The land claim negotiation process
Information about negotiating a land claim in Ontario
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The overall process
Negotiating a land claim involves 4 steps:
- submission of claim
- settlement and implementation
Submission of the claim
The process begins when an Indigenous community submits a written statement, together with supporting documents, setting out the claim. These documents are submitted to the Negotiations Branch of Ontario’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.
Ontario consults with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to determine whether the federal government has received the claim and the status of the federal review of the claim.
In assessing a land claim, Ontario:
- analyzes the land claim documents submitted by the Indigenous community
- researches relevant history and issues related to the claim
- conducts a legal review
- consults with other ministries in the government to determine what interests could be affected by the claim
- decides whether to accept a claim, based on the review process
Once assessment is complete, a recommendation is made to the Minister of Indigenous Affairs whether or not to accept a claim for negotiation. If the claim is accepted, the Ontario Government sends a letter to the Indigenous community stating that it is prepared to negotiate a resolution to the claim.
Negotiating the settlement of a land claim helps to:
- achieve legal certainty regarding the lands in question
- promote opportunities for economic, cultural and community development for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities
- improve relationships between the government and Indigenous peoples and between Indigenous communities and their neighbours.
Parties to a negotiation
The “parties” to a negotiation are the groups involved in settling the claim. In most land claims involving Ontario, there are three parties:
- the Indigenous community that submitted the claim
- the provincial government (Ontario)
- the federal government (Canada)
At the start of negotiation
The parties may develop a negotiation framework agreement that outlines:
- the issues that will be addressed in the negotiation time frames
- any funding that the Indigenous community will get to support its participation in the negotiations
- the process for consulting with the public on the issues related to the claim
- that the negotiations will be confidential
The parties may also agree to arrange for studies to help inform a possible settlement. These could include:
- land appraisals to value the lands that are part of the claim
- reports to value the losses to the Indigenous community for not having use of the lands
- studies to assess the impact and effects of flooding on reserve lands
During a negotiation, the parties:
- work to reach agreement on the elements of the settlement
- identify lands that may be transferred to Canada from Ontario to be set aside as a reserve
- calculate any financial compensation that is owed to the Indigenous community
- hold regular public consultations to get input from the general public and stakeholders (such as municipalities, corporations and agencies) that could be affected by the settlement of the claim
- consult with any Indigenous communities whose established or credibly asserted Aboriginal or treaty rights may be adversely affected by the proposed settlement
- hold open houses and workshops in affected communities, as well as meetings and presentations for interest groups to support ongoing dialogue
- identify and develop solutions to address the potential impacts of the land claim
- reach agreement on arrangements for the continued use of land by third parties (for example, the use of roads on lands that will become reserve) where appropriate.
Ontario also provides information online about current land claim negotiations and distributes newsletters and fact sheets to local municipal offices and communities. This outreach helps negotiators reach a settlement that is sensitive to the interests of all those affected by the land claim.
Learn more about our consultation process.
The parties may sign an Agreement-in-Principle: a document that sets out the general elements of a settlement.
The parties work together to develop a Final Agreement.
A Final Agreement is the outcome of the negotiation process.
It details agreements reached between the Indigenous community, the province and the federal government on the issues raised in the land claim.
Each of the parties to a negotiation needs to approve and sign the agreement. Once signed, the agreement is a legally binding document. This means the obligations it sets out for each party are enforceable under law.
The parties also develop a plan to carry out their obligations under the final agreement.
Settlement and implementation
The negotiation process enters its final stage – settlement and implementation – once the parties approve a final agreement.
When this happens, the agreement becomes a legally binding document.
Agreements outline the details of a negotiated settlement. They can involve:
- paying financial compensation to the Indigenous community
- transferring Ontario Crown lands to Canada to be set apart as reserve lands or
- some combination of the two
Ontario does not expropriate private lands in settling a land claim. Private property could be included in a land claim settlement if an owner is willing to sell the land and Ontario chooses to purchase it.
Setting apart land as reserve lands
Settling a land claim can involve transferring Crown land to Canada to set apart the land as reserve lands for a First Nation.
If the settlement includes transferring land from Ontario to the federal government to be set apart as reserve lands, Canada will:
- inspect the lands to make sure they are in an acceptable environmental condition
- provide for the continued use of lands by third parties, if necessary
The province typically does not cancel Crown land leases, easements, mining claims, timber allocations or other licences and permits during their term.
Decisions about how to address interests on Crown land are informed through the consultation process.
Implementing an agreement
All parties to a negotiation (the Indigenous community, Ontario and Canada) then implement the settlement agreement by carrying out the obligations described in it.
It takes years to put in place all of the elements of an agreement.