Sunday, May 21, 2017

MEMBERS FIGHT BACK!


First Nation peoples in Alberta and Saskatchewan are all talking among themselves about an historic offer to settle their claim.  Earlier in 2017 some twenty Treaty No. 8 first nations received an offer from the Federal Government of Canada on an outstanding 1899 Treaty 8 specific obligation. It is unprecedented, but it took 118 years to get there!!! That is what I call patience.  The offer stems from a clause under the treaty addressing the agricultural benefits or, as it is known by the beneficiaries, “Cows and Ploughs”. 

It has been a long, protracted and expensive process to say the least. Most of the Treaty No. 8 First Nations submitted their specific claims to Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Specific Claims Branch for outstanding agricultural benefits in the early 1990s.  Around 2010, Canada took the position that all Treaty 8 First Nations with an outstanding agricultural benefits claim had to collectively negotiate their claim, which is when things began to move forward.  Albeit slowly.   It would still take an additional 6 years before a settlement offer that was worth taking back to their members was presented to the First Nations.

The Chiefs say they want members to vote to keep the bulk of the settlement in a trust for the use and benefit of future generations.  Members, on the other hand, see that Treaty obligation differently. For one, they believe they are the future generations of a Treaty that was signed 118 years ago. Moreover, they take this position from the Treaty document itself. This specific claim is different from other claims that are tied to land rights. In claims for lost land, the compensation replaces a capital asset, namely reserve land, which is held collectively as a whole for all members.

However, the agricultural benefit Treaty right benefits both the First Nation as whole and individual families. Most of the implements offered in the treaty, like a hoe, shovel, cow, seeds, etc. were to be given to individual families to start a small family farm. Therefore to follow that logic, a reasonable person would naturally accept that the majority of the settlement funds should be distributed to individual members to pursue economic opportunities.

A debate has ensued on whether the agricultural benefits Treaty right is a collective or an individual right.  Although it was not much of a debate at least one Chief and Council flat out refused to hear any other thoughts on the matter.  It is both a collective and individual right.  

While almost all the members believes that Canada’s offer is a fair and equitable offer they are unable to accept the offer because their First Nation is providing only a single ballot question.  Members must accept both the settlement offer and the trust agreement that sets out how the compensation will be distributed, invested and spent.   The ballot could have been set up to permit members to accept separately the settlement and the terms of the trust agreement, but Chief and Council decided not to.

The strong-handed position from Chief and Council is reflected in the voting packages that were mailed out last week, in which the majority of the settlement funds will remain in the hands of Chief and Council.  Members feel their Council never really seriously considered their input and they predetermined what would be in the trust created to accept the settlement.  Indeed, members are furious and upset. That said, at the end of the day, it would be the members who will decide whether to reject or accept the offer by a vote later in June.
 
A ratification process is underway and it is therefore too late to stop this process.  Those members I have talked to said that when they vote no, a negative vote will not represent a rejection of Canada’s offer but a rejection of Chief and Councils’ forcefully putting forth what they want, regardless of what the members want.

This also begs the questions, why would a Chief and Council who are presumably in power to act on their members’ behalf, refuse to consider their views?  The answer is simple.  The Chief and Council believe that their members are incapable of managing a large sum, even in 2017.     They also believe they know better the needs of their members and how to take care of them.  Sound familiar?

Stay tuned...

  •         Will there be enough “No” votes to reject the settlement?
  •      If so, will Canada allow another ratification vote, knowing that this is not a vote against the offer?
  •       Will the Council work through the internal matters to resolve the terms of the trust to the satisfaction of its members?
UPDATE: Although many members were dissatisfied with the offer from Chief and Council. ACFN MEMBERS VOTED to accept the offer. The truth is many didn't understand or read the package!  



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