Blood Tribe votes to accept $150M settlement from Ottawa over century-old cattle management dispute

Blood Tribe votes to accept $150M settlement over mismanaged cattle
WATCH ABOVE: Blood Tribe members cast their votes this week to decide whether to accept a $150-million settlement from the federal government. The claim centred around the mismanagement of land and livestock assets dating back to the early 1900s. Louise van Dam reports.

Members of southern Alberta’s Blood Tribe voted in favour of a multi-million-dollar settlement claim on Tuesday regarding a century-old dispute about cattle management.

They will be receiving $150 million from the federal government as compensation for losses the Blood Tribe suffered in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Three-thousand-fifteen eligible voters cast their votes with 2,966 voting in favour of the deal and 49 against.

READ MORE: Blood Tribe Reserve’s land designation referendum passes by 1 vote

A lawsuit filed by the Blood Tribe claimed Canada failed to live up to a promise to provide the tribe with cattle because bison were “near extinction,” a development which had a huge impact on the tribe because bison were part of the “Blackfoot way of life.”

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The suit claimed that band members began selling their own horses in 1893 to purchase cattle and that they began ranching, without help from the government.

The band’s herd grew to about 5,000 head by the early 1900s. During this time, Indian Affairs had taken over management of their livestock and agricultural land.

The band claims Indian Affairs allowed the cows to starve, selling them for a loss in return and that the government department leased out most of the land to non-band members which led to overgrazing.

Councillor Dorothy First Rider said the band also encountered “several bad winters.”

“They lost a lot of cattle as a result, because Indian Affairs was not taking care of them properly,” she said.

The band and its lawyers undertook a joint research effort with the Department of Indian Affairs to collect historical evidence, consulting experts in agriculture, farming and ranching.

First Rider said by working with the consultants they “determined the price of a cow and calf in 1893 up to 1905… and then we brought the numbers forward to today.”

The tribe’s lawyers submitted the historical evidence to the Indian Affairs Special Claims Process in 2000. In 2011, Indian Affairs acknowledged the tribe’s claim was valid, negotiations began and in 2013, an agreement was reached. Then in April 2018, Canada agreed to the claim amount and the band received a formal letter of offer in December.

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Indian Affairs, now called Indigenous and Northern Affairs, requires the Blood Tribe to identify how the money will be used in a trust agreement.

First Rider said most of the money will go towards infrastructure projects on reserve land because the money cannot be put towards programs and services.

READ MORE: Blood Tribe Reserve’s land designation referendum passes by 1 vote

Band member Piinaakoyim Tailfeathers said he thinks “these capital projects that are going to come from this, and this much needed infrastructure, is really going to help improve the quality of life for our people on the reserve.”

There will also be a distribution amount of $2,000 to each Blood Tribe member, totalling a little more than $23 million. A portion of the funds will also pay back loan funding used from the government for the years of research and legal fees.

It’s not known when the settlement money will be paid out.