First Nations eye legal action to halt Crown lands lease auction
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Manitoba First Nations are threatening to sue the provincial government over the leasing of Crown lands to farmers and ranchers, arguing treaty rights are being trampled in the process.
The province’s auction of long-term leases for unoccupied Crown lands for foraging and cropping disregards First Nations, said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick.
The agricultural Crown land lease and permit auction began Monday and concludes Saturday. Leases for more than 100 parcels of land across the province are up for grabs, with successful bidders offered contracts of up to 15 years.
“The practice of auctioning off large swaths of unoccupied Crown lands obstructs the exercise of First Nations’ inherent and treaty rights, including the right to hunt and trap,” Merrick said at a news conference at the political advocacy organization’s downtown Winnipeg office.
“It is also in violation of the land promises made in the framework agreement for treaty land entitlement, which continues to remain unfulfilled to this day.”
Merrick was joined Monday by regional grand chiefs from the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, and Anishininew Okimawin (Island Lake Tribal Council) to present a united front in their demand for the auction to be halted.
“We will not stand by and watch our lands and waters be auctioned away,” Merrick said. “The chiefs in assembly have made their voices clear: First Nations in Manitoba will take legal action to enforce our inherent and treaty rights, which are being eroded and infringed by this government’s actions.”
According to the AMC, chiefs are concerned the Manitoba government did not provide proper and adequate notice to affected bands in the vicinity of the lands up for lease.
Under the Manitoba Natural Resources Transfer Agreement, the province is required to set aside unoccupied Crown land to settle Canada’s obligations under treaty land entitlement. The Manitoba Framework Agreement to provide owed land to First Nations represented by the treaty land entitlement committee was signed in 1997.
The agreement sets out the process for creation of reserve land. Manitoba has also signed treaty land entitlement settlements and agreements with individual bands.
It is estimated only half of the Crown lands promised under the Manitoba Framework Agreement have been set aside, the AMC said, calling for the auction to be postponed until the province confirms First Nations have been adequately consulted.
The Progressive Conservative government’s actions are not consistent with its words on reconciliation, said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels. Productive Crown land being leased for agricultural purposes could instead improve the socioeconomic conditions of First Nations through treaty land entitlement, he said.
“We’re in an era where many of our communities have been waiting a very long time to have lands returned, and we’ve been side-tracked by all sorts of legal impediments that have made it challenging for our communities to have their lands returned back to our nations.”
In a statement, a government spokesperson said the treaty land entitlement consultation process was followed, noting less than half of the parcels are subject.
“Per that process, notice was given to First Nations within the TLE community interest zone, 120 days in advance and 30 days online notice with list of parcels,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.
“Our government is committed to ongoing dialogue with First Nations leadership regarding resource management and the use and allocation of Crown lands.”
Treaty land entitlement committee president and Sapotaweyak Cree Nation Chief Nelson Genaille said he was not given notice of available Crown land ahead of the auction.
Genaille said he expects the matter to be heard by the treaty land entitlement implementation monitoring committee, which is tasked with addressing disputes. However, bands may also choose to pursue the matter in court concurrently, and would likely be successful, he said.
“All the provincial government has to do is let us do business,” Genaille said. “Instead, we’ll waste our time going to court and waste our money and resources and, at the end of the day, the provincial government loses anyway — maybe that’s what the taxpayers need to know.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.