Specific Claims Background


The following timeline highlights key events in the specific claims field. For a more broad timeline of historical events regarding Indigenous Peoples in Canada, see the Canadian Encyclopedia.

The timeline below borrows from a document produced by the now-defunct Indian Claims Commission, a document produced by the Institute on Governance, as well as other sources.

  • 1763: Royal Proclamation of 1763 confirms Aboriginal rights and states that treaties must precede European settlement.
  • 1812-1921: Treaties signed with Canada’s First Nations.
  • 1927: Amendment added to Indian Act which discourages land claims. Fines are levied against lawyers who raise funds for a claim or represent a First Nation in a claim against Canada.
  • 1940’s: Beginning in the 1940s, calls were made for the creation of an independent claims body.
  • 1951: The Indian Act is revised to remove the provision that made it an offence to raise funds or hire a lawyer to advance a land claim without the government’s permission.
  • 1973: Government policy divides First Nation land claims into specific and comprehensive.
  • 1973: The Supreme Court recognizes the existence of Aboriginal title in the Calder case.
  • 1982: Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.
  • 1982: The federal government consolidated its internal process for dealing with specific claims in a document called Outstanding Business. This policy provided that a band could file a claim with Canada, which would consider the claim on its merits and without regard to time-related technical defences.
  • 1984: In Guerin, the Supreme Court finds that the Crown has a fiduciary obligation to protect First Nations’ interests in transactions with third parties.
  • 1990: In Sparrow, the Supreme Court recognizes existing Aboriginal right to fish and interprets Section 35 of the Constitution Act for the first time.
  • 1990: The Oka crisis raises awareness of land claims.
  • 1991: The Indian Specific Claims Commission is created. See this document for a timeline of events leading to the creation of the Indian Claims Commission.
  • 1998: A report was published on the Joint First Nations-Canada Task Force on Claims Policy Reform. The Joint Task Force provided a detailed blueprint for fulfilling the long-standing need for an independent claims body.
  • 2003: Bill C-6, known as the Specific Claims Resolution Act, received royal assent to establish the independent resolution of First Nations Specific Claims.
  • 2007: Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada introduced a policy statement entitled, “Justice at Last: Specific Claims Action Plan”. As noted by the Institute on Governance, “the major elements of the policy were impartiality and fairness (through the establishment of the Specific Claims Tribunal), greater transparency (through new funding arrangements), faster processing (through legislated time-frames, streamlined claims processes, “triaging” claims based on their monetary value), and improving access to mediation (through new services to help parties reach negotiated settlements).”
  • 2008: Bill C-30 Specific Claims Tribunal Act received royal assent and replaced the Specific Claims Resolution Act. The Specific Claims Tribunal Act established “an independent tribunal comprised of superior court judges with the authority to make binding decisions on the validity of claims and compensation awards, to a prescribed maximum of $150 million per claim” [reference].
  • 2009: The federal government published a Specific Claims Policy and Process Guide outlining the developments made to the Specific Claims process in light of two earlier federal government publications which called for changes to the Specific Claims process: 1) Outstanding Business: A Native Claims Policy, and 2) Justice at Last: Specific Claims Action Plan.
  • 2012: The Assembly of First Nations submits a five year review of the Specific Claims Action Plan: “Justice at Last” calling for new approaches to fulfill the commitments made in Justice at Last.
  • 2013: The Specific Claims Tribunal issues its first decision on the merits in Re: Kitselas First Nation, 2013 SCTC 1.
  • 2015: The Assembly of First Nations publishes an independent expert report with recommendations to improve the Specific Claims process, in accordance with the requirements for legislative review under the Specific Claims Tribunal Act.
  • 2016: The Government of Canada issued a new policy directive regarding additions to reserve / reserve creation.
  • 2017: AFN offers support for a fully independent Specific Claim process


In addition to the resources below, take a look at whose.land website to view Indigenous nations land across North America.


The following documents provide an overview of specific claims law in Canada. They are listed according to date (in some instances, approximate) of publication.