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Opening Statement to the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples

by NationTalk on March 8, 2012512 Views

Treaty Land Entitlement Obligations—Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

(Chapter 4—March 2009 Status Report of the Auditor General)

7 March 2012

Jerome Berthelette
Assistant Auditor General

Honourable Senators, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the chapter on treaty land entitlement obligations from our March 2009 Status Report. I am accompanied by Frank Barrett, the Principal responsible for the audit.

Land can be added to a reserve for any number of reasons. According to the Additions to Reserves/New Reserves Policy of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), land can be added to a reserve to fulfill a legal obligation such as a claim settlement agreement, for community growth or for the creation of a new reserve. One type of addition to reserve arises from the settlement of treaty land entitlements. When the treaties were first signed, the appropriate amount of land was not always set aside for reserves.Canada acknowledged its failure to meet these types of treaty obligations and, in the 1990s, signed treaty land entitlement agreements with many First Nations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Consequently, First Nations that did not receive the proper amount of land under their original treaties, can obtain additional land and convert this land to reserve status.

Some of the most impoverished First Nations in Canada are in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The land that these First Nations acquire under treaty land entitlement agreements can have a significant impact on their social circumstances and economic development opportunities. These agreements outline the responsibilities of the Department, the provinces, and First Nations for completing the process.

Our Office first examined the government’s fulfillment of treaty land entitlement agreement obligations in 2005. The audit in our November 2005 Report specifically examined the Department’s progress in converting land selected under these agreements to reserve status in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The audit also examined whether the Department was managing the conversion process in a way that was consistent with its legal obligations to First Nations. These obligations involved converting up to 1.4 million acres in Manitoba and up to 2.7 million acres in Saskatchewan, to reserves—once they have been selected for conversion.

In our November 2005 audit, we found a number of deficiencies in the Department’s management practices for meeting its obligations, such as inadequate planning and an absence of targets for land conversions. We found that these deficiencies limited the Department’s progress in converting lands to reserve status, particularly in Manitoba.

We also found that about 58 percent of the land selected by First Nations in Saskatchewan had been converted to reserve status, while only 12 percent of these lands had been converted in Manitoba. We made eight recommendations, most of which focused on the need for the Department to improve its management practices. The Department agreed with our recommendations; and, in 2006, the Minister of Indian Affairs committed the Department to converting 150,000 acres of land in Manitoba to reserve status in each of the following four years.

In our March 2009 audit, we examined the Department’s progress in converting land to reserve status and in implementing the recommendations from the November 2005 audit. We found that the Department had made significant progress in converting lands to reserve status.

We found that, since 2005, the Department had converted over 315,000 acres to reserve status in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This number represented a 42 percent increase in land conversions in just three years. In Manitoba alone, over 227,000 acres had been converted to reserves since the previous audit. The follow-up audit, in 2009, also found that the Department had made efforts to improve its communications with First Nations and to work more closely with them when planning conversions.

However, during our 2009 audit, we also found that the Department had not made satisfactory progress toward implementing several of our recommendations for improving its management practices to meet its obligations to First Nations.

For instance, in Manitoba, the Department had not developed a plan that outlined how it would manage its operations to process outstanding selections within a reasonable period of time. Furthermore, it had not tracked processing times, and it could not demonstrate that these times had improved over the previous three years.

The continuing management weaknesses that we identified in our 2009 follow-up audit were of particular concern, because they related to treaty obligations that Canada incurred more than a century earlier. We found that, in Manitoba, over 430 selections—close to 650,000 acres of land—remained to be converted. In Saskatchewan, over 700 selections, representing 451,000 acres, remained to be converted. We concluded that, without sustained management attention to correct the weaknesses we had identified, the Department risked being unable to sustain its progress in converting land to reserve status.

I should point out that the audit, which was tabled in March 2009, was substantially completed in September 2008. We have not conducted any follow-up audit work on this issue in the past three and a half years. The Department has advised us that, in response to our audit recommendation, it implemented a National Additions-to-Reserve Tracking System. The Department also advised us that the tracking system is now a mandatory requirement of the Additions-to-Reserve process and that the Department intends to monitor the progress of land conversion. We have not audited this tracking system.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer your Committee’s questions.

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