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Benefits flow to Peguis First Nation

A payout for all, but most of the money to be invested in community projects

On Friday December 10, 2010 Peguis membership began receiving a per capita payout from the illegal surrender agreement that was finally ratified by the Federal Government in October of this year. The payout allocation was $1,500 for elders and $1,000 for others including children.

The approximate value of the pay out is $10,000,000 which comes out of the $118,000,000 settlement. The balance of the funds will be invested and community projects will utilize the primary and secondary interest to cover those project costs. Peguis membership is approximately 8,600 members. How did this settlement come to fruition?

The history of the St. Peters Band, now Peguis First Nation, begins in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s when Chief Peguis and his Band settled in an area north of present day Selkirk. The documentation of Peguis and his Band is rich in journals of the Hudson Bay Company, the Lord Selkirk settlers and the Church Missionary Society.

Chief Peguis and other Chiefs signed the Selkirk Treaty in 1817 where land along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers were allocated to Lord Selkirk and his settlers for an annual rent of tobacco. After Chief Peguis died, his son Henry Prince or Miskookinew (Red Eagle) became the Chief of the Band and he signed Treaty #1 in 1871 and his Band became the St. Peters Band.

There were competing land matters on the St. Peters Reserve and in trying to resolve these matters, Hector Howell decided the best way to resolve this issue was to advocate and promote a complete surrender of the St. Peters Reserve. Other factors were considered when the surrender issue arose. Many people coveted the prime land upon which St. Peters Reserve was situated. Other individuals did not want an Indian reserve near the town of Selkirk. Chief and Council of the St. Peters Band rebuffed Hector Howell’s idea of a surrender more than once.

The surrender was completed in 1907 which involved a flawed process including improper counting of votes, insufficient notice, inducement and other fraud-related activities.

The dispossession of the St. Peters lands continued in 1908 when the first wave of Anishinabe moved to the present day reserve of Peguis some 180 kilometres north of Selkirk. This trek has been coined as ‘The Trail of Tears’ similar to the Trail of Tears
experienced by the Cherokee in 1830 when they were disposed of their lands in Georgia and forcibly moved to Oklahoma. The history  of First Nations peoples in Canada and the United States and the ultimate dispossession of their homeland is indeed a very
sad story.

Claims for the illegal surrender were submitted by previous Chiefs and Councils and were rejected by Indian Affairs, and in the early 1990’s the Indian Claims Commission was requested to assess the claims submitted by the Peguis First Nation. Reluctantly,
Indian Affairs validated the Surrender Claim in 1998 and negotiations were undertaken to conclude a settlement agreement on the illegal surrender of the St. Peters Reserve. Negotiations were protracted and after engaging three federal negotiators, a
settlement was reached with a net value of $118,750,000. This was one of the highest settlement awards reached under the Specific Claims Policy under Indian Affairs andthe federal government.

Was justice served? Members of Peguis have voiced a myriad of opinions which include insufficiency of the real value of dispossessed lands, to an approval of the overall settlement award which was voted on by the general public. The parameters of the Specific Claims Policy are seen as being too narrow and the only alternate available when the claim was validated is to use the courts as an arbiter of the award. Given the ceiling of the Specific Claims Policy which is at $150 million, the settlement figure is seen as a fair conclusion. At present the Specific Claims Policy is being updated in an attempt to improve the claim process for First Nations. It is interesting to note that Specific Claims Policy was the subject of improving its delivery process and validation
process since 1990. Does it take twenty years to revise a policy? It is indeed a very slow process and the settlement of First Nation claims which are directly tied into the Specific Claims Policy can in turn be a long process.

The payout to the members of the Peguis First Nation has been described as being the tip of the iceberg with the bulk of the settlement to be invested to produce interest or income also known as primary and secondary income. Community projects will tap into the primary and secondary incomes leaving capital to generate income for years to come.

The general public made a wise decision to invest the bulk of the capital rather than spend the entire settlement on payout proceeds.

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