This fall, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, or AANDC, launched a new online information system that maps public information about aboriginal communities and “potential or established” aboriginal and treaty rights. The Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Information System, or ATRIS, provides information on community leadership, membership in tribal councils or other organizations, treaties and agreements, and community contact information. The map function can display the location of: communities, comprehensive land claims, special claims, self-government negotiations, reserve lands, historic treaties, modern treaties, settlement lands, rights areas and other information. AANDC says that ATRIS will be used by federal departments and agencies to assist them in determining who should be consulted and will help proponents identify with whom they should engage on a proposed project. AANDC claims this will reduce the burden on communities by providing “baseline” information about rights and assertions. There are a number of problems with this new online system.
- It is dangerously incomplete. While AANDC claims ATRIS increases the accessibility of “up-to-date” and “site-specific” information, there are huge gaps in the data. One of these troubling gaps is an apparent failure to include rights claims that are under litigation. For example, there is no indication of even the existence of the Tsilhqot’in title claim that has just been heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. It seems to only include rights asserted through certain processes and it certainly does not include all potential rights or title that require consultation, according to the “real or constructive” Crown knowledge standard set by the courts.
- It is not authoritative, but may be used like it is. Because of the gaps in information, the system cannot be relied upon by either the Crown or proponents. It may lead them to incomplete consultation with a community or excluding a community altogether that should be consulted. It is aboriginal communities themselves that are the authority for what rights they assert.
- It may give a bad first impression. At the very least, ATRIS may be the first impression a proponent or agency has of rights and title issues in an area and they may compare any additional information against this first impression. It is the affected communities that should set the baseline for consultation discussions. At its worst, ATRIS may delegitimize claims or assertions not included in the system.