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Community Ratification Vote of the Norway House Cree Nation Land Law

To many who read this article, it may seem rather detailed and focused only on Norway House Cree Nation (NHCN). While it is true that this is a purely NHCN initiative, First Nation Land Laws and First Nation's management of their own lands marks a significant step in self government, development and progress across the country. It moves us from a place where we are simply being 'wards' of the government of Canada and where our lands are managed by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) under the Indian Act. With this initiative we are taking real and practical steps forward in self-government and local development.

For centuries prior to the Treaties, First Nations have taken the responsibility of taking care of their own territories and the resources that lay within, and it is time to take back this responsibility. This is true across the land. For communities that are subject to the mechanisms of INAC, progress is extremely bureaucratic, cumbersome and slow. So much so that one might question whether progress is happening at all. The Land Law as means for self-government is an important key to the future development and success of First Nations communities and economies.

In Manitoba for example, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Chemawawin Cree Nation, Swan Lake First Nation, Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Misipawistik Cree Nation, Long Plain First Nation and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation have all implemented a community ratified Land Law. Nationally, 76 First Nations -42 in British Columbia, 9 in Saskatchewan, 7 in Manitoba, 14 in Ontario and 1 in Quebec- have successfully ratified their Land Codes. For these communities, the opportunities for development have been enhanced and they have become arguably stronger, more self reliant and more engaged in planning for their future development. 

Norway House Cree Nation has now produced a final Land Law draft ready for community ratification that when approved, will give us the opportunity to realize our goal of self-determination. It is also important to understand that the Land Law does not affect our Treaty and Constitutional Rights.

For NHCN members

What changes and opportunities will come to land management and land use at NHCN with a 'YES' vote? We would take control of all of the activities that take place on our lands that are no longer overseen by INAC. We would have the ability to internally develop commercial infrastructure and other types of leases. We can approve business licenses for NHCN members and non- members. We can develop our own land use and occupancy laws based on the needs of our nation. We can pass environmental laws for the protection of NHCN lands. We can issue permits and licenses and negotiate our own land designations. We would have the ability to create and enforce our own land laws, conduct land administration and enforce our own laws. We would be in a better position to attract businesses and negotiate leases for improved good and services for our membership. We would be able to make decisions pertaining to lands in a timely manner in shorter time frames than INAC that often takes years. We can survey our own lands and establish lots for residential, commercial, industrial and other purposes. We would have the ability to identify, document and protect traditional land holdings. 

The significance of ratifying the Land Law is that it will give us the ability, for the first time in generations, to manage our own lands and realize the protections and benefits of self-governed land development.

This is an important and historic vote. Please take the time and let your voice be heard.

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