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First Nations give Stephen Harper proposal to reform land claims

Senior oversight committee on comprehensive claims concluded its work on Dec. 6

By Susana Mas, CBC News

One of two committees created after a high-stakes meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a delegation of First Nations leaders last January has completed its work and is recommending Canada update its policy on how it negotiates and resolves disputes over land claims.

"We're recommending to the prime minister that he adopt the principles respecting recognition and reconciliation of Section 35 rights," British Columbia Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould told a group of national chiefs gathered for a bi-annual meeting in Gatineau, Que., last week.

According to the Supreme Court, the principal purpose of Section 35 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is to fulfil the promise of reconciliation between indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada.

First Nations argue the federal government has not lived up to that promise.

Disputes over land claims arise when aboriginal land rights have not been dealt with by treaties or through other legal means.

Wilson-Raybould and Quebec and Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard met eight times since last February with senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development before concluding their last meeting on Dec.6.

Their mandate was to review the federal government's policy on comprehensive land claims and recommend policy changes.

Onus on the prime minister

The senior oversight committee has drafted a list of 10 principles that Canada could adopt "to guide its future engagement with First Nations," Wilson-Raybould told the chiefs.

But Picard, who also gave a presentation to the national chiefs, was critical of the process and what was actually accomplished.

The Quebec and Labrador Regional Chief said what the committee accomplished in eight meetings, could have been done in three.

"The last few months were a good example of how government views high-level meetings, which in many respects are far from what we would have expected," Picard said.

Wilson-Raybould was steadfast in her resolve to reform the government's comprehensive claims policy.

"Whether they listen to us or not, we are going to give them no excuse to say that we didn't try," she said.

"We look to the prime minister to take us up on the solutions that we have put forward to him in order to fundamentally transform the comprehensive claims process."

"We are looking for a solid, political commitment from the prime minister to continue with the work of reforming the comprehensive claims policy," Wilson-Raybould said.

It is unclear at this stage whether the committee's mandate, which expired this month, will be renewed or whether the work will continue in a different form.​

The committee's work follows Harper's promise, in part, to hold high-level treaty talks on comprehensive land claims with oversight from the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council following the Jan. 11 meeting.

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