Blackfoot (Siksika) family migrating, southern Alberta, 1885 / Glenbow Archives photo
By John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Siksika Nation members voted on Dec. 16 and 17 to accept a global settlement agreement with the Government of Canada regarding the country’s oldest and largest land claim.
The settlement will include a one-time payment of $1.3 billion from the federal government to the nation, and Siksika will discontinue all filed court actions relating to the settlement.
Siksika Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot said the appeal, which was originally filed in 1960, finally resolves a century-old dispute between Siksika Nation and Canada.
“It all stems back to 1910 … the government actually did what they called a surrender vote. That’s why it’s called an unlawful surrender because it was an illegal vote,” said Chief Crowfoot. “By today’s standards it would be considered voter fraud. Out of the people who voted, some of the people were dead and some of the people were underage.”
According to Crowfoot, Canada requisitioned 125,000 acres of land from Siksika Nation following the vote. Of that, 115,000 acres was sold at auction in 1917. The 10,000 remaining acres were returned to Siksika Nation.
“What we revoked was the claim on 115,000 acres that were taken illegally from Siksika. That was the big claim … there were other, smaller claims in there, one that was related to the irrigation district, but they all tie in,” added Crowfoot.
He explained under the Indian Act at the time, the only way Canada could claim reserve land was if the First Nations surrendered them back to Canada.
According to a release from Siksika Nation, approximately 70 per cent of eligible voters turned out to the polls in Siksika Nation and in Calgary, as well as via mail-in ballots.
Of those who responded, approximately 77 per cent agreed with the settlement. The Global Settlement Agreement, as detailed in the release from Siksika Nation, includes the following claims;
• The 1910 Surrender and 1960 Petition of Rights Claims: the unlawful surrender of 115,000 acres of reserve land and breach of Canada’s fiduciary duties related to reserve lands.
• Canadian Pacific Railway breaches of duty in taking reserve land for use by third parties in connection with the CPR.
• Flooding of and release of sewage onto the reserve without Siksika’s permission.
• Unlawful taking of 500 acres of the reserve for the Bow River Irrigation Project, related to the Creosote contamination claims.
The use of the settlement funds is not addressed in the proposed settlement agreement with Canada and will be solely at the discretion of Siksika Nation.
“This is not reconciliation. What it is, is simply right and wrong. If Canada took your family’s farm and then paid you back for it, well that’s what happened there,” said Crowfoot. “It took 111 years from the wrongdoing to get these monies back, we will be doing our people a grave disservice in not handling this without a fiduciary obligation to the people to make sure that this is here to benefit generations to come.”
The current plan is to develop a trust account for the funds prior to decisions being made regarding how to use it. According to Crowfoot, residents of Siksika Nation will be consulted for their input regarding use of the funds.
“We feel good, we feel like we have a chance to really create financial sovereignty. This money really can go towards creating almost a sovereign wealth fund where it grows and we can take those earnings and put it towards the real needs of the nation,” he said. “I’m not really looking at it as the money. I’m looking at it as, what we can do with those monies, like the opportunities those monies can provide and how we can generate independence, we can generate wealth, we can remove barriers, provide education, provide proper health care – provide a lot of the things to our people that up until now we’ve been getting by on the minimum.”
Siksika Nation is also able to apply to purchase 115,000 acres at their own expense to add back to the reserve.
Crowfoot does not expect the funds to come through until early summer 2022.
By John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter / Strathmore Times