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Saskatchewan Indians Owed Debt Of Land

Emil Korchinski from the office of the Treaty Commissioner

The following article was written by Emil Korchinski from the office of the Treaty Commissioner

Saskatchewan Indians are owed a long standing debt that should be resolved in the near future. The settlement of Treaty Indian Land Entitlement would significantly increase the size of Saskatchewan Indian reserves.

The formula for reserve size was established over a century ago when the Treaties were signed between the Indian Nations and the Crown. Each family of five was to be granted a square mile of land. At that time a section of land provided a sufficient land base for a productive farm.

The problem developed when the reserves were surveyed. For one reason or another, in many cases the acreage set aside was less then the amount entitled to, based on the population of the Bands.

Over the years some of the Bands were aware that the reserves were much smaller than the treaty formula allowed. As a result in the 1970's the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians researched and negotiated recognition of treaty land entitlement. The agreement was known as the 1976 Formula.

The 1976 Formula determined a Band's land entitlement based on the Band population as of December 31, 1976. Following acceptance of the formula additional research was done and eventually 30 Bands were validated for Treaty Land Entitlement. The final total land required exceeded one million two hundred thousand (1,200,000) acres.

Crown land, both Federal and Provincial was put on the table for selection. Land in the north was readily available and both the Black Lake and Fond du Lac Bands settled their land requirements. PFRA and Community pasture land represented large tracts of Crown land but it was land of poor quality and already utilized by farmers and ranchers. Only one Band, the Luck Man, was able to access community pasture land when they received about half of the Mayfair pasture in the Hafford area.
Other pieces of Crown land were transferred including Indian student residences, and parcels of urban land located within North Battleford and Saskatoon. Bands had to select the lease desirable land in the province and at the same time deal with groups of ranchers who had legitimate third party interests in the land.

When a Band selected pasture land they immediately went up against a group of pasture patrons and bad feelings were created on all sides. As time elapsed all the parties to the agreement began to wonder if the marginal lands were worth all the trouble and ill will.

Since 1976, when the formula was negotiated, only three Bands received their entitlement. 69,000 acres of land were transferred and 61350 acres was land in north with no third part interests.

Other problems became apparent as well. The rural municipalities would lose the tax base provided by the Transfer of the land to reserve status. Concerns were raised over jurisdiction and the provision of services for the Band. Also the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation was concerned about Indian hunting rights. The'76 Formula was dead ended.

In 1987 the federal Government changed their policy to the actual shortfall as of the date of first survey. This reduced the total acreage to less than 160,000 acres for the whole province. As a result the FSIN and five First Nations have taken the Federal Government to court arguing that the 1976 Formula was a binding agreement. Neither side in this dispute wants to be in the courts. Court cases are long and costly and the result could be disastrous for either side.

The FSIN searched for a negotiated settlement. The negotiations resulted in the establishment of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner. The role of the Treaty Commissioner is to facilitate the implementation of the Treaties.

Cliff Wright, the former Mayor of Saskatoon, was appointed as the Treaty Commissioner. He was provided with staff and other resources to run the office. Education and Treaty Land Entitlement were set as the immediate priorities.

A report and recommendations for the successful implementation of Treaty Land Entitlement has been prepared and presented to the Chief of the FSIN and the Minister of Indian Affairs. The report is still under review but a few general remarks can be made.

First, the '76 Formula would be replaced by a new model based on the shortfall at date of first survey combined with the present day population. The total amount of land would be less than a million acres. Second, funding would be available for land purchase and compensation for third party interests. Each Band would receive a credit, based on the number of acres due from their entitlement. This funding would be held in trust and applied to the purchase of land or the resolution of third party interests. Also, Bands who lose land as a result of the difference between the '76 Formula and the new formula would receive compensation. And third, municipalities would receive a lump sum payment to cover future years taxes, when the land is transferred to reserve status.

It is anticipated that this new model would settle the debt and address outstanding treaty land issues. Bands would be able to select quality land and third parties, including municipalities would be satisfied. This also means that farmers would be able to negotiate directly with a Band if they wish to sell their land.

The sooner the First Nations have their land base the sooner they will be able to develop economic self sufficiency.

All Canadians will benefit, when the process is completed and the debt is paid.