Clearing up land claim backlog major priority, says Prentice

23 August, 2006 - by Joseph Quesnel

A major priority for the new federal government will be to clear up a major backlog of outstanding treaty land agreemnts in the province of Manitoba, said Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice.

Prentice made the announcement yesterday to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefsí annual general meeting at Opaskwayak Cree Nation, located near The Pas, Manitoba.

"This land has been identified, itís been selected, and to have a process where it takes 10 to 20 years before itís made available to the First Nations is not acceptable," he said, during his announcement.

Prentice mentioned to the chiefs assembled that he will simplify the process of converting agreed-upon land, which can involved up to 26 separate steps. He also added that the slowness of handling land claims was an issue of concern in a recent report by the federal auditor general. Prentice pledged to convert about 150,000 acres a year for the next four years, with the help of the provincial government. The government will also provide whatever extra resources are necessary to speed things up, he said, including the hiring of more land surveyors.

One chief from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation mentioned that their community alone is owed more than 65,000 acres of land near The Pas.

Many leaders are concerned over the agreements as they affect projects they want to build on their land.

Native leaders who were in attendance at the general meeting expressed their support for the ministerís announcement, stating that this is the first time in over a decade that an Indian Affairs minister has met with them.