This is Chief Keeter Corston, on Saturday September 17, 2016 at Chapleau Cree First Nation’s (CCFN) Fox Lake Reserve, where CCFN, Ontario and Canada signed the Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) Settlement Agreement, one of the first of its kind to be settled in Ontario.
The TLE signing ceremony took place this past Saturday at the Fox Lake Reserve, and, along with representatives from the government of Canada and Ontario, was attended by the Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, CCFN community members and their families, and of course, the CCFN TLE Negotiating Team. It was a happy and proud day for all, commemorated by a traditional pipe ceremony and the drumming and singing of CCFN’s youth.
As proud as we are of the excellent outcome of this file, we’re equally proud to have developed strong relationships with CCFN leadership and members. Over the years we and our families have been honoured to be hosted as guests many times, and to have participated in community events and ceremonies. We especially want to recognize and thank the TLE Negotiation Team members, who were such fearless advocates for CCFN through this long process: Chief Keeter Corston, Mike Cachagee, Marjorie Cachagee-Lee, Norma Caldwell, and Bill Cachagee.
TLE claims are intended to settle land debts owed to those First Nations who did not receive all the land they were promised under historical treaties. In CCFN’s case, the First Nation signed Treaty 9 back in 1906. The Treaty promised that one square mile of reserve land would be allocated to each family of five, which is equivalent to about 128 acres per person. However, CCFN had only received about a quarter of its Treaty 9 land entitlement, leaving a land debt owed to the First Nation that had remained unfulfilled for over 100 years.
After nearly 9 years of steady negotiations, a settlement agreement was reached, and was ratified by CCFN membership in a landslide vote earlier this year. CCFN’s settlement includes upwards of 9,000 acres of provincial Crown land from Ontario plus financial compensation from Canada for loss of use of the reserve lands (approximately $21.5 million).
We consider this to be an excellent settlement. It is better than what we reasonably could have expected to get in court, and was done without any cost to the Nation. CCFN now has more land and more money, and is better positioned than ever to move ahead with reasserting jurisdiction over all its traditional lands, and developing institutions and infrastructure to be fully self-governing.
Bryce Edwards and OKT associate Kaitlin Ritchie (whose dad is a CCFN member) were counsel to the CCFN TLE Negotiation Team. During the nine years of active negotiations with Canada and Ontario, we attended dozens of negotiation sessions and community meetings, performed legal research, managed the work of various experts, and advised on negotiations strategy. We negotiated increases in both the land base and the compensation amounts, by working with leading historical and economic experts to identify key facts and strengthen CCFN’s case. With the assistance of OKT partner Bob Rae, we successfully lobbied Ontario Works to ensure membership would receive the full benefit of the settlement, and not have any of it clawed back. We worked with industry and Ontario to ensure the new reserve lands would be safer and less polluted by negotiating for the re-routing a forestry road, and we negotiated side agreements with local businesses, to ensure good relations moving forward.
Throughout the negotiations, we worked closely with the CCFN leaders and community members to ensure the process remained community-driven. We participated in community meetings across Ontario, in the creation of a documentary for membership explaining the TLE claim and proposed settlement, and in conducting a comprehensive membership survey on how to manage the settlement funds. This process of continuous engagement meant the CCFN team was sure it had membership’s understanding, direction and strong support for its work.
Many First Nations in Ontario and across the historic numbered treaties may be entitled to more land than the reserves they currently have. If you would like to learn more about how OKT might assist you with a claim, please contact Bryce Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416.981.9342.
OKT offers a full suite of negotiation and litigation services for First Nations across Canada, and its lawyers are recognized leaders and experts in the field.