My name is Arlen Dumas and I am Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
It's important to acknowledge the land of what is currently referred to as the province of Manitoba, which is the ancestral and sovereign territories of the Anishinabe, Cree, Dakota, Dene, and Oji-Cree nations.
I just want to express that there is limited time to properly prepare for such significant work. No funding or research supports were provided to help us present today.
All first nations in Canada should be directly engaged in matters such as this, which are fundamental to our land rights. Others will speak specifically to treaty land entitlement issues in Manitoba and focus on specific and comprehensive land claims policies.
Current policies are not consistent with first nations', domestic, or international laws. Canada is not acting in good faith when it comes to issues of first nations' lands. Policies cannot be fixed through minor amendments and will require a fundamental overhaul and replacement.
The problems with specific claims and comprehensive claims policies are based on the assumption of crown sovereignty and title. Canadian laws and policies make the assumption of Canadian sovereignty over our territories. This requires first nations to make claims to Canada versus the other way around.
We dispute Canada's claim of sovereignty over our lands, outright. We assert that our sovereignty remains intact and that treaties are a recognition of indigenous nationhood and sovereignty.
Number two is that aboriginal title of land is not a foundation of either policy. There is no doubt on the historical record that these lands are first nations' lands. Canada has recognized this many times over through various land acknowledgements. Federal policies have not kept up with Canada's own court cases confirming aboriginal title. There is no process to protect first nations' lands and resources before or during negotiations.
Number three concerns the inherent conflict in the review and decision-making process. Current processes use Canada's laws, policies, lawyers, judges, courts, and enforcement mechanisms, and this is profoundly unbalanced. The Specific Claims Tribunal, heralded as independent, still uses Canada's laws, judges and courts without equal review, decision-making and inclusion of first nations' laws and processes.
Number four is that the return of land is not a central tenet of either process. Land is central to our identity, culture, self-sufficiency, economic well-being, and nation building. All lands in Canada are rightfully owned by first nations and Inuit. Failure to make land a central feature of these policies is a fundamental flaw.
Number five concerns presumption of land surrenders for first nations' lands covered by treaties. Treaties throughout Canada are very significant. Numbered treaties are wrongly treated as land-surrendered treaties, which does not correspond with first nations' laws or understanding. Canada imposes its own interpretation of numbered treaties, which acts as a significant limitation on negotiations.
Number six is in regard to the extinguishment under the guise of certainty, which violates first nations', domestic, international, and normal laws. Extinguishment of rights is not consistent with first nations' laws, jurisdictions, or decision-making processes that protect rights of past, current, and future generations. UNDRIP and other international declarations, conventions, treaties, and laws are centred on the protection and observance of indigenous land and resource rights, not their extinguishment. Extinguishment for money is a bullying tactic to force impoverished first nations into prejudicial settlements.
Number seven is that policies focus on Canadian objectives and do not include first nations' objectives. Current policies focus on Canada's desire for extinguishment of our rights; the protection of the historical uses of our lands and resources by settlers regardless of its illegality or impact on first nations; and the desire of various industries, primarily large corporations involved in the extractive industries, to profit from our lands and resources. Nowhere in the policy does it mention protection and enforcement of first nations' rights to lands and resources, the primacy of our rights, or our right to be self-determining and self-sustaining within our territories.
Number eight is that policies do not take into account the profoundly unequal bargaining position of the parties. Negotiations can take many years, sometimes decades, but only Canada and private industries benefit from our lands and resources in the interim.
Interests of third parties are given priority over pre-existing and constitutionally protected first nation land rights. Limited funding in the way of loans prejudices the process by making one party indebted to the other and under pressure to reach a settlement, no matter how unjust. Canada does not act in good faith during these land settlement negotiations. The federal government is frustrating land negotiations in the additions to reserve process here in Manitoba through the treaty land entitlement process, by using other aboriginal groups, namely the Métis, to interfere with first nations land rights. Canada prioritizes the profits of corporations and industries over the constitutional rights of first nations. Canada uses its policies, forces, and military to impose its will on first nations with regard to land ownership and use. Canada adopts rigid negotiating mandates and positions.
Dispute-resolution mechanisms are not accessible to many first nations. The only alternative to prejudicial and unequal land claim negotiations is the courts. The courts are heavily biased towards Canadian laws, interests, and perspectives. Court cases are lengthy—lasting upwards of 25 years—and expensive—costing millions of dollars—and offer little substantive protections for our lands and resources in the meantime. Any acts we take to use our land in the interim are often met with court-imposed sanctions or arrests.
Here are some of the preliminary recommendations.
One, a new joint land resolution process must be negotiated directly between Canada and the rights holders, first nations, i.e., how they choose to be represented by first nation leaders, experts, and/or representative groups.
Two, a new policy must be based on the recognition and protection of aboriginal title with the return of lands and resources as the central feature.
Three, any new mechanisms must be joint processes that include first nations' authorities, laws, policies, and dispute resolutions, decision-making, and appeals.
Four, all federally imposed limitations on negotiations must be removed, including those in relation to land transfers and compensation for past and ongoing loss of use.
Five, any new policy must be consistent with international laws, including UNDRIP, and specifically including the legal principle of free, prior, and informed consent for all activities on first nations lands before, during, and after negotiations.
Six, an extensive and comprehensive joint review of all federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal laws, policies, regulations, bylaws, and other processes must be carried out to determine their compliance with first nations' domestic and international law-making processes in relation to first nations land and resources rights. This would include a comprehensive review of TLE processes to address ongoing issues of prejudices towards first nations in the additions to reserve process
Seven, significant funding and related supports must be provided for first nations to engage in research, legal reviews, consultations related to our lands, and resource interests.