HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin says his government is addressing a "legacy of systemic racism" by setting aside $3 million to help accelerate the process of awarding land titles in historically African Nova Scotian communities.

The money will go toward the province's Land Titles Initiative, a project launched in 2017 to help residents of North and East Preston, Cherry Brook/Lake Loon, Lincolnville and Sunnyville get clear land titles at no cost.

In the 1800s, land was given to both white and Black Loyalists by the provincial government, but only white settlers were given clear land titles, leading to years of confusion for descendants of Black settlers and limiting their ability to obtain mortgages, access housing grants or sell their homes.

"They have undergone anti-Black racism for generations, frankly, and the best way to tackle that is anti-racism initiatives," Rankin said in an interview Friday. "We need to do our part to recognize historic injustice that has existed in our province."

Rankin said after working with African Nova Scotian communities, he learned there are barriers that need to be removed in order to ensure the success of the initiative. The new funding will go toward negotiation, mediation and potentially arbitration, he said, in cases that involve competing title claims.

To date, the Land Titles Initiative has cleared 194 land parcels from more than 500 applications and more than 850 eligible parcels of land. It covers land claim applications in five regions, but Rankin said there is an opportunity to expand the program to other areas.

The premier said he has given the government one year to clarify the remaining title applications as several have been "caught in the bureaucracy."

"There has been a lot of work that has gone into this initiative, but while those families wait, they're being held back," he said. "They're not able to, for example, leverage property values, they don't have a mortgage.

"That needs to change."

Lawyer and community leader Angela Simmonds has been mandated as the executive director of the initiative and will develop strategies to expedite the application process, Rankin said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.