Tuesday, July 22, 2014
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Fraser Institute pushes for First Nations private property

First Nations say they never gave up their land rights.

By Angela Sterritt, CBC News

A new study says First Nations and provincial governments should explore private property regimes on Aboriginal lands.

The report called “Divergent Mineral Rights Regimes” was published by public policy think tank, the Fraser Institute today.

It asserts First Nations land claims are one of the strongest hindrances to mining investment in Canada.

“The Native land claim issue is important, it rose to the top in our study”, said Fraser Institute Senior director Kenneth Green.

“There is a large degree of uncertainty injected into the mining equation in Canada because of developments over First Nations and protected lands”, said Green.

The Fraser Institute report makes a number of recommendations including moving to a more American style approach and allowing private ownership of mineral rights.

But not all First Nations people think that’s a good idea.

John Rampanen is a Tla-o-qui-aht cross- cultural leader living in Ahousaht, B.C.

He and his family live on their traditional territory in Ahousaht, but over the years have faced threats from a mining company they say planned to disrupt a the mountain beside their home where they harvest foods and medicine.

“‘Providing’ First Nations with mineral rights would imply that Canada has the authority to determine the inherent rights of our peoples,” Rampanen said. “It is imperative that indigenous people know and believe that our rights are ours to define and exercise... Not the other way around”

He said he doesn’t agree that creating an equal playing field in terms of mineral rights is an ecologically viable solution.

“Rather, we should look at limiting the free-for-all approach that has been exercised with non-indigenous companies regarding minerals in traditional indigenous territories,” Rampanen said.

Jennifer Duncan is a First Nation lawyer who specializes in the negotiation of agreements for First Nations with industry and government. She works at a law firm in Vancouver.

She says generally speaking exploring a private property regime for mineral rights might not be a bad idea.

“I agree that privatizing mineral rights to recognize that First Nations on a collective basis own the mineral rights in their traditional territory...will reduce uncertainty and increase mining investment and thus it’s a good move for both Canadians and First Nations.” Duncan said.

But she doesn't agree with everything in the report.

“I don’t agree with the underlying position that the provinces would “sell” or “grant” rights to First Nations because this assumes that provinces have those rights to grant and this is exactly the position that creates uncertainty as First Nations argue that they have never given up those rights to the provinces, ”she said.

But the Fraser Institute's Kenneth Green says changing the First Nations property rights regime could open doors for all Canadians.

“If people want to have high standards of living, if they want to have a high quality health care, good retirement plans, we understand that the revenues from mining are an important part of that equation, both to government, to private including and society as a whole, so thats what motivates our research into resource development.”

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