Partnership Negotiations Achieve Better Settlement as Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation Finalizes TFT

By Shari Narine

Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative

It took 21 years for the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation in central Saskatchewan to go through the Treaty Land Entitlement process and get compensated for the land they forfeited when they joined Treaty 6 in 1876.

Chef Larry Ahenakew has been part of this TLE journey from the start.

“I was on the board at the time when we first filed the case (July 2001). Then I came on as chief and we were accepted in 2010 (at TLE). It’s been a long road. It’s been a long time since we got to this,” Ahenakew said. “I thought it would take four, five years. I didn’t think it would take 21 years. I’m glad we got to this point and that I’m still sitting here.

On April 6, Ahenakew, Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller and Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan First Nations,

Métis and Northern Affairs Don McMorris announced the conclusion of tripartite negotiations and a settlement agreement for the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation TLE claim.

The band will receive $43.3 million in compensation and set aside just over 4,000 acres of missing land. The Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation also has the option of acquiring up to 40,659.97 acres to add to their reserve lands.

TLE’s claims seek to address historical allegations that First Nations did not receive enough reserve land promised to them under treaty. Through Treaty 6, Ahtahkakoop was to receive one square mile per family of five or 128 acres per person. In 1878, a federal decree set aside 42,988.8 acres of land as a reserve for Ahtahkakoop, enough for 336 people. The Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation claimed that the total eligible membership at the time was 368, resulting in a treaty land entitlement shortfall of 4,115.2 acres.

The TLE agreement was ratified in October 2021 with a favorable vote of 97% of Ahtahkakoop members. Seven consultation meetings took place in different cities and within Ahtahkakoop.

Ahenakew admits that the band members hoped “to see a lot of money” personally from the colony. However, as this is a TLE and not specific claim compensation, the Framework Agreement specifies that the settlement money must be spent on land acquisition.

“They thought it was a per capita basis (and) we had to repeat that it was for TLE, to buy land for our loss of income for our future generations,” he said.

The money can, however, be invested and the interest spent on the development of the band.

“In the long term it would be nice to leave the money there, but at the same time we need more land. We are a growing First Nation…

We need housing. We need land,” Ahenakew said.

He says there are currently between 3,800 and 3,900 members.

The band has 12 years to acquire the missing acres (over 4,000) of Crown land owned by Canada or Saskatchewan and convert it to reserve land. Ahenakew does not know if this land should be purchased at market value.

A TLE council was created last fall for Ahtahkakoop. The community decided on the composition of the council, which consists of four on-reserve and three off-reserve members. This council, this chief and this council will determine the lands to be purchased for the reserve.

“(We want) to get land for our elders and youth so they can have cultural land, hunting grounds to go up there, wherever we can buy crown land around our community,” Ahenakew said.

He also points out that purchased land can be leased to generate revenue for the band.

As for the other 40,000 acres, there is no time limit as to when that must be purchased. However, Ahenakew says that since this land will be primarily for economic development, the cost of commercial land will be significantly higher. He also points out that the $43.3 million settlement will not go as far in buying commercial land.

Crown land must be purchased before the band can begin to seek commercial land.

“Hopefully we can accelerate that within a year or two. In a few years we can move forward with commercial land purchases and economic development,” Ahenakew said.

When the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation made its first TLE application in 2010, Ahenakew says the band was offered $262 an acre for a settlement of about $8-9 million. The group rejected this offer. In 2014, Ahtahkakoop was working in partnership with the Cree Nation of Mistawasis and Sakimay First Nation and the government denied the Tri Nations’ request for $424 per acre for a $12-14 million settlement for Ahtahkakoop.

“We worked together. Nobody signed their TLE for 10 years until we agreed on a price per acre,” Ahenakew said.

Further negotiations saw the price per acre increase to $1,026 per acre.

“And we’re here today. We’ve all worked together. So going forward, this will benefit all other future TLE bands,” Ahenakew said.

Neither the Cree Nation of Mistawasis nor the members of the Sakimay First Nation have yet ratified their agreements.

The $43.3 million settlement for Ahtahkakoop will see Canada provide $30.7 million and Saskatchewan the remaining $12.6 million.

Canada and Saskatchewan will also set aside $6.7 million as compensation for rural municipalities and school divisions once taxable land is set aside as a reserve.

Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works at Windspeaker.Com. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive funding from LJI.

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