Righting Past Wrongs: Resolving Specific Land Claims for Everyone's Benefit


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It's not news that there are many outstanding land claims with First Nations across Canada. But when the subject of "land claims" comes up, there's often a tendency to jump to the wrong conclusions.

Carol Sanders, Band Manager, Michipicoten First Nation
The Michipicoten Story, 2010

It isn't always the bad news. It isn't always what's sensationalized; a road block or an Oka. It is the small success stories, or large success stories that are happening for the betterment of all people.

When claims are directly connected to specific wrongs from the past, they are called "specific claims." Many of these "specific claims" relate to historic treaties, the texts for which can be found here at Library & Archives Canada.

Since the early 1700s, the British and later Canadian governments entered into various treaties with First Nations across the country. This helped to pave the way for the peaceful settlement and development of much of Canada.

Ralph Brant, Former Director General, Specific Claims Branch
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

A specific claim comes about by a wrong that was committed by the federal government many years ago, or it could be part of a treaty that has not been fulfilled.

Anik Dupont, Director General, Specific Claims Branch
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

A specific claim would be where the First Nation did not receive the land it was entitled at the time of treaty or in another occasion where there would've been a mismanagement of funds.

Ralph Brant

They are outstanding legal obligations, and by law, by Canadian law, you have to settle these obligations. So that's why the federal government has recognized the need to settle these obligations through negotiations.

Anik Dupont:

The settlement of specific claims is done through negotiations where parties come together to achieve a settlement that is a fair and equitable resolution for all parties.


One of the 330 First Nations in Canada to successfully conclude a claim through negotiations with the government is the Abenaki Nation in Quebec.

Martin Sampson, Federal Negotiator, Crespieul Claim
The Crespieul Story, 2011

The government is in a position to acknowledge mistakes, sit down with a First Nation and correct the mistakes.

Denys Bernard, Negotiator for the Abenakis
The Crespieul Story, 2011

I think the other communities can find inspiration in what we did, and see that it is possible to reach an agreement in which both parties are satisfied.


But when the obligations of the past are honoured, what is the impact on third parties? When a claim is settled, are private land owners at risk of losing their land?

Ralph Brant

People are concerned that they're going to lose their land when a claim is settled. They think that the government is going to come and take their land. Well, that's not true.

Martin Sampson:

What we do is we provide financial compensation to First Nations and if they buy lands, it has to be on a willing seller, willing buyer basis.


Take for example the historic agreements reached in Saskatchewan to deliver on treaty promises to provide reserve land. As a result, 33 First Nations received a total of $595.5 million in compensation and about 800,630 acres of land have since been purchased by the First Nations on the open market and turned into reserve land in the province.

Treaty Land Entitlement in Saskatchewan

Settlements reached with 33 First Nations, including:

Hon. Bill McKnight, Saskatchewan Treaty Commissioner
The English River Story, 2010

Everyone has benefited. The First Nations have benefited because they now have the land and they've been provided with funds to make up for the lack of use of that land, which they've invested in businesses, which they've invested in economic activity, which they've invested in their own communities.


Many Saskatchewan First Nations continue to invest in local economies through land purchases and new business ventures, as is the case with English River.

Donald J. Atchison, Mayor of Saskatoon
The English River Story, 2010

I think the important part is the aboriginal community sees that there's a tremendous importance in being in Saskatoon, that good things can happen here, that they're welcome here.

Archie Campbell, Councillor, English River First Nation
The English River Story, 2010

So the word is out there in the business community that English River First Nation is a good company to do business with.

The Hon. Bill McKnight

We can't live in isolation. First Nations are part of the economy and when they are able to benefit from their own investment dollars; we all share in that benefit.


In British Columbia, the Skeetchestn First Nation is also creating its own successes by investing in health and education programs, community transportation and new backyard gardens for its members.

Candice Simon, Former Council Member, Skeetchestn First Nation
The Skeetchestn Story, 2011

We have helped numerous young people either get into trades or participate in college prep or just going back to school.

Rebecca Ignace, Community Member, Skeetchestn First Nation
The Skeetchestn Story, 2011

My brother and I do an organic vegetable delivery service to people in the general area. So we have about thirty customers. They just think it's great.


In northern Ontario, the Michipicoten First Nation has made similar investments with positive results and new local business partnerships on the horizon.

Chief Joe Buckell, Michipicoten First Nation
The Michipicoten Story, 2010

We have a lot more opportunity here. Everybody's working here - there's no, there's zero unemployment.

Howard Whent, Mayor of Wawa
The Michipicoten Story, 2010

So, it's been good to see the settlement done. We're talking on a forward-looking basis; we recognize that for Michipicoten and its members, it's a big part of their future, which makes it a big part of our future.


The powerful sense of closure and hope for the future that settlements can generate is also evident with a recent settlement achieved with the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation in New Brunswick.

Rick Hatchette, Madawaska Maliseet First Nation Negotiator
Madawaska Maliseet Story, 2012

This claim allowed the community to put to rest a longstanding issue, a grievance that they'd lived with since 1970 seeing a pipeline run through their community.

Patricia Bernard, Councillor, Madawaska Maliseet First Nation
Madawaska Maliseet Story, 2012

We don't forget the past and we don't forget how we've come to be who we are but we've also really focused on moving forward to the point where that has become our motto.

Ralph Brant:

It's a negotiated settlement so everyone wins in that kind of a situation. The long term benefit is that the claim has been resolved. The short term benefit really is the healing that takes place within the community. They've finally been recognized. The wrong has been righted. And now they can move on.

Carol Sanders:

We have to, at some point in time, let go of the past and work together as a Nation to make it better for everybody.

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