Supreme Court of Canada Confirms Provincial Power to Take Up Lands under Treaty – Grassy Narrows First Nation v Ontario (Natural Resources), 2014 SCC 48

Today, the Supreme Court of Canada released another important Aboriginal law decision, Keewatin v. Ontario (Natural Resources), 2014 SCC 48. The decision confirms the power of Ontario, along with other provincial governments, to manage natural resources over lands subject to numbered treaties. Treaty 3 is one of the historical, numbered treaties entered into between Canada and First Nations in the late 1800s and early 1900s whereby signatory First Nations surrendered their Aboriginal rights and title to lands they traditionally used in return for treaty rights, including the right to hunt and fish.

Treaty 3 sets out the Grassy Narrows First Nation’s right “to pursue their avocations of hunting and fishing throughout the tract surrendered” except on tracts “required or taken up for settlement, mining, lumbering or other purposes by [the] Government of the Dominion of Canada” (the “taking up” clause).

The central issue in the case was whether the reference to the “Dominion of Canada” in the taking up clause meant that Ontario did not have the power to take up lands to issue forestry licences over treaty lands. The Grassy Narrows First Nation argued that the reference to the Dominion of Canada in the taking up clause meant that only the federal government could exercise that power.  Today’s decision clearly confirms Ontario’s power to take up lands under Treaty 3. The decision also reiterates that taking up of lands by Ontario and other provinces remains subject to the duty to consult and accommodate First Nations.

The decision provides welcome confirmation of provincial powers to manage their natural resources, and confirmation that the federal government has no supervisory role in that process.

To read more, click here.


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