Federal government announcing changes to Indian Act

AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Atleo

AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo

THUNDER BAY – John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, has announced amendments to the land designation provisions of the Indian Act, as part of the Jobs and Growth Act, 2012. Land designation is a legal instrument that permits a First Nation to lease a portion of reserve land to a third party, while retaining its interests in and rights to the land. The proposed amendments will speed up the process to designate reserve lands, allowing First Nations the flexibility they require to take advantage of economic opportunities as they present themselves.

John Duncan

“In Economic Action Plan 2012, our Government committed to taking further steps to create the conditions for First Nation communities to participate more fully in Canada’s economy,” said Duncan. “Amending the land designation provisions of the Indian Act is a practical approach to increasing opportunities for First Nations to tap economic development opportunities, reduce red tape, and allow First Nations to operate at the speed of business”.

That effort is being countered by the Assembly of First Nations.

In a statement from National Chief Shawn Atleo the AFN says, “We all agree we need to move away from the Indian Act, but any efforts must be led by First Nations and done with First Nations, not for First Nations. Moving beyond the Indian Act is about ending unilateral approaches by government and supporting and empowering First Nation governments to drive solutions in ways that respect and implement their rights, responsibilities and decision-making. This work must be done on First Nations’ terms”.

“This proposed legislation contains a number of piecemeal amendments to the current Indian Act. Tinkering with the existing Act continues the ways of the past whereas First Nations want to move forward based on their rights and responsibilities”.

The Harper government move is seen by the AFN as taking the lead on the issue, and leaving the First Nations leadership behind.

National Chief Atleo stated, “The way forward is about First Nations driving solutions and implementing approaches that work for our peoples and communities. The reason why First Nations insisted on the Crown-First Nations Gathering earlier this year was to confirm our rights and our Treaties at the center of any new initiatives as a direct contrast to existing unilateral legislative and policy attempts. The Treaty relationship of mutual respect and partnership is essential and fundamental to drive new approaches that respect and implement our rights to our economies and to decision-making affecting our lives. We will continue to press this point with Government – that change is urgent and must be based on First Nation rights and Treaties”.

The proposed amendments to the designation provisions of the Indian Act respond to First Nations who have expressed frustration with the complicated and lengthy process of designating land. Specifically, the proposed amendments would:

  1. Reduce the voting threshold for a First Nation community to approve a land designation to a majority of votes cast (simple majority) rather than a majority of votes cast in a ballot involving a majority of eligible electors (majority-of-a-majority); and
  2. Authorize the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, rather than the Governor in Council, to approve the land designation upon receipt of a band council resolution.

The government states that these combined changes are expected to reduce the time it takes to administer the land designation process by several months and allow First Nations to respond more quickly to business opportunities.