Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Federal Government Proposes Special Tribunal to Settle Aboriginal Claims

Yesterday, the federal government unveiled a series of proposals aimed at clearing up the backlog of aboriginal specific claims that are still unsettled.

Specific claims refer to aboriginal grievances that relate to a failure on the part of the federal government to uphold its lawful obligations under historic treaties or to government mismanagement of First Nation funds or other assets for which it is responsible under the Indian Act.

Called the Specific Claims Action Plan, the new government proposal would set up an independent tribunal to resolve existing disputes. The tribunal would be staffed by impartial judges with the authority to make final decisions on claims when negotiations fail.

Details of the proposed legislation will be be drafted by the First Nations, provincial and territorial governments and a bill should be presented in the House of Commons in the fall.

Since 1947, there have been numerous calls for an independent body to adjudicate specific claims. At the moment, there is a Commission that can assist First Nations and the government of Canada in mediating disputes over specific claims but there is no mechanism that binds the federal authorities when a disagreement persists. Many have described the federal government as witness, judge and jury in disputes in which it stands accused of having betrayed First Nations.

The proposal also calls for dedicated funding for settlements in the amount of $250 million a year for 10 years.

According to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1279 specific claims have been submitted to Canada since 1973. 489 of these claims have been concluded and 790 remain outstanding. Of the concluded claims, 282 were settled through negotiations and 207 were resolved through other means, such as an administrative remedy or file closure. There are currently 123 specific claims in negotiations across the country.

More background:
  • Land claims deal should ease tensions: Prentice (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation): "The federal government's proposed plan to improve the native land claims system and settle hundreds of long-standing disputes should help ensure an aboriginal national day of action later this month is peaceful, Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice says (...) First Nations leaders say the day of action is designed to draw attention to outstanding land claims, and to the racism and poverty faced by their communities."
  • Prentice wants land claims tribunal ready by 2008 (CTV News): "Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice says he hopes to have an independent native land claims tribunal, proposed yesterday by the Tories, up and running by early 2008 (...) First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine spoke shortly after Harper at the same press conference Tuesday and welcomed the government's announcement for change. 'Today is an historic day for First Nations people; today is a day of hope,' he said. 'The independent land claims body in this announcement today represents hope for First Nations people, who have fought for decades for the fair and just resolution of land claims'. The proposed reforms come after an extensive Senate committee report released this year, which suggested Ottawa spent at least $250 million annually to settle claims. Otherwise, the committee warned of escalating standoffs over disputed land."
  • Tribunal proposed to resolve land claims (Toronto Star): "A new process for awarding compensation where Ottawa has broken treaties follows last year's Senate committee report and the recent report of an inquiry into the shooting death of protester Dudley George at Ipperwash Provincial Park. That report rapped Ottawa for failing to settle outstanding disputes with Indians."
  • Negotiation or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice (Final Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples Special Study on the Federal Specific Claims Process, December 2006): "Until the 1950s, First Nations were prohibited by law from hiring lawyers to pursue these claims – many of which date back 70, 100 or 200 years. Since then impoverished Indian communities have had to fight the federal government in court or else persuade it to acknowledge the claim and negotiate a settlement. Currently, everything is done on Canada’s terms and the government is both defendant and judge. With few resources allocated to find solutions, it can often take twenty or more years from the time a First Nation comes forward with a claim to finally reaching a settlement. Despite the amazing hurdles, almost 300 claims have been settled. In every case where they have been settled, it has meant an immediate improvement in the lives of First Nations people (...) Close to 900 claims sit in the backlog. Things are getting worse rather than better. First Nations have been patient – incredibly patient – but their patience is wearing thin."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 5:41 pm

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