First Nations split on property ownership rights. 'The house that I live in and every house on reserve is ultimately owned by Minster of Aboriginal Affairs'
- First Nations split on property ownership rights
'The house that I live in and every house on reserve is ultimately owned by Minster of Aboriginal Affairs'
JUNE 21, 2013
BY JASON HEWLETT
DAILY NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Local First Nation chiefs are split on the findings of a Fraser Institute report that states fee-simple property rights will improve standards of living and provide economic growth for aboriginals.
Skeetchestn Chief Ron Ignace said the only way to empower First Nations is to recognize aboriginal title and rights to traditional territories.
On the other side of the debate, Whispering Pines Chief Michael LeBourdais agrees with the institute's findings and even authored a forward in the report.
He said there's a perception that First Nations own their own land. They don't. The federal Department of Indian Affairs holds everything in trust.
"The house that I live in and every house on reserve is ultimately owned by Minster of Aboriginal Affairs," said LeBourdais.
"We get to pay for it. We get the mortgage and we get the insurance, but we don't get the benefit of having any value in it once it's paid for."
The report, the Wealth of First Nations: An Exploratory Study, examines why some First Nations have achieved noticeably higher levels of prosperity compared to others.
The study suggests one way for First Nations to improve living standards on reserves is to develop stable governing institutions and property rights that encourage participation in the wider economy.
LeBourdais said the findings mirror the First Nations property ownership initiative, which is currently under discussion by the federal government.
If passed into legislation, the initiative would allow willing First Nations to opt out of the Indian Act and into a regime of fee-simple property ownership.
"It would transfer ownership of the land from Ottawa to, in my case, Whispering Pines First Nations," said LeBourdais. "We, as a people, would then decide who owns what piece of land."
This would give the land value to First Nations, he said.
Ignace isn't sold on the idea, saying First Nations won't be economically self sufficient until they get back the land that is rightfully theirs.
He said there's an irrational fear that aboriginal people will try and force western culture out of Canada if they get their traditional lands back.
"The reservation system is not our solution," he said. "Our hearts will not be content until we get what is naturally ours."
LeBourdais said there is no easy answer to the treaty issue. As for the property initiative, he hopes it becomes legislation soon.
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod said the initiative has been much discussed, but she wouldn't speculate on when it will be pursued further.
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