Self-government agreements: the wave of the future for First Nations in Canada?
A group representing 10 Algonquin communities in eastern Ontario is on the path towards ratifying the province’s first-ever constitutionally-protected modern treaty. Modern treaties are much more common in places such as British Columbia and Yukon where historic treaties were never signed with the Crown.
The Algonquin group will have a ratification vote among members for the proposed agreement-in-principle between Feb. 29 and March 7. The Algonquins of Ontario (AOO), the Government of Ontario, and Ottawa signed an agreement-in-principle in June 2015. A final agreement, however, could take years.
The agreement-in-principle, as written, calls for the transfer of $300 million in capital funding and 117,500 acres of Ontario Crown lands into the hands of the AOO. If done right, this will lead to greater investment and opportunities for the indigenous communities involved.
If this agreement can be developed in such a way as to ensure economic certainty and improve investor confidence on the First Nation’s Settlement Area, then it will be a win-win for all involved.
A 2012 Aboriginal Economic Benchmarking Report mentions that according to Census 2006 data, the average income for First Nations people living in communities operational under the First Nations Land Management Act (FNLMA) or that have moved on to self-government agreements was $4,554 higher than average incomes for First Nations people living in communities not enrolled in the FNLMA. Comprehensive land claim agreements and self-government agreements give greater certainty over rights to land and resources, thereby contributing to a positive investment climate and creating greater potential for economic development and growth.
Recent data from the Fraser Institute demonstrates the negative impacts if treaties and agreements are not upheld. A September 2015 study demonstrates that in the Yukon, modern treaties are not living up to their reputation in providing legal certainty, particularly within the mining industry. Changes within the Yukon legal environment have produced growing legal uncertainty in a region that was once held up as possessing an advantage in the area of certainty. Recent court decisions have complicated legal certainty by, for instance, going beyond the text of highly detailed modern treaties and imposing additional obligations on governments.
The Algonquins of Ontario, like other First Nations, should certainly strive to attain the economic certainty that modern treaties can bring. Courts, however, should clearly avoid interfering with that certainty so that all parties can benefit from these arrangements.
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