Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation 1903 Surrender Specific Claim

The Roseau River First Nation is located about 80 km south of Winnipeg, Manitoba. It has over 2000 members.

In 1982, the Roseau River First Nation submitted a specific claim regarding Reserve land that had been surrendered in 1903. At that time, the claim was for compensation arising from government mismanagement of the sales of surrendered land. This claim was rejected by the government in 1986. In 1993, the First Nation then asked the Indian Claims Commission to conduct an inquiry into its rejected claim. While preparing for the inquiry, the First Nation brought forward another claim based on the validity of the 1903 surrender of land. In 2001, this claim was also rejected.

In 2002, the Indian Claims Commission held two community meetings to hear further testimony from Elders. Research was also conducted on such issues as land quality. The First Nation decided to continue with only the surrender claim. Legal arguments were presented before the Indian Claims Commission in March, 2006. The claim was accepted for negotiation in 2008, culminating in a settlement agreement this year.

History of the 1903 Surrender Specific Claim-

The Roseau River Band was part of four groups who signed Treaty 1 in 1871. The government set aside a Reserve for the Band of 13,350 acres (IR 2). This Reserve was considered at the time to include prime agricultural land, as well as water and timber. Consequently, the Band received a great deal of pressure from settlers and townspeople in the area to surrender all or part of it. The Band refused many proposals for surrender between 1889 and the end of 1902.

In January 2003, Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, instructed Inspector S.R. Marlatt to attempt once again to obtain a surrender of lands from IR 2. Inspector Marlatt held one meeting on January 20, 1903, on the Reserve; once again, the leadership refused a surrender. On January 30, the Band surrendered the eastern part of the Reserve, almost 7,700 acres, or 60% of the total. The remaining land was in an area where flooding often occurred and consequently, was not as valuable as farmland.

The government had a fiduciary duty to protect the Band’s interest in IR 2. Certainly, the Band made it clear time after time that they were not interested in surrendering any part of the Reserve. So what happened? It seems that Inspector Marlatt found himself under intense pressure from settlers and nearby towns to obtain a surrender. He, in turn, subjected the Band’s leadership to this pressure, to the extent that he became more or less an intermediary between the Band and the settlers. It remains unclear, however, what happened in that ten day period in January, 1903, that caused the Band to surrender. There was evidence that Inspector Marlatt was inexperienced and that he neglected to provide a reporting letter. However, there was nothing to indicate that he had committed fraud. Marlatt did, however, admit that the land surrender was not something the Band wanted, but was instead, based on the wishes of the government.

The government eventually agreed that, although the land surrender was valid, there was a great deal of evidence that showed that the Crown did not fulfill its fiduciary duty to protect the Roseau River First Nation’s interests in IR 2.There was never any doubt that the Band did not want to give up their interests in the Reserve. The fact that they did finally do just that indicates that Inspector Marlatt in some way used his authority to convince the Band to do something it clearly did not want to do.

The Settlement-

This claim was finally resolved when a settlement offer of $80 million was made to the Roseau River First Nation. The offer also included $638,353 for negotiating costs. In February, 2011, this offer was voted on and accepted by the membership. A small amount of the total settlement ($5,000 per person) was distributed to Band members of Roseau River. Other than the amount set aside for negotiating costs, which went to re-pay an interest-free loan from the Government for this purpose, all money is now being held in trust for future generations. If the Band decides to purchase land to make up for what it lost in 1903, it will have to be put to a vote by all members. If this happens within the next thirty years, Canada will put this land under Reserve status.