Frequently Asked Questions About Specific Claims Negotiations

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What are treaties?

Treaties are solemn agreements that set out promises, obligations and benefits for both parties. Beginning almost 300 years ago, treaties were signed between the British government and many First Nations living in what was to become Canada. Through many of these agreements, First Nations surrendered their interest in the land in exchange for one-time or ongoing benefits, ongoing rights and reserve lands. This allowed for the peaceful settlement and development of much of Canada.

What types of land claims are there in Canada?

In general, there are two types of Aboriginal claims in Canada that are commonly referred to as “land claims” – comprehensive claims and specific claims. Comprehensive claims always involve land, but specific claims are not always land-related.

What are comprehensive claims?

Comprehensive claims deal with the unfinished business of treaty-making in Canada. These claims arise in areas of Canada where Aboriginal land rights have not been dealt with by past treaties or through other legal means. In these areas, forward-looking modern treaties are negotiated between the Aboriginal group, Canada and the province or territory.

What are specific claims?

Specific claims deal with past grievances of First Nations. These grievances relate to Canada's obligations under historic treaties or the way it managed First Nation funds or assets. For example, a specific claim could involve the failure to provide enough reserve land as promised in a historic treaty or the improper handling of First Nation money by the Crown.

To honour its obligations, Canada negotiates settlements with the First Nation and (where applicable) provincial and/or territorial governments.

What are the benefits of negotiating?

Settling specific claims brings long-term benefits to both First Nation members and their neighbours. The cash, and sometimes land and cash, settlements enable First Nations to improve the social and economic well-being of their communities, encouraging investment and promoting development both on First Nation lands and in surrounding communities.

In addition, the resolution of outstanding grievances renews the relationship between First Nations and Canada in a manner that builds mutual trust and understanding while promoting new opportunities for strong and viable partnerships between First Nation and non-First Nation Canadians in the future.

Who is involved in negotiating specific claims?

Negotiations involve representatives from Canada, the First Nation that submitted the claim and, sometimes, a provincial or territorial government.

If someone owns property within the claimed area, will their property be taken away to settle the claim?

No. Private property is not on the negotiating table. Canada does not take away privately owned lands to settle any claims, nor are private property owners asked to sell their land unwillingly. If land changes hands after a settlement of a specific claim, this can only happen on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis.

What types of settlements are awarded?

Some specific claims are for financial compensation only and are settled through cash awards.

Land-related specific claim settlements also involve financial compensation. If it chooses to do so, a First Nation can use these funds to buy land on the open market in the years following a settlement. When a provincial or territorial government is involved in the negotiations, such settlements may also include the transfer of provincial or territorial Crown lands to Canada to be set aside as reserve lands for the First Nation. Land-related settlements enable First Nations to apply to have the purchased lands, or provincial or territorial Crown land, added to their reserve base. Most provinces and territories have public consultation processes that are followed before the land transfer takes place.

After land is purchased with settlement funds by a First Nation does it automatically become reserve land?

No. When land is purchased by a First Nation, it is initially held in fee simple (or privately). It does not automatically become reserve land. The land must first meet the criteria from Canada's policy on reserve land and the terms of the settlement. This means that a number of steps must first be completed before any lands can be given reserve status. For example, an environmental assessment must be completed as well as First Nation-led municipal consultation.

How does a settlement bring closure to a claim?

In return for compensation, First Nations provide Canada with legal releases that ensure the claim can never be re-opened. Settlements must bring closure and certainty for all concerned.

What is done to inform the public about specific claims being negotiated in their areas?

The public is kept informed of progress in negotiations through vehicles such as press releases and other publications such as newsletters, information meetings and open houses.