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Entitlement Rejection Serious Blow

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MARCH 1988      p02  
The rejection of the 1976 Treaty land entitlement agreement by the Federal and Provincial Governments is a major blow to the economic and political future of the Saskatchewan bands.

The move from the 1976 agreement to the shortfall based on the date of first survey reduces the amount to be transferred from 1.4 million acres to 170,000 acres.

A recent letter from the Department of Indian Affairs confirmed what the FSIN and the entitlement bands had suspected for some time. The federal government is adopting a policy of land entitlement based on the date of first survey. It doesn't seem to matter that the first survey, when a band did not receive its full entitlement may have been a century ago and band population have increased considerably over the intervening years.

The bands in Saskatchewan have consistently maintained that a band's entitlement changes in line with the bands population until the full amount of land is realized. This position was the basis of the '76 formula and was recognized by both the federal and provincial governments.

Now the Feds and the Province want to scrap the agreement. The federal department of Indian Affairs maintains they have a legal opinion from the Department of Justice that defines the shortfall at the date of first survey as the only amount required to satisfy the governments "lawful obligation".

"Lawful obligation" is a cop-out to avoid a fair and just land settlement with Saskatchewan bands.

Since the provincial government came to power six years ago, they have studied, ignored and rejected land entitlement. They have thrown up roadblocks and raised minor issues to block land selection and transfer. Issues such as water rights, third party interests, municipal taxes and mineral rights have all become major issues even if the actual impact is negligable.

The Province on the other hand, has a strong rural base and is very vulnerable to pressure from pasture patrons, rural municipalities, wildlife groups and racists. Rather than displaying moral courage, the province has caved in to pressure groups and broken an honorable agreement to the Indian population of the province.

The Federal governments action have been to remain silent and allow the province to develop their position without pressure or interference. Now that the Federal government has changed the rules the province can quite easily agree and not take responsibility.

Twelve years ago, when this agreement was negotiated, it was followed by a great deal of optimism with bands doing community planning and looking at land selection for agriculture, timber or tourist possibilities. It was felt that because of the abundance of Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (PFRA) land, Indians in the future would be major cattle producers.
The future looked bright and opportunity was within our grasp. Now we're back to 1975 when the departmental officials were rejecting land entitlement based on current population and wanted settlements on the basis of the shortfall at the date of first survey.

Twelve years of hard work and good will appear to be rapidly going down the drain. Action must be taken immediately to avoid disaster. Some bands are looking at legal options in the courts others are lobbying politically with the federal and provincial governments and the option of appealing directly to the public through the news media remains a possibility.

Whatever options Saskatchewan Indians take, one thing is for certain, governments will realize they can't break their word.