Siyam Shane James of the Shxwawhamel First Nations speaks during an announcement of a settlement claim worth more than $150 million. (Jessica Peters/ Black Press)

Government settles land claim for Seabird reserve gaffe

Seven First Nations bands receive about $21 million each as a settlement aimed at reconciliation

Reconciliation took a big leap forward on Tuesday in Hope, as the federal government met with local First Nations chiefs to finally settle outstanding claims.

In total, the Government of Canada has compensated seven First Nations bands with more than $150 million. That amount will be divided seven ways, giving about $21 million each to the Popkum, Chawathil, Shxw’ōw’hámel, Skawahlook, Yale, Peters and Union Bar First Nations.

A ceremony was held at the Chawathil gymnasium, with Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations attending along with chiefs and representatives from each band. Along with drumming, prayers and gift giving, there were many speakers who explained the significance of the settlement.

These negotiated settlements are meant to resolve a legal obligation owed by Canada to these First Nations, from when a reserve they held in common was transferred in 1959 to the then-newly formed Seabird Island First Nation without meaningful consent or compensation.

“Resolving historical grievances are critical to renewing the relationship and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people,” Bennett said. “These specific claims settlement with the Popkum, Chawathil, Shxw’ōw’hámel, Skawahlook, Yale, Peters and Union Bar First Nations not only right a past wrong but provide these First Nations with financial compensation that they can invest into the well being of their communities.”

Siyam Shane James of Shxw’ōw’hámel said the difference will be seen in the near future, as bands have the opportunity to purchase lands surrounding them to increase their reserves’ land bases. He said their councils have been working toward this development over the last year, and hope that future purchases will boost their economic development opportunities.

A truck stop is being planned for the future that will benefit everyone, he said as an example.

“This will us to purchase more land for future generations,” he said in a speech. The settlement is based on the purchase of up to 560 acres for each reserve, although that land has not been identified yet.

James said the bands will work together now to make sure they are purchasing land respectfully. They will be looking at both Crown land and private properties.

“It’s an exciting day as we right wrongs,” Bennett added.

“This has been a long road,” noted Chief James Murphy, of Popkum. “We filed this claim well over a decade ago. When Canada rejected the claim we took it to the Specific Claims Tribunal and won. Our victory at the Specific Claims Tribunal proves that the process works. We are grateful that we have access to an impartial process to resolve historical issues and we commend Canada for negotiating an honourable settlement with us”

Everyone noted that Murphy worked hard to ensure this week’s settlement came to being.

“Skawahlook First Nation appreciates all of Chief James Murphy’s efforts in achieving this specific claim and, particularly, for ensuring our community benefited,” said Chief Maureen Chapman, from Skawahlook. “We also appreciate Minister Bennett and her colleagues efforts and their decision to do the honourable thing and approve the settlement which will help Skawahlook First Nation to thrive.”

The ceremony was attended by many members of the community, including several youth. Speakers noted that it would be up to the youth to remember this day and carry forward with the work that’s been done to date.

“As the descendants of our past leaders that had the wisdom and always held the vision and well-being of forming a land base for their families, we remain respectful to carry on this tradition in a good way for the benefit of our future generations,” said Chief Rhoda Peters. “Our hands go up to the seven First Nation leaders and the external governments for bringing closure to this land mark decision.”

The Seabird Island Reserve, which is approximately 3,920 acres, was originally allotted in common to these seven First Nations in the 1870s.

In 2014, the Specific Claim Tribunal determined that Canada had breached its legal obligations when it transferred the reserve without providing the seven First Nations any compensation. In 2017 the specific claims were accepted for negotiations.

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Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, holds a claims settlement with Rhoda Peters of Chawathil First Nation. (Jessica Peters/ Black Press)

Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, receives gifts from an elder during a ceremony at Chawathil on Tuesday morning. (Jessica Peters/ Black Press)

Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, receives gifts from an elder during a ceremony at Chawathil on Tuesday morning. (Jessica Peters/ Black Press) Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations speaks about the importance in reconciling the Seabird settlement with local First Nations. (Jessica Peters/ Black Press)

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