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National Specific Claims Research Associations Open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Specific Claims Research Associations Call for Immediate Restoration of Funding

February 26, 2014

Last week, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) notified Claims Research Associations and First Nations across Canada that funding for specific claims research and development will be drastically cut beginning April 1, 2014.

The Research Directors of these associations are directly responsible for advancing hundreds of specific claims across Canada for hundreds of First Nations. We call on you to immediately restore funding for this critical work.

Specific claims deal with Canada’s failure to fulfill historical lawful obligations to honour its treaty promises to First Nations and to protect reserve lands and assets from illegal alienation and mismanagement.  The Government of Canada acknowledged its widespread failure to meet these obligations when it established policies and processes to address and resolve specific claims. The most recent of these, The Specific Claims Action Plan: Justice at Last, was announced by your Government in 2007.

Your commitment to the just resolution of specific claims as stated in Justice at Last necessarily includes a duty to fund research since First Nations are required under the specific claims policy to provide detailed, accurate historical research and legal opinions for claims to be considered by Canada.  This duty is clearly articulated in Justice at Last which includes as one of its four pillars “dedicated funding for claims settlements [which] will underscore Canada’s commitment to honour its outstanding debts to First Nations.”  The process for claims settlement includes research.  Access to the Specific Claims Tribunal, the legislated independent body authorized to make final and binding decisions on specific claims, is limited to those First Nations whose claims submissions meet an imposed “Minimum Standard”. Providing secure, sufficient research funding is essential to obtain true justice and resolution of these grievances.

Justice will not be achieved if the latest funding cuts to research are implemented. The funding cuts mean First Nations will not be able to develop new claims, nor finalize and submit claims for which significant amounts of work have already been completed.  None of these claims will have access to justice promised by the creation of the Specific Claims Tribunal.

In recent media reports AANDC officials have attempted to characterize specific claims as winding down, citing large numbers of claims settled through negotiations and suggesting that few new claims are entering the “system”.  These statements are misleading. After your Justice at Last announcement, AANDC processed a large backlog of specific claims that had previously languished at the Department of Justice for years. Of these, only 14% have been settled; 86% of specific claims have been either rejected outright or had their files closed after Canada made untenable and explicitly non-negotiable offers that most First Nations could not accept.

The reality is that large numbers of new claims are currently being researched. Claims research associations across Canada report hundreds of claims yet to be filed. Many of these new claims arise directly from AADNC’s “partial acceptance” policy: First Nations are now being forced to split allegations into small, discreet issues, each of which must be submitted as a separate claim as Canada now demands a release on all rejected portions of longer, more complex claims. These partial stories are not the ones First Nations want to tell, nor are they the stories that need to be told to achieve resolution. They are isolated actions without proper context that do not allow for fair negotiations or meaningful resolution.

To hint at the potential impacts of this situation, one research association reports that it has had to split four of its claims into 22 new claims to avoid signing releases on any of its issues. To predict an exponential rise in the numbers of new claims may be an understatement.

The First Nations are becoming increasingly alarmed at what they see as the undermining of the substantive goals of Justice At Last, most significantly the fair and just resolution of specific claims. This is evidenced by your government’s unwillingness to fairly negotiate many claims, issuing misleading reports about the success of Justice at Last and now administering deep cuts to research funding.

The resolution of all specific claims is a priority for First Nations, not only those claims that AANDC determines as priorities. Unresolved specific claims, grounded as they are in the Crown’s historical wrongdoings, represent actual and substantial hardship to First Nations and devastating economic losses to communities.

The resolution of all specific claims is vital for all Canadians since unresolved claims are a fundamental barrier to investment by industry.

The honour of the Crown and the goal of Crown-First Nation reconciliation in this country must take precedence over bureaucratic goals. This work must be properly funded and denial of funding is tantamount to denial of access to justice for First Nations.

We urgently call on you to restore research funding so that all specific claims may achieve the long awaited justice they deserve.


Algonquin Nation Secretariat
Alliance of Tribal Nations
Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq
Conseil Tribal Mamuitin
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
Grand Council Treaty #3
Lesser Slave Lake Regional Council
Nishnawbi-Aski Nation
Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council
Specific Claims Research Centre
Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Nova Scotia
The Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI
Treaty 8 Tribal Administration
Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Centre of Manitoba
Tsuu T’ina Nation
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Union of Ontario Indians


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