Playing the waiting game

Playing the waiting game
K’atl’odeeche Chief Roy Fabian says the First Nation is exploring all of its options to increase jurisdiction over its traditional lands.Photo: Renee Francouer.

“We’re just playing the waiting game.” With three different claims processes in motion, K’atl’odeeche First Nation (KFN) Chief Roy Fabian says all they can do is hurry up and wait.

“So we’re just waiting on that one,” he says over and over again as he talks about the myriad of negotiations ongoing with the federal government.

That said, he doesn’t mind, as long as the First Nation is getting the best deal it can.

“We’ve been waiting a long time; we can wait some more. We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to stick to our Treaty 8, we’re going to keep our reserve and we’re not going anywhere. But Canada needs to deal with some of these outstanding issues.”

The First Nation, which holds both a reserve east of the town of Hay River and traditional territory throughout the Dehcho region, left the Dehcho comprehensive claims process with the federal government in February, defying Canada’s preferred claims process of the day on the basis that members did not want to give up the reserve, granted in 1974.

Since then, KFN has been trying on different claims to see which process fits. Members reiterated again in April that the comprehensive claims process – even at the community level – is not an option, due to the fact that it requires First Nations to extinguish title over the land and, therefore, give up the reserve.

What’s left is a mixed bag of options, and KFN is trying all of them.

“We’re looking at different processes to see how we can try to gain more jurisdiction over our traditional territory. We’re looking at everything,” Fabian said.

Treaty Land Entitlement

KFN began its Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) process years ago when the reserve was established. Fabian says the population count wasn’t done properly back then – “they shortchanged us in terms of land” – and so KFN provided a counter offer with additional information to back it up.

According to the chief, that stalled everything.

“The offer they made was ridiculous, so we countered by doing some more research, and when we submitted these files, the research we did, they said this is new information and cannot be part of the existing TLE. They’re saying that you have to file a new TLE. So we’re just waiting for them to get in contact with us, but what that means is that if we file a new TLE, more than likely we’ll go to the bottom of the list. It’s a first come, first served system.”

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) responded to say they have made “real progress” in the resolution of specific claims: “Due to our Justice at Last Initiative and the Specific Claims Tribunal Act, we have cleared the backlog of claims and settled over 90 claims since 2007,” AANDC spokesperson Genevieve Guibert told The Journal in an email.

“We have been negotiating with K’atl’odeeche First Nation to resolve the First Nation’s Treaty Land Entitlement claim. We see these negotiations as ongoing.”

‘Cows and ploughs’

The First Nation is also working on a second file, one Fabian said goes under the colloquial name “cows and ploughs,” referencing the agricultural benefits supplied through the treaties.

Like the TLE, KFN started its agricultural claims process years back with eight other First Nations of Treaty 8, and as with the other selective claims process, KFN is waiting for a move from the federal government.

“Canada made an offer and First Nations felt that the offer was too low and there was kind of a deadlock, so what they decided to do was Canada and the First Nations agreed that they would get an independent economist to take a look at the file and make a recommendation,” he said.

“So we went through all that process and the economist, back in 2010, completed his review and made a recommendation and the First Nations accepted it and, if I remember correctly, even the minister at the time accepted it. But shortly after that, Canada kind of stepped away from the whole thing…We haven’t had a response from them in the last two years.”

Though the eight different First Nations joined together to negotiate collectively, Fabian said they had an agreement with the federal government to have each of their files looked at separately so they wouldn’t be affected by the $150 million cap on the claim.

AANDC said they are committed to still resolving the agricultural claim, and that the offer to issue individual claims still stands.

“We are currently reviewing all information with regards to the Treaty 8 First Time Requests for Agricultural Benefit claims and are currently seeking financial mandates in order to present settlement offers to the First Nations,” Guibert said. “Individual settlement offers will be presented to each First Nation with a specific claim.”

Loss of Use claim

That brings the third file KFN is waiting on, which involves the loss of its historic reserve site on Vale Island, Hay River’s “Old Town.” Back in the early 20th century, the First Nation was given one square mile of the island for land use, but that has since disappeared, Fabian said.

“Over the years, Canada and the town and everybody kind of whittled away at that reserve, and eventually it did away with the whole reserve in 1956 without consulting…So we’re putting in what they call a loss of use claim, simply that Canada needs to address that issue with us.”

Now the chief is waiting to hear if the claim is valid to enter negotiations or not.

“They told us they will have a decision by December 2014, over a year away,” he said. “We’re just waiting.”

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