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Reconciliation includes recognizing aboriginal land title, says lawyer

Reconciliation is inseparable from recognition of aboriginal land title, says Izaak de Rijcke, an Osgoode Hall law professor from Ontario who gave a lecture in Whitehorse Tuesday night.

Izaak de Rijcke's talk in Whitehorse attracts large turnout

Izaak de Rijcke's lecture in Whitehorse Tuesday night at the Yukon Arts Centre attracted a large turnout. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Reconciliation is inseparable from recognition of aboriginal land title, says a law professor from Ontario who gave a lecture in Whitehorse Tuesday night.

More than 200 people turned out to hear Izaak de Rijcke's talk on aboriginal title and existing property law regimes, including a 'who's who' of prominent Yukoners including lawyers, chiefs, land claims negotiators and Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale.

De Rijcke practises real estate law in Ontario and has taught at Osgoode Hall law school.

De Rijcke said property law is complicated at any level, with many overlapping interests, but aboriginal title is the "unique product of the historic relationship between the Crown and people from different aboriginal groups."

He told the audience that reconciliation is inseparable from recognition of aboriginal title.

'Equal status'

"The right of control over the land means that governments and others seeking to use the land require more than just consent of the holders of aboriginal title," he said.

"They need to partner with, they need to recognize a person at the table having equal status with themselves."

De Rijcke warned that governments which don't recognize underlying rights risk being "continually blindsided by court rulings which tell us to recognize and respect First Nations' claims."

He added that the courts have specified that title confers rights not just to fee simple ownership, but a right to decide how the land will be used - planning - and management of resources.

De Rijcke concluded that it's time for Canada to consider an approach to land that would allow different systems to coexist over the same land base.

Positive reception

People who attended the lecture said they appreciated the message.

Former NDP MP Audrey MacLaughlin said it's clear that "when provinces and territories decide to challenge these things in the courts, they lose. And as taxpayers, we pay. So we listen, we listen to supreme court law, we listen to what experts say, and let's just get on with doing it."

Carl Freisen, a Canada land surveyor, said it makes him think about what's going to happen in Yukon, B.C. and western Canada.

"Are we going to be able to talk in a reasonable manner and find those solutions together? Hopefully we can do that," he said. 

Mike Smith, regional vice-chief with the Assembly of First Nations, said reconciliation and aboriginal title do fit hand in glove.

"He's talking about acceptance. Do you accept First Nations have title? Do you accept that First Nations have interest? Once you do, you can have reconciliation."

About the Author

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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