AANO Committee Report
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Mr. Chris Warkentin, M.P.
Dear Mr. Warkentin:
The Government of Canada would like to thank members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (the Committee) for their study and for their report entitled Wills and Estates tabled May 30, 2014. The report identifies a number of key issues and challenges that were raised by seven witnesses who were heard by the Committee between April 8 and 29, 2014.
The Government has endeavoured to build capacity and autonomy of First Nations to improve well-being and provide for First Nation self-determination, such as the expansion of the First Nations Lands Management Act, as well as the Yale First Nation Final Agreement Act and the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Governance Act which have recently received royal assent.
The Government acknowledges that land is often the most valuable asset in an estate. Through the enactment of other recent legislation the Government has taken steps to improve conditions for individuals on reserve affected by wills and estates. For example, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interest or Rights Act, that will be fully in force on December 16, 2014, seeks to provide basic rights and protections to individuals on reserves, including on the death of a spouse or common-law partner, regarding the family home and other matrimonial interests or rights. It also enables First Nations to develop their own matrimonial real property law, subject to ratification by their members.
The Government is currently undertaking steps to implement its response to the Committee's fourth report entitled Study of Land Management and Sustainable Economic Development on First Nations Reserve Lands. These steps include improving land management practices on reserve by providing alternative tools to the Indian Act to enhance land-related economic development opportunities and building land management capacity within First Nation Communities while operating under the Indian Act. It is expected that these initiatives will positively contribute to estates reform through increased capacity, clarity and certainty with respect to land administration on reserve.
The Government agrees with the Committee’s assessment that measures to support the capacity of First Nations in matters related to the administration of estates are an important objective. The Government is in the process of examining current capacity building efforts and exploring how these could be improved within the existing legislative and regulatory framework. This would include enhancing communications and public education materials for family administrators of estates as well as encouraging First Nations individuals to prepare wills.
Finally, the Government agrees with the Committee’s observation that First Nations should be consulted on possible measures to modernize the existing policy and regulatory framework on wills and estates before moving forward with any policy reforms. The Government further notes that a strategic approach to comprehensive change to the estates policy framework created by the Indian Act and Indian Estates Regulations is needed, but will require time, careful consideration and more importantly, will require engagement with First Nations and other affected stakeholders. The Government has already begun and will continue to explore potential alternatives and improvements to estates management with various stakeholders.
The Government is committed to build on this work by exploring alternatives that: provide First Nations with more autonomy and control over their own affairs; recognize the varying interests, readiness and capacity of First Nations in becoming more directly involved in the management of estates; avoid unnecessary complexity in estates administration; and, reduce departmental and ministerial participation in the management and administration of estates. Indeed, the timely and effective resolution of estates will help open opportunities to sustainable economic development for First Nations and for Canada.
Bernard Valcourt, PC, QC, MP