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Ottawa’s plan to allow private property on reserves re-ignites debate

The Globe And Mail
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo poses for a photograph in Ottawa.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo poses for a photograph in Ottawa.


With Ottawa signalling it plans to table a new law allowing first nations to sell reserve land – to members and outsiders alike – it marks the end of a campaign years in the making. Critics warn it will only alienate many first nations groups while serving no real purpose, arguing adequate land ownership laws already exist.



The debate centres on whether first nations need full land ownership, known as fee simple, to trigger housing and economic development on more than 600 reserves. In doing so, they risk giving up control of parcels of reserve land.

What’s the status quo?

The housing challenges facing Canada’s first nations are overwhelming: a lack of supply, pressing needs for repairs and heavy overcrowding in some cases.

Part of the problem, according to advocates of the Conservatives’ First Nations Property Ownership initiative, is that first nations people don’t “own” their plot of reserve land, and therefore they can’t, for instance, easily take out a mortgage. Instead, it’s up to band councils to build houses and green-light repairs, many of which must be approved by the federal government – a process critics say has become woefully bogged down in red tape.


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