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St. Mary’s Band set for significant vote

?aq’am (St. Mary’s Band) will be able to make decisions about land management on the reserve if its land act is ratified next week. - Courtesy ?aq’am
?aq’am (St. Mary’s Band) will be able to make decisions about land management on the reserve if its land act is ratified next week.
— image credit: Courtesy ?aq’am

Members of ?aq'am (St. Mary's band) will have a chance to control land use decisions on the reserve with a significant ratification vote next week.

From Monday, April 14 to Wednesday, April 16, eligible voters will head to the polls to vote yes or no for ?aq'am's land code.

The land code will let the band govern its own lands and resources, without having to go through the federal ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Leeanna Rhodes, governance coordinator for the band, said that relatively simple land transfers become complex because of the communication between the two governments.

"Something that would take 20 minutes to do if we managed our own land is taking anywhere from three weeks to six months."

The land act will also allow the band to make laws about management of the reserve's lands and resources, such as a land use plan for zoning, similar to an official community plan.

The band would be able to develop no trespassing laws, laws for land subdivisions and liabilities. But those laws will not pertain to oil and gas, uranium or radioactive minerals, fisheries, endangered species or migratory birds.

If the land act is ratified, it would also mean the band can pursue economic development opportunities a lot faster, Rhodes said.

“We would be able to do more economic development at the speed of business instead of waiting three years for the government to say yay or nay, you can have this business on your reserve.”

As an example, Rhodes said that the plant nursery on the reserve took three years to be approved by the federal ministry.

?aq’am has been working on the land act for the past two years, and it all leads up to next week’s ratification vote. In order for the land act to be approved, 50 per cent plus one of votes must be in favour.

There are 278 members of ?aq’am, and Rhodes said they hope to have at least 130 members voting next week.

“Everyone is saying, this is reserve land, that means it’s our land. Well no, we don’t have the rights to manage reserve lands without the government’s consent.”

If ratified, the land act will allow the band to be clear of 34 provisions of the Indian Act – about one third of the act.

Currently across Canada, 45 bands have ratified a land code, nine bands failed to ratify the code, 22 bands, such as ?aq’am, are in the process of developing a land code, and 29 bands are set to start that process this year.

An open house about the ?aq’am (St. Mary’s Band) land code will be held today, Thursday, April 10 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the band hall for band members to find out more and ask questions.

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