Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Nisga'a Property Rights Issue

I was interviewed last night on a Calgary talk radio station AM 770 about my recent piece on Nisga'a property rights that appeared in the Globe and Mail.
Here is the copy posted on Troy Media: http://www.troymedia.com/NewsBeats/The_Health_and_LifeStyle_News_Beat/2009/07/FCPP070909.htm
The issue of property rights on First Nation communities is a sensitive one, as many critics try to argue that any move in this direction is an attempt to "dispossess" indigenous people of their traditional territories or to turn it over to developers.
I received one response from an activist named Lisa Barrett from British Columbia. She attacked my piece, arguing that I was really being "cynically opportunistic."
These arguments are silly given that they are based on cynicism and lack of evidence. Assuming there is a developer hiding behind every proposal is conspiracy-laden, and in the case of the Nisga'a, silly given that the proposals are First Nation-driven. The proposed legislation involves small o.5 hectare (half an acre) residential lots. The Nisga'a government will still have legislative authority to regulate land use, so these schemes to whole-sale dispossess First Nations are impossible.
During my interview, I raised the crucial issue of whether First Nations should have a right to take risks and be responsible for choices just like the rest of us. This legislation does propose giving lenders the right of seizure if loans are defaulted. That is part of the attraction to lenders and investors. They need these assurances that they can recoup on their investments.
Like any other citizen, indigenous people would learn the responsibilities associated with home and land ownership. I think the Nisga'a government is being very wise in educating their public about what this all means.
With freedom comes responsibility. With the chance for progress, there is risk.
This proposal is voluntary, meaning the Nisga'a government offers you transferable rights to the property you have a Nisga'a entitlement to. You can decline the offer and the land remains under the ownership of the Nisga'a Village Governments.
I think the best part of this proposal, if it is eventually passed and they are debating it, is that indigenous people would get to see how private property really works and see the benefits and the responsibilities.
This is far from a proposal, like the Dawes Act in the United States, that saw the federal government divide up large lots to individuals, without any real effort at educating the masses on property ownership. That WAS a transparent attempt to dispossess indigenous people. But, it is not the model we should follow in Canada.
If the Nisga'a property experiment works, it would be a model for all First Nations. The best thing Ottawa could do would be to amend the Indian Act and give all Indian Acts ownership of their land. Then, they could provide it to individuals. Indigenous governments would be empowered to ensure that the indigenous groups retain ultimate ownership to their land through land use regulations and other powers.

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