OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on June 12 that the federal government is taking a new approach to land claims settlement in this country. The Specific Claims Action Plan is aimed at the huge backlog of unresolved treaty claims.
Instead of letting disputes over land and compensation drag on forever, fuelling frustration and uncertainty, said the Prime Minister, they will be solved once and for all by impartial judges on a new Specific Claim Tribunal.
This is welcome news to the exploration and mining industry. As the PROSPECTORS AND DEVELOPERS ASSOCIATION OF CANADA (PDAC) pointed out, there are 1,200 aboriginal communities within 200 km of 180 producing mines and 2,500 active exploration properties across Canada. Eight hundred disputed land claims remain unsettled. Without access to prospective land and security of mineral tenure, prospectors might as well stay home. And, the PDAC added, the mineral industry is the largest private sector employer of aboriginal Canadians.
Needless to say, the federal move has the backing of the PDAC. We believe, said Donald Bubar, chairman of the PDACs aboriginal affairs committee, that settlement of claims will offer aboriginal communities and mineral exploration companies a sounder footing for co-operation and negotiation.
Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is also optimistic. Today’s announcement is a positive response to what our people have advocated for decades and is a testament to the perseverance and dedication of our people. Land is part of the answer to building strong First Nations economies and strong First Nations citizens. This requires that we have the ability to take control of the decisions that affect our lives so we can reduce dependency and foster self-sufficiency, he said.
Canada’s Specific Claims Action Plan proposes four key initiatives that would:
– create a new tribunal staffed with impartial judges who would make final decisions on claims when negotiations fail;
– make arrangements for financial compensation more transparent through dedicated funding for settlements in the amount of $250 million a year for 10 years;
– speed up processing of small claims and improve flexibility in the handling of large claims; and
– refocus the existing Indian Specific Claims Commission to concentrate on dispute resolution.
In my opinion, this commitment by the federal government is long overdue. If the authors of the new plan are looking for the acid test of how well it does or does not work, they might choose as a first case the dispute between Torontos PLATINEX INC. and the KITCHENUHMAYKOOSIB INNINWUG FIRST NATION (KI). These two have been at odds in a very physical, public and court-assisted battle over Platinexs right to explore claims in northern Ontario for over a year.
Complete information and downloadable pdf files about the Specific Claims Branch can be found by clicking Programs and then Claims at the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada website, www.INAC.gc.ca.