OTTAWA, ON (April 28, 2023): Canada’s Indian Act has asserted control over the lives of First Nations peoples since 1876. The Act has subjected those living under it to government encroachment on basic rights and privileges, gender discrimination, cultural suppression, and mandatory attendance at Canada’s Indian residential or day schools. It even requires ministerial approval for routine processes, such as the transfer of land between band members.
For decades, it was the intention of both First Nations and the federal government to improve upon the Indian Act and to facilitate sectoral self-governance.
In this new paper, Beyond the Indian Act: Lessons learned from independent land management by First Nations, Ken Coates and Britt Baumann examine the ongoing process of delivering control of reserve lands into the hands of First Nations, with a particular focus on assessing the successes and failures of two key pieces of legislation.
In 1999, Canada passed the First Nations Land Management Act (FNLMA), designed to allow First Nations to opt out of the Indian Act’s centralized and cumbersome land management regime. FNLMA achieved only moderate success in reaching the policy goals of individual First Nations and of Canada’s federal government. It was ultimately repealed and replaced by the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management Act in December of 2022.
“As First Nations and the government of Canada continue to work toward replacing the restrictive constraints of the Indian Act, much can be learned from the example of the FNLMA. Its success was that it sought to solve the problems inherent in the Indian Act while at the same time preserving First Nations and treaty rights,” write the authors.
“At a bare minimum, any new policy proposals meant to improve upon the Indian Act must re-confirm the understanding that Indigenous rights to their reserve lands is inviolable.”
Coates and Baumann’s paper serves as a compendium of the complex and broad ranging opinions on the best path forward for Indigenous land management and concludes that: “Innovations to the status quo must provide more than the downloading of administrative duties from the federal government. They must provide real rewards in terms of community well-being and Indigenous autonomy.”
This paper will serve as an invaluable resource for Canadian policy-makers and anyone sincerely seeking to redress the failures of Canada’s Indian Act.
To learn more, read the full paper here:
Ken Coates is a Distinguished Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan.
Britt Baumann is a post-doctoral researcher working on Indigenous involvement with the mining sector at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan.
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