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B.C. politicians unaware of federal changes to Indian Reserve policy
Politicians in the legislature and municipalities across the province may not be aware of a federal change to a policy document that could have broad implications for their tax base, according to Delta Mayor Lois Jackson.
She said she spoke to Premier Christy Clark at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention last month about the draft changes to the additions-to-reserve policy, but Clark had not even heard about it.
Jackson said when she attended a seminar on the topic at the UBCM there was "surprise" from those who were only hearing about it for the first time.
"I stood, rose, and spoke to the issue," she said. "The provincial aboriginal minister was there, however he had not heard of it before."
The federal government is drafting an update to its additions-to-reserve policy, originally created in 1972 to bridge a legislative gap between the Indian Act and federal law which sets out conditions before land can be added to Indian Reserves.
A concern with the revised document is that it would allow First Nations to add lands to their reserve that are outside of their traditional territory and not contiguous with their existing reserve.
A report to Metro Vancouver last Wednesday warned the changes could allow residential, commercial and industrial development in cities across B.C., resulting in the loss of land, taxes and costs associated with servicing agreements. Chief among those concerns in Delta is the loss of farmland, since the federal powers governing Indian Reserves overrules the province's Agricultural Land Reserve.
There are two First Nations groups in Delta, the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) which is a treaty nation that operates outside of the Indian Act, and the Musqueam Indian Band which owns 142 hectares of farmland in Ladner.
Although TFN isn't affected by the federal change, the Musqueam Indian Band is still federally administered.
Wade Grant, one of the band councillors representing the Musqueam's 1,300 members, said they have no plans to purchase farmland in Delta, nor develop the parcel they currently own.
"Having said that, we recognize the importance of revamping the additions-to-reserve policy," he said, adding an application to add a parcel to an existing reserve can take up to 10 years. "It's antiquated, at the best of times."
Grant said some mayors who have expressed concern with the policy changes, like Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew–who sits on Metro’s aboriginal relations committee and is also the Metro representative to the Union of B.C. Municipalities aboriginal committee–doesn't even have any First Nations members in his community.
"I don't think that it's something mayors across the Lower Mainland should be upset about. I think that if they want to have that conversation we're more than willing to have that conversation with them."
Grant said Lower Mainland municipalities have been around for just over 100 years, while the Musqueam have been living here for thousands of years. And while Musqueam Indian Band's main village is composed of 120 hectares, their historical territory encompasses all of Metro Vancouver.
"It's tough, because people like to lump First Nations all as one group," he said. "And we're not all one group. Musqueam's just as different to Tsawwassen [First Nation] as Delta is to Vancouver. We have different histories, different opportunities."
But Grant said, in general, First Nations opportunities are limited by a lack of lands.
Last week, Delta Council approved that letters be sent to provincial ministers following up on discussions held at the UBCM convention on the topic and that letters be sent to all B.C. mayors and councils, MLAs, ministers, members of parliament, and Senators.