Land claims too costly for some Aboriginal groups - Human rights fello...
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Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Transmitted by CNW Group on : August 31, 2005 12:08
Land claims too costly for some Aboriginal groups - Human rights fellowship winner studies disputes over ancestral lands
OTTAWA, Aug. 31 /CNW Telbec/ - The Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) announced today that University of British
Columbia history professor Arthur Ray has been awarded the 2005 Bora Laskin
Fellowship to examine what he calls Canada's biggest unresolved human rights
issue-Aboriginal land claims.
Granted annually by SSHRC, the Bora Laskin National Fellowship in Human
Rights was established in 1985 to honour the late chief justice of the Supreme
Court of Canada. The prestigious 12-month, $55,000 fellowship is awarded to a
leading Canadian researcher in the field of human rights.
"Land claims are based, more and more, on historical research," explains
Ray, who has served as an expert witness in several landmark Canadian court
cases on Aboriginal rights. "And how the courts treat this evidence is
creating an uneven type of justice."
For example, Aboriginal communities located close to major fur trading
routes may have a wealth of historical evidence to draw from when arguing
their claims-documents like personal diaries or business records that mention
their community and way of life. Yet, says Ray, more isolated groups do not.
These groups must often fund new research to prove their claims, or lose the
right to live on and use the natural resources of their ancestral lands.
The result, says Ray, is that land claims are becoming so expensive only
the wealthiest communities can afford to participate.
"Expert testimony is taking up more time in the courtroom," says Ray.
"For example, the Sampson Cree case still being decided in Alberta has already
taken 365 trial days and has included a huge cast of historians,
anthropologists and other experts."
Such cases also make unrealistic demands on trial judges, who must
develop a PhD level of knowledge on the subject almost overnight, and sort
through many different points of view to make decisions about new historical
Because these decisions often have historical as well as legal
implications, Ray will use this fellowship to compare different approaches to
land claim settlements in Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia
over the past 50 years. He hopes his research will pave the way for more
balanced-and less expensive-solutions to disputes over Aboriginal rights in
Canada and around the world.
"These decisions have real consequences: for the rights of Aboriginal
people, for governments who sometimes pay millions of dollars in compensation,
and for our understanding of Canadian history," says SSHRC president Marc
Renaud. "The work of Professor Ray will help us learn how we can reduce the
potential costs of land claim disputes, both in terms of money and human
Note to editors: SSHRC is an independent federal government agency that
funds university-based research and graduate training through national peer-
review competitions. SSHRC also partners with public and private sector
organizations to focus research and aid the development of better policies and
practices in key areas of Canada's social, cultural and economic life.
/For further information: on this release and other SSHRC research
projects, please contact: Doré Dunne, Media relations officer,
(613) 992-7302, dore.dunne@.../
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