JULY 27, 2011

Official Opposition Critic for Aboriginal Affairs, M.P. Linda Duncan has called on the Harper government to reverse its decision to short circuit the specific claims negotiation process that undermines the Specific Claims Tribunal Act and policy.

According to Duncan, legal experts have advised the effect of this policy shift will be to short circuit the negotiation process, and represents a clear breach of faith and possible breach of fiduciary duties for any claims related to treaty rights. Said Duncan, “First Nations negotiated the specific claims process and legislation in good faith. The intent of the law is clear. It was enacted to trigger more expedited good faith action by the federal government to resolve First Nation claims by providing access to an independent Tribunal as a backstop. The purpose is to enable First Nations to refer claims to the Tribunal, not the government. ”

Duncan advised that while B.C. First Nations have voiced the strongest condemnation of this policy shift, she has been hearing similar concerns from first nations across the country stunned at the sudden decision by federal negotiators to cut short fruitful negotiations.

The fears expressed are that the intent is to force first nations to accept lowball offers and reduce payouts on valid Specific Claims. A July 2011 resolution by the Assembly of First Nations urges the government to not arbitrarily cut-off negotiations and to affirm its commitment to the principles of good faith, respect and mutuality.

“Let us hope that the intent of this policy shift is not triggered by the goal of reducing the record deficit on the backsides of first nation communities? This new policy clearly perverts the very intent of the specific claims process “to promote reconciliation between First Nations and the Crown and the development of self sufficiency of First Nations,” said Duncan.