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Two First Nations on the way to managing of own land, resources
Kevin Littlelight expects Tsuu T’ina First Nation’s acceptance into the First Nations Land Management Regime to speed up the process for economic development.
“Our total focus is having economic development, sustainability, supporting that with what is out there and the lands regime looks to be that vehicle that is going to enable us to develop our projects further,” said Littlelight, the First Nation’s administrator. “We’re able to reinforce our jurisdiction through that regime as well.”
Members of the FNLMR are allowed to opt out of the 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act, allowing them to manage their land, resources and environment under their own land codes. The result is less red tape and no federal government approval necessary.
“We’re not replacing the Indian Act and we’re not going self-government,” said Littlelight, “we’re going into an economic route.”
Joining Tsuu T’ina as the newest, and the only Alberta, members in the FNLMR is Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. There were 83 applicants with 18 selected this round.
“They’re well-known communities. They’re very strong communities. I’m looking forward to working with those councils,” said Robert Louie, chair of the First Nations Lands Advisory Board and Chief of the Westbank First Nation. In 2011, the FNLAB negotiated with the federal government a new funding formula for the FNLMR resulting in an additional allocation of $20 million over two years.
Louie said First Nations have to go through a stringent application process with Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada before they can join the regime. They have to be financially and politically stable, well managed, have a proven track record, and economic development potential.
“Based on our geography, based on our history, based on our spending patterns and our audits and, humbly, how successful we are and stable and financially stable,” said Littlelight. “We’re not the richest band in the world but we’re using our intelligence.”
Tsuu T’ina’s proximity to Calgary as well as Alexis Nakota Sioux’s proximity to Edmonton were convincing factors, but Louie said there are remote First Nations that have successfully developed economically under the FNLMR.
Opting out of the Indian Act for control of land allows economic development to happen faster and to be fully guided by the First Nation depending on its needs.
Louie said studies indicate that bands that are part of the FNLMR are “far more successful in the endeavours that they are doing.” More jobs are available, more opportunities and more investments come to the communities, and the need for social assistance is reduced.
“If you are self-managing your own lands, then you can accommodate (new development) in a matter of weeks,” said Louie.
Now that Tsuu T’ina and Alexis Nakota Sioux have been accepted into the FNLMR, they begin the developmental phase. They have 12-24 months to get a land code drafted, receive community input and then hold a vote.
Band members, both on and off reserve 18 years and older are eligible to vote. A minimum of 50 per cent of members must cast ballots. For the land code to be accepted, it must be approved by 25 per cent plus one of all the registered membership and verified by ANAC.
Littlelight does not anticipate Tsuu T’ina will have difficulty passing its land code.
“From all accounts of the membership that have reviewed and understand it and that means a lot of our academia people who have a good grip on what’s going on in the world … we haven’t had any resistance against that,” he said.
There are now 73 First Nations accepted into the FNLMR, with 37 operating under their own land code. The first three bands joined in 2000. The First Nations Land Management Act was passed in 1999.
“I would have liked to have seen more communities. We could have had more communities if we could have had a little more financial support from government. Given that we didn’t have all that complete financial support, I think we probably did quite well,” said Louie.
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