Changing land tenure, defining subjects: Neoliberalism and property regimes on native reserves Jessica Dempsey, Kevin Gould and Juanita Sundberg
Note: This may not be the final version of the chapter, as it is currently in process of publication. These are contradictory times in Canada. The United Nations (UN) Development Index consistently ranks Canada among the top 10 states, yet First Nations in Canada would rank sixtyeighth (Assembly of First Nations n.d.). One out of four First Nations children live in poverty, whereas for non-First Nations Canadian children this ratio is one in six. These discrepancies are compounded by the fact that non-Aboriginal Canadians earn almost twice the annual income of Aboriginal peoples. This situation led the UN Office of the High Commission on Human Rights’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to overtly criticize the Canadian government for its deplorable record on First Nations’ poverty. In 1998, the committee called for an urgent national strategy on the issue and, in 2006, it expressed serious concern about Canada’s lack of progress on First Nations poverty (CESCR 2006). At the same time, a number of recent Supreme Court verdicts have challenged the legacy of colonial history in Canada. Through a stream of progressive rulings on Aboriginal rights and title (i.e., Supreme Court of Canada decisions in Delgamuukw (1997) and Haida (2004), and the BC Supreme Court decision in December 2007 known as Xeni Gwet’in, or the Williams decision), the Supreme Court has made very clear the legal responsibilities the Canadian government has to First Nations. Alongside such legal challenges is a broad international mobilization in favour of indigenous rights as demonstrated by the recent passage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007. Canada, however, was one of four countries to vote against the General Assembly’s decision, along with the United States, 2 Australia and New Zealand (although in April 2009 with a new government Australia endorsed the declaration).
Steps to address ongoing inequalities in Canada are equally contradictory. Stephen Harper's Conservative government rejected the Kelowna Accords, which would have invested $5 billion in First Nations communities over 10 years. Yet the Premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, recently reversed his government’s position on First Nations relations by moving towards a policy of reconciliation. In March of 2009 the Campbell government announced it would introduce recognition and reconciliation legislation that would finally recognize Aboriginal title within the province. The main Aboriginal institution in the province, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, welcomed this move (UBCIC 2009), although only a couple of days after the announcement, the government and First Nations leadership decided to postpone any legislation until after the upcoming provincial election in May 2009. It is within this rather contradictory political context that Tom Flanagan, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta, a senior fellow with the conservative think-tank The Fraser Institute, and a close advisor to Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has put forth a proposal to address “aboriginal self-determination” and poverty reduction. In conjunction with his colleague Christopher Alcantara, himself a political science professor at the University of Toronto, Flanagan has penned a series of academic and policy papers (Flanagan and Alcantara 2002; Flanagan and Alcantara 2004, 2005) advocating the expansion of private property rights on reserves, which are framed as “a necessary ... precondition to attaining widespread prosperity on Indian reserves" (Flanagan and Alcantara 2002: 4.). While Flanagan and Alcantara build their arguments around case law and oral testimony from particular First Nations territories, these...