Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Metlakatla and Lax Kw'alaams Settlement

This week the process started to transfer 4166 hectares of lands to the two first nations as part of their settlement of their Cut Off Specific Claim. Most of the land will be a new jointly managed reserve between the two communities, but there will be several small parcels in much more useful locations close to Port Edward.

I highlight this settlement because it includes a large transfer of lands to First Nations, but it is not the only one. The fact that is different about these settlements is that it allows for land to be transfered to Indian Reserve status.

For decades the policy of the BC government was not to generally allow any provincial lands to be transfered to Indian Reserve status. In general under the NDP and Social Credit the only transfers were of lands related to moving a road or highway when it crossed a reserve.

Since the Liberals were elected in 2001 the province has changed their position and has allowed lands to be made into new Indian Reserves. I worked on specific claims in the past and was normally instructed to negotiate for more reserves lands. This was simply not an option in the 1990s, in fact in one settlement the band had to sign agreement that they would never ask for a piece of land to transfered to reserve status.

Allowing more lands to come under Indian Act administration allows for lands that bands govern and can use for development and housing. Many bands have small patchworks of reserves that are effectively ungovernable or undeveloped. Allowing bands to govern more will allow them to develop more capacity to manage their own affairs.

In the case of settlement with the two Tsimshian communities near Prince Rupert, the large new reserve lands make a consistent block of aboriginal jurisdiction between Metlakatla and Port Simpson. The bands also have lands near Port Edward along the railway and road, a 35 acre lot. There is another one further up the highway towards Terrace.

The land at Port Edward is well suited for commercial development by the band and to offer on reserve housing closer to Prince Rupert.

Ultimately in rural BC it is the First Nations that are going to some of the most important partners in economic development. If they have more and better lands, they will be able do more development.

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