Letter: Canada needs to disclose how it calculates Indigenous land claims

Kelowna - Timely claims resolution is an essential component of reconciliation

To Ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jody Wilson-Raybould:

We write today to call on you to demonstrate your government’s public commitments to transparency and the renewal of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples by disclosing how Canada calculates its contingent liabilities regarding Indigenous Nations’ land claims – and by affirming your government’s intention to fulfill its outstanding lawful obligations to Indigenous Nations by fairly resolving these claims.

As a recent Globe and Mail article shows, public discourse on claims resolutions is being shaped by speculation about Canada’s mounting financial debt to Indigenous communities, as well as widespread misconceptions regarding claims themselves. Canada’s lack of transparency in how it calculates its contingent liabilities, coupled with these misconceptions, creates a culture of distrust and undermines the political will for claims resolutions.

Additionally, secrecy around liability forecloses discussion on alternative remedies. Indigenous Nations have long expressed a willingness to explore options other than one-time monetary settlements. Canada must be transparent in its calculations regarding contingent liability as part of a broader dialogue on how to advance redress and reconciliation.

If Canada cannot advance this kind of transparency, we call on the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) to conduct a full accounting of how Canada calculates its debts to Indigenous Nations.

Canada must also publicly acknowledge its role in perpetuating harmful misconceptions that mislead the public. In particular, as reported in media articles, in statements, and public venues, government representatives should cease demanding that Indigenous Nations identify an “end date” at which all claims will be resolved; Canada should instead publicly emphasize that claims persist because Canada continues to violate its own laws with respect to Indigenous peoples’ lands and waters. As well, Canada must cease perpetuating the false idea that claims processes are slow but generally consistent and fair. In fact, Canada has mismanaged claims processes since their inception and to a startling degree over the past decade (as confirmed in a 2016 OAG report). Canada’s conflict of interest lies at the centre of this mismanagement.

As Indigenous Nations have stated for decades, a fully independent process is the only way to advance the truly fair, just, and timely resolution of claims. Your government has publicly stated its support for national engagement such that an independent claims process can be developed jointly with Indigenous Nations. The time to move forward on such a process is now, before the potential disruption of an election.

As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has concluded, fair, just, and timely claims resolution is an essential component of reconciliation. The right of redress is clearly articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UNDRIP also requires that states, in cooperation with Indigenous peoples, take effective measures to combat prejudice and discrimination, and promote understanding and good relations. Disclosing how your government is calculating its financial debts to Indigenous Nations for Canada’s repeated failures to fulfil its legal obligations toward them, as well as affirming your support for fair, independent claims resolution processes, will be a positive step in meeting this minimum international standard.

On behalf of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chief Robert Chamberlin, Kukpi7 Judy Wilson

President, vice-president, secretary-treasurer

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