Resource ‘grab’ feared under proposed federal law

Resource ‘grab’ feared under proposed federal law by Jason Fekete, Postmedia News, August 17, 2012, Vancouver Sun
Aboriginal leaders say they’re worried that expected legislation from the Harper government allowing native bands and their members to own and sell reserve lands is an attempt by Ottawa and corporations to cash in on first nations’ natural resources. The federal Conservative government announced in the March budget its “intent to explore” with interested first nations the option of proceeding with legislation that would allow more than 600 first nations communities to voluntarily introduce private property ownership on reserve lands. The legislation is now being drafted, although federal officials say it won’t be tabled this fall. The government and some first nations leaders believe allowing private property ownership on reserves could trigger new housing and economic development for aboriginals across Canada. But many aboriginal leaders – including newly re-elected Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo – strongly oppose the initiative. They fear transferring property rights could lead to non-natives controlling first nations land, and some worry the legislation is an attempt by Ottawa and the provinces to seize control of lucrative petroleum and mineral rights on reserves. “This act is essentially a big oil and mineral land grab. This contemplated legislation isn’t in any stretch of the imagination for our benefit,” said Pam Palmater, academic director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Toronto’s Ryerson University and runner-up to Atleo in the race for AFN national chief. “This is how you transfer ownership from first nations to [pipeline] and mining companies. We all know what Harper’s policy and economic plans are.” Palmater, who has encouraged first nations chiefs to take a much more aggressive approach with Ottawa, believes the purpose of the federal legislation would be to change property ownership rules for first nations that ultimately eliminates the constitutional protection on aboriginal lands. [Emphasis added]

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