Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Head, heart say no to private property

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Whenever I hear the argument about property rights on reserves, I am reminded of the line from Field of Dreams: "Build it and they will come."

In this case, though, it would be "grant property rights on First Nations and prosperity will follow."

However, has anyone ever studied enhanced property rights on First Nations or mounted a defence beyond vague references to the effect it is how modern society operates?

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against people owning private property.

Count them -- four generations in my family going back to my grandfather and grandmother have owned private property.

In fact, I grew up in a Winnipeg suburb with parents who bought their own home, paid off a mortgage, paid the same taxes as anyone else and maintained the home.

That said, however, I think, and feel, First Nations land should be held communally for the benefit of all descendants of First Nation people.

Granting property rights to an impoverished population will only erode a land base that is already too inadequate to sustain the current population.

Now, if communities established with a vote the majority want to experiment with property rights, then more power to them.

First Nations that could take advantage of property rights would be those communities located close to growing urban centres, or ones possessed of resources that are coveted by the settler society.

The vast majority of First Nations, however, are in areas where private property ownership would have no effect.

Let's examine comments made by Sen. Patrick Brazeau to QMI Agency that allowing private property on First Nations "will assist individuals to get mortgages, bank loans and it may (incent) non-aboriginal businesses to invest on reserve, therefore creating jobs."

These arguments are hardly new -- they've been around since Confederation, if not earlier.

Now here's how a study could be conducted: have a real estate agent, banker and entrepreneurial consultant flown into a community like Garden Hill Cree Nation, for instance.

The real estate agent could assess the value of a home and the adjacent land if that person were to receive title.

The banker then could assess how much could be borrowed, the rate of interest and if the bank would even make a loan to someone with private property in Garden Hill.

As someone who is an entrepreneur and has completed an entrepreneur program through the Business Development Bank of Canada, in addition to being a post-secondary graduate, I know there are consultants who will sit down with an individual to assess a business idea or business plan.

Community members could be enticed, through a monetary reward, to participate in the game or, excuse me, study.

After learning the relative value of property and the value of the loan, the participant can then sit down with the business consultant to have their business idea or plan assessed.

I don't think free-market or private-property ideologues are in a rush to learn there are basic flaws to this idea including:

-- Land is not that valuable a commodity in remote locations with little to no access;

-- Loans are not that easy to secure and come with conditions that would be difficult for First Nations people to pay back;

-- First Nation residents lack the experience in starting up and running a successful business.

Further to that, most people in mainstream society lack the expertise to properly set up and manage a business never mind First Nations not steeped in the traditions of free enterprise and entrepreneurial activity.

For example, Small Business Administration-Canada stats show more than half of new businesses will fail in the first five years.

With unemployment and poverty at much higher rates on First Nations than in mainstream communities, I predict the failure rate of new business ventures on First Nation communities would be even higher.

There has to be a clear discussion of the reasons why First Nations are not self-sufficient.

Tinkering with the basic design of First Nations will do nothing to alleviate the soul-crushing poverty and the consequential social conditions.

Trevor Greyeyes is a freelance writer in Peguis First Nation.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 A14

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