Coast Salish Territory (Vancouver, BC) – The First Nations Leadership Council is cautiously optimistic regarding the federal government’s announcement today of a new independent body mandated to make binding decisions with respect to the resolution of specific claims. Legislation for the establishment of this body is expected to be considered by the House of Commons in September 2007.
“An independent panel on specific claims is long overdue,” said Regional Chief Shawn Atleo of the BC Assembly of First Nations and a member of the First Nations Leadership Council. “Given this body will possess the necessary mandate with full decision-making authority and an appropriate level of financial and human resources, we expect they ensure that specific claims are fairly considered and equitably resolved in a timely manner.”
“The Government of Canada acting as both the judge and jury in the specific claims process has been in a clear conflict of interest. Removing this conflict through the creation of an independent body will ensure that we do not have to wait ninety years to resolve the existing backlog of claims,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and a member of the First Nations Leadership Council. "Furthermore, an effective Specific Claims Policy must be fully committed to addressing, and not side-stepping, all types of claims regardless of size and scope."
In December 2006, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples released a report on specific claims entitled, “Negotiation or Confrontation: It’s Canada’s Choice”. The Committee made the following four recommendations:
1. An increase in funds available for settlements
2. The establishment of an independent body on specific claims within two years
3. Adequate resources for the existing process
4. The adoption of new guiding principles
“We fully support the recommendations of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples,“ said Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit Political Executive and First Nations Leadership Council. “In particular, we fully agree with the recommendation that First Nations need to be “full partners” with the Government of Canada in the development of legislation and policy to ensure that Canada meets its lawful obligations to First Nations in the resolution of specific claims.”
Specific claims arise from Canada's breach or non-fulfilment of lawful obligations found in treaties, agreements or statutes (including the Indian Act). The existing 25-year old federal Specific Claims policy sets out the process for the resolution of these claims through determination of their validity and subsequent negotiations. Of the nearly 900 specific claims currently designated as “under review” by Canada, almost half originate from BC First Nations. Of the more than 300 claims currently with the Department of Justice awaiting legal review, 65 per cent originate from BC First Nations.
The First Nations Leadership Council is comprised of the political executives of the First Nations Summit, Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Assembly of First Nations. The Council works together to politically represent the interests of First Nations in British Columbia and develop strategies and actions to bring about significant and substantive changes to government policy that will benefit all First Nations in British Columbia.
For more information:
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC, (250) 490-5314
Colin Braker, First Nations Summit, (604) 926-9903
Rhonda Sim, BC Assembly of First Nations, (604) 922-7733