Occupied Lands Inventory

Every First Nation in Canada must understand how much unoccupied Crown land remains within its traditional territory. Conversely, every project proponent should understand the impact of their project footprint on the amount of unoccupied Crown land available for First Nations to exercise treaty rights.

All public lands in Canada are owned by either the provincial or federal Crown.

In the provinces, the Crown manages public land and decides who can cut trees, build pipelines or transmission lines, drill for oil or gas and when and where people can enjoy recreational activities. Every time a Crown considers an approval for a well pad, right of way for a pipeline or even a new wildlife area, the government must consider how that approval will negatively impact treaty and Indigenous rights.

The majority of the provinces are covered by historic treaties. The boundaries of these treaties fit together like puzzle pieces. For example, every square inch of Alberta is covered by a treaty agreement which outlines existing treaty rights for those First Nations who signed them.

The text of each historic treaty varies slightly, but all outline promises that First Nation signatories may continue their way of life into the future – including the ability to hunt, trap and fish on lands that were not “taken up” by the Crown within the boundaries of the treaty. The Natural Resources Transfer Agreement expanded the geographic scope of treaty rights in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to all unoccupied Crown land and to “other lands to which [First Nations] have a right of access.” First Nations gain a right of access by obtaining permission from the occupant or owner to enter on and use the land.

For the exercise of treaty and Indigenous rights, this means there are only two types of land to worry about: unoccupied Crown land and land that ‘belongs’ to someone else. Land that belongs to someone else includes all privately-owned land and any public land for which a provincial or federal Crown has conveyed an interest. For example, every time the Government of Alberta gives out a Public Lands Act disposition, creates a road under the Public Highways Development Act or creates a new park under the Provincial Parks Act, land that was once unoccupied becomes occupied. Occupied Crown land, just like privately owned land, is land where treaty rights can no longer be exercised without permission. When the exercise of a right depends on the permission of another, it is no longer a right.

MNP’s experienced Indigenous Services team members can help meaningfully inform consultation to ensure treaty and Indigenous rights are respected.


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Contact our Indigenous Services Team

Clayton Norris

Clayton Norris CPA, CMA, CAFM, MBA

Vice President, Indigenous Services and National Leader, Indigenous Audit Services

Clayton Norris, CAFM, MBA, CPA, CMA, is the Vice-President of Indigenous Services and National Leader for Indigenous Audit Services for MNP. He has been the team leader for a variety of management and financial advisory projects with Indigenous Nations, businesses and individuals.

Clayton has extensive experience in advisory services working with Indigenous communities providing accounting, tax and consulting services. With nearly 300 members, Clayton’s team has become one of the largest in North America serving First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities and businesses.

Clayton is on the Board of Directors at MNP and is on the Board of the Alberta Heart and Stroke Foundation.