Access to Justice Blocked by Massive Funding Cuts to Research
(Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver – February 20, 2014) First Nations claims research organizations across Canada yesterday received notice that their research funding is being radically cut. Cuts range from 35% to 60%.
Chief Maureen Chapman, Chair of the UBCIC Specific Claims Working Group observes, “By cutting funding to develop claims, the Harper government denies these claims the access to justice that is offered by the Tribunal, the only part of the specific claims resolution process that seems to be upholding the honour of the Crown. These funding cuts are forcing research organizations to stop work on claims where research is well underway and to forgo researching new claims. None of these claims can access the Tribunal. None of these claims can be resolved.”
Claims research organizations develop specific land claims for member First Nations throughout Canada. Specific claims arise when Canada fails to meet its lawful obligations to protect reserve lands and assets from illegal alienation and fails to honour treaty promises. In 2008, the process to resolve these grievances was overhauled by the federal government in a new Specific Claims Action Plan. Justice at Last promised to resolve specific claims quickly, fairly and through negotiations and established an independent Tribunal to make final and binding decisions on claims that Canada either rejected or did not negotiate.
The Government of Canada’s failure to settle specific claims in a fair and just manner contravenes key provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which Canada is a signatory. It violates the basic human right of Canada’s Indigenous People to access “effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for... any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.”
“Specific Claims are not discretionary matters,” UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip observes. “They are lawful obligations on the part of the federal government arising from its misappropriation of Indigenous lands and assets. They represent damages to be paid. They form part of the federal government’s deficit. Preventing specific claims from being developed and resolved increases the federal government's liabilities and transfers its financial burden to our children and grandchildren.”
The duty to resolve specific claims arose initially from the federal government’s acknowledgment that it had a legal obligation to protect Indigenous reserve lands and assets from illegal alienation – an obligation that it failed to fulfill. That government took steps, unilaterally, to remediate its breach, in part by establishing a specific claims resolution process, which included funding to research and develop claims. Yet, the government’s actions have not brought about resolution, reconciliation or remediation but have focused on ignoring its obligations and minimizing its liabilities.
Phillip adds, “These massive funding cuts signal clearly the Harper government’s intent to walk away from specific claims. The problem for the Harper Government is that, because they remain unresolved, the claims themselves won’t go away. These are the same circumstances that preceded Oka: Canada walked away from the federal duty to address specific claims and was dismissive of First Nation grievances. Canada abandoned negotiations and instituted destructive funding cuts. Does the Harper government expect a different result now when they are using the same means to deny Indigenous people justice?”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip (250) 490-2314
Chief Maureen Chapman (604) 796-9129