Tsawwassen First Nation chief supports federal policy change

Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Bryce Williams - File photo
Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Bryce Williams
— image credit: File photo

The chief of the Tsawwassen has expressed support for revisions to a federal policy governing Indian Reserve lands in Canada, although his people won't be affected by the changes.

The federal government is drafting an update to its Additions-to-Reserve (ATR) Policy–originally created in 1972 and revised in 2001–to bridge a legislative gap between the Indian Act and federal law which sets out conditions before land can be added to Indian Reserves.

The stated purpose of the update is to streamline the process, effectively reducing the document to just 31 pages from its previous 73 pages.

"The amended policy support First Nations development because it now more clearly allows for reserve lands to be set aside for the purpose of economic development," said Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Bryce Williams.

A review of the policy was launched in 2010 following a report from the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples which indicated ATR applications can take between five and 10 years to be concluded.

Williams said the uncertainty of the process is challenging on local governments as much as it is on First Nations.

The Corporation of Delta expressed concern over that uncertainty during a council meeting in late August, with some councillors speculating that First Nations governments could purchase land in Delta, then apply to have it included into their reserve. Once a piece of land is added to a reserve, all municipal bylaws and taxes become null and void.

According to the policy change, a First Nation band can apply to have lands added to its reserve for economic development purposes so long as the majority of its reserve exists within the same province or territory.

But Williams said the new ATR policy doesn't affect TFN at all, since the First Nation government has its own lands addition process through their 2007 treaty signed with the province and federal government.

The Indian Act no longer applies to the Tsawwassen government and so there is no federal reserve for lands to be added.

"It's important to be unequivocal that the ATR policy doesn't apply to us in Tsawwassen," said Williams.

While TFN isn't administered by the Indian Act, the Musqueam Indian Band is. The Musqueam own 142 hectares of farmland in Ladner, which was awarded 20 years ago as compensation by the federal government during the Vancouver International Airport expansion.

The Musqueam have since leased the land to local farmers and although there has been development speculation, no proposals have come forward.

Williams said he appreciates Delta's concerns about losses to its tax base and the fairness of the process, but cautioned that municipalities must consider the historical context the additions-to-reserve policy is operating within.

"Many First Nations had land that was expropriated by the federal government with no compensation," he said, adding the ATR policy change is one way to make the process fairer for First Nations who originally owned the land.

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