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Where some ideas are stranger than others...

TURTLE ISLAND at the Moonspeaker

The Moonspeaker:
Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...


As part of an entirely different project this year, I found myself saddled with the unenviable task of compiling a listing of reserves across canada, along with their hectarages. This was far from a trivial task. The data is not secret or restricted, you can head right on over to the federal department that officially oversees them and look at this information and far more for every First Nation currently registered under the indian act in canada. The trouble begins when you want to actually pull the data together. That's when you discover the website you have to get this data from is broken by design using javascript combined with piss-poor page design. To add even more insult to injury, the basic navigation links don't actually take you to where their labelling suggests. Unfortunate stuff. However, once you have sorted out workarounds for all the issues, as I had to do, and poured the data into a spreadsheet, some eye opening statistics pop out.

In light of recent court decisions and land claim agreements, it is quite possible to get the impression that huge swathes of canada have been set aside for First Nations, especially considering the trumpeted example of Nunavut, which I'll come back to. This is the case even if you have cottoned on to the absurdity of calling it "land claims" when the people involved are the First Peoples who had their homes literally stolen from them. Well, here are my results, drawn straight from the federal government's own data. Each calculation accounted for shared reserves and zeroed out settlements. In the Northwest Territories and Yukon, historically few reserves have ever been set aside for First Nations, and in some cases reserves have officially vanished as part of land claims agreements. These numbers reflect the situation as of 2012, before several additional agreements were signed, but the resulting difference from present conditions is less than 0.1 percent. In the western provinces especially, the number of reserves is high, but the average reserve area is very small, less than 1 hectare in several cases. I have not attempted to weight the calculations for this sort of variation.

     Number of First Nations Number of Reserves Average Number of Reserves per First Nation Area of Province/Territory (km2) Reserve Area (km2) Percentage of Province/Territory Reserved
British Columbia 198 1 707 8.6 944 735 5 390.767 0.6
Alberta 48 135 2.8 661 848 7 339.7 1.1
Saskatchewan 70 734 10.5 651 900 9 746.3 1.5
Manitoba 63 290 4.6 649 950 4 689 0.7
Ontario 138 204 1.5 1 076 395 11 276 1.0
Québec 40 42 1.05 1 542 056 827.3 0.05
New Brunswick 15 27 1.8 72 908 178.3 0.2
Nova Scotia 13 40 3.1 55 283 117.1 0.2
Prince Edward Island 2 6 3 5 660 7.6 0.1
Newfoundland 4 3 0.8 405 212 67.3 0.01
Northwest Territories 26 4 0.2 1 346 106 576.3 0.04
Yukon 17 36 2.1 482 443 40.8 0.01
Canada 634 3 228 0.2 9 984 670 40 257 0.4

Currently, canada is either the fourth or fifth largest nation-state in the world. Number one is russia, which is almost twice as big, and the united states is either fourth or fifth in area as well. (canada and the united states are close in area, and the difference in ranking seems to relate to whether or which united states colonies are counted.) Population-wise, canada's most recent population count from 2011 is 33 476 688, for russia a 2015 estimate excluding crimea is 143 975 923, and for the united states the 2015 estimate is 324 464 680. These all come from Wikipedia, but they are consistent with the historical data I have from more formal sources including government websites. In each country, the numbers of Indigenous people is highly contested for a combination of political reasons. One of the worst sources of confusion is willfully created by the colonial governments themselves, which are continuing to try to control and define Indigenous identity in order to get rid of Indigenous people at least on paper, for good. For russia I have no estimates of the Indigenous population at all, for canada numbers from the census range seem to hover around 1 000 000, and there are good reasons to consider this a significant underestimate. According to Wikipedia based on united states census data, the estimated Indigenous population is roughly 5 000 000, again probably an underestimate though it may not be as far out as canada's.

Now it is probably time to explain a bit about Nunavut. Nunavut is officially the newest territory in canada, the result of the latest partition of the northwest territories. Originally, the northwest territories included the majority of what is now labelled canada on most maps between the rocky mountains, the far north, and the current border between manitoba and ontario. Nunavut, "Our Land" in Inuktitut, is a majority Indigenous place, at least 84% Inuit, as it has been for time immemorial. The territory was created on the current canadian map by plebiscite and became official in 1999 after over twenty years of negotiations. As Nunavut Tourism will tell you on their website, Nunavut is 2 093 190 square kilometres, the biggest province or territory in the country. It has a consensus government led by a premier and legislative assembly, and since it is a majority Inuit place, it has an Inuit government. What Nunavut is not, is a reserve. Nor are Inuit registered under the indian act.

In canada, most land is held by the "crown" which means the queen of england although it is actually controlled by the federal or provincial governments. The area reserved to the crown therefore, is 8 886 356 km2, 89 per cent of the entire country. Which means, 10.6 percent is in private hands. That makes 0.9 percent of the all land in the country is held in private hands. The number of private hands doing the holding is far fewer than the non-Indigenous population, and if it is close to half of canada's population in this day and age, I would be completely astonished. So here we have lots of numbers, let's try to get a better sense of just how big these smaller areas are. The area of reserved land for First Nations would fit inside the province of nova scotia, or would encompass switzerland. The privately held lands, 1 058 087 km2 is roughly the size of ontario or colombia. Puts things in a bit better perspective, doesn't it?

Copyright © C. Osborne 2024
Last Modified: Monday, January 01, 2024 01:26:40