First Nations across Saskatchewan are settling claims against the federal government for hundreds of millions of dollars.
The settlements, known as “specific claims,” are designed to correct historic injustices.
The largest single claim was announced earlier this week. Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation will receive the maximum allowable settlement — $150 million — for a century old, illegal land surrender.
Muscowpetung is located approximately 80 kilometres northeast of Regina. In 1909, the federal government illegally seized half of Muscowpetung’s reserve land — a total of more than 7,400 hectares.
Chief Melissa Tavita said Muscowpetung leaders made the initial claim to the federal government in the 1990s. She said it should not have taken this long, but she’s glad it’s finally over.
“I’m very happy with the conclusion. A lot of our people worked so hard. Our past leaders,” she said. “I look back at when my mom was on [Muscowpetung] council. I remember being a teenager and her telling me that they were putting in a claim to take the government to court.”
More than 99 per cent of members voted in favour of the deal.
In another announcement this month, the Kinistin Saulteaux Nation will receive $56 million for agricultural benefits that were promised at the time of the treaty signing, but never delivered.
“For Kinistin, this agreement is a treaty right fulfilled and treaty implementation. This was a result of the parties working toward a fair process and a result we feel is fair. We have other outstanding claims and are confident that this will pave the way for treaty implementation in other areas,” Kinistin Chief Felix Thomas said.
It was also announced that 14 First Nations will receive a total of $37 million for the denial of treaty annuity payments over a 65-year period following the 1885 resistance.
Crown–Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree said in a written statement that reconciliation and correcting injustices are top priorities for the government.
Lawyer Steven Carey, whose Indigenous-owned firm Maurice Law has represented First Nations in many specific claims, said there does seem to be a wave of announcements this month. He said the settlements can come in waves, but the reasons why are unclear.
He said all of the announcements this month were the result of decades of perseverance and hard work. He said it should not have taken this long.
“I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is some sort of government benevolence. Most of the ones that you mentioned have all been hard fought and have taken tremendous resources in terms of time, money, effort, and I’m glad that a lot of them are being resolved,” he said.
Carey said new rules put in place have sped up the process a bit, but the average time to simply get an initial response remains at more than three years.
According to the federal government, 56 specific claims were settled for $3.5 billion between April of 2022 and April of this year.