First Nation property ownership gains momentum

MIKE YOUDS / Kamloops Daily News
January 24, 2011 01:00 AM

A move to bring a voluntary, private land-title system to First Nations is gradually gaining momentum.

Manny Jules, who heads the First Nation Tax Commission and has led the initiative, expects to see steps taken to create a legal framework sometime this year.

Some bands are holding back, wanting to see how the idea - intended to free property holders of reserve land from the constraints of the Indian Act and allow band members to earn personal equity - works in practice.

"First Nations are pretty apparently conservative," Jules said. "They want to see how it will work."

The initiative moved another step forward last week in Kamloops when the commission and Chief Mike LeBourdais of the Pellt'iq't (Whispering Pines/Clinton) band spoke with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at a pre-budget consultation in Kamloops.

Pellt'iq't is one of eight First Nations to have endorsed the initiative so far, LeBourdais said. Currently certificates of possession are controlled by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a major impediment to getting anything done.

"We can help Cathy with cutting red tape," LeBourdais said. "They (INAC) manufacture red tape."

As an example, he cited the title to the land held by his father, who died in 2004. Seven years later, the land has yet to be transferred to his mother.

"We're trying to level the playing field so First Nations can enjoy the same fruits of their equity," he said.

Flaherty didn't commit to including the initiative in the 2011-2012 budget, but gave them a good reception, LeBourdais said.

"For the price of changing some legislation, it will probably add $4 billion to provincial coffers in terms of revenue and the jump in the gross domestic product. It makes a lot of sense."

McLeod endorsed the idea, which was also conveyed to the standing committee on finance when it heard submissions in Kamloops last year.

"I put my full support behind the initiative of the First Nations Taxation Commission," McLeod said. "It's a voluntary plan. It's really about allowing bands, if they want it, to pursue it."

The proposal calls for a First Nations fee-simple system, not the provincial one. In other words, First Nations would retain governance and reversionary authority over the land.

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