Bigstone Treaty Land Entitlement

On December 13, 2010, the government of Canada and Alberta settled the largest treaty land entitlement claim in Alberta with the Bigstone Cree Nation. Treaty land entitlement claims occur when a First Nation argues that they did not receive all the reserve land promised in a treaty. There were three important parts of this settlement: a financial compensation, new reserve lands, and the creation of a new band for the people of Peerless Lake and Trout Lake – the Peerless Trout First Nation.

The Bigstone Cree Nation is the largest First Nation in northern Alberta with over 6,700 members. The Band lives in Wabasca, which is located 250 km northeast of Slave Lake.

History of the claim:

The Bigstone Cree Nation signed Treaty 8 in 1899. Under the terms of the treaty, the government set aside reserve lands for the band. Each member of the band, according to the treaty, would receive 128 acres of land. The problem arose, however, when the Crown did not count the members living north of Bigstone Cree. Although this mistake was eventually discovered, the Crown did not compensate for the members that they initially had not counted.

In 1981, the band submitted a claim regarding the size of the reserve lands. According to the claim, the land that was provided was insufficient.

Negotiations between Alberta, Canada and Bigstone Cree have been going on since 1999. During this time, Bigstone Cree Nation was made up of five communities – one living on the reserve and the other four were living in isolated communities. When negotiations were well underway in 2002, elected representatives from the communities frequently met to discuss the claim.

The Settlement:

The claim was finally resolved when a settlement agreement of $259,400,000 was reached between the Bigstone Cree Nation, Alberta, and Canada on December 2010. Alberta will provide $28 million which includes the cost to build two elementary schools in Peerless Lake and Trout Lake. In addition, Alberta will provide water treatment plants for all five communities. Canada is contributing $231, 400,000. Some of this amount will be used to improve housing and build infrastructure in the communities. The rest of the funds will be given to the communities as well as to pay for the negotiating costs.

An important part of the settlement was the creation of the Peerless Trout First Nation. Although members of the Peerless Lake and Trout Lake communities were members of the Bigstone First Nation, historically, they always considered themselves to be a distinct and separate people. The newly elected Peerless Trout Chief James Alook commented on this during a ceremony in Wabasca when he stated,“Today truly marks a new beginning for members of the Peerless Trout First Nation as we now are recognized as a First Nation and will have the resources to build a community. We are making progress on building our new community, which will bring many benefits to the members of Peerless Trout and allow members to grow and develop.”

There is also a land component to the settlement - 140,000 acres of land will be set aside as reserves for the Bigstone Cree Nation and the Peerless Trout First Nation.

The settlement fund, one of the largest in Canada, will provide the communities with the land and resources they need to create economic growth, invest in business opportunities, and create jobs. The land is rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, and forestry which will help to create local businesses. This will allow the Bigstone Cree Nation and the Peerless Trout First Nation to be self–reliant and work towards building their future. According to Bigstone Chief Gordon T. Auger, $150 million of the settlement will be set aside “to invest in our future” in already established trusts “to make sure it continues to grow and to generate revenues every year to boost programs and services to our members. “We also believe that a modest amount of money should be provided directly to Bigstone members to help them to address some of their immediate needs. Every beneficiary of the settlement will receive $3,500.”