What are Comprehensive Claims?

Indigenous Rights in One Minute
By Bruce McIvor

What are Comprehensive Claims?


Comprehensive claims are claims by Indigenous Peoples for their own land accepted for negotiation by the federal government.

The federal government introduced its comprehensive land claims policy following the Supreme Court’s 1973 Calder decision. Up until then the federal government had denied the existence of Indigenous land rights.

Canada’s land claim policy is an extension of Canada’s ongoing colonization project. It seeks to extinguish inherent Indigenous rights as well as common law rights and replace them with rights defined through a modern agreement. Its overarching goal is to remove Indigenous people from their land so the land can be exploited by non-Indigenous people. In contrast, Indigenous people are increasingly seeking agreements with Canada based on recognition and respect for their inherent and common law rights. 

Comprehensive land claims are different from specific claims. The latter fall under the federal government’s specific claims policy. They relate to breaches of treaty and the unlawful use of reserve lands. They do not involve Aboriginal rights, land outside reserves or governance matters. 

Comprehensive claims are also different from Aboriginal title claims which are court actions that seek a declaration of Aboriginal title – a common law right protected under the constitution. First Nations file Aboriginal title claims as part of pursuing recognition and implementation of their Aboriginal title. 

If Indigenous Peoples' rights were respected and the Crown's asserted interest in Indigenous land wasn't presumed, Indigenous people would not be forced into the position of filing land claims, since, in reality, it's the Crown that claims Indigenous land.


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Bruce McIvor, lawyer and historian, is partner at First Peoples Law LLP. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law where he teaches the constitutional law of Aboriginal and Treaty rights. A member of the bar in British Columbia and Ontario, Bruce is recognized nationally and internationally as a leading practitioner of Aboriginal law in Canada. Bruce's ancestors took Métis scrip at Red River in Manitoba. He holds a law degree, a Ph.D. in Aboriginal and environmental history, is a Fulbright Scholar and author of Standoff: Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It. He is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation.

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First Peoples Law is a law firm dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. We work closely with First Nations to defend their Aboriginal title, rights and Treaty rights, uphold their Indigenous laws and governance and ensure economic prosperity for their members. 

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