First Nations Land Claims Surveys

    Surveying the Maa-nulth preffective lands, Uclulet, BC, C. El Araj, 2009

    Surveying the Maa-nulth preffective lands, Uclulet, BC, C. El Araj, 2009

    Isolated boundary corner on the Nunavut Land Claim, near Taloyoak, NU, 2000

    Isolated boundary corner on the Nunavut Land Claim, near Taloyoak, NU, 2000

    Nunasi Helicopters A-Star at a right water meeting, Taloyoak, NU, 2000

    Nunasi Helicopters A-Star at a right water meeting, Taloyoak, NU, 2000

    On the Inuvialuit Land Claim Boundary - near Horton River, NWT, C.S. Cryderman and G.C. Friesen, 1988

    On the Inuvialuit Land Claim Boundary - near Horton River, NWT, C.S. Cryderman and G.C. Friesen, 1988

     K. Lanigan, S. Dixon, and Jim(pilot) near Summit Lake, On CYFN Land Claim Survey

    K. Lanigan, S. Dixon, and Jim(pilot) near Summit Lake, On CYFN Land Claim Survey

    M. Kearney setting a rock post. Cambridge Bay, NU, 1996

    M. Kearney setting a rock post. Cambridge Bay, NU, 1996

    Assistants C. Kalluk, and M. Manik on Nunavut Land Claim survey, Devon Island, NU, 1998

    Assistants C. Kalluk, and M. Manik on Nunavut Land Claim survey, Devon Island, NU, 1998

    C. deHaan on survey of Canol Trail, Sahtu Land Claim, 2002

    C. deHaan on survey of Canol Trail, Sahtu Land Claim, 2002

The following represents an abridged introduction to First Nations land claims in Canada. For the sake of brevity many pertinent facts are omitted. For a start, you may wish to try Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

The contemporary public perception of First Nations land claims is that they are a fairly recent phenomena resulting from a liberal attitude that desires to 'right past wrongs'. This perception has little basis in fact. Treaty-making has been a feature of virtually all periods of Canadian history. Claims have become more prominent since 1969, partially because of decisions made by the courts, which forced the Federal Government into dealing with the 'unfinished business' of claims that had existed prior to confederation.

Part of the reason that these claims are only now being dealt with is the historical relationship between native peoples and the Government of Canada. Government legislation and policy has made it extremely difficult for natives to obtain the justice that the average non-native Canadian would consider their right. Prior to 1951, a kind of Catch-22 situation existed whereby a claim by an aboriginal group against the government could not be brought before the courts without government approval. At various times in Canada's history, the Department of Indian Affairs has forbidden native Canadians from expending money (band or personal) on the development of their land claims.

Claims policy has its origin in 'The Royal Proclamation of 1763'. The proclamation stipulated that any purchase of Indian Lands by a British Crown Colony should be carried out by a public assembly held specifically for that purpose. The surrender of Indian Lands was to precede any settlement by the colony. From 1870 to 1930, Canada successfully implemented this policy and all of Ontario and the Prairie Provinces were covered by treaties.

The areas not covered by treaties included the Yukon and Northwest Territories, as well as the Province of British Columbia (BC). Treaties were not negotiated in BC because when it entered confederation it was already settled. Lacking any constitutional responsibility for natives, and having a vested interest in the lands and other resources, the BC Government remained quite hostile to the prospect of settling claims.

In 1969, the Federal Government published its White Paper on Indian Policy. This document rejected the concept of claims based on Aboriginal Title. Instead, it proposed a policy of assimilation of the native cultures into the Canadian mainstream. The response from the First Nations was not positive. The White Paper, which the Liberal Government thought would solve the native problem, instead acted as a catalyst in the organization of native opposition.

In 1973, the decision in Calder vs. Attorney General of British Columbia http://scc.lexum.org/en/1973/1973scr0-313/1973scr0-313.pdf (the Aboriginal Title Claim of the Nisga'a Indians of British Columbia) rocked the Federal Government. The Nisga'a lost their case, but six of the seven judges recognized the existence of aboriginal title in Canadian law. The White Paper was dead. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs at the time, Jean Chretien, when asked his opinion of the decision, indicated that, it appears that they have more rights than we thought.

In the years since the Calder decision, the Government has actively pursued establishing comprehensive land claim treaties with First Nations to clear the uncertainty of Aboriginal Title on the land. Each of these treaties has resulted in the transfer of lands from Canada to the First Nations (or the other way—depending on your point of view). Additional court decisions have refined and expanded the definitions of aboriginal title, and rights.

Underhill has been, and continues to be, very active in the survey and demarcation of the boundaries of the various claims. Underhill has an unparalleled record in the performance of First Nations Land Claim surveys in Canada.

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