Recognition of Ancestral Rights

Land claims

As Aboriginals, Amerindians and Inuits were the original inhabitant of the territories that make up Canada but these lands were confiscated from them. Under the British regime, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 marked a turning point in the nature of the treaties. From then on, treaties became the instruments of the Crown to curtail (with their “consent”) Aboriginal rights on their lands with the ultimate aim of confiscating them.

This is the case with the said 11 numbered treaties of the Confederation that concerned about half of Canada. Each one contained a clause providing that Aboriginal signatories surrender all Aboriginal rights, titles and interests related to the lands and territories described in the treaty, and renounce any future claims to the land.

Land negotiations have been ongoing in recent years in Quebec and British Columbia between the federal and provincial governments and First Nations, sometimes accompanied by clashes between the three parties. For most of the population, these land claims are ill-perceived.

Aboriginals want their ancestral treaty rights to be recognized; they want compensation for the despoliation they endured because many of them now suffer from exclusion, racism and poverty. A lot of litigation is now before the courts.

The first Aboriginal victory was obtained in 1973, following the Calder Supreme Court decision. This triumph represented a real breakthrough in the history of Aboriginal rights by recognizing the cause of British Columbia’s Nisga’a Nation. The Canadian government has changed its attitude since then.

Thus was born the so-called “comprehensive land claims” policy, which offers the possibility of negotiating with First Nations and Inuits who are able to prove that the rights arising from the use and occupation of their traditional ancestral lands were neither abolished by a treaty, or cancelled by law. These legally recognized rights would focus on access to land rich in renewable resources (timber and fisheries) and non-renewable ones (minerals).

Hunting a fishing rights

Generally, provincial laws on hunting and fishing apply to Aboriginals, but the Supreme Court has recognized that Amerindians have hunting and fishing rights on certain territories that are defined in respect of the preservation of resources and the rights of other users.

In Quebec, groups like the Attikameks, Montagnais and Hurons-Wendat began negotiations with successive governments which may lead to specific agreements on fishing, hunting and trapping. For the initiators, fair and egalitarian agreements will help correct past mistakes, forge new relationships based on the sharing of resources and land, and improve living conditions within the communities concerned.

New more egalitarian treaties

Following land claims by Aboriginals who opposed hydroelectric development in the James Bay area, the governments of Canada and Quebec, the Cree and Inuit of New Quebec and Hydro-Quebec concluded a territorial settlement in 1975 known as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). The Naskapi band followed the Cree example and negotiated the North-eastern Quebec Agreement (NEQA), signed in 1978.

These two agreements constitute the first modern land claim settlements in Canada. In addition to settling Aboriginal land claims and providing for financial compensation, these agreements have defined Aboriginal rights and established programs for managing future relations between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in the region, as well as between local, regional, provincial and federal governments.

In the same fashion as the Confederation’s numbered treaties, and in return for financial compensation, these two agreements effectively abolished ancestral territorial rights.

Land management programs negotiated under these agreements confers rights to Aboriginals without alienating the territory of Quebec. In 2002, the Crees and the Government of Quebec signed the famous “The Peace of the Braves” which will allow Hydro-Quebec to continue the exploitation of natural resources in the region north of Quebec in exchange for financial compensation totalling 3.5 billion to be spread over a period of 50 years.