The leader of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation is calling on the federal government to pay $4.5 million in compensation stemming from a century-old dispute.
Last year, the Specific Claims Tribunal ruled that the Canadian government was wrong to withhold treaty payments from Beardy’s and Okemasis following the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. The government of the time accused Beardy’s of participating in the rebellion and withheld the payments for three years as punishment.
“The government has steadfastly fought treaties and time and time again they lost and they’ve lost again,” Rick Gamble, the chief of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, said to reporters Tuesday.
“I am at a loss for words right now because this has been such a frustrating file, to say the least.”
The First Nation has been working on the claim with lawyer Ron Maurice since 1999. A decision on the settlement amount was released last Friday and now the federal government has 30 days to appeal, if it chooses to do so.
“Our hope is that really the Government of Canada does the right thing and they sit down with the First Nations and use this as an opportunity for reconciliation,” Maurice said.
A statement from the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs said the “government is committed to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples.”
“We have just received the tribunal’s decision and are in the process of reviewing it,” the statement read.
“However negotiation, rather than litigation, remains our government’s preferred route to settling differences and righting historical wrongs.”
Beardy’s and Okemasis was one of 14 Saskatchewan First Nations that the government withheld annuities from following the 1885 resistance. Maurice said if the government is determined, it could quickly pay the others as well.
“Those other claims are identical to the Beardy’s and Okemasis situation,” Maurice said.
“We know exactly how much money was withheld from each of those bands so determining the present value of those monies is a straight forward mathematical exercise.”
If the government does comply with the ruling, Gamble said the money will be put into a trust to serve Beardy’s and Okemasis in areas like housing and education.