Bill 13: Amendments to allow First Nations communities to own and hold land

Apr 4, 2024 | 42-5, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

For more than 175 years, First Nations communities have not been able to own land in the name of their First Nation. The province is finally amending the Land Title and Property Law Acts to allow Indigenous communities to hold land as they determine is in their best interest.

These changes while seemingly minor and deep implications. Indeed, the laws prohibiting First Nations land ownership, federal mortgage rules and many others have been the key contributors to the challenges Indigenous communities experience.

In this response, I speak to some of the issues and celebrate another step towards Indigenous self-determination.


Thank you for this opportunity to speak to Bill 13, the Land Title and Property Law Amendment Act, 2024, and I appreciate the work that’s been done.

I think that, perhaps, some of the comments are going to reflect a matter of perspective, specifically when it comes to pace of change. I think that when we look back to the history of this province 175-plus years ago, the fact that we are in 2024 now making a change that allows an Indigenous First Nation to hold land the way that they would like to hold land, whether they want to hold it within their nation or whether they want to hold it within a corporation, which they’ve been forced to do up until this point, we begin to see just the pace of change of this institution. It’s taken a long time.

As I’ve been listening to the comments that have been made here, both by the minister and by the critic from the official opposition, I think it is important to recognize that one perspective of this bill is that it’s a small change. Indigenous First Nations, Indian People under the Indian Act, will now be able to hold land the way that they choose. It has big implications, both from how Indigenous governments hold land and also, I think, from a philosophical and a psychological perspective.

[3:55 p.m.]

I think that it is important for us to recognize that this is both a minor change, in terms of…. The bills that we have come before us have 60 pages, 70 pages, 80 pages. This is just a few pages, but the meaning behind it is important.

The reflection that Indigenous people are going to be able to choose to hold the land and, as it was pointed out, that they are going to have the power and capacity of a natural person — that’s what this government has chosen to define — is a big change in terms of the philosophical and the approach that Indigenous people might have.

I think that it is important to reflect on what’s happened here over the past number of weeks, the last couple of months, around land. It does go right back to the heart of the central conflict that has always plagued this province: the land question. I talked about it in my Bill 44 debate last fall. I raise it again here.

The fact of the matter is that we have, in this province, been running in the opposite direction of the land question. It was a question that was asked by the first elected officials of this place, even before they were elected. It was the recognition that those who set up this province didn’t do the business the way they should have done.

And so, indeed, a lot of what the official opposition critic was talking about, when it comes to land and all of the details that he outlined very effectively, go back to how this province has been established, how it was set up, the fact that those original members of this government didn’t do the business as the Crown suggested the business should be done.

So, we have spent the vast majority of our time in our relations with Indigenous people fighting in courts because this government here doesn’t want to give up the power and authority that it has asserted over the land. And it doesn’t necessarily want to just give up that power and authority to a body that, for the last 175 years, they have been making the claim shouldn’t have any of it or don’t deserve any of it.

It goes right back to the difference in view that many Indigenous people have about how land is held, the relationship to land, a fundamental difference of philosophical opinion about whether you own land as property, or whether you belong to the land that you’re from. Certainly, that is a key issue and was a key issue at the heart of the Douglas treaties that were here: the different view about relationship to land.

This colonial government structure that was set up on top of the land base and the business that wasn’t done that the courts have said needed to be done have created that conflict that we’re beginning to work through here in this Legislature. It’s work that I’m very proud of, that I’ve been a part of going back to 2019, as a member who was able to proudly stand when we passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

I think that the reflection on Indigenous leaders standing up and saying, “It’s a step; we’re not done yet,” is also a reflection of the fact that we have many, many, many more steps to go in this journey of reconciliation that we have. The full realization of what the Declaration Act could mean — the right to self-determination, the ability for Indigenous people to self-determine — is something that I think that all British Columbians, everybody here should be excited about because, actually, the laws like the one that we’re discussing today, the changes that are much needed, are exactly the reason why we can have members stand up in this House and talk about the capacity of First Nations people.

[4:00 p.m.]

Because the laws that limited Indigenous people’s access to land ownership and owning land, the abilities to benefit from our own territorial lands, those restrictions that are in the Indian Act and that, indeed, are in the laws here in British Columbia, the ones that were changing with Bill 13, are exactly the reason why the conditions that we have in our communities are the way they are.

And so is Bill 13 going to solve the problem, overcome the challenge, be the fuel we need to fix all the ills? No, it’s not.

While we celebrate these changes in Bill 13, it’s important to remind the minister and his colleagues in the cabinet, and all future members of our executive, that the distance that we have yet to travel, the mountain that we have to scale, is still great.

While we celebrate these small changes with big implications, we remind we’re not there yet. We’re a long way from being where we need to be. I think that that is exactly the role that First Nations’ leaders need to play.

The debate that happens in this chamber is indicative of the reason why First Nations, Status Indians need to be in this chamber to be able to inform the debate from all of the various sides that we’re going to view the situation from. Because for too long, this chamber has been void of those experiences. The discussion in this chamber has largely been around what the interests of the Crown government are in this debate.

We are now starting to see the voices, even voices that may be in disagreement with each other, Indigenous voices that might be coming from the polar opposite sides of the spectrum, putting their thoughts on the record, informing the debate, talking about things that have never been talked about in this chamber — acknowledging the things that this chamber has done, everything that it could do to ignore and to paper over — and of illuminating the entire debate and the entire discussion.

The capacity to own land or the lack of it, in the way that Indigenous communities wanted to own land, is a reflection of the overall capacity.

I get tired listening about the capacities of First Nations. It’s normally done in the lack thereof. One of those lack of capacities, up until about 2008, was for an Indian person living on an Indian reserve, with a certificate of possession, to be able to actually get a mortgage. A lot of people don’t know this in British Columbia. This was changed in 2008 for the first time. For the first time in our country, an Indian person on an Indian reserve was able to get a mortgage to build their own home.

I’ve heard a lot in my life about why it is this or why is it that or how did it end up being that way. When we realize that actually these seemingly innocuous little laws…. Well, First Nations people, Indian people can’t get a mortgage to deal with their own houses. So how is it that they’re to get their house then? Are they to achieve something that virtually nobody else in this country achieves, and that is to have 100 percent of the cost of their home ready for the moment that they’re ready to build their home? Nobody else has that requirement.

The fact of the matter is that when we look at the capacity, and we talk about the capacity, we talk about it through the lens of lacking the capacity.

[4:05 p.m.]

We should track that back to all of the laws and the rules that have been created in these institutions designed to limit the capacity of First Nations people in order to benefit the capacity of the people in this institution.

There have always been two sets of rules. There’s always been a set of rules for Indigenous people and a set of rules for everybody else. That’s true. And so while this is not the full-scale breadth and scope of decolonization, it’s these acts that represent singular steps towards a fair, more just society in which Indigenous people can self-realize and self-determine their future. That’s something that I’m proud to support in this initiative and proud to celebrate as we go forward.

I heard — and I get it, because it’s challenging — the reference to the outdated term of “Indians,” just the word “Indian.” It needs to be just said that for as long as we have an Indian Act in Ottawa that’s defining Indian as a thing and an Indian reserve as a thing, there will be Indians and there will be Indian reserves. And if we’re uncomfortable about that, then write your Member of Parliament.

That is something that we often apologize for, but yet it actually is just a legal thing. There is a legal definition. I’ve got a certificate of Indian status. So if we’re uncomfortable by that, then write your Member of Parliament and get them to do the work of finally tearing down that racist piece of legislation.
I get why people feel uncomfortable saying the word, because there’s so much wrapped up in it, because there’s so much history. There’s so much of the discussion, the debate and the discomfort that we’re having here in this chamber about these issues wrapped up in it as well.

I think that part of the challenge is that until we decide to turn and face the land conflict question directly, head on…. I think, as was pointed out by the previous member who spoke, that it’s more than just consulting with First Nations people and Indigenous people. It’s consulting with…. These are truly not just benefits for First Nations people. Truly, the discussion benefits everybody who lives in this province if it’s done properly.

Until that happens, then we will continue to see the political advantage that’s taken, that’s always been taken, to point fingers and to divide and to separate. That is what becomes so uncomfortable for me. That is the reason why I respond with so much discomfort when I see the advantage being taken because it’s so easy, because it’s so deeply ingrained in the tropes in our society.

Even this: “How are we possibly going to trust those Indian people with land and money? Those are two things, because they’ve never developed land like we would.” Well, for many First Nations people, they don’t have the same kind of relationship to land that this institution has, and we’ve never stopped to understand that. We’ve never stopped to fully and deeply understand that different relationship. We’ve just steamrolled right across the whole thing, and we’ve built all sorts of storylines and narratives that we tell ourselves about it to justify our activities, to justify our approaches and to just not stop and look back and understand why it is that there are those differences of opinion and those differences of approaches.

When I look at this change, I think that the consultation, the pace of change that’s been mentioned, the fact that we now start to see the Council of Haida Nation be recognized by this government….

[4:10 p.m.]

What I want to celebrate in this is that some of those old tropes, some of those old ways that government viewed Indigenous people in this province, are being taken down. They’re being dismantled. And this is an indication of that. Work that’s to come is an indication of how that’s being dismantled.

When we reflect back on eight, nine, ten weeks ago, when we were discussing the Land Act, I think that’s an indication to all of us in this chamber that we have a long way to go on how we do this work, on how we approach this work and how we honour the systems in this province that have not done a great job of telling the story of who we are in a truthful way.

We’ve told a certain story about who we are. But we’ve not told the whole story. And people can’t be to blame for that, if the entire story of the history of this province has not been laid out clearly — clearly as it is for most Indigenous people who have lived on the Indian reserve side of the line, looking out at the world and wondering how it is that that is that way and this is this way.

Very few people have lived on the other side of the line and asked the same question. What they’ve done is they’ve fallen into the trap saying: “There’s a capacity issue over there. Those people have a capacity issue.” Never asking the question why.

And this is an example of one of those. Bill 13 is an example of one of those reasons why the capacities are different. The fact that my family couldn’t get a mortgage for their family home, like the people who live right across the road, is another reason why the capacity is different.

I want to just take a moment here to acknowledge that the project of reconciliation, the project of the Declaration Act, is a big one. It’s going to take time. It’s going to happen over multiple governments.

This gives me an opportunity to once again encourage the government, this government and future governments, to use the Aboriginal Affairs Committee so that what we can do is build these projects and have these discussions and honour the spirit of what my colleague from Vancouver-Langara was talking about, which is that we in opposition hear about these things when they’re done and they’re in front of us as an amendment act.

However, there is no harm. There is no harm. In fact, there is only benefit — to Indigenous people, to people who live in British Columbia, everybody who lives here in this province, to British Columbians — for these conversations and these introductions to these initiatives to be done at a much earlier stage.

Indeed, we look across the province and see parliaments that are established with the very same culture as established this one, using committees very effectively to inform the legislators as they go along, to hear the concerns of the legislators early in the process. To be able to invite First Nations leaders so we don’t have to sit in this House and speculate what they might be thinking. They can come and speak to us, and we can ask questions, and we can encourage a dialogue and we can get to know each other.

There was much, much more of that in the past on these issues, embracing a much more open dialogue around this.

[4:15 p.m.]

I really encourage the current government, even in the waning days of this parliament, and the future governments to take advantage of the committee structures that we have, to build positive momentum, to get in front of the conflicts and the challenges in an effective way.

It might not be needed for Bill 13. It could be needed for future initiatives that we have coming in front of us. And we can find that, actually, what ends up happening is that the initiative that government has momentum being built around gets completely sidelined because of a failure of communication, a failure of consultation — even a simple miscommunication.

And this is a way for us to recognize the fact that the committee structure is a way for us to understand that the project is meaningful and it is long. Indeed, it’s a project that we will walk together forever. And if we can figure out a way to effectively use those structures to invite different voices in, to inform the legislators — not just Indigenous people and lawyers, as the member earlier was saying…. The business community. Property rights organizations. The B.C. Real Estate Association was mentioned.

I think that this institution can learn a lot, and it can build a positive energy around this, rather than the very disruptive, very divisive, very awful-feeling energy that has been around these issues historically and that if you just scratch the surface, you can find again. I think that that’s the thing that I fear the most: that just scratching the surface can expose some pretty ugly feelings, some pretty ugly beliefs that need to be addressed. We need a positive and productive space to do it in.

I’m going to stop talking about the Aboriginal Affairs Committee. I know that it’s not what we’re here to talk about, but it is, I think, an important opportunity to highlight how we can build positive relations across the diverse political spectrum that is always going to be represented in this House, in order to positively move forward these initiatives and see them through to success.

With that, I appreciate this as part of the dismantling of a system here that was very, very favourable to this House and did not consider the conditions in other governing bodies with any seriousness whatsoever. I appreciate that now, First Nations communities, once this bill passes, will have the opportunity to place their land however they choose to own it. It will be similar to anybody else who owns land. I think that that will be welcome.

Whether First Nations communities or Indigenous communities decide to take it or not, it’s an indication that this government and this institution are listening, are understanding that it’s meaningful for First Nations leaderships to have these changes happen and that, indeed, for us to come together around them and be supportive of it, I think, is really critical. So that’s the reason why I think that the processes in here and the processes of government really matter.

With that, thank you for the opportunity to speak. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.


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