Hey Leo, how about pushing for property rights on First Nations reserves?
During Sunday’s Golden Globes, Leonardo DiCaprio won best actor for his leading role in The Revenant. And he’s getting a lot of press for his recognition and acknowledgement of First Nations and indigenous people around the world. He said “it is time we recognize [indigenous] history and that we protect indigenous lands from corporate interests.”
DiCaprio may be surprised to learn that, in Canada, indigenous communities are unable to own (and protect) their indigenous lands. In fact, in Canada today there are three groups of people who cannot own land: children, the mentally incompetent and indigenous people who live on reserve.
Well, according to the Indian Act, First Nations reserve land is held in trust for on-reserve members by the federal government. Essentially making on-reserve First Nations people wards of the state. Because of this policy, First Nations people who currently live on reserve do not enjoy the same property rights as other Canadians. On-reserve members are unable to earn equity on their home, use it as collateral to borrow money, sell their land to whomever they choose, or bequest their land to their children.
Some First Nations leaders believe that extending property rights, enjoyed by all other Canadians, to their members can lead to economic prosperity. Chief Michael LeBourdais of Whispering Pines First Nation, a proponent of property rights on reserve, said property rights will help “restore [their] values and rights that the Indian Act took away” and make First Nations partners in the market economy. Furthermore, research has shown that extending property rights to First Nations reserve lands increases the quality of housing in a community. This research also demonstrates that extending full property rights on-reserve can promote economic growth. Despite these positive economic impacts and the support to extend property rights on reserve from First Nations leaders like Chief LeBourdais, the federal government chooses to maintain the status quo and restrict the land rights of on-reserve First Nations people in Canada.
As DiCaprio states, we should recognize indigenous history; this includes correcting paternalistic and archaic indigenous policies such as the land provisions in the Indian Act. And what better way to protect indigenous lands than by extending ownership of that land to on-reserve First Nations members, a right currently enjoyed by all other Canadians. Surely that’s an ideal Leo would support.
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