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Old 09-25-2006, 05:37 AM   #1
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Ownership remains the issue for First Nations housing

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Ownership remains the issue for First Nations housing

Jason Warick, Saskatchewan News Network
Published: Saturday, September 23, 2006

Reporters Barb Pacholik and Jason Warick travelled the province this summer
investigating the housing conditions of some First Nations people.
They examined the faults -- families suffering in overcrowded, on-reserve
houses plagued by mould and despair; a woman dying of tuberculosis because her
home made her sick; fire traps in the inner city; and conditions in some areas
that draw comparisons to the Third World.
We asked the federal, provincial and First Nations governments for their
responses.
The reporters also looked at the work being done to fix the flaws.
Some First Nations, like Fishing Lake, Lac la Ronge, Cowessess and Pasqua,
as well as one inner-city neighbourhood in Regina are crafting their own
solutions. They're constructing innovative homes, trying private ownership on
communal land, or attacking substandard and unsafe housing head-on -- building
from the ground up to provide a solid foundation that could be a blueprint for
the future.
See Tuesday's Leader-Post for Faults & Foundations, a special 10-page
examination of First Nations housing issues.

Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice says individuals should be able
to buy and sell reserve land, a statement that is drawing cold responses
from First Nations leaders.
"To have a circumstance where 617 First Nations across the country are living
as collectivities without private property ownership, I don't think is
constructive,"To have a circumstance where 617 First Nations across the country ar
Several First Nations have allowed individual band members to own their own
homes in recent years, but the land continues to be a shared resource.
Prentice said that needs to change.
"It's important for any citizen in Canada to have the ability in their own
community to buy and invest in property, mortgage it, service the mortgage and
move forward," he said.
"It's the whole basis of wealth creation in our society."
According to Prentice, the long-standing tradition of communal land ownership
denies First Nations people their right to participate in the economy.
"Many First Nations are sitting on extremely valuable property that is not
achieving its highest and best use," he said.
"Part of that is that there's no opportunity for private citizens to own
their own property, and I think that's wrong."
Private land ownership is one key to helping reserve residents, who are among
the poorest in society, improve their standard of living, he said.
Various lobby groups have called for the privatization of reserve land, but
the Conservative Party of Canada never mentions it in its platform.
Its policy declaration supports transferring reserve land title from the
Crown to any willing First Nation, but says nothing about individual property
ownership. Prentice's comments came as a surprise to Native leaders.
"We've never talked about private land ownership," Assembly of First Nations
Chief Phil Fontaine said.
Fontaine said privatizing reserve land has been resisted in the past by First
Nations. The buying and selling of reserve land by individuals could "result
in the alienation of our lands."
He said it's "absolutely untrue" that a lack of private land ownership causes
poverty on reserves. The real causes are the lack of federal funds for basic
human needs such as clean water and schools.
When told of Prentice's comments, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
Vice-Chief Guy Lonechild said he "had not heard that before. (The
Conservatives) have not discussed that with us.
"It causes me concern. We would never say that's the way to go. It would not
provide the solutions we need."
Lonechild said parcelling out land to individuals would severely undermine
the strength and traditions of First Nations.
"The land is there for us to use together," he said.
Various academics say the Conservatives would have a major fight on their
hands if they tried to push this idea through.
"It would cause them nothing but grief," said University of Saskatchewan
history Prof. Michael Cottrell.
"This is their land. They have a right to decide how it is used. For hundreds
of years, they have insisted on collective land ownership."
As Cottrell and fellow U of S history Prof. Keith Carlson note, federal
governments dating back to John A. Macdonald in the late 1800s have tried and
failed to break reserve land into individually owned plots.
Carlson said the Conservatives' underlying principle is, "Native people have
to be more like us. They're going to do the best they can to ensure that."
U of S economics Prof. Eric Howe said private ownership of reserve land won't
improve most people's standard of living, even if it became a reality.
"Economic development for aboriginal people will require even more movement
to where the jobs are, which is the cities," Howe said.
"But the first question asked in any of this should be, 'Is this something
aboriginal people want?' "
The Leader-Post (Regina) 2006
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