Change to B.C. law allows First Nations to directly own land

In a statement emailed to CBC News, B.C. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy called the changes
In a statement emailed to CBC News, B.C. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy called the changes

The B.C. government's changes to a law that prevented First Nations from acquiring land have come into effect, meaning nations can now directly buy and own land in the province.

Previously, First Nations needed to form a proxy, like a corporation or a trust, to buy land. The legislation, which was introduced in April, came into effect on Tuesday.

The changes have no legal impact on other landowners — just federally recognized First Nations.

"To be honest, it is a huge relief." said Hugh Braker, a political executive for the First Nations Summit of British Columbia and a member of the Tseshaht First Nation. "It gets rid of a rather racist relic from colonial times."

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Finance Minister Katrine Conroy said the changes to the Property Law Act and the Land Title Act are "a step on the path towards reconciliation."

"A connection with land is central to the identity of many First Nations," Conroy said. "These changes ensure fairness by reducing barriers and costs that First Nations have faced."

The previous barriers to land ownership were a holdover from when Canada considered Indigenous people and governments to be wards of the government, according to Braker. Before the 1960s, governments required First Nations to get the approval of Indian agents before buying land.

Even after the practice was abolished, British Columbia had its own legislation preventing First Nations from holding property.

Creating a proxy to buy land can be costly, Braker said, and is "really onerous for First Nations."

Now, a First Nation may acquire property in its own name. If leadership chooses, a First Nation may still acquire land through a proxy.

According to Braker, the new legislation will make it easier for First Nations to provide members housing and healthcare centres.

"It's gonna save a lot of money for the First Nations, and it's going to make things happen a lot faster."