Vancouver area municipal governments and several members of the provincial legislature. ... In 2004, the municipality (Delta) launched legal action against the provincial government in an unsuccessful attempt to stop it from signing the treaty.
(For more on the encroachment of valuable agricultural land, see p. 44 of the treaty).
Opposition to the agreement from other First Nations has been equally emphatic. Numerous groups have asserted that the Tsawwassen's treaty lands lie withinin their own traditional territories and should not be transferred until their own rights to those lands have been addressed. The Semiahamoo First Nation in nearby White Rock and an alliance of Vancouver Island First Nations launched legal proceedings in June 2007 in an attempt to halt further progress on the treaty. Their case was rejected in the B.S. Supreme Court in November, 2007.
Closer to home, at Canoe Pass on the Fraser River, where the Tsawwassen will have ownership of several parcels of land, Raymond Wilson is at the forefront of a drive by the Hwlitsum First Nation to gain its own land. Fearful that there will be none left for his people, Wilson has fought the Tsawwassen every step of the way during the past 14 years. He, too, has so far been unsuccessful.
Nor is the opposition just local. First Nations from the Fraser Valley that have begun their own treaty negotiations have banded together with those on Vancouver Island in an attempt to force governments to change what have, until now, been non-negotiable mandates, such as the policy on removing the tax exemption. A unified front, they say, is essential to success; in agreeing to accept such policies, the Tsawwassen First Nation has let them down.
Others outside the process are just as adamant. ...
In addition to the external resistance, 30 Tsawwassen residents actively opposed the deal. ...
Some feared losing their government overseers, on whom they have come to depend. "We'll be losing INAC's responsibility for us," says Bertha Williams. ... "Who will we turn to then?"
... She considers the tax exemption to be part of her identity. "It's who we are now. There's no other place in the world where people have a special status like this." (-- pgs. 54-60)
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