Indigenous

First Nations raise concerns about new policy on addressing historical grievances

A group of technicians working with First Nations on correcting longstanding grievances with Canada are calling for the federal process to be more flexible.

National Claims Research Directors issue open letter to Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Marc Miller

In a statement to CBC News, the office of Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the federal government is committed to continue to work with First Nations to address the inequities that remain in the Indian Act. (David Kawai/The Canadian Press)

A group of technicians working with First Nations on correcting longstanding grievances with Canada are calling for the federal process to be more flexible.

The National Claims Research Directors (NCRD) penned an open letter to new Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller over concerns about Canada's new policy guidelines related to the administration of specific claims research and development funding. 

Specific claims deal with past wrongs against First Nations, often regarding the administration of land. Currently, there are 378 specific claims in negotiation and 172 under assessment. 

Canada provides funding to support First Nations' participation in the process, including for the research and development of specific claims. It's the first step before a claim can be submitted.

The NCRD, which consists of specialized technicians who manage over 30 units mandated to research and develop specific claims against the federal government, said the new guidelines are problematic and were developed without consultation from First Nations.

Miller, who was previously Indigenous Services minister, was moved to Crown-Indigenous Relations following the federal election. Hours after being sworn into his new role, he told reporters, "It's time to give land back."

"This rings hollow when his department keeps trying to starve and impoverish the processes like specific claims or funding guidelines that could facilitate land return," said Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson, secretary treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the chair of the B.C. Specific Claims Working Group.

"When we stand up for our land, we're criminalized and yet the bureaucratic processes that Canada has laid out, they're failing us."

Judy Wilson speaks to media calling for the removal of open-net fish farms during a press conference in North Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The NCRD said it reviewed the latest draft of the guidelines in July, and expressed a number of concerns over allocated funding, transparency, and the role of the Specific Claims Branch of Crown-Indigenous Relations in evaluating or approving proposals for research funding.

"They're erroneous, paternalistic and they're inflexible and often unworkable … they make it very difficult for the nations working on these files," said Wilson.

The open letter calls for the new guidelines and templates to be postponed, for discussions with specific claims research directors to ensure the needs of First Nations are met, and for new policies to be developed with free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations.

"Going forward, it needs to be developed with us," said Wilson.

Neither Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada nor Miller's office provided comment before time of publishing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec. Email her at kanhehsiio.deer@cbc.ca.

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