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Land Claims

Land Claims or Treaty Land Entitlement

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 decreed that First Nations should not be disturbed in their use and enjoyment of the land. It also declared that only the Crown could acquire land from Aboriginal peoples, and only through treaty-making. The Royal Proclamation set the framework for negotiation based on co-operation rather than conquest.

Treaty making soon became the main mechanism for defining the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. The last of the historical treaties was signed in 1923. At that time, the federal government made it a criminal offence for Aboriginal peoples  to hire a lawyer to pursue land claims settlements.

As a result, 100 years after the signing of Treaty 8, there is a large and ever expanding debate over land, jurisdiction and borders. Consequently, many issues remain around the decision-making process that effectively ceded huge amounts of land to the Crown and, as a result, the issues surrounding the authority and the upholding of those old agreements tend to become clouded.

From the Aboriginal peoples perspective, even the semantics of these debates are important. Many Aboriginal groups prefer to use the term "Land Entitlement" as opposed to "Land Claims". The rationale being that the word "claim" infers a desire to take possession of something that is not of your ownership, and that the word "entitlement" infers that possession is not a question, it is a right.

In Canada, the Federal Government negotiates three types of claims. These are:

  1. Comprehensive Claims

These are claims on land known to have been the traditional territory of Aboriginal peoples. Traditional land has been recognized as having Aboriginal Title by Canadian law in a royal proclamation guaranteeing that such Traditional lands would not be interfered with by the Crown unless consent of the Aboriginal peoples involved was first granted. Comprehensive Claims are those negotiated by the federal government based on Aboriginal Title.    

  1. Specific Claims

These are claims based on cases where the Provincial of Federal Government allegedly violated a specific legal obligation to an Aboriginal community set out in a treaty, statute or common law. These claims are based on illegal expropriation of Aboriginal lands, breach of trust, fraud committed by government or an agent acting on its behalf, failure to implement promises made in a treaty or any other agreement or any other violation of Canadian law.

  1. Special Claims 

These are claims that do not directly fit into the Specific or Comprehensive claims process' but are still valid claims.

For more information on First Nations Land Claims and Entitlement issues, please check out some of the websites listed below:

  • First Peoples on Schoolnet: An online guide to First Nations resources on the web including cultural, political, social and educational groups
  • Aboriginal Claims in Canada: Online guide to resources available at the University of Alberta regarding land claims issues, includes searchable database
  • Indian Claims Commission: Independent body set up to help First Nations and the federal government settle claims.  Full of information on how to conduct inquiries into claims when the government has breached an agreement, treaty or statute, such as the Indian Act.
  • Aboriginal Canada Portal: Guide to Canadian Aboriginal on-line resources, contacts, information, and government programs and services. The portal offers ease of access and navigation to listings of Aboriginal associations, businesses, organizations, bands, communities, groups, news and peoples


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