Forum’s vice president leads review of draft land-ownership law

Participants in a recent working group meeting on Canada’s indigenous land title systems included (from left to right) Ken Sckopic, Graham Matthews, Wayne Haimila, Maria del Carmen Delgado, André Le Dressay, Clarence (Many) Jules, Maureen Frances Tehan, Céline Auclair, Diane Cragg, John McKennirey, Nawel Hamidi, Dominic Parker, Thomas Flanagan (seated).

Canadian First Nations peoples are working to secure the same rights to land ownership as other Canadians, and thereby bring down the primary barrier to economic development on their native lands.

To this end, the First Nations Tax Commission has been tasked, and is holding meetings to develop proposals to put native Canadians on the same legal footing, on land ownership issues, as non natives. The meetings are co-organized by the Commission and the Forum of Federations, with support from the Native Law Centre of Canada.

Forum Vice-President Céline Auclair gave the introductory address at a recent session in Calgary, Canada, the first of three planned for the next two years.

Dr. Auclair explained in her opening remarks that the challenge is to determine how to best reform the law so First Nations peoples can become part of their regional economies in a manner that is "harmonized with existing provincial and municipal land title systems.”

At the Calgary meeting, held from Feb. 23–25 2009, international land title experts discussed policy papers outlining best practices and commented on Canada’s current efforts to set up a system for First Nations. This event follows three previous sessions organized by the Forum of Federations in which indigenous peoples and government representatives of federal countries gathered to explore governance issues relating to indigenous people.

Throughout Canada’s history, a broad gap has separated First Nations peoples and non-native Canadians over how they hold title to land. Non-native Canadians generally hold title to their land as individuals through land registry systems run either by the province or by the municipality in which the land is located.

This contrasts sharply with First Nations peoples living on lands under Canada’s Indian Act. Under that system, individuals do not own land in their names, and therefore cannot finance land purchases by way of mortgages, which also serve as an instrument to raise funds to finance commercial activities.

Participants at the Calgary event included Dr. C.T. (Manny) Jules, Chief Commissioner, First Nation Tax Commission, Canada; Dr. Sakej Henderson, Professor and Research Director, Native Law Centre of Canada; Dr. André Le Dressay, Director, Fiscal Realities, Canada; Mrs. María del Carmen Delgado, Legal Manager, Instituto Liberdad y Democracia, Peru; Professor Maureen Tehan, Associate Dean Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Australia; Professor Dominic Parker, Property and Environment Research Center, United States; Dr. Tom Flanagan, Professor, University of Calgary, Canada; Mrs. Diane Cragg, Land and Governance Consultant, Registrar of Land Titles for Nisga’a Lisims Government, Canada; Mr. Graham Matthews, Partner, Lang Michener LLP, Canada; Mr. Stuart (Bud) Smith, Lawyer and President, Mejia Property Inc., Canada; Mr. Wayne Haimila, Legal advisor, First Nations Tax Commission, Canada; Ms. Nawel Hamidi, Forum of Federations; Mr. John McKennirey, Assistant Deputy Minister, Land and Economic Development, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada; and Mr. Greg Richard, Chief Economist, Fiscal Realities, Canada.

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