The problem of Native land claims was also much debated in the mid-1980s. The claims processes introduced following the Calder decision had bogged down in the complex issues and cumbersome procedures. By the early 1980s, everyone was frustrated.

Cartoon in which Montreal cartoonist Aislin suggests both the frustration Native leaders and a solution to Canada's unending consitutitonal debates

"Give the Country Back," 1991

This cartoon, by Aislin, suggests both the frustration Native leaders and a solution to Canada's unending consitutitonal debates. The constitutional squabbling between the provinces and Ottawa gave the sense that few leaders wanted to promote national unity. More positively, Native leaders, who had been left out of the constitutional process in the past, participated in discussions during the Charlottetown debates.
Aislin - Montreal.
Over $100 million had been spent on comprehensive claims, but only three agreements had actually been signed. Of the 70 specific claims submitted, only 12 had been settled. Dozens of other groups were still waiting just to be told whether the government would consider their cases. Furthermore, a major philosophic disagreement had emerged over the purpose of the process. Some Aboriginal leaders argued that Aboriginal land title could not (or should not) be signed away, fearing that by giving up their rights to the land, they would also be giving up their other Aboriginal rights.

In 1985, Minister of Indian Affairs David Crombie appointed a committee to investigate the problems with the claims process. The resulting report, entitled Living Treaties, Lasting Agreements, proposed major changes to both the claims process and the purpose behind it. Among its recommendations was the idea that the government should not, as it had done in the old treaties and the first claims settlements like the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975, try to negotiate final settlements in which Aboriginal people gave up their claim to the land. Instead, the report proposed that a process be established to permit negotiation of specific issues as they arose, creating a true social contract between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state. Aboriginal people would continue to have an interest in the land and that interest would have to be considered each time new proposals for land use or resource development arose.

While the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations welcomed the report as a fresh approach to an old problem, officials at the Department of Indian Affairs were less enthusiastic. Instead, officials continued to pursue the approach of negotiating on specific issues. One of the most important of these processes was the Treaty Land Entitlement program which dealt with cases of Western Native groups who had not received all the land to which they were entitled under the terms of the numbered treaties. The first settlement was reached in Saskatchewan after lengthy debate. Under the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement, federal and provincial funds were to be provided over a 12-year period to permit 25 bands to purchase land and mineral rights from those private owners who are willing to sell. Similar agreements are being pursued in Manitoba and Alberta. In another initiative, the government created the Indian Claims Commission in 1991 to act as a sort of review board for specific cases that the regular claims process had not adjudicated to the satisfaction of the group involved.

Written By

Kerry Abel
Adjunct Professor
Carleton University
This is a brief description of Kerry Abel

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