A First Nations man speaks at a podium. The words 'building a more equitable province are written below him.

Legislative amendments would allow First Nations to own land

Editor’s Note: When British Columbia seized control of the traditional territories of the Homalco, Klahoose, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and most of the other First Nations in the province, they were pushed onto tiny parcels whose title was held by the Crown (reserves). According to the Pulling Together: Foundations Guide (2018):

  • “First Nations people were not consulted when reserves were created. They did not give consent.
  • They were not compensated for the lands that were taken from them.
  • Since their creation, reserves have been moved and reduced and their resources have been taken – all without compensation for First Nations.
  • Until as recently as 1958, people living on reserve needed written permission from the Indian Agent in order to leave the reserve for any reason.”

A report prepared for the BC Assembly of First Nations in 2023 states 35% of BC’s Indigenous population currently live on reserves.

By Alexandra Mehl, Ha-Shilth-Sa, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Victoria, BC – In early April the provincial government introduced legislative amendments to the B.C. Land Title and Property Law Act, that, if passed, will remove barriers for First Nation bands to acquire, hold and register land.

“Many people in Canada do not know that First Nations could not own land in the province of British Columbia,” said Hugh Braker of the First Nations Summit. “Many people don’t know that in British Columbia, other provinces and in the federal system there are still laws that discriminate against Indigenous people that are founded in racism.”

This year marks 150 years since the establishment of the B.C. Land Act which “explicitly forbid First Nation individuals from having interests in land,” said Murray Rankin, minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

“First Nations in B.C. have pre-existing and inherent rights to land in our province, however, ever since British Columbia was a colony, First Nations have been faced with discriminatory and racist barriers to land recognition and ownership,” said Rankin.

Currently, most First Nations can only acquire land through additional administrative processes such as establishing a corporation, society, proxies or federal trusts, reads a recent press release.

Most recently in Port Alberni, the Ahousaht First Nation formed their Citaapi Mahtii Housing Society to build a new affordable apartment building for their members living in the town, shared Braker.

“They had to go through all sorts of hoops just to try and do something for their own people,” said Braker.

But with Bill 13, Land Title and Property Law Amendment Act, 2024, First Nations can legally register and hold land in the B.C. land title office and align the administrative process with corporations and modern treaty nations.

“This isn’t a veto, this is a commitment to make decisions together,” said Terry Teegee, regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations. 

“If passed, these amendments will ensure that First Nations will have a choice, a choice as to how they will acquire, hold, and dispose of land,” said Rankin. “They can continue under a corporation, or trust, or the like, or they can choose to own land in the name of the First Nation.”

The proposed amendments are in alignment with the provincial government’s commitments to advancing the Declaration Act Action Plan as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action number 45, which is to reconcile Indigenous and Crown relationships and legal orders as full partners. The legislation also follows the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, reads the province’s press release.

Because of the existing law, First Nations have not been able to own land for development in the same way companies, cities, and individuals could, said Braker.

“It’s a relief that this government has seen fit to finally change and write this terrible wrong,” said Braker. “Now First Nations people will be able to direct their First Nation to go out and take part in the economy.” 

Top image credit: Hugh Braker of the First Nations Summitt Political Executive speaks at a press conference on April 2 about proposed legislation to change laws preventing First Nations from acquiring land in B.C. Behind him stands Terry Teegee, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. (Province of B.C. video still)

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