New legislation a step forward for native land claims

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Despite some lingering concerns, all of the federal parties endorsed the new Specific Claims Tribunal Act, which must now clear the Senate to become law.

One of the concerns is that only cases worth $150 million or less will be eligible to go before a panel of judges if talks are stalled after three years.

While that’s estimated to represent more than 95 per cent of the claims, it still leaves the remaining claims, which could take decades to settle.

The Liberals and NDP have also raised concerns that Ottawa alone will choose the mediators whose binding rulings will be final when negotiations fail.

But it should be noted that all of our judges are appointed by governments and their impartiality is rarely, if ever, questioned.

While the legislation isn’t perfect, the government should be commended for bringing this bill forward because it will speed up the process for many of the claims, as well as reducing the significant legal costs involved. Furthermore, it will resolve long-simmering claims and the tensions they raise sooner rather than later.

You spend more money on legal fees than you actually do on the claim and settlement, said Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl. Only a handful of cases are worth more than $150 million while roughly half are worth $3 million or less, he added.

Despite concerns with the bill, both the NDP and the Liberals supported it, thus indicating they too recognize its value.

As well, the Assembly of First Nations acted as co-writers of the bill, which should ease concerns of natives that the act may be slanted against them. Clearly, then, it will be an improvement over the status quo.

However, the act doesn’t appear to have any appeal with local Mohawk officials, nor likely with local Mohawk protesters.



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