Specific claims

Learn how Canada is moving forward with First Nations to resolve their specific claims relating to past wrongs.

The Government of Canada is working with the Assembly of First Nations, First Nations and others to improve the specific claims process. This includes looking at ways to improve public reporting on specific claims. This webpage reflects the current specific claims process. It will be updated as this joint work evolves.

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Righting past wrongs and building for the future

Canada has embarked on a journey of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It is a necessary journey to address a long history of colonialism and the scars it has left.

The Government of Canada is developing, in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis, a Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework. As this important work evolves, these webpages will be updated.  Learn more about:

The Government of Canada is committed to renewing its relationship with Indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. Settling specific claims is one of many steps on the journey to reconciliation with First Nations and helps create a better future for everyone. Specific claim settlements help to right past wrongs, renew relationships and advance reconciliation in a way that respects the rights of First Nations and all Canadians.

The Government of Canada has a policy and process in place for addressing specific claims through negotiations with First Nations.  However, First Nations and others (including the Auditor General of Canada) have called for major changes to the way these claims are handled by the government.

Canada has heard these concerns and is working closely with First Nation partners to respond to these calls and overhaul its specific claims process. These webpages reflect the current process and will be updated as this important joint work evolves.

Ongoing joint work to improve the process

Canada is working with the Assembly of First Nations, First Nations and other interested parties in a spirit of co-operation and renewal to find fair and practical ways to improve the specific claims process. These discussions began in June 2016.

Priorities that have been identified so far include:

This ongoing work is looking at recent court and tribunal decisions and previous reviews of the process, including the recommendations for reforms made in the following reports:

At the same time, Canada has begun to make initial changes to improve the way it handles specific claims and better support its goal to build stronger relationships with First Nations and advance reconciliation through the process. For example, Canada has increased communication with First Nations at the front end of the process and has adopted a more collaborative approach to negotiations on all claims, including on small value claims. This includes ensuring that claims valued at $3 million or less no longer follow a separate process and these First Nations can still access funding to support negotiations.

Updates on these overall efforts will be provided to First Nations and other interested parties through announcements, updates to online information and other outreach tools as key developments occur.

Canada is committed to continuing to work with First Nations across the country to reach fair and final settlements to resolve their longstanding claims.

What are specific claims?

Specific claims deal with past wrongs against First Nations. These claims (made by First Nations against the Government of Canada) relate to the administration of land and other First Nation assets and to the fulfilment of historic treaties and other agreements. For example, a specific claim could involve the failure to provide enough reserve land as promised in a treaty or the improper handling of First Nation money by the federal government in the past.

Specific claims are separate and distinct from comprehensive land claims or modern treaties.

The Government of Canada works with First Nations to resolve outstanding specific claims through negotiated settlements. The specific claims process is voluntary for First Nations and provides a way to resolve disputes outside of the court system.

Settling claims is the right thing to do. Negotiated settlements honour treaty and other legal obligations and resolve longstanding disputes in a balanced way that respects the rights of all Canadians. Settlements provide First Nations with capital that can be invested in new opportunities for community and economic development that can benefit First Nations and their neighbours.

The Government of Canada does not take away land from third parties to settle specific claims.

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Settled and outstanding specific claims

As of March 2018, the Government of Canada has negotiated settlements on more than 460 specific claims. However, there is more work to do. Hundreds of specific claims remain outstanding. This includes about 250 accepted for negotiation, 71 claims before the Specific Claims Tribunal and about 160 specific claims are currently under review or assessment. These numbers do not include claims that are in research and development by First Nations or cases where Canada has not accepted the claim for negotiation or where First Nations may be preparing to submit a claim to the Tribunal.

Visit the Reporting Centre on Specific Claims and select:

Key terms

The Auditor General and First Nations have expressed concerns with some of the key terms used to categorize claims in these online reports. These terms are subject to change as part of ongoing joint work to improve and bring greater clarity to public reporting on specific claims.

Learn more about the terms currently used in the Reporting Centre on Specific Claims and which of these terms is currently under review.

Note: The descriptions and definitions below reflect existing wording used in current online reporting on specific claims. These terms used to categorize claims are under review as part of the ongoing joint work on claims reform and public reporting with the Assembly of First Nations and First Nations. As this work evolves, these definitions will be updated.

Concluded (under review)

This category currently includes:

  • settled claims
  • claims that are not accepted for negotiation
  • the claim was resolved by administrative remedy (for example, it could have been dealt with through the Additions to Reserves process)

Claims are also currently included in this category when the claim has been resolved through a binding decision of the Specific Claims Tribunal.

A key concern raised by the Auditor General and by First Nations about the use of the terms "concluded" and "file closure" is that some of the claims currently included in these categories remain unresolved. Claims are resolved once and for all through negotiated settlements or by a decision of the Specific Claims Tribunal. Claims that are not accepted for negotiation, for example, could be referred to the Specific Claims Tribunal or reassessed at some later point by Canada in the context of evolving case law. Read the section of the Auditor General's report on reporting results to learn more about the concerns with the use of these terms.

Other (under review)

A claim falls into this category when a First Nation chooses to pursue its claim through the courts or to refer its claim to the Specific Claims Tribunal for a binding decision. A claim also falls into this category if it has been dealt with through other means, such as file closure.

File closed (under review)

Files can be closed if:

  • the claim (in Canada's view) did not fall within the scope of the Specific Claims Policy and Process Guide
  • the First Nation decided to withdraw its claim
  • the First Nation did not accept the terms for entering into negotiation or negotiations are not taking place at present

Under assessment

Claims must first meet the Minimum Standard for Filing a Specific Claim Submission before they are considered to fall into this category. Canada has up to six months to determine if the claim meets the minimum standard.

During the assessment period, the Government of Canada has up to three years to review the claim and decide whether or not it will go to the next step, negotiation.

The assessment step in the specific claims process includes:

  • performing research
    • any potential gaps in the First Nation's research are addressed
    • the historical and legal facts of each claim are reviewed
  • Department of Justice prepares legal opinion
    • the Department of Justice conducts a legal analysis of the claim to provide advice as to whether there is an outstanding lawful obligation to the First Nation

In negotiation

If Canada decides it has an outstanding lawful obligation, the Government of Canada offers to negotiate with the First Nation. If the First Nation accepts the offer, it will be eligible to receive funding to support negotiations which can then take place to determine what compensation would be fair to resolve the claim. At this stage of the process, the parties are working together to reach a settlement. If they do not reach a settlement within three years, the First Nation has the option to file the claim with the Specific Claims Tribunal.

Settled

The claim has been resolved through a negotiated settlement between the First Nation and the Government of Canada, and, where applicable, the relevant provincial or territorial government. Once the settlement is signed by the parties, implementation proceeds, including the payment of compensation.

You can locate First Nations with settled specific claims using the interactive map on specific claim settlements

How to file a specific claim

First Nations research their own claims and submit them to the Government of Canada.

Before a claim is filed, claims research is done by individual First Nations, some tribal councils or by research associations. The First Nation decides which research avenue they wish to pursue and then submits the claim to the Government of Canada.

Certain requirements must be met when a First Nation submits a specific claim to Canada for review and assessment. These requirements are detailed in the Minimum Standard for Filing a Specific Claim Submission. As noted in the process diagram below, Canada has up to six months to determine if the claim meets the minimum standard. If the claim meets the minimum standard, it is filed with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs and Canada reviews the claim and makes a decision whether to accept the claim for negotiation under its Specific Claims Policy and Process Guide. Learn more about the assessment phase in the diagram below.

Steps in the specific claims process

This diagram outlines the different steps involved in the Government of Canada's current process, which may be subject to change as part of ongoing joint work on claims reform:

Description of the Specific Claims Process

This diagram outlines the steps in the specific claims process. To begin, following claims research, the First Nation submits its claim to the Government of Canada.  The government reviews the claim and after a period of up to six months determines if the claim meets the minimum standard for claim submissions.  If the claim does not meet the minimum standard, the claim is returned to the First Nation who has the option to resubmit the claim with revisions, and restart the process.

If the claim meets the minimum standard, it is filed with the Minister and moves to the assessment phase. This phase can take up to three years. During this time, the government assesses the claim to determine whether or not to accept the claim for negotiation.  To be accepted under the Specific Claims Policy, a claim must demonstrate, on a balance of probabilities, that the Government of Canada has an outstanding lawful obligation to the First Nation. If the claim is not accepted for negotiation, the First Nation may choose to resubmit the claim with new evidence or to file the claim with the Specific Claims Tribunal. If the First Nation chooses to resubmit the claim with new evidence, the specific claims process begins again.  If the claim is referred to the tribunal, the tribunal will make a binding decision on validity and compensation.

If the claim is accepted for negotiations by the Government of Canada, the negotiation process begins. If, after three years, a negotiated settlement has not been reached or if the First Nation is not satisfied with the progress of negotiations, they may choose to refer the claim to the Specific Claims Tribunal.  However, negotiations may continue beyond three years if the First Nation chooses.

If a settlement is reached, it moves forward to implementation. If a settlement is not reached, the First Nation can either resubmit the claim with new evidence or can file the claim with the Specific Claims Tribunal. If the claim is referred to the tribunal, the tribunal will make a decision on validity and compensation.

What is the approval process for specific claims settlements?

Once negotiators for the Government of Canada and a First Nation have concluded talks on a proposed settlement, it must be approved by both the First Nation and the Government of Canada before it can be finalized. A negotiated settlement must also be approved by a provincial or territorial government in cases where they are involved in the negotiations.

For First Nations, this generally includes approval by First Nation members in a community vote. For example, all land-related claims will involve a vote on the proposed settlement by First Nation members. The size of the settlement is another key factor in determining whether a community vote will be held.

The federal government approval process also varies depending on the size of the settlement and whether it relates to land. For example:

  • The Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs can finalize negotiated financial settlements valued at up to $50 million.
  • Negotiated specific claim settlements valued at between $50 million and $150 million must be approved by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat before they can be signed by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.
  • Due to their complexity and the amount of public funds involved, specific claim settlements of more than $150 million must go through the Cabinet decision-making process to ensure appropriate oversight in the interests of First Nations and all Canadians. These settlements would then also require approval by the Treasury Board of Canada.
  • All specific claim settlements involving land, regardless of size, must be approved by the Governor-in-Council before they can be finalized. This includes seeking an Order-in-Council.

After all the approvals have been obtained, the minister signs the settlement on behalf of the Government of Canada. Following this, there is generally a 45 day requirement for Canada to pay the compensation monies to the First Nation.

About the Specific Claims Tribunal Act

The Specific Claims Tribunal Act came into effect on October 16, 2008, creating a new independent body called the Specific Claims Tribunal. This was in response to numerous past calls from First Nations and government commissions between 1947 and 2008.

The act created an independent tribunal with the power to make binding decisions on the validity of specific claims and any resulting compensation up to $150 million per claim. The act was developed jointly with the Assembly of First Nations. Subject to the conditions set out in the act, there are four scenarios in which a First Nation can choose to file a claim with the tribunal:

The act also introduced three-year time frames to the process. The three-year assessment period starts when the claim is filed with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. The three-year negotiation period begins on the day the minister notifies a First Nation that their claim has been accepted for negotiations. If either of those periods extends beyond three years, the First Nation can opt to refer their specific claim to the tribunal.

Learn about the Five year review of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act.

The Specific Claims Tribunal

The Specific Claims Tribunal became operational on June 1, 2011. The tribunal set its own Rules of Practice and Procedure, which are similar to civil court rules. The tribunal's decisions are made independently from the government.

The tribunal can only make monetary awards.

Participation in tribunal proceedings by a province or territory is voluntary in all cases.

To find out more:

Funding for First Nations

Canada provides funding to First Nations to support their participation in the specific claims process. This includes funding:

Canada looks forward to continuing the joint work on specific claims reform with its partners. These webpages (which reflect the current specific claims process) will be updated as this joint work evolves.

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