First Nations’ access and rights to resources. Topics for Week 3 … Who are First Nations? First Nations’ concerns with regard to access and rights to natural resources The difference between Aboriginal rights and title
Basic Terminology 101
‘Indian’ and ‘Aboriginal’ are recognized political and legal terms for First Nations
Aboriginal: Indian, Inuit, Métis
The term “First Nations” has no legal basis, and is used popularly
The term ‘native’ is no longer used legally, politically or popularly
This is a complex question, and key to understanding the conflict over Aboriginal rights to natural resources
Origins still debated…Asia or North America?... Timescale?...
Long-term occupancy is vitally important to identity, and to assure legal claim to land and resources
Lumping all First Nations in Canada together is as misleading as lumping Scots and Poles together as Europeans
From a Canadian legal perspective, Aboriginal peoples are a single entity and are treated as such
Legal challenges initiated by individual Nations regarding their rights to lands and resources are considered to be legal precedent for all First Nations
Canadian Aboriginals were never formally conquered by the invading Europeans (as they were in the United States)
Rather, their loss of control over land came through subtler means: treaties, dependency on fur trade, diseases and alcoholism, betrayal, immigration by Europeans, etc.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) legally recognizes Aboriginal groups, and determines who holds status as an Indian or Inuit
Only those recognized receive special benefits (free health care, rights to hunt and gather for subsistence on Crown lands)
Originally, a status aboriginal could lose his/her status by marrying, buying property, attending university, or joining the army
Legally reinstated in the 1985 amendment to Indian Act
2001 census: 1,064,300 Aboriginal people, incl. 633,600 registered Indians, 46,200 Inuit and 274,200 Métis
High population growth. Doubled in 20 years, expected to grow sharply to 1,566,900 by 2026
Ontario: largest concentration (22.8%), British Columbia (16.4%), Manitoba (15.9%)
Bands (or separate political entities): total of 612 recognized by Canadian government; 198 in British Columbia; 125 in Ontario
2666 reserves in Canada (federal lands)
Aboriginal title and rights originate from the uncontested fact that Aboriginals were present prior to arrival of Europeans
However, ‘title’ is not in the Constitution, thus it stems from a larger collection of ‘rights’
On the other hand, some believe ‘title’ is the basis for all other rights
Calder legal decision (1973): Aboriginal title had never been extinguished by European occupation
Delgamuukw (1997) made the rationale for Aboriginal title, since the Supreme Court judge defined title as the right to the land itself
Yet each nation faces an uphill battle in demonstrating that they possess Aboriginal title to a piece of land
Federal versus provincial jurisdiction and Aboriginal rights
Sparrow (1990): need to be ‘compelling and substantial reasons’ for infringing on established rights
Recent court cases limiting government’s right to infringe on Aboriginal access to or use of natural resources
Treaties are legally binding agreements between recognized governments.
Historic (or numbered) treaties (with Britain and Canada prior to 1924), extinguishing ‘title’ to the land in exchange for rights to hunt and fish, etc.
Modern treaties, post-1974, with Canada (and jointly with provinces)… in the form of land claims agreements
Comprehensive (title) versus specific (unfulfilled obligations) land claims agreements
James Bay & Northern Quebec land claim (1975): surrendered title in exchange for cash, hunting rights, etc.
Aboriginals in Non-treaty areas (e.g., Lubicon Cree)
The Royal Proclamation (1763), the basis for much subsequent legislation regarding First Nations. Identified ‘Aboriginal title’ and set the stage for the reserve system.
The Constitution Act (1867) made the federal government responsible for aboriginals and reserves
The Indian Act (1876) laid out who was recognized as an Indian by the government, as well as the conditions by which Indians could become enfranchised, or Canadian citizens (and lose government recognition as an Indian)
The Constitution Act (1982) section 35 recognizes and constitutionally guarantees Aboriginal and treaty rights of Aboriginals peoples. Includes Inuit and Métis, along with Indians.
1760 The area that will become B.C. is home to Aboriginal people in more than 30 tribal groups and many hundreds of communities.
1871 B.C. joins Canada and signs the Terms of Union stating that the federal government assumes responsibility for First Nations and B.C. retains authority over land and resources.
1899 Treaty 8 is extended into northeastern B.C. It is the last treaty to be concluded in the province until the Nisga'a Treaty in 2000.
1990-93 B.C., Canada and the First Nations Summit establish the B.C. Treaty Commission (BCTC) process.
1993-94 The BCTC begins the treaty negotiation process and initial meetings are held with 42 First Nations whose statements-of-intent to negotiate are accepted by the BCTC.
1999 The Sechelt Agreement-in-Principle is signed, the first in the modern BCTC process.
2000 The Nisga'a Final Agreement, negotiated outside the BCTC process, is passed by the Senate, having been ratified by all concerned.
About 50% of the 5500 Nisga'a live in the Nass Valley in northwestern B.C., where forestry is the dominant economic activity
In the late 1960's, the Tribal Council began a legal action in the B.C. Supreme Court, culminating in the Treaty signed in 2000
The Nisga'a Treaty gives the Nisga'a Government authority over administration of its own government, management of its lands and assets, Nisga'a citizenship, language and culture
All Nisga'a Government laws operate alongside federal and provincial laws
Land and resources that are managed by the Nisga'a Nation are specified ; existing forest tenures remain and fisheries still managed by the federal government
Sets out quotas for salmon catches and grants limited allocations of moose, grizzly bear and goats
Treaties and court cases have established that Aboriginal peoples have rights to resources
However, having the right is not the same as having access to resources
Conflict and uncertainty remain: Aboriginal access to resources is a complex mix of history, law, court challenges, and judges’ decisions, most of which remain in process and unsettled.
Clearly, we must continue to deal with this ongoing issue, and listening and willingness to learn are key steps (see ‘From the Field’, p118)