A new approach [to settling Aboriginal land claims]

NationalPost.com – Opinion/Editorial – A new approach
Published: Monday, January 04, 2010

By last count — a federal government estimate from 2003 — Ottawa has spent over $8-billion just on researching aboriginal land claims and arguing them in court, largely because it funds the lawyers and consultants for both sides: its own and those of the First Nations bringing the claims. Yet to date, only a few of the outstanding claims have been resolved. Most remain mired far from settlement.

New thinking is required if aboriginal Canadians are to move on and taxpayers are to be spared more billions of dollars in fruitless spending.

Near the end of last year, two aboriginal communities in northwestern British Columbia created just such a fresh start. The Gitxsan, an ancient West Coast tribe, offered to give up its Indian status — which would mean losing its reserve and its people’s exemption from income tax and the GST, among other perks –in return for a share of resource revenue from its ancestral lands and something approaching municipal government control.

Nearby, the Nisga’a, who already have some of the control the Gitxsan are seeking, have passed a local law permitting members to buy and own their property on Nisga’a land–a first for any aboriginal community in the country.

Since local accountability and control follows property rights and personal taxation, these two moves promise to have profound effects on the future of native self-government.

Now the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) is proposing a way to speed the transition to self-government while also preserving our Constitution: delegation of powers from the higher orders of government to aboriginal councils. This makes sense. It is the same way municipalities derive their powers from their provincial governments and works well in that context.

As the CCF’s executive director John Carpay explained on these pages last week, this approach also makes more sense than pursuing the politically correct fantasy of “inherent self-government” because it recognizes that the sovereignty of all Canadian governments –including aboriginal ones — stems from the Constitution, and that all Canadians are equal under the supreme law of the land.

Even under this approach there will be some differences between aboriginal and non-aboriginal governments: The former will likely always be race-based to a degree. But the CCF proposal does not abuse the Constitution to perpetuate an inequitable illusion.

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