Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation could receive big compensation sum

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WATCH ABOVE: A Saskatchewan First Nation is awaiting a decision on compensation from unpaid federal annuities from 1885. Ryan Kessler says if the ruling is in favour of the First Nation it could end up costing millions – Apr 13, 2016

SASKATOON – A Saskatchewan First Nation owed millions of dollars dating back more than 130 years has laid its case before a Specific Claims Tribunal adjudicator. Three days of compensation talks for Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation concluded at Wanuskewin Heritage Park Wednesday in Saskatoon.

The band was denied a total of $4,250 in annual payments from the federal government between 1885 and 1888. The group was one of 14 First Nations that missed out on annuities for their alleged involvement in the Riel Resistance.

READ MORE: Sask. First Nation has compensation hearing with federal government

Last spring, the independent tribunal ruled in favour of Beardy’s in its claim against the Crown.

In the first compensation hearing resulting from a Specific Claims Tribunal, lawyers for Beardy’s laid out a range of possible amounts owed to the band.

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“As you can imagine, the passage of time and the effect of things like inflation or interest on that money has a dramatic effect on how you determine the present value of that [money] today,” said Ron Maurice, who represents Beardy’s and Okemasis.

Depending on how the modern equivalent to $4,250 is calculated, he said the band could be owed anywhere between $4.5 million and hundreds of millions of dollars. Ultimately, the decision lies in the hands of the tribunal.

“We’re hopeful that this government will be open to sitting down with the communities and fashioning the appropriate response to this claim,” Maurice said.

Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation is about 90 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

Winona Wheeler, an associate professor of indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said compensation should account for pain and suffering and be symbolic of reconciliation.

“The fact that they were punished so severely for being … ‘rebel bands’ is so grossly unfair,” she said.

A decision is expected around the end of June.