Thursday, May 31, 2007

Native Land Claims

Well the season of native land claims appears to be on us like a horde of hungry mosquitoes looking for blood, and given some of the recent rhetoric and claims, the comparison would appear to be an apt one.

I’m old enough to recall when Canada's First Nations people had a legitimate beef with the various governments to be able to use the lands they were granted under various treaties in order to be able to maintain their traditional lifestyle by using the natural resources on those lands. This primarily consisted of fishing and hunting rights unencumbered by such “white man” rules as catch limits or open seasons. Fair enough. Before we came, those rules did not exist, and if they over-hunted their lands, they would be the only people to suffer, so there was a self-regulating mechanism in place.

That then morphed into being able to use the land commercially in order to generate income for the band. Unrestricted logging, the over-fishing of commercial fisheries, and other abuses ensued as the natives refused to recognise the white man’s rules on the use of such natural resources or for that matter have them applied to their commercial behaviour. (It’s curious that they are very quick to lever the laws of the land when it suits their purpose, and deny their authority when it doesn’t.) At any rate, I don’t believe the original treaty signatories had the intent to establish tobacco-smuggling jurisdictions or considered the clear-cutting of virgin forest to be an appropriate use of the land. While it was a stretch to view that the original intent was to use the land as an income-generator rather than simply a means of maintaining a traditional lifestyle, one could rationalise the various legal decisions that allowed for such use.

However the latest demands go so far beyond what could possibly have been imagined or intended by the various treaties as to be laughable. The claim that’s being made now is for total ownership of the airspace above the native lands, which would mean that any incursion into that space by cellular phone traffic, radio and television signals, aircraft, or anything else some shiny-suited lawyer can come up with is open for negotiation and subject to some sort of valuation and ultimately a pay-off.

This has clearly gone too far. If we’re going to continually be brought back to intent by native leaders (the “I don’t care what was signed, this is what my great-grandmother told me before she died they thought the deal was” school of negotiation) then let’s apply intent across the board. If it didn’t exist and couldn’t possibly have been contemplated at the time, then it doesn’t apply. Full stop.

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