The latest signatories to the First Nations Land Management Regime have now made the program national.
“Those are very deserving communities,” said Robert Louie, chief of the Westbank First Nation and chair of the First Nations Lands Advisory Board.
With the acceptance of Tsuu T’ina and Alexis Nakota Sioux in Alberta, Mashteuiatsh in Quebec, Membertou in Nova Scotia, and Miawpukek in Newfoundland, there is now at least one First Nation from each province undertaking the process of fully managing their own lands.
Eighty-three First Nations applied for the program and 18 were accepted, said Louie. That now raises the number of First Nations accepted into the land management regime to 73, with 37 operating under their own land codes.
Members of the regime can opt out of the 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act, allowing them to manage their land, resources and environment under their own land codes. The result is less red tape, no federal government approval needed, and the ability for economic development to occur at a faster pace.
“We understand it’s a much more cooperative process in turnaround time and what our needs are for economic development in developing our lands,” said Kevin Littlelight, administrator for the Tsuu T’ina First Nation.
Tsuu T’ina’s proximity to Calgary was certainly one factor Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada took into consideration when giving the Treaty 7 First Nation the nod to join the regime, said Louie. That proximity to a major centre provides for a variety of economic development opportunities.
But the success of First Nations’ economies is not predicated on their closeness to city centres. Nor is their acceptance into the land management regime.
Louie pointed to the success of the McLeod Lake Indian Band, located two hours north of Prince George in British Columbia. McLeod Lake is managing millions of dollars of resources in the form of timber.
“They wanted that land management authority. They’re (a) well-run (community), well-managed and well-deserving. They’ve passed their land code now for quite a number of years and they keep moving positively forward, and that’s a more rural community,” said Louie.
Other factors ANAC takes into consideration when approving members to the regime include being financially and politically stable, well managed, and having a proven track record.
“We’re a pretty high profile nation that needs to move relatively quickly; more than a lot of other people,” said Littlelight. “Based on our geography, based on our history, based on our spending patterns and our audits and, humbly, how successful we are and stable and financially stable.”
Louie said studies indicate that bands that are part of the land management regime are “far more successful in the endeavours that they are doing.” More jobs are available, more opportunities and more investments come to the communities, and the need for social assistance is reduced.
“If you are self-managing your own lands, then you can accommodate (new development) in a matter of weeks,” said Louie.
In 2000, the Chippewas of Georgina Island, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island and the Muskody First Nation were the first three bands to have their land codes come into effect. That occurred one year after the land management regime was developed.
The other new signatories to the regime are, in British Columbia, Aitchelitz, Haisla Nation, Shuswap, Skowkale, Stz’uminus, Williams Lake Indian Band and Yakweakwioose; in Saskatchewan, One Arrow; in Manitoba, Buffalo Point and Long Plain; in Ontario, Beausoleil and Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek; and in New Brunswick, St. Mary’s.
These nations have 12 to 24 months to draft land codes, receive their community input and then hold votes on the land codes. Band members, both on and off reserve who are 18 years and older, are eligible to vote.
A minimum of 50 per cent of members must cast ballots.
For the land code to be accepted, it must be approved by 25 per cent plus one of all the registered membership and verified by ANAC.
While the federal government committed up to an additional $20 million in the 2011 budget over the next two years for the land management regime, Louie said financial support from the federal government has not been as strong as he would have liked to have seen and he believes that has limited the number of First Nations that have been able to move into managing their own lands.
There are 65 First Nations on the waiting list right now for acceptance into land management regime.
“In the next generation, or a couple of generations, I believe that’s where the future is,” said Louie. “If you are making your own decisions as a First Nations government, your likelihood of success is far greater.”