Nisga’a example

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AN aboriginal band in British Columbia has embarked on a radical journey to fundamentally change the way its people live and, hopefully, launch a national discussion about innovative solutions for native poverty.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/11/2009 (4645 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

AN aboriginal band in British Columbia has embarked on a radical journey to fundamentally change the way its people live and, hopefully, launch a national discussion about innovative solutions for native poverty.

The Nisga’a people have passed a law that would allow them to own reserve property. It means Nisga’a citizens will be able to own their own homes and mortgage the property, or lease or sell it to anyone. Property rights are taken for granted in Canada, but they are a foreign concept on the country’s 600 reserves, which hold land collectively. It means everyone owns the land and the property on it. Unfortunately, when everyone owns a home, no one really owns it.

The ability to own property not only generates wealth and spurs economic development, it fosters pride and self-respect. The Nisga’a band itself says it views the development as a way of helping its people stand on their own.

Most bands in Canada have been reluctant to seek approval for allowing private ownership of property, fearing that such a move would threaten the very existence of the reserve as aboriginal land. In fact, however, most bands already lease land to private businesses and there’s no reason why that model could not be used to encourage residential development.

There may be concerns that private ownership of First Nations’ land would erode aboriginal communities or threaten their very existence, but that’s really an issue for individual bands to work out. A band near Calgary, for example, leased a small fraction of its land for a housing development on the edge of a golf course. The housing complex actually has more people than the reserve itself, but the band does not feel threatened and is grateful for the income.

The Nisga’a solution may not work for every band, but all First Nations should take notice and consider how new property arrangements might help them break free of the cycles of despair and dependency.

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