Woodland Cree take over reserve land management – Alberta Daily Herald Tribune
Woodland Cree First Nation made Alberta history Oct. 6 when its membership voted in favour of taking over reserve land management from Indian Services Canada (ISC).
The First Nation Land Management Act(FNLMA) passed in 1999, outlines the steps and items needed to accomplish the move. Namely, a First Nation would have to develop its own land code, an outline of how the land will be managed. Rights, licences, rules, revenues from natural resources and far more are outlined in the code and approved by the federal government.
Essentially, everything respective of land management, business propositions and more that ISC and its predecessor Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) have done in the past, gets handed over to the band. While the Regime framework was established more than 20 years ago and over 100 other First Nations in Canada have already made the move, Alberta has lagged.
Elvis Thomas, lands manager with Woodland Cree First Nation, says that’s no longer the case. Woodland Cree is a young nation. Established in 1989 and with a land agreement since 1991, governing their own lands has been on their minds since the FNLMA was first established.
It was a lot of planning and hard work, he adds. There were obstacles to overcome. With the inevitable changing council every few years, concerns that managing their lands could interfere with other negotiations or Treaty Rights was at the forefront of members’ minds. There were times projects and processes had to start back at the beginning to ensure they met the goals of the sitting council.
“This is a good thing. We definitely didn’t infringe on our Treaty rights. That’s one of the main misconceptions. It’s just managing our lands and taking over what Indian Services Canada does.”
The group has taken 44 sections out of the Indian Act. Those that apply to land management no longer apply to Woodland. Instead, the band determines how they move ahead with their land management. It’s going to make business more efficient for Woodland Cree, says Thomas.
“We can move at the speed of business on a reserve. Right now we’re under the Indian act, which slows us down. Before, if they asked us to do a land designation for a project that could take up to two years.”
Notably, he adds, the agreement is only about reserve land. It does not infringe on traditional territories. Also, an exception is that of environmentally contaminated land.
The agreement requires the federal government to clean up any areas designated during the process. Once the land management is entirely taken over by Woodland Cree, and the government has met their obligations, Woodland Cree becomes responsible for future environmental issues.
There has been some worry among members, says Thomas. There’s fear that taking over land management could have a negative impact on everything from rights to lands to future business. They’re working to reassure those concerns with bylaws, which will become the land laws and reflect how the band wants to move forward with conservation, business, and economic growth.
It’s also a step towards self-governance, says Thomas.
“That is key. It’s a lot. It’s a start.”
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