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White Bear Land Claim Settlement

Vernon L. Bellegarde First Vice-Chief Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations



Vernon L. Bellegarde

Mr. Bellegarde, of the Little Black Bear Band,
was elected as First Vice-Chief in October, 1985. Mr. Bellegarde shares executive responsibility with Chief Sol Sanderson for Treaty Rights, Land Claims, Constitutional and Bi-Lateral matters, and the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance.

I am pleased to have the opportunity of introducing the following accounts of the White Bear land settlement. My tenure of responsibility for the Federation's Treaty Rights Program happily coincides with the fruition of fifteen years of research, fieldwork and negotiation on what must be the best documented case of federal fraud in administering Indian lands - the surrender and sale of the Pheasant's Rump and Ocean Man Reserves, and the amalgamation of their populations with the White Bear Band. (The written report consists of six volumes of written text and accompanying documents).

I hope that the successful outcome of the negotiation of this settlement signals an improving climate for claims resolution in Saskatchewan. We have learned much about past federal policies and actions in dealing with our most precious material asset: our land. We have also learned much about the way contemporary claims policies are structured and administered.

As we embark upon the treaty renovation process with the federal government, and marshall our arguments on the way we want our claims and grievances to be dealt with, we must keep in mind all those who have contributed to this fine achievement:

White Bear Land Claim Settlement

Vernon L. Bellegarde First Vice-Chief Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

• the thirty-four surrender bands in the province who agreed selflessly to put the research, negotiation and settlement of the White Bear surrender claim before their own. Without their support the Federation could not have concentrated its resources in the way that it did.

• the Chiefs and councils of the White Bear Band, particularly former Chief Norman Shepherd and Chief Brian Standingready, their legal counsel, and the White Bear land claim committee for their tenacity and patience.

• the descendants of the original Assiniboine bands of Pheasant Rump's and Ocean Man, who never gave up in their determination to reconstitute their bands on the lands they had lost in 1901.

• the leadership of the Federation, and in particular Chief Sol Sanderson, who gave their full support to this cause, and allowed for an unprecedented concentration of time, expertise and financial resources' and who brought to bear the full political force of the Federation in assisting the band to obtain settlement.

• the managerial and technical staff of the "Indian Rights and Treaties Research" Program, especially the director, who co-ordinated and oversaw the total effort.

• the Ottawa-based firm of Tyler, Wright and Daniel, which carried out the archival, historical and investigative research and created the legal framework within which the claim was argued.

• the legal counsel to the Federation who oversaw the development of the claim and David Knoll, who prepared the compensation package for negotiations.

• the federal Ministers and officials who worked for the validation and negotiation of the claim, notably John Munro and Ray Chenier, MP, who began neogitations and reached agreement with the White Bear Band on the final settlement package.

• the present Minister of Indian Affairs, the Honourable David Crombie, who gave final approval to the settlement.

The White Bear land claims agreement has finally been signed. A joint announcement was made on February 12th by Chief Brian Standingready and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, David Crombie. This is the first substantial claims settlement in the province. It is a significant step towards the restoration of the full land base promised us under treaty.

It is important because it provides for the reestablishment of two bands, Pheasant's Rump and Ocean Man, after almost ninety years' amalgamation into the White Bear Band. Treaty promises apply to bands as well as to individuals, and the way is now open for full restoration of the lost rights of the two bands including the political and economic capabilities essential to functioning Indian governments.

The settlement agreement is important in its acknowledgement of the harm done to Indian bands in the past. Treaty agreements and the trust responsibility assumed by the Crown under Treaty provided that bands would be assisted in their economic development. In the case of Pheasant Rump and Ocean Man Reserve, their whole basis for development, their land, was taken from them by the very government who was entrusted with ensuring their development.

Two further land claims which the research program prepared have recently been accepted for negotiation by the federal government (Sakimay and Kahkewistahaw Bands). Many other claims are yet to be validated in Saskatchewan, including some which are very similar to the White Bear case. At the same time, both the Federation and individual bands continue to press for a change in the federal claims policy so that settlement of our claims and grievances would be based on Treaty principles as opposed to a narrow legal basis.

The following articles present aspects of the White Bear claim story. First, there is a look at the early work done by the band and the Federation to restore at least some of the reserve lands which were lost in 1901. The achievements of the early 1970's made possible the transfer of these lands back to reserve status as part of the new agreement. Second, a brief overview is given of the general political and economic environment in western Canada at the time when all the major reserve land surrenders occurred.

The focus next moves onto the fascinating detective story of the historical research into the Pheasant's Rump and Ocean Man surrenders. Finally, there is an outline of the White Bear claim itself, the basis on which it has been settled and the compensation involved.