Land claim settlement could open doors for others

The landmark claim settlement that was formally signed Friday during the annual Rainy River First Nations fish fry represents not only a significant event in its own right, but could well become a springboard for claims pending in other parts of the country.
At least, that’s the opinion of federal Indian and Northern Affairs minister Andy Scott, who was one of the officials present to sign the deal.
The long-standing land claim and its successful resolution has set the pattern for how to manage such things and could well provide the impetus to hasten others, he noted.
“I think this is good because success breeds success,” Scott said as he finished his plate of walleye fillets, wild rice casserole, and smoked sturgeon.
He also believes there’s been a change at the federal level regarding how such claims are addressed.
“But I also believe the work that was started last April as part of the round-table process will cause some of the narrow administrative policies that the Government of Canada had adopted to be challenged by the process,” Scott remarked.
“I think the government will reveal at the end of May some changes around that and it could have a huge effect on future settlements.”
The problem, said Scott, has not been the result of any malice or lack of commitment on the part of government, but rather a case of profound institutional inertia.
“My sense is the Government of Canada is genuinely committed at the political level, but we have a long history of doing it one way,” he admitted. “The government is a big institution and you don’t make major changes in big institutions easily.”
But with the settlement of the largest land claim in Ontario, there seems to be sufficient momentum in Ottawa now to begin those changes.
“I really think we are moving beyond that,” Scott insisted. “I can sense it among my colleagues and an excitement among career public servants who have always been of the view that they would like to operate a certain way, but have simply not had the political leadership to allow them to do that.”
Scott believes the successful settlement of this high-profile case seems to finally have provided that political direction.
He pointed to four land claim negotiations in British Columbia currently under negotiation that may well be settled much sooner than usual as a direct result of last week’s events here.
“A combination of the success we’ve had so far, coupled with the desire on the part of the government to tweak some of the policies to make them more success-friendly, means we’re entering a new era and it’s going to show itself right across the country,” Scott predicted.