Globe and Mail Update Published on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 12:45AM EST Last updated on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 12:48AM EST
A British Columbia first nation that made history a decade ago in signing the province's first modern treaty has come up with another first, passing a land use law allowing its members to own, mortgage and re-sell individual parcels of treaty land.
The Nisga'a First Nation, located on the northwest coast about 80 kilometres north of Terrace, passed its Nisga'a Landholding Transition Act at a meeting of its Wilp Si'ayuukhl legislative council last month.
The act is the culmination of a three-year effort meant to drive economic development in the community of about 6,000 by allowing members of the nation to realize value from their land. Each individual tract that falls under the act may be no more than 0.2 hectares, and would remain a part of the first nation and subject to its laws.
This is major. This is something very different. Ross Hoffman, acting chair of the First Nations Studies program at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. He said he wasn't aware of any other first nation that had made such a move in Canada.
This is a significant step towards true self government. It is a process for increasing economic prosperity for our people, Nisga'a president Nelson Leeson said in a statement. It is important for us to be able to find ways of building capacity for our people so that they can stand on their own.
It's believed to be a first among treaty nations. Those under the federal Indian Act, from which the Nisga'a are exempt, cannot sell individual parts of their land.
The new act will allow Nisga'a citizens to own residentially zoned property in fee simple, the common way in which land is sold in Canada. Holding land under such a title allows owners to take out mortgages and leverage the land for other loans, things they previously couldn't do. They can also lease the land and build equity in their homes.
The swath of land for sale at first is small, totalling one square kilometre, the nation says. The nation is approximately 2,000 square kilometres in size.
Mr. Hoffman said it could be viewed as a risk, if a number of members of the nation sell their land to non-nation members. I'm wondering if in these hard economic times people sell their land to non Nisga'a people, what does that do to the community over time?
The Nisga'a don't shy away from high-profile initiatives, having garnered headlines with the signing of a modern treaty with the provincial government in 1998. At 252 pages, the Nisga'a Final Agreement was the first treaty signed since the province entered confederation in 1871.
The deal gave the band a one-time cash payment of $191-million, other financial packages, salmon and logging rights, and what was considered at the time to be the most advanced form of self-government of any aboriginal people in Canada. It also removed them from the jurisdiction of the federal Indian Act.
The Nisga'a, as you know, they've led in many things, Mr. Hoffman said. It [passage of the landholding act] is surprising, but it's not surprising in that way.