OTTAWA, ON (June 13, 2007) – Grand Council Chief John Beaucage says a new independent land claims tribunal is long overdue, but welcome if the process to be introduced in Parliament this fall does not impose unilateral ceilings on settlements.
“This could represent a major step towards First Nations building our own economies and breaking our cycle of dependency on the Crown,” said Beaucage on behalf of the 42 Anishinabek Nation communities represented by the Union of Ontario Indians. “We can never hope to seriously tackle the overwhelming poverty and negative socio-economic factors that plague First Nations without dealing with the current land-claim logjam in a fair and faster way.”
“We congratulate Minister Prentice on this announcement, and pledge to work with him to help develop a process that is seen by First Nations as truly independent and equitable. There must be no arbitrary limits placed on the amounts First Nations will negotiate with Canada for the loss of our traditional territories.”
The Grand Council Chief added that it is vital that First Nations play a role in naming members of the tribunal. If the tribunal is to consist of judges, it is reasonable to expect the appointment of First Nations judges.
Beaucage said Ontario and other provinces need to be involved as the challenge of resolving over 800 land claims moves to a new level.
“The report of the Ipperwash Inquiry into the death of Dudley George recognized the barriers to First Nation dignity and prosperity posed by the current backlog of claims. By accepting the report’s key recommendation to establish a Treaty Commission of Ontario, the province would recognize that they have an important role to play in land-claim resolution. They need to be at the table with Canada and the Anishinabek to talk about sharing the use of lands and resources.”
The current land claims process takes an average of 13 years, causing frustration among First Nations across the country.
“The Anishinabek are using the National Day of Action June 29 to launch a prolonged public education campaign – we are calling it the ‘Era of Action’ — to enlist public support to encourage Ontario to adopt key recommendations of the Ipperwash Inquiry report,” Beaucage said.
“Dudley George was the first person to die in a dispute over land claims in over a century. We want him to be the last.”
The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.