Land Rights and Claims
AFN Annual Report 2012-13
The Land Rights & Claims heading encompasses several distinct areas, most notably Comprehensive Claims, Specific Claims and Additions to Reserves (ATR). The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has held strategy sessions on Land Rights & Claims as a regular part of the agenda at its most recent Assemblies. During these sessions, a variety of issues and new resolutions were reviewed, including:
- Resolution 26/2012 – Additions to Reserve Policy and Process Reform
- Resolution 58/2012 – Canada’s “Results-Based” Approach to Treaty and Self-Government Negotiations (Comprehensive Claims)
- Resolution 79/2012 – Implementation of the Specific Claims Political Agreement of 2007
There are two distinct bodies that oversee the issues that fall under the Land Rights & Claims heading:
- the Chiefs Committee on Claims has existed for more than two decades and meets several times a year to discuss issues relating to Specific Claims and ATR;
- an ad hoc Comprehensive Claims Policy Working Group has been in place since before the 2010 Annual General Assembly, and has met regularly to discuss policy reform and strategy.
A number of additional topics are associated with Land Rights & Claims, including Claims Over $150 Million, Landless Bands and Modern-Day Treaty Implementation. These are reflected in various other resolutions and activities.
Key Issues and Activities
The reform of Canada’s Comprehensive Claims Policy (CCP) is currently a focal point for AFN advocacy and was advanced as a priority at the January 11, 2013, meeting with the Prime Minister.
Outcomes from the January meeting included a commitment from the Prime Minister to establish a joint high level mechanism to review the CCP, which has led to the establishment of a joint Senior Oversight Committee (SOC). The SOC has met on a number of occasions since January 11th, and includes representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister’s office, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).
The focus of work to date has been on the development of Terms of Reference for the SOC, as well as broad discussions about how this work would be framed. A discussion paper was developed, along with a proposed statement for the Prime Minister, and tabled with Canada to advance discussions. Meaningful progress is expected to be made over the course of the current fiscal year.
In October 2008, the Specific Claims Tribunal Act (SCTA) came into force. This meant that most claimants not satisfied with Canada’s response to their claims would have access to an impartial, binding tribunal. Canada’s efforts to process the backlog of hundreds of claims since the Tribunal was established, however, has created significant new challenges for First Nations. While Canada claims to have cleared the claims backlog, regrettably, only a small proportion of these claims have resulted in settlements (less than 15%) – the vast majority have been “rejected” or have had their file “closed”.
A 5-year legislative review of the SCTA is expected to begin in 2013-14. A claims gathering was held in March 2013 to gather input in preparation for this 5-year review and to make recommendations with respect to issues that must be addressed (available at www.afn.ca). Key concerns include the high number of rejected claims, partial offers, and Canada’s processing and funding of claims.
The Specific Claims Tribunal of Canada began to issue substantive decisions in July 2012. Canada is seeking a judicial review of one of its decisions (Kitselas), and may seek to do so in other cases as well. While this is not entirely unexpected, it could delay the potential impact that the Tribunal may have on the landscape of claims for some time.
Additions to Reserve
Efforts to improve the ATR policy and process have been the subject of a joint AFN-Canada technical table since late 2009. Progress on this work has been the subject of regular review by the Chiefs Committee on Claims (CCoC) and is expected to be made public by Canada in the near future. This will include a public posting period where anyone can make comments on the new draft policy for joint consideration prior to finalization. Further information will be made available as timelines are confirmed.
Next Steps - Moving Forward
- A Strategic Dialogue Session on comprehensive claims was hosted in the B.C. region in May to both inform and gather input from leadership in B.C. Other such sessions are expected to be planned for the Quebec and Atlantic regions during this fiscal year.
- Substantive progress is expected by the fall, with the end of the fiscal year as the target for a completed policy revision on comprehensive claims.
- The AFN will continue to support advocacy and engagement in anticipation of the 5-year review of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act.
- A Tribunal Advisory Committee meeting will take place later this year to make recommendations with respect to the review.
- Finalization of the draft ATR policy, post-public review, is likely to take place this fall.
- The joint technical committee will examine the potential benefits of national ATR legislation once the final policy takes effect.