Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

Proposals to encourage private land ownership on Canada's reserves will be part of in-depth parliamentary hearings in the new year aimed at finding new ways to boost economic activity in first nations communities.

Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, who chairs the House of Commons committee on aboriginal affairs, said a wide range of witnesses will be invited to appear when Parliament returns after its current recess, including advocates of private land use on reserves. The committee chair said suggested witnesses include Manny Jules, chief commissioner of the First Nations Tax Commission, and University of Calgary political science professor Tom Flanagan – two leading advocates for a proposed new law called the First Nations Property Ownership Act.

The committee will also hear from native leaders who strongly oppose private land use on reserves and who will advocate for creative uses of long-term leases.

Story continues below advertisement

This week a prebudget report by the House of Commons finance committee urged the government to examine the proposal, which would allow natives to own private property within the communal land of reserves.

Mr. Warkentin noted that in his committee's initial hearings on the issue, MPs heard Nisga'a leaders speak favourably of private land rights, which are part of their self-government agreement.

"They're encouraged and excited about that provision," the Peace River Alberta MP said. "There are different ways that communities are looking at doing this, but all [are]essentially allowing the land to be used as a tool for economic development."

The chair of the Nisga'a Nation, Kevin McKay, told the committee this month that his community's move to private – or fee simple – residential property "is unprecedented in aboriginal communities, not only in Canada but indeed around the world." He also said it represents major opportunities.

But the push by Conservatives in this direction comes in the face of sound rejection by the vast majority of Canada's first nations leaders. Assembly of First Nations chiefs overwhelmingly voted to reject the idea at a 2010 gathering in Winnipeg, with only three dissenting votes.

Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louie, who also chairs the First Nations Land Advisory Board, said that near-unanimous opposition to the idea hasn't changed. He warned that the government will face major opposition if it attempts to bring in legislation along those lines.

"There's going to be such a huge outcry against this," he said, noting that the proposal is viewed by many first nations as on par with the hated 1969 federal government white paper that attempted to do away with the reserve system.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Louie said the economic success of his own B.C. community – which is home to 8,500 non-band members who lease their properties – shows leasing arrangements can win the support of investors and big banks without sacrificing reserve land.

Mr. Louie and the AFN argue there are other property-rights models that are proving successful and should be expanded.

In particular, there are now 58 first-nations communities that have voluntarily opted into the 1999 First Nation Land Management Act, which gives communities direct powers over land codes for commercial and residential property on reserve, while keeping communal land rights in the hands of the community.

An AFN policy paper disputes that there is a "stark choice" between traditional collective land use and private land use.

"The reality is there is a range of options and models that can combine communal values and individual landholding in ways that meet the priorities and values of different peoples," the paper states.

"While Canada is well aware of these issues, there is no dialogue with first nations to design a process to address them."

Story continues below advertisement

NDP MP Linda Duncan said her concern is that while private land ownership may work for individual homeowners, the debate is ignoring larger questions of how commercial land changes would protect the environment. Whether it's an oil sands company or an independent gas station, she said, Ottawa and the communities need to sort out how to enact and enforce environmental rules.

She also questions why Ottawa isn't focusing on less controversial land changes. "Why throw all your eggs in that basket?" she asked. "There may be lots of other feasible options where you don't get people's backs up."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies