Guide First Nations? Second Thoughts

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Canadian policy on Aboriginal issues is based on an ideology that sees Aboriginal peoples as "nations" entitled to specific rights.

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Indians and Inuit now enjoy legal privileges that include the inherent right to self-government, collective property rights, and immunity from taxation, hunting and fishing rights without legal limits, and free housing, education, and medical care. Underpinning these privileges is what the author describes as "Aboriginal orthodoxy" - the belief that prior residence in North America is an entitlement to special treatment. The book argues that this orthodoxy enriches an elite group of activists, politicians, administrators, and well-connected entrepreneurs, while bringing further misery to the very people it is supposed to help.

The developments of the last ten years are also analyzed, showing how a conflict of visions has led to a stalemate in Aboriginal policy-making. The Aboriginal orthodoxy. We were here first.

Tom Flanagan (political scientist)

What ever happened to civilization? The fiction of Aboriginal sovereignty.

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Bands, tribes, or nations? The inherent problems of Aboriginal self-government. In search of property.

Tom Flanagan (political scientist)

Manny Jules also endorses the ideas of this book. While not a contributing author, Jules wrote the foreword, also reproduced from presentations he has previously given. Most importantly, at least for the purposes of this book, Jules is well known and respected in the aboriginal community. Beyond the Indian Act is a mix of history, economics, law and public policy, and is largely intended for those with a background in public policy related to aboriginal peoples in Canada. Its primary purpose is to promote the enactment of federal legislation that the authors refer to as the First Nations Property Ownership Act.

This act is intended to promote individual property ownership in reserve lands and provide First Nations Indian Act bands with the underlying title. In this way, the authors hope to appeal to both the left those who support aboriginal self-government and the right those who advocate for the assimilation of aboriginal peoples.

Forgotten Narrative: the First Nations Reality - Diane Hill - TEDxUTSC

But while this all sounds tempting, a closer reading of their proposal and its potential implications for First Nations gives me second thoughts. Part One deals with the concept of property and the features of property rights under the Indian Act. In his view, individual property rights, which contribute to individual material wealth, are far superior to collective concepts of property, which are concerned about communal well-being. In a nutshell, the Dawes Act was an instrument designed to assimilate Indians into the majority population by introducing mandatory private ownership on reserve lands.

It was hoped that the tribes would be broken up as social units, individual initiative would be encouraged, the cost of Indian administration would be reduced and unused land would be opened up for white settlers.


The Dawes Act resulted in the loss of thousands of hectares of land and subsequent legislation was necessary to stop the further loss of land and recover some of what had been lost. The following section, written by Alcantara, describes the historical and legal characteristics of Indian property rights in Canada.

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Alcantara explains that Europeans saw Indians as not having any concepts of property and believed that, in order to civilize them, they would have to be forced to adopt individualized concepts of property—a coercive agenda he rejects. One wonders how voluntary such a decision might be, if all Indian bands are as dysfunctional and their leaders as corrupt as Flanagan seems to think. Alcantara also argues that the commercial, recreational and residential aspect of First Nations land is their greatest economic asset and should be used by individuals to lever economic activity even if, as the book later explains, that means sale to non-aboriginal people.

He argues that the Indian Act prevented market economies on reserve and that capitalism requires appropriate legal, administrative and institutional frameworks to be effective.

View of Boxing the Four Corners of Aboriginal Self-Government | Acadiensis

In so doing, he makes several generalizations and oversimplifications not necessarily supported by the literature. These social ills originate with colonial laws and assimilatory rules and policies that denied aboriginal peoples access to their traditional territories, natural resources, means of subsistence, laws, customs and governance systems see, for example, the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Le Dressay goes on to argue that implementing taxes on reserves for things such as property will attract private investment, which will fund infrastructure.

Very little attention is paid to the large number of businesses that are attracted to First Nations because of the different taxation rules and other attractive bylaws, however, such as those in New Brunswick allowing businesses to operate on Sunday.

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