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Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights (2010)

Aboriginal people are the least prosperous demographic group in Canada. In life expectancy, income, unemployment, welfare dependency, educational attainment, and quality of housing, the pattern is the same: aboriginal people trail other Canadians. And within the category of aboriginal people, another pattern also stands out: First Nations (status Indians) do worse than Métis and non-status Indians; while among First Nations those living on-reserve do worse than those living off-reserve. These patterns have been more or less stable for decades. Aboriginal people and First Nations are progressing on most indicators compared to other Canadians, but the progress is painfully slow, and it will take centuries to achieve parity at these rates of change.

While land claims made by Canada's aboriginal peoples continue to attract attention and controversy, there has been almost no discussion of the ways in which First Nations lands are managed and the property rights that have been in place since the Indian Act of 1876. Beyond the Indian Act looks at these issues and questions whether present land practices have benefited Canada's aboriginal peoples. Challenging current laws and management, this illuminating work proposes the creation of a new system that would allow First Nations to choose to have full ownership of property, both individually and collectively.

The authors, including our director Andre Le Dressay, not only investigate the current forms of property rights on reservations but also expose the limitations of each system, showing that customary rights are insecure, certificates of possession cannot be sold outside the First Nation, and leases are temporary. As well, analysis of legislation, court decisions, and economic reports reveals that current land management has led to unnecessary economic losses. The authors propose creation of a First Nations Property Ownership Act that would make it possible for First Nations to take over full ownership of reserve lands from the Crown, arguing that permitting private property on reserves would provide increased economic advantages. Beyond the Indian Act is a bold argument for a new system that could improve the quality of life for First Nations people in communities across the country.


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