There is a fair amount of fear mongering lately over First Nations exerting more authority over their own lands and resources. This of course is nothing new and has been happening for decades. But now more than ever, First Nations are tired of waiting for things to improve under the Indian Act and are actively implementing ways to improve basic living conditions and quality of life for their people. Instead of engaging First Nations in a productive and conciliatory fashion, clearly certain folks feel they need to go to the media to express unfounded concerns...which really isn't helpful.
Talk to First Nations Directly? Out of the Question!
The really embarrassing part of all of this is that in many cases the First Nations are the immediate neighbours of the people who are complaining. I suppose municipalities aren’t completely to blame for this situation, but it seems there is no excuse for the lack of common sense. Then again maybe getting an issue resolved expeditiously and locally isn’t the intent of these news stories, perhaps it is to scare off potential developers and investors while at the same time unnecessarily enraging citizenry.
First Nations are Getting a Free Ride!
As recent news articles have indicated (See hyperlinks), certain mayors and other obviously misinformed folks feel their municipalities are somehow going to be forced to provide free services such as schooling, public transportation, water, sewer, policing and garbage pickup. The truth is, that just because First Nations don’t pay municipal taxes does not mean they don’t have to pay for municipal or other provincial services. First Nations in fact, “pay out the nose” for such services as recently noted by Chief Gibby Jacobs. Chieb Jacobs further points out that the Federal Government also compensates provinces for the education of aboriginal children off reserve. I find it hard to see a serious concern here.
Whoa, First Nations Shouldn’t Just be Allowed to Do Whatever They Want!
Recognized inherent self governing authority First Nations seems to bringing out some of the worst issues of trust and uncertainty. I witnessed this paranoia first hand more than 10 years ago when the Framework Agreement was being examined by Parliament. In May of 1999, several Representatives from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) the Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee (LMTAC), the Fraser Valley Treaty Advisory Committee, the Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee all showed up in Ottawa to seek a mandatory consultation clause to the Framework Agreement.
There is no doubt that consultation among neighbours is a good thing, especially where development, environment and land use planning is involved....However, while the government of Canada can force relationships between parties, it cannot force good relationships between neighbors. Furthermore, no such obligation existed at the time on municipalities to consult with aboriginal communities over matters of mutual concern. Parliamentarians appeared to recognize this and did not recommend any amendments to the Framework Agreement.
Other 3rd party tenant associations also appeared at this time and raised all kinds of nefarious situations whereby they and all Canadians would be at the “mercy” of draconian First Nation governments. Everything from unregulated Casinos to Nuclear waste dumps were suggested by opponents as more than certain results of Parliament ratifying the Framework Agreement. It was subsequently revealed that many tenants had previously negotiated “sweetheart” deals to lease reserve lands for extended periods of time at rates way below market value of surrounding lands. Further, a lack of due diligence by INAC collecting rents and enforcing other legally binding clauses of the leases meant that many tenants were free to do pretty much what they wanted and even forgo years of rent payment without consequence. So in a way, the status quo of the Indian Act suited some 3rd parties just fine.
Don’t get me wrong, while aspects of this testimony was entertaining, as an aboriginal person, it was also hard to listen to all this without feeling like there was a discriminatory double standard being touted and promoted by certain opponents in favour of inequitable self interest.
Relationships Absolutely are Important
The Indian Act has never provided First Nations, Municipalities or 3rd parties with opportunities to develop strong working relationships. Under the Indian Act, it is usual practice that whenever a province, municipality or 3rd party has concerns, or wants to do anything in relation to or with reserve lands all they have to do is call up the people who make the decisions, the Department of Indian Affairs, or not at all. Leases on reserve land are another example of this. Leases are negotiated and concluded directly between the Crown and 3rd Parties, even lease payments are made directly to the Crown. A First Nation has had little recourse if provisions of that lease are breached.
Following the ratification of the Framework Agreement by Canada in 1999, the LAB, UBCM and FCM jointly collaborated on a multi-year project promoting positive First Nation-Municipal relationships. Many workshops were held in many parts of Canada showcasing successful examples of positive and productive alliances between native and non native communities. While this project was great and produced many examples for which native and non native communities can adapt to their own situations, it’s clear that this did not address fundamental issues for some.
Through all the propaganda, misinformation and inaccurate speculation, these facts remain true: no one is talking about obliging or requiring any municipality to provide “Free” services, First Nations already pay a premium for those services and stronger relationships have been created following the removal of the Indian Act. What then exactly is the problem? What do you think?