Settlers get 35% bump in property values. Indigenous Peoples? Not so much.

There is a persistent myth in Canada that Indigenous Peoples get free housing. In fact, it’s non-Indigenous home-owners that are getting a plush ride. 

This week, property owners in B.C. received assessment statements that may have come as a surprise. The value of homes across the province jumped between 15 and 35%. Suddenly, some people’s net worth has grown by hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The bump in housing values for settler homeowners creates a huge pool of unearned wealth. Here’s the thing: Indigenous people living on reserves — sometimes right beside these flourishing housing markets — don’t own the land their homes are built on. That century-old disenfranchisement leaves them behind as settlers benefit from an unprecedented property bonanza.

While Indigenous folks living on reserves ARE exempt from paying property taxes, they are also left out entirely of the massive generator of wealth that is home equity. On many reserves (except some that have developed self government agreements), houses can be owned but the land they’re on is not – therefore the property cannot be sold. That makes it almost impossible to get a mortgage or build up equity. 

This staggering injustice began with the Indian Act and continues to be baked into the system today. It explains the massive shortage of on-reserve housing that, combined with the fastest growing population in the country, has left families dealing with substandard and overcrowded housing. 

It means that, as an Indigenous person living on a reservation, no matter how much energy you put into building and maintaining a home, it will never appreciate in tandem with property values off-reserve. Not only can you not own land in the way that settlers can, but also: what you invest where you live does not build a ‘nest egg’ for your future. You can’t borrow against the value of your home or tap into the wealth that comes as your property appreciates. 

The fact that settlers CAN, and Indigenous peoples on reserves CANNOT, grow wealth in property is pretty much the textbook definition of structural inequality. All of this is especially maddening when you consider that 95% of the province is unceded Indigenous territory. 

Oh, and it goes deeper: the same inequity faced by on-reserve families applies on a community scale, too. Unlike municipalities, whose investments in community housing and infrastructure build wealth and grow healthy tax bases, band councils face unique challenges in securing needed funding for public works. As a result of their inability to use reserve land as collateral, financing costs end up being much higher for infrastructure projects owned by First Nations communities – rates are typically, 12 to 15 percent higher than in non-aboriginal communities.

So B.C.’s 35% property ‘bonus’ is nothing to celebrate. The widening gap between haves and have-nots harms everyone. Without the ability to use their properties to secure loans, Indigenous families and communities have fewer opportunities to start businesses, pay for their children’s education, and invest in their futures. Everyone misses out when the talent, brilliance, and vision of Indigenous peoples goes unrealized. 

If you just received an unexpected ‘bump’ to your property value, consider giving a portion of it back to support Indigenous organizations. Aside from being a way to remedy long standing injustices, advancing First Nations sovereignty brings opportunities to re-imagine economies that are not based on extractivist mentalities. 

The answer is not simply to abolish the Indian Act and turn reserve lands into capitalist commodities. Indigenous communities have something settler capitalism rarely has: collectivism and communitarian economic models. The myth of ‘endless growth’,  in the end, just sees us growing further and further apart.  We can’t be good neighbours when on one side of the fence, people build wealth,  while on the other, people struggle to simply survive. 

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