The B.C. government has signed an agreement that will transfer about 242 hectares of Crown land to the Ktunaxa Nation in the communities surrounding Cranbrook in the Kootenay Mountains.
The 1,500-member Ktunaxa Nation has faced challenges in many of its economic projects because it is subject to the Indian Act, according to Kathryn Teneese, chairwoman of Ktunaxa Nation. But the land that is transferred under the agreement signed on Monday will not fall under the act.
The land transfer will allow the Ktunaxa Nation to work with investors to decide what kinds of industries to invest in, said Ida Chong, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. "It also allows them to look at what kinds of impacts they might want on that land that won't affect their other traditional rights such as hunting and fishing."
Under the Indian Act, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has the final say on some of the Ktunaxa Nation's activities, so the community has struggled to move forward with many of its projects, Ms. Teneese said.
"It really ties our hands in a lot of instances," she said. "Getting rid of that archaic piece of legislation would be hugely beneficial to ourselves in moving to a place where we're going to decide how we're going to live."
Ms. Teneese said the agreement is an important step in helping her people understand how a future treaty with the government might work.
"I think this agreement is going to be able to demonstrate what a longer term arrangement would look like between ourselves and the governments of Canada and British Columbia," she said.
"What we're hoping to do with this incremental agreement is test drive how things might work as we move forward towards a final treaty."
"This step allows the Ktunaxa Nation to move forward towards treaty issues," said Ms. Chong. "It's important that they can see how things are happening before we reach that final treaty."
If the Ktunaxa Nation signs a final treaty, it will no longer be subject to the Indian Act.
"A treaty would allow them to make decisions and no longer have to follow all of the rules that the Indian Act provides for them," said Ms. Chong. "And that's why those nations who negotiate treaties usually are really forward thinking about what's possible for their people and for their land."
Ms. Teneese said that the Ktunaxa Nation has not yet determined what it will do with the land.
"But we will be proceeding as quickly as we can with a legal survey of the land, because that's the first step that needs to occur," she said.
She also said the agreement is significant because the Ktunaxa people will have a presence in a part of their territory that they have not had for some time.
"This will increase our connection to the western part of our territory," she said. "Based on our own history, we know that we did have a connection to the western part of our territory, but that has not been so visible in recent times."
According to a recent analysis conducted by the Ktunaxa Nation, the community injects approximately $30-million a year into the regional economy.