Eighteen more First Nations have officially signed on to set in motion the process of divesting themselves of the 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act, which gives them control of their land, resources and environment.
The signing, announced by the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) on April 13, means that the 18 First Nations scattered across Canada will once again make the decisions on how to use their land and resources. The Framework Agreement, as it’s called, was originally created in the late 1990s to begin returning some measure of autonomy.
"This is another historic day for the Framework Agreement," said Chief Robert Louie, Chair of the First Nations Lands Advisory Board (LAB), in a statement. "Eighteen more First Nations now have the opportunity to assume jurisdiction over their reserve lands. This control is a critical step on the path to self-sufficiency."
The goal is economic self-sufficiency and opportunity to combat the endemic poverty, lack of education and other conditions.
"This important step will allow them to operate at the speed of business, creating economic and job opportunities and leading to more self-sufficient communities,” said AAND Minister John Duncan in the statement.
The new signatories now have leeway to develop their own land codes, AAND pointed out. They need to be approved by community members but once that’s done, “these land codes will enable the First Nations to better pursue economic opportunities outside the limitations of the Indian Act,” AAND said in its statement. This brings the number of First Nations involved in this process up to 60. There are still at least that many on the waiting list.
“We exercised this responsibility for hundreds and hundreds of years before the Indian Act was imposed on us over a century ago,” said Chief Austin Bear, chair of the First Nations Land Management Resource Centre Inc., to Postmedia News. “These communities want to be added as signatories to the Framework Agreement and we support the suggestion to return to this place in 2012-13 and celebrate a second signing ceremony with a group from these 65 waiting.”
The federal government has committed $20 million over the next two years to enable First Nations to undergo this process, AAND said.