07 November 2013

No need for the Nisga'a to sell their land

The Nisga'a Nation in northwestern B.C. has announced it will be the first First Nation in Canada to allow reserve land to be owned privately. Three properties have already been transferred to individuals. They are now able to mortgage their property and lease or sell it to aboriginal or non-aboriginal buyers. The land will remain subject to Nisga'a laws.

According to Nation President Mitchell Stevens, land ownership, "will change the Nisga'a world. Without true land ownership, you can't have true self-government." Other Natives are not so sanguine. Toronto lawyer Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaq from New Brunswick, comments, “Once you put it into the hands of individuals, it’s gone, especially for impoverished individuals.” Rosie Augustine of Elsipogtog First Nation describes the move as, "The Worst thing you could have done to our native lands."

Whether or not the Nisga'a considered other possibilities I do not know but here in southern Alberta, a proven alternative thrives. In the early 1970s, the Tsuu T'ina First Nation, neighbour of the City of Calgary, leased a parcel of reserve land to Sarcee Developments Ltd., a wholly-owned Tsuu T'ina company. Sarcee then established the Townsite of Redwood Meadows and sub-leased lots to private parties. The leases run until 2049.

Redwood Meadows, population 1,150, has been a great success with many fine homes built on the lots, presumably financed with mortgages. The Townsite of Redwood Meadows Administration Society shares management with the Tsuu T'ina Nation Council.

The Nisga'a could have adopted a similar scheme thus allowing private development while retaining ownership of their land—the best of both worlds. Ironically, this may have most closely approximated the system in place before the Europeans came, where each family was responsible for its own housing but with the land available to all. Did the Nisga'a, I wonder, look into their own history for a solution?

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