AFN press release ...
Negotiation or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice - Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples report on Specific Claims acknowledged by National Chief
OTTAWA, Feb. 7 /CNW Telbec/ - Today, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Phil Fontaine commented on the work of the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples on the release of its federal specific claims report, Negotiation or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice.
The report of the special study, released in December 2006, echoes the AFN's recommendations presented to the Senate Committee on November 8th, 2006 to expedite the settlement of specific claims by establishing an independent claims body to be developed and implemented in partnership with First Nations within two years, and affirming the need for increased funding for the preparation, negotiation and settlement of outstanding specific land claims.
"In order for First Nations to move from poverty to prosperity, Canada must settle its outstanding lawful obligations owed to First Nations," stated the National Chief. "The report, released by the Senate, encourages the development of a more efficient, speedier process for resolving the approximately 900 outstanding specific claims that represent a debt on Canada's books."
The Senate Committee report acknowledges that improving the claims resolution system to enable quick, efficient and fair settlement of specific claims is a moral, economic, political and legal imperative for Canada. Within the existing process, it would take 200 years to settle all existing specific land claims.
"I'm pleased that Minister Prentice has indicated that he looks to the Senate report for its recommendations on how to improve the process. We support him and we look forward to discussing with him the report and its recommendations to determine how we can jointly work towards creating a positive shift that will help turn the corner on First Nations land claim issues," stated National Chief Fontaine.
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.
/For further information: Bryan Henry, AFN A/Communications Director, (613) 241-6789 ext. 229, cell (613) 293-6106, email@example.com; Nancy Pine, Communications Advisor, Office of the National Chief, (613) 241-6789 ext. 243, cell (613) 298-6382, firstname.lastname@example.org/
From the Globe and Mail ...
$250-million a year is needed for native land claims, report says
More violence is probable if disputes remain unsettled, Senate study concludes - BILL CURRY - From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
OTTAWA — A major Senate report is warning of more Caledonia-style blockades and violent confrontations between natives and non-natives unless Ottawa starts setting aside $250-million a year to settle land-claim disputes.
After hearing from a wide range of native leaders and academics over the past year, the senators concluded in yesterday's report that a plan to settle these claims is a proven way to better the lives of Canada's natives. Resolving land disputes, they argue, allows native communities to benefit from economic activities such as housing developments and natural-resources projects.
"In every case where they have been settled, it has meant an immediate improvement in the lives of First Nations people," the report states.
Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, who spent most of his pre-political career working on land claims, has pledged to reform the way Ottawa deals with land claims but has yet to announce his new approach. A spokeswoman said the minister will go over the details of the report before responding.
The Senate committee is chaired by Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain, a Métis with a strong interest in aboriginal policy.
In an interview, Mr. St. Germain said federal leaders need to treat their legal liabilities in the same way a business would, setting aside enough money each year so that the debt can be paid off.
He said most of the natives' claims against the government are clear cases of Ottawa allowing development, such as roads or rail lines, on native land without compensation. "It's fraud, theft and mismanagement," he said.
Although the senators found positive results where deals have been reached, the nearly 300 resolved claims are a fraction of the almost 900 that are currently backlogged.
The report found that long delays -- and Ottawa's conflict of interest in acting as both defendant and judge -- means it will be at least 90 years before that backlog is cleared.
To speed up the pace, the senators recommend at least $250-million be set aside each year to settle these disputes. They also call on Ottawa to create a claims commission to rule on these matters independent of the federal government.
Hard numbers are difficult to find, but Mr. St. Germain estimated that settling all specific claims would cost between $3-billion and $6-billion. Even at $250-million a year, it would still take between 12 and 24 years to clear the backlog.
Mr. St. Germain said the threat that further confrontations like Caledonia -- the Southwestern Ontario town where Six Nations protesters have occupied disputed land for nearly a year -- will spread across the country inspired him to dig into the issue.
"I can see problems just lying there waiting to happen and I think we have a responsibility as members of Parliament to make certain that if something is imminent, that we deal with it in a responsible manner," he said. "[Addressing claims] is something that I think really, really hits right at the very core of what we have to do right off the top to deal with our aboriginal peoples."
The Conservative government had promised an independent body for such claims during the campaign but has yet to act on the file.
As Canada was settled by Europeans, a wide range of promises were made to native communities in the form of treaties and other land arrangements. But natives who felt those promises were ignored, either by neglect or outright fraud, were legally prevented from hiring lawyers to defend themselves until the 1950s.
Since then, hundreds of claims have been filed against the federal government. Known as "specific claims," they deal with violations of deals that already exist. Talks toward new treaties or land claims are called "comprehensive claims." The report found that Indian Affairs estimates its liability for all claims to be at least $15-billion, a figure that the senators said will continue to rise unless action starts soon.
In an interview in December, Mr. Prentice said self-government and settling land claims hold the most promise for addressing native poverty in Canada.
"My view of where we need to go in this country is we have to resolve treaties, we have to resolve the self-government issues and there has to be a gradual replacement of the Indian Act," he said. "I'm pretty passionate about this because I think it is the way forward."