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The Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management was signed by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and 13 First Nations on February 12, 1996. One other First Nation was added as of December 1997. The Agreement is an initiative by these 14 First Nations to take over the management and control of their lands and resources. The Agreement has since expanded to include a number of communities across Canada. It applies only to Signatory Members of the Framework Agreement.
The Framework Agreement sets out the principal components of this new land management process, but it is not a treaty and does not affect treaty or other constitutional rights of the First Nations. The Agreement was ratified and implemented by Canada in the First Nations Land Management Act, assented to June 17, 1999.
The Framework Agreement provides First Nations with the option to manage their reserve lands outside the Indian Act. The option to regain control of their land can only be taken with the consent of the community. Only when each of these First Nations takes control of its lands and resources under the Agreement, shall federal administration of its reserve lands cease under the Indian Act.
A First Nation signatory to the Framework Agreement exercises its land management option by creating its own Land Code, drafting a community ratification process and entering into a further Individual Transfer Agreement with Canada. The specific steps are set out in the Framework Agreement and include the following:
The Land Code: A Land Code, drafted by the community, will be the basic land law of the First Nation and will replace the land management provisions of the Indian Act. The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development will no longer be involved in the management of the First Nation’s reserve lands. The Land Code does not have to be approved by the Minister.
The Land Code is drafted by each First Nation and provides for following matters:
- Identifies the reserve lands to be managed by the First Nation (called “First Nation land”),
- Sets out the general rules and procedures for the use and occupation of these lands by First Nation members and others,
- Provides financial accountability for revenues from the lands (except oil and gas revenues, which continue under federal law),
- Provides the procedures for making and publishing First Nation land laws,
- Provides conflict of interest rules,
- Provides a community process to develop rules and procedures applicable to land on the breakdown of a marriage,
- Identifies a dispute resolution process,
- Sets out procedures by which the First Nation can grant interests in land or acquire lands for community purposes,
- Allows the delegation of land management responsibilities,
- Sets out the procedure for amending the Land Code.
Individual Transfer Agreement: An Individual Transfer Agreement between each community and the Minister will be negotiated to deal with such matters as:
- The reserve lands to be managed by the First Nation,
- The specifics of the transfer of the administration of land from Canada to the First Nation,
- The developmental and operational funding to be provided by Canada to the First Nation for land management.
Community Ratification Process: In order for the First Nation to assume control over its lands, the Land Code and the Individual Transfer Agreement must be ratified by the adult members of the First Nation. All members of the First Nation who are at least 18 years of age, whether living off-reserve or on-reserve, have the right to vote on the Land Code and the Individual Transfer Agreement. The procedure for the community ratification process is developed by the community in accordance with the Framework Agreement.
Federal Legislation: Canada agreed to ratify the Framework Agreement by enacting federal legislation consistent with the Framework Agreement. An Act for this purpose was previously introduced in Parliament on December 10, 1996, but the federal election that year prevented it from being enacted. The Bill was re-introduced as Bill C- 49 in June of 1998. The First Nations Land Management Act was enacted and given royal assent on June 17, 1999.
Verification: An independent person selected jointly by the First Nation and Canada, called a Verifier, will confirm that the community ratification process and Land Code are consistent with the Framework Agreement. The Verifier will monitor the community ratification process to ensure that the rules are followed.
Transfer of Land Management: If the community ratifies the Land Code and Individual Transfer Agreement, control over First Nation land and resources is transferred from under the Indian Act to the First Nation’s land laws and administration.