On June 28, 1988, the “Kamloops Amendment” (Bill C-115) received Royal Assent. With the full support of all parties in Parliament, it was the first ever First Nation-led change to the Indian Act, and clearly established the power of First Nation governments to levy property taxes on reserve, including leasehold developments. It also replaced the term “conditional surrender” with the then new concept of “designated lands”. Through the designation process, First Nation governments could set lands aside for leasing and economic development without losing its reserve status.
The Kamloops Amendment was the result of the tireless efforts of the then Chief of the Kamloops Indian Band, C.T. (Manny) Jules. Over a three year period, he sought and obtained a very broad-based mandate to lead this change, both from the grassroots level of 115 band councils and from First Nation political organizations at the national and provincial level.
Chief Jules was clear that he did not see his proposed amendments as an endorsement of the Indian Act nor a substitute for more fundamental change, such through the Constitution or land claims. He saw his amendments as an interim measure, but that as long as it was still around, the Indian Act should be made to work for First Nations, rather than against them. From Chief Jules testimony before the Senate hearings on C-115: “This amendment is a minor splinter in the work that has to be undertaken. It addresses one small aspect of what Indian people are asking for. With regard to amending the Indian Act, at the Confederacy of Chiefs meeting in March, Chief Mike Mitchell from Akwesasne said to me, ‘Manny, we have an Edsel. It needs to be badly overhauled. The motor is just about finished. The paint job is really bad, but we will let you have a new set of tires.’ That is what I am asking for here. This does not answer all our hopes and aspirations.”
At the time of the passage of C-115, the federal government also announced its intention to create the Indian Taxation Advisory Board (ITAB). On July 4, 1988, Kamloops Indian Band Chief Jules was appointed its first Chairman. Bill McKnight, then Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said “What we must concentrate on now is the future implementation of this legislation. The next few months will be an important planning period in setting up the Indian Taxation Advisory Board, which I would like to see have a majority of Indian members. I believe the role of the Board will be the key to ensuring that new band taxation systems will be effective and fair.” The ten-member Board convened its first meeting in February 1989 and within three years the Squamish Nation, Westbank First Nation, Musqueam First Nation and the Kamloops Indian Band were collecting property taxes under the new authority.
In 2005, seventeen years after the passage of the Kamloops Amendment, First Nations would again support the passage of the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act – again with all-party support in Parliament – and the creation of the statute based successor to ITAB, the First Nations Tax Commission.
Today, 164 First Nations are collecting over $70 million annually in property taxes, through the Indian Act and the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, creating jobs, attracting investment, and building their economies. A remarkable achievement in itself, made possible by events 25 years ago.