Sask. First Nation land claim settlement vote falls short due to low vote turnout

Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation held a vote on May 13, 2023 on whether they will move forward with a land settlement agreement. Courtesy: Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation

A Saskatchewan First Nation community says they failed to meet their voting threshold – putting their land claim settlement agreement in limbo.

Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation held a vote on Saturday to decide whether members were in favour of the settlement agreement with the federal government.

According to a news release issued by First Nation, 48 per cent of eligible members came out to vote. This falls slightly below the 50 per cent of eligible voters that needed to be met.

Chief Melissa Tavita said she’s disappointed in the turnout, considering she believes her community members are all on the same page.

“This is something that we were waiting for decades,” she told Global News.

“Usually you hear about reserves that go through these claims. They have internal issues with their leadership where they’re constantly fighting or internal issues within the community. But everything was our leadership. We move forward together as one. There’s no fights. We’re on board [with] our community. We move forward as one,” she added.
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For Chief Tavita, this was a personal mission as her mother was on council before her.

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“She talked about this 1909 claim in the government that showed us the government was going to owe us a lot of money for what they’d done in 1909. And so throughout this process of being chief and working on this claim, I thought of my mother in the back of my mind,” she explained.

Out of the 48 per cent of votes, 99.7% voted in favour of the agreement.

As part of the agreement, if less than half of the eligible population voted, but most votes fell in favour, the First Nation has an opportunity for a re-vote.

Part of the settlement includes a payment of $150 million and allowing the First Nation to purchase around 18 thousand acres of land that can be converted to reserves.

Band member Keith Pratt said this money could be used to rebuild the reserve.

“We can get buildings, we can build our store or our different things for our elders and community places that can be developed where people can meet,” he explained.

“Even our school can be upgraded, or even [build] a new school,” he added.
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Other band councillors are encouraging their community to come out.

“It’s important for our people after decades of fighting for this claim. We’ve had past leadership. A lot of them were gone and they fought for this claim for many, many years, decades. We want to hit home to our people that this is important,” Band member Rhonda Rosebluff said.

Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation is planning to host its second chance vote for June 3.

Only 25 per cent of eligible voters are needed for this vote, but the First Nation wants to use this opportunity to recognize the importance of voting.

It’s sitting on our doorstep and all we do, all we need is our people to come out and vote,” band councillor Perance Cappo emphasized.

“We want to make sure that everybody comes out and votes and that nobody’s depending on other people to push this through. Nobody’s depending on other people to vote and say ‘Yes,'” Chief Tavita explained.


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