Opportunities are being created across Canada as First Nations take action to unlock the potential of their lands.

Historically, numerous impediments to the development of First Nations land have existed, many associated with restrictions imposed under the Indian Act (Canada)a situation made worse by the paternal role that act established for the federal government as owner and trustee of First Nations lands.

The result?  Among other things, much First Nations land has not come close to realizing its full economic potential.

Over the past couple of decades, a number of legislative initiatives have been implemented that are helping First Nations change this picture, including:

  • the First Nations Land Management Act(Canada), under which First Nations are able to take back responsibility for administering their lands;
  • the First Nations Fiscal Management Act(Canada), which provides First Nations with the ability to assess and levy taxes on their lands and activities on those lands;
  • the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act (Canada), which permits commercially useful provincial laws, such as those governing environmental protection, strata development, builders liens and land title registration, to be incorporated as federal law applicable to First Nations land; and
  • in some provinces, the establishment of modern treaties providing First Nations with a wide range of powers over their lands, including outright ownership.

Additional initiatives, including the proposed federal First Nations Property Ownership Act, may be implemented in the future, further augmenting the property rights First Nations are beginning to enjoy under the above regimes.

The potential value of First Nations land will obviously depend on its location, specific characteristics and the goals of the First Nation since, clearly, not everyone will view the “potential” of particular land through the same lens.

But in economic terms, the above initiatives are already beginning to have significant effect.  In fact, in some areas First Nations are becoming major development players in their own right, creating opportunities not only for themselves, but also for their partners and surrounding communities.  That, combined with the measure of control over their own lands and affairs such regimes afford First Nations, is worth celebrating – and paying attention to.