Fraser Forum

Property rights for all Canadians: the First Nations issue forgotten by all federal political parties

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Consider this fact. In Canada today there are three groups of people who cannot legally own property: children, the mentally incompetent and First Nations people who live on a reserve.

That’s right, First Nations people in Canada who choose to live on a reserve are grouped in the same category as children.

So how is this possible?

Well, under the Indian Act, First Nations people do not own their own land, instead it’s held for them by the government. Because of this policy, First Nations people who currently live on reserve do not enjoy the same property rights as every other Canadian. 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 wealth to their children.

Despite its paternalistic roots, this is an issue that no political party has addressed during the election thus far. This is surprising given the research on the positive impacts of extending property rights to First Nations in Canada.

For example, our research has shown that the development of full property ownership for individuals on reserve will improve the economic and social well-being of First Nations communities. And full property rights can result in better housing quality on reserves.

There are also First Nations leaders such as Chief LeBourdais of Whispering Pines who want to extend full property rights to their members but cannot because of provisions in the Indian Act.

So if we want First Nations reserves in Canada to have better housing conditions and higher levels of economic and social well-being, we should consider the positive impact of extending full property rights to on-reserve members—an economic right that all other Canadians currently enjoy.

John Diefenbaker extended the right to vote to all status Indians in the 1960s, less than 60 years ago. Let’s hope that First Nations citizens living on reserve do not have to wait that long to have full property rights on reserve, especially when it’s shown to promote prosperity and social and economic wellbeing for those who need it most.


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