There are more than 630 First Nations communities in Canada, representing more than 50 nations and 50 indigenous languages. Reserves should not be confused with traditional territories, which were lands used and occupied by First Nations before the arrival of Europeans. While reserve limits were imposed on First Nations, many First Nations have continued to hunt, gather and fish in places outside the reserves they have used for many generations. Using these provisions of the Indian Act, the Canadian government obtained the handing over of reserve land to First Nations across the country.
The first examples of reservations date back to attempts by French missionaries in 1637 to encourage aboriginal peoples to settle in one place and adopt both agriculture and Christianity. The McKenna-McBride Royal Commission unsuccessfully tried to resolve issues related to reservations, and these are still the subject of debate in negotiations on Aboriginal titles in that province. While reserves are places where members of a First Nation live, some reserves are used for hunting and other activities. Among First Nations people living on reservations, 48% lived in a low-income situation, compared to 31% of those living outside reservations and 14% of the non-indigenous population.
In addition, self-government agreements exclude First Nations from the administration of the Indian Act. In addition, the simple abolition of the reservation system exempts the Canadian government from its legally binding obligations and commitments it assumed with the First Nations. Because the administration of reserve land is in the hands of the Crown, First Nations have been unable to use their land and resources to ensure economic development or finance social welfare. In some cases, the Canadian government allocated land from the Crown in order to form a reservation, while in other cases the Crown purchased private land to convert it into reserves.
It found that there was a significant gap between environmental conditions in communities in the reserve and those in other communities in Canada. As early as 1637, Catholic missionaries from New France reserved land within their lordships for the use and benefit of local First Nations. In these treaties, the First Nations preserved the right to continue using the entirety of the ceded territory for hunting, fishing and capturing. While the reserves are considered homelands for many First Nations peoples and provide a location for band council offices and the government, they are not “First Nations property.” In British Columbia, additional reserves were inspected in accordance with the colonial formula, leading to disputes in that province.