Formalizing Land Tenure in First Nations: Evaluating the Case for Reserve Tenure Reform

Document Type


Publication Date



Land Tenure and Development, Reserve Tenure Reform


Consider the following three scenarios: First Nation is a densely populated community in the arid interior of the Okanagan Valley. The community’s lands are designated by the federal government as an Indian Act reserve. 1 Located just two kilometres from a mid-sized city centre, First Nation has a few businesses and a small pulp and paper industry. But the community’s vision for a strong commercial sector has failed to materialize, despite having designated a business development area on the reserve and despite a growing number of skilled individuals from active training and education initiatives. A full one-third of First Nation’s citizens now live outside the community, many of them far away in major cities such as Vancouver or Winnipeg. Those who remain turn to the surrounding areas to access most public services and to look for jobs. First Nation is a remote northern reserve community whose people are struggling to maintain vibrant cultural identities and social cohesion in the face of enormous socio-economic challenges. Inadequate water-treatment facilities contribute to an ongoing health crisis, but the community’s government cannot afford to invest in new infrastructure. Federal transfers provide what little public revenue is available, while opportunities for public enterprises or the creation of a community tax base have been limited. First Nation’s considerable forestry resources have been responsibly managed for centuries, but the community strains to balance possibilities for resource use under current regulatory schemes against a priority for environmental stewardship.