Thunderchild First Nation 1908 Surrender

The Thunderchild First Nation live in North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

On October 2, 2003, a settlement agreement was reached between the Thunderchild First Nation and the Government of Canada. The specific claim is based on events that took place during the 1908 surrenders of Indian Reserves (IR), 115,115A, 112A. The reserves were located on both sides of the North Saskatchewan River and North Battleford.

Nearly 80 years after the surrender, the Thunderchild First Nation submitted a specific claim in 1986 regarding the surrender of the reserves. According to the claim, the 1908 surrender was null and void. On July 9, 1993 the claim was finally accepted for negotiation. Ian Potter, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development wrote a letter confirming the negotiation which stated that, “For the purposes of negotiations, Canada accepts that the band has sufficiently established that Canada has a lawful obligation within the meaning of the Specific Claims Policy with regards to the 1908 surrender.”

History of the Claim

In 1876, Several First Nations groups in Saskatchewan and Alberta, including the Thunderchild First Nation, signed Treaty 6. Under this treaty, the First Nations surrendered  121,000 square miles of land. In exchange, the government set aside IR 115, IR 115A, and half of IR 112A for the Thunderchild First Nation. The Band was a largely agricultural community and the reserve lands were ideal for farming.

The reserve lands became even more valuable when the Canadian Northern Railway’s main line was constructed and passed through IR 115. Immediately following the construction of the railway, local settlers, business owners, and politicians became interested in in the reserve lands and began to put pressure on the Band to surrender their land and to relocate in the north. The Department of Indian Affairs attempted unsuccessfully to obtain surrender.

The Thunderchild First Nation made it clear several times that they were not interested in giving up their lands. However, Canada persisted in its efforts to obtain a surrender from the First Nation.

On August 26, 1908, Commissioner David Laird and Indian Agent Day held a meeting with the Thunderchild First Nation hoping to convince them to surrender. The men of the Thunderchild First Nation voted several times on the issue. Frequently, the Crown officials would take out money from a satchel and place it on a table for all the men to see – they had brought $15,000 for this purpose.  After two days of deliberating, the Band voted and surrendered the land. In exchange, the Thunderchild First Nation would receive two years of rations and a cash payment of $12,840.

Oral history indicates that the Band was emotionally exhausted from the pressure they had endured over the last several months.

Ironically, it was never discussed at the meeting where the Thunderchild would relocate. It was only after the government obtained the surrender from the Band that they began to think about the new reserve lands.

In the end, the Thunderchild First Nation was relocated to IR 115B, which was much farther northwest than their previous reserves. IR 115 was nothing like the rich farming land that the Band had lived in before; rather, the new reserve was rugged and unsuitable for farming. The Thunderchild First Nation could no longer sustain themselves on the new reserve.

After the negotiating process began in 1993, several settlement offers and counteroffers were made. The claim was finally resolved when the Thunderchild First Nation accepted the offer of $53,000,000 in compensation. The money has been placed in a trust fund for future generations. In addition, the Band plans on using the money to purchase land. They are also interested in seeking opportunities in the oil and gas sector. The Thunderchild First Nation also has the option to purchase 5,000 acres of land to be used as a reserve. If they decide to do this, it must be done within 15 years of the settlement.