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?aq’am approves land code in significant vote

An important vote for ?aq'am (St. Mary's Band) has given approval to a new land code for the Ktunaxa community outside Cranbrook.

Band members voted from Monday, April 14 to Wednesday, April 16 on whether they supported the land code, which sets regulations that would remove one-third of the legislation in the Indian Act.

141 ballots were cast, and 103 were in favour of adopting the land code. That works out to be 73 per cent, said Julie Couse, ?aq'am's Director of Lands and Natural Resources.

“We are very, very pleased,” she said. “It was above what we were anticipating, which was really positive. I think the results show a lot of support for the land code, which was developed by membership, for membership.”

As a result of the positive vote, the land code came into effect on Wednesday, April 16.

“What this means for the community is we have a lot more opportunity from an economic standpoint, but I think it’s safe to say our priority will always remain responsible stewardship of the land for the benefit of all Aqamnik,” said Couse.

The land code lets the band govern its own lands and resources, without having to go through the federal ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

?aq’am has now joined 45 other bands across Canada that have ratified a land code.

The land act allows the band to be clear of 34 provisions of the Indian Act – about one third of the act.

“Moving forward it will provide membership with the opportunity to vote on any land laws that we create,” said Couse. “It’s really going to be a reflection of the traditions and needs of this community, as opposed to something that was put in place by the federal government.”

The land act will also allow the band to make laws about management of the reserve’s lands and resources, such as a land use plan for zoning, similar to an official community plan.

The band can now develop no trespassing laws, laws for land subdivisions and liabilities. But those laws will not pertain to oil and gas, uranium or radioactive minerals, fisheries, endangered species or migratory birds.

“From a development and a management perspective, we definitely have more opportunities. But more so, it also gives us opportunities for greater conservation and protection of our land,” said Couse.

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