SASKATOON – A Saskatchewan First Nation says it will receive $4.5 million in compensation for a dispute with the federal government that dates back to the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.
The Specific Claims Tribunal ruled last year that the government breached its lawful obligation to members of the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation to pay treaty annuities after the rebellion.
The government at the time believed band members were involved in the resistance and withheld annuities from the First Nation and 13 others in Saskatchewan from 1885 to 1888.
Following the ruling, a compensation hearing was held in the spring of this year.
The federal government has 30 days from last Friday to appeal the decision.
The band’s lawyer, Ron Maurice, says the decision could lead to other First Nations receiving their annuity payments.
“The formula is relatively easy to compute. We know exactly how much money was withheld from each of those bands. So I would hope it could be done very quickly, literally, within weeks if the government was determined to do it that way,” Maurice said.
If the decision stands, Maurice says the money will be moved to a trust fund that will be used for long-term housing, education, and other community needs.
The First Nation is about 90 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
After the rebellion, the federal government labelled men, women and children on the First Nation, along with the 13 others, as “rebel Indians” even though many could not have possibly taken part in the resistance.
In addition to withholding annuity payments, a pass system was strictly enforced, not allowing residents to leave the reserves without permission.
Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation Chief Rick Gamble says the judicial system is costing everyone a lot of money, and that public money could be better spent on things other than fighting treaty rights.
“We keep winning these treaty rights battles and the government keeps insisting on fighting,” Gamble said. “Why don’t you spend that money at a round table and fulfil those treaties instead of fighting treaties, because you’re going to lose.”