What Are Specific Land Claims?
Specific claims are grievances brought by aboriginal peoples in Canada against the Crown, the executive level of government.
The Crown has a fiduciary relationship with aboriginal peoples and has a political duty to use its legal authority in relation to aboriginal peoples to protect their distinctive rights and interests. In particular situations, the Crown’s role gives rise to lawful obligations. For example, the Crown must act honourably in implementing treaty rights or in using its Indian Act powers to manage the lands and assets of a band on behalf of that community. Specific claims are grievances that arise from the alleged failure of the Crown to fulfill these obligations in particular cases.
Specific claims are not the same as comprehensive claims, in which aboriginal peoples assert their claim of title to land according to historic use and occupation. Unlike specific claims, comprehensive claims do not necessarily involve allegations of Crown misconduct.
Canada has over six hundred aboriginal communities, including Indian bands, Métis groups, and Inuit groups, as well as a large and varied web of treaties and agreements, and federal authority under the Indian Act. Over the years, a large backlog of unresolved specific claims has arisen.
In the landmark case of Guerin, the Supreme Court of Canada held that federal mismanagement of its role with respect to a band’s lands or assets can give rise to a claim that can be enforced in the courts of law. The courts have not, however, been a forum in which many claims have been brought or resolved. Not only is litigation expensive and time-consuming, but also the Crown could invoke defences based on the amount of time that had passed since its alleged misconduct occurred.
In Outstanding Business, the federal government consolidated its own internal process for dealing with specific claims. This policy provided that a band could file a claim with Canada, which would consider the claim on its merits and without regard to time-related technical defences. But this process nevertheless proved unsatisfactory because Canada had the final say in claims brought against it and was under no real pressure to resolve the claims with reasonable speed.
After the Oka crisis in 1990, the government of Canada created the Indian Claims Commission (ICC), whose mandate was to conduct inquiries into specific claims and make recommendations. It had no power, however, to make legally binding decisions. While a number of inquiries and reports did contribute to the settlement of specific claims, other reports were not adopted by Canada, and the backlog of claims continued to grow. A collection of the reports of the now defunct ICC is included in this website.
Over many decades, a number of studies proposed the creation of a specialized and expert body having the power to make legally binding decisions on specific claims. One such system was proposed in 1963. In 1998, a joint task force of the Assembly of First Nations and Canada recommended a model bill for a claims commission. In 2003, Parliament enacted the Specific Claims Resolution Act, but it was never proclaimed into force. Aboriginal peoples regarded the bill as falling far short of the key recommendations of the Joint Task Force Report.
The complaints included the views that the proposed system did not provide for a body that was sufficiently independent and that Canada still had many opportunities to delay the processing of claims.
In 2007, the federal government issued its Justice At Last report, which called for an independent adjudicative body. A new joint task force composed of officials from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Canada worked together on the details of the bill and produced a comprehensive proposal for legislation. Some additional issues were included in a political agreement between the AFN and Canada. Parliament enacted the Specific Claims Tribunal Act, which came into force on October 16, 2008.
About this Site
This website is intended as an educational and research resource for anyone interested in specific claims. Its aim is to provide convenient access to the many documents that have been written on the subject over the years.
The photograph in the header of this website symbolizes Treaty 8, signed in 1899. According to First Nations elders, Treaty 8 was expected to be binding “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the river flows.”
This page provides a chronology of the development of law and policy on specific claims, from the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to the Specific Claims Tribunal Act of 2008. It also includes links to maps, surveys, histories, summaries, and facts on specific claims.
RCAP / CRPA
Established in 1991, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples produced in 1996 a 4000-page report containing 440 recommendations regarding the relationship between First Nations and the provincial and federal governments of Canada. Among these were recommendations on lands and resources, economic development, and governance. This page provides links to the relevant chapters of the report.
This page provides links to the reports and recommendations of the Indian Claims Commission, whose mandate was to inquire into and report on the government’s rejection of a specific claim, or on the compensation criteria applied in the negotiation of a settlement.
This page provides documents prepared by the Assembly of First Nations, the national organization that advocates on behalf of Indian bands across Canada. It includes reports, analyses, and political resolutions.
This page provides links to federal government documents, including documents produced by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Library of Parliament.
This page provides links to bills C-130 (1963), C-123 (1965), C-6 (2003), and C-30 (2008).
This page provides links to academic articles and case comments on specific claims from 1977 to the present.
This page includes links to decisions on specific claims in the courts of law.