Nation to Nation
The Nation to Nation political panel had a rare moment on the show this week – all three MPs agreed that the specific claims process needs another update.
Specific claims deal with past failures by the federal government to manage First Nation lands and assets.
There are currently 528 outstanding claims where Ottawa has acknowledged an outstanding liability of $5.3 billion.
In the past claims took years and were costly to resolve.
So in 2007, the Conservative government started a new process, Justice at Last, that promised speedier resolutions to claims.
On Tuesday the Office of the Auditor General appeared before the House’s standing committee on Aboriginal affairs to say the process had been a failure.
That the tribunal set up to negotiate claims had become a top-down affair from the Department of Indigenous Affairs.
“They imposed some unilateral changes as part of the reform,” said Joe Martire of the Office of the Auditor General before the committee. “For example, the ‘take it or leave it’ offers for claims that are valued at three million. The $3 million amount is self-determined by the department without consultations with the First Nations. They also changed the way that they would actually negotiate in terms of developing a plan that would guide the negotiations process. Prior to Justice at Last, there was a plan that was mutually agreed to. That was discontinued.”
Last September Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould promised to overhaul Justice at Last. Although she called the program as having started out with good intentions, Conservative Indigenous Affairs shadow minister agreed now was the time for reform.
“There’s no question that the goals on these things need to move forward, need to move forward in a reasonably responsible way, and there’s ways we need to improve the process,” she said during Nation to Nation’s panel discussion.
Nation to Nation host Todd Lamirande also spoke to University of Victoria law professor Val Napoleon. She said the goals of self-government and self-determination are useless without rebuilding Indigenous law into the discussion. That it is, in fact, integral to self-government.
Professor Napoleon says that when Indigenous law is undermined and Canadian law inadequately fills the void or is absent the consequences are dire.
“And where Canadian law has failed, and if you think of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, I understand those places as being lawless,” she said. “And it’s in those places in particular where you see violence and its consequences in our communities.”