Academic journal article Human Organization

Implications of Tenure Insecurity for Aboriginal Land Use in Canada

Academic journal article Human Organization

Implications of Tenure Insecurity for Aboriginal Land Use in Canada

Article excerpt

In Canada, Aboriginal peoples are succeeding at regaining portions of their traditional land base. Accomplished through the signing of historic treaties and the negotiation of comprehensive land claims agreements, nearly seven percent of Canada's entire land base is now under the administrative authority of Aboriginal governments. Notwithstanding these accomplishments, it remains unclear whether such territorial gains coincide with a heightened sense of tenure security. Together with the Little Red River Cree Nation of Alberta and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation of the Yukon Territory, we set out to learn how First Nation members perceive their access to traditional lands to be changing over time and by generation. Findings indicate that despite various tenure reforms, First Nation members remain concerned that their traditional territories are susceptible to the interests of others. Given that perceptions of tenure security informs the basis by which people exploit resources, these conditions could potentially intensify into conflict with those who are seen as benefiting at the expense of First Nation members and propagate behaviors yielding higher short-term benefits leading to the over-exploitation of natural resources. While grounded in two Canadian case studies, the findings of this research have broad implications for other countries that are using treaties and other modern forms of agreement making to restructure land tenure arrangements with Aboriginal peoples.

Key words: Aboriginal, Canada, tenure security, resource use, conflict

Introduction

Conflicts between Aboriginal peoples and state governments have taken a variety of forms but perhaps most discernible have been the tensions that have arisen over access and use of natural resources. Occurring in countries throughout the world, these conflicts often arise over contested interests in lands, forests, and other wildlife resources. While at times escalating into violence, conflicts over lands and resources have also led to the formation of more equitable land tenure systems and the creation of new geopolitical institutions designed in part to empower Aboriginal peoples in the land management process. Through such reforms, Aboriginal peoples have been able to assert a priori claim to the lands they have long occupied and are better able to defend against competing land use interests.

In Canada, the signing of historical treaties secured more than 3.2 million hectares of reserve land for First Nations peoples. More recently (1997), First Nation rights to offreserve lands have been strengthened by the courts through the emerging legal landscape of Aboriginal title.1 In Canada's northern territories, where the majority of comprehensive land claims have been settled, Aboriginal peoples have gained a governing interest in over 40 percent of the entire land base. This does not include lands pending in land claim negotiations, for example in some parts of the Northwest Territories, Labrador, or in British Columbia. The Métis, too, have secured a significant territorial base through federal legislation (i.e., Métis Population Betterment Act of 1938) and through the settlement of their own comprehensive land claims (Sahtú Dene and Metis Land Claim Settlement Act 1 994). Together, Aboriginal governments have achieved some degree of administrative authority for nearly seven percent of Canada. The totality of these agreements demonstrates that in Canada "the unthinkable can in fact become commonplace" (Langton, Tehan, and Palmer 2004:9).

Notwithstanding these accomplishments, O'Faircheallaigh (2004) warns that the now fashionable ideology of agreement making needs to be tempered by an interrogation of the substantive outcomes of actual agreements. While Aboriginal peoples in Canada are succeeding at regaining portions of their traditional land base - either through treaty or comprehensive land claims - it remains unclear whether such territorial gains coincide with a heightened sense of tenure security, as defined in terms of justice, fairness, and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the land. …

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