Letter to the Editor re: Manny’s Mission to Disband Reserves

Re: article in Hamilton Spectator on June 10, 2010 re “Private property on reserves next frontier”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dear editor;

Your article which alleges that there is growing support for Aboriginal ownership is far from accurate. This is an initiative of Manny Jules from the Squamish band and has been incorporated into Bill C-24 First Nations Certainty of Land Title Act without ANY consultation with First Nations.

Only he and a handful of other First Nations are in support of this idea. These are the same First Nations who have also advocated for other related legislative initiatives like the First Nations Land Management Act (FNLMA) and the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act (FNCIDA). Yet despite their claims, the VAST majority of First Nations have NOT signed on to their previous initiatives nor are the majority in support of dividing up reserves into fee simple lands.

This is an assimilation plan by Tom Flanagan proposed in his new book “Beyond the Indian Act” that is no different than what he proposed in his previous book “First Nations? Second Thoughts”. His goal is to divide up reserves into fee simple and dispand First Nations. As his first book came across as too overtly racist, Flanagan has decided to advocate for assimilation through the back door and use an Indian as the spokesperson.

Since Manny Jules thinks solely through the lens of economic development and has not considered the other aspects of what makes Aboriginal peoples distinct – their connection to the land which is and always has been communal in nature, he was the perfect candidate. Jules is willing to assimilate himself and his band members for the sake of making money as if economic development is the key to all First Nations issues. He completely ignores the importance of treaty implementation, resolution of land claims, and respect for the inherent right of First Nations to be self-determining.

I do not believe that any Chief or Council would even have the authority to make such a deal. Jules and Flanagan also fail to point out that Aboriginal Nations could not parcel out their lands in fee simple legally, as this would be necessarily inconsistent with why Aboriginal lands are protected in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. It would also be in direct conflict with the majority of treaties in Canada which are the benefit of our “heirs and heirs forever” which cannot be sacrificed for the financial benefit of only the present generation. How could the division of reserves into fee simple parcels to be sold to non-Indians for profit in any be said to respect our treaties?

Please see the review I did of Flanagan’s new book called “Beyond the Indian Act”: http://reviewcanada.ca/reviews/2010/04/01/opportunity-or-temptation/

This plan is identical to that of the Dawes Act in the United States which saw the loss of massive swaths of land from tribal territories, that, despite a subsequent reverse in policy, have never been fully restored. Flanagan and Jules believe that this piece of legislation is different because it is voluntary. There were also voluntary Indian “Indian Hunters” who chased down Indian children who had escaped from residential schools and brought them back. The voluntary nature of the plan is no less insidious because they were able to co-opt Indians into doing it.

They also casually refer to those First Nations that have Certificates of Possession (CPs) as though the transition from CP to fee simple would be as simple as registering the interest. They fail to mention that on some reserves CPs are in the hands of a few, and the vast majority of band members do not have CPs. How would that be an equitable division? What about those who live off-reserve (which we now know amounts to 50%)? What about the many generations of those yet unborn who have a right to their communal lands?

To say that their bright idea has not been well thought out is an understatement. Jules constantly refers to the Nisga’a as the ultimate example of a First Nation that will be registering their individual interests in a provincial registration system. Yet, they fail to mention that the Nisga’a are cited by the majority of First Nations of how NOT to negotiate a self-government agreement.

Jules also appeared before the Canadian Bar Association yesterday and spoke about how he wants to be a “free man” and a “horse man” and that the only way to do that was to get out of Indian Act, focus on economic development and ensure First Nations laws are consistent with federal and provincial laws.

One chief’s response was that – “If Jules wants to be within the federal family, he can tear up his status card and move off reserve”, or as another chief said “He is free to divorce his community whenever he likes”. Even if Jules has the support of his community, he is free to try and negotiate a self-government agreement with Canada and do that. But in the meantime, he need not advocate the assimilation of the rest of the 630+ First Nations in Canada.

Please remember that when you write articles about First Nations lands, you are talking about constitutionally protected rights. The Constitution Act, 1982 is the supreme law of the land – which binds all Canadians. To talk about deleting or amending constitutionally protected rights without a constitutional amendment is illegal and downplays the significance of those rights.

Respectfully submitted;