OTTAWA, ONTARIO — (Marketwire) — 03/06/09 — The Indian Claims Commission (ICC) today issued a report on a claim by the Muskowekwan First Nation regarding the land surrenders of 1910 and 1920. A Panel of Inquiry examined oral and documentary research and the relevant law, to determine whether the provisions of the 1906 Indian Act and related policies were breached with respect to the two surrenders as well as whether the Crown breached its pre-surrender fiduciary obligations in both cases.
The Band alleged the invalidity of the two surrenders and had filed a Specific Claim on September 17, 1992, with five supplementary legal submissions over several years, raising a number of issues. The Minister of Indian Affairs rejected the Claim on November 26, 1997, and on December 18, 2003, the ICC agreed to conduct an inquiry at the request of the First Nation. Although eight issues were initially presented for consideration by the Panel of Inquiry, because the Commission was required to complete inquiries by December 31, 2008, only the two mentioned above were addressed in this inquiry, on consent of both parties.
The Muskowekwan First Nation occupies Indian Reserve No. 85 (IR 85) in southern Saskatchewan, and with “the Cree, Saulteaux and other Indians,” signed Treaty 4 on September 15, 1874. A May 1906 Order in Council granted a right of way through the Reserve, consisting of 164.8 acres of land, to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company (GTP) for the construction of a railway line and station. On March 7, 1910, the Muskowekwan First Nation surrendered lands for a town site. Over subsequent years, the Crown received several petitions from town residents and Band members requesting additional adjacent lands be surrendered. Approximately 7,485 acres were included in a second surrender on October 14, 1920.
Concerning the 1910 surrender, the Panel determined that the Muskowekwan First Nation failed to establish that there were violations of the applicable Indian Act. However, the Panel found that the Crown breached its pre-surrender fiduciary obligation to the First Nation.
The Panel determined that the Crown favoured the interests of the railway and settlers over those of the First Nation. Also, the Crown ignored a request by the First Nation to locate the township elsewhere on the Reserve so as to preserve the integrity of the land. The implications of the townsite and right of way were not fully discussed with the Band members by department representatives prior to the actual surrender; thus the First Nation did not have full relevant information for making a free and informed decision. The Crown did not follow its own clear policies prohibiting townsites on Reserve lands. This negatively impacted the core land base, culture and way of life of the First Nation.
With respect to the 1920 surrender, while there were some violations of the 1914 federal Guidelines governing the surrender process, the Panel determined that these were merely technicalities and did not affect the Band’s vote in favour of the surrender. The Band had long-standing intentions to surrender this land and, furthermore, the true purpose of the Indian Act and Guidelines was fulfilled.
However, the Panel found that the Crown failed to live up to its pre-surrender fiduciary obligation to prevent exploitative and improvident surrenders. It failed to inform the Band, which required money for farming equipment, of various options and encouraged the First Nation to surrender some of its best farm land, despite the fact that there were available funds in the Band’s capital and interest accounts.
The ICC was established in 1991 to conduct inquiries at the request of First Nations into specific claims that have been rejected by the federal government or where the First Nation disputes the compensation criteria being considered in negotiations. In addition, the ICC provides mediation services at the request of the parties for claims in negotiation.
By Order in Council, the Indian Claims Commission will formally close its doors on March 31, 2009. This is the last inquiry report that will be completed by this Commission.