A historic conversation is occurring on a section of “Indian country” in northwestern British Columbia. Nisga’a First Nations people are debating legislation that may allow individual Nisga’a to own private land they can transfer to whomever they wish, Nisga’a or non-Nisga’a.
The Nisga’a Landholding Transition Act would permit individual Nisga’a to hold land in transferable “fee simple.” Properties would be registered and protected in the Nisga’a Land Title Office. This proposal would create real property rights, meaning land can be transferred to whomever one chooses.
This would be precedent setting since, under the Indian Act, on-reserve First Nations do not own their own land, which is held solely by the Crown.
On reserves, title is normally provided to individuals through certificates of possession distributed through band council. But these certificates are only transferable to other band members and exist at the whim of political leaders.
But Nisga’a, under their modern treaty passed by Parliament in 2000, are not governed under the Indian Act and their new agreement with the government placed ownership of Nisga’a land with Nisga’a Village governments.
Now, this same government proposes to allow individuals to claim residential plots. It is a small step, as the plots can be no more than 0.2 hectares (about half an acre), but this will allow for wealth creation and economic development on Nisga’a territory.
Wealth creation and poverty reduction are intimately connected to the institution of private property.
To grant individual property rights to Nisga’a residents will allow Nisga’a to leverage this land to secure credit and start businesses.
The debate in the Nisga’a territory must occur on First Nations territories everywhere.
Indigenous Canadians need to bring Indian Act bands and other indigenous communities into a robust system where land can be easily transferred to individual First Nations.
Then a real revolution for all indigenous people can occur.