[First Nations’ Historical] Lack of Access to Lawyers

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“Another historical obstacle for First Nations who wished to press claims was that they generally did not have access to lawyers who could bring their case to the courts if governments did not act. Until 1860, the British Crown’s appointees, and, after Confederation, the federal government, controlled First Nation spending. Further, until the 1960’s, federal “Indian agents” supervised all significant First Nation activities, including band council meetings. Federal officials regularly declined to approve the hiring of lawyers – apparently to protect First Nations from exaggerated expectations and from the payment of excessive legal fees. Indeed, in 1927, faced with rising pressure from First Nations on land claims, the federal government passed the following amendment to the Indian Act:

Every person who, without the consent of the Superintendent General … receives, solicits or requests from any Indian any payment or contribution … for the prosecution of any claim which the tribe or band of Indians … has … for the recovery of any claim or money for the benefit of the said tribe or band, shall be guilty of an offence.

This prohibition on legal representation for First Nations remained in effect until 1951.”

Word for word from Michael Coyle’s report, Addressing Aboriginal Land and Treaty Rights in Ontario: An Analysis of Past Policies and Options for the Future, page 18. Pulled from Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General.

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Lack of Access to First Nation Records

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“Government archives in Ontario are filled with particularized petitions by First Nations for government action to redress violations of their land and treaty rights. Today most of the issues raised in those petitions remain unresolved. One obstacle historically faced by First Nations was that the records relating to their treaties, land transactions, and trust funds were kept by the federal government. Until late in the twentieth century, First Nations had very limited access to these records. First Nation requests for information about their land dealings were often denied. Thus, in the 1830’s when the Mississaugas of New Credit, concerned about encroachments on their lands near Toronto, asked for a formal confirmation of their landholdings in order to enforce their rights, they were refused. Their Chief, an educated Methodist Minister named Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby), went so far as to petition the Queen in England. His request was ultimately denied, on the basis that the Mississaugas were not capable of handling such responsibility.

Even as recently as 1957, when the Musqueam First Nation surrendered part of their land in downtown Vancouver so that it could be leased to a golf club, the First Nation did not learn from the federal government the terms of the lease until 12 years later.”

Word for word from Michael Coyle’s report, Addressing Aboriginal Land and Treaty Rights in Ontario: An Analysis of Past Policies and Options for the Future, page 18. Pulled from Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General.