Update on the Establishment of the Specific Claims Tribunal

Background History

Specific Claims are claims relating to breaches or non-fulfilment of lawful obligations owing to First Nations by the Federal Government of Canada. The process involved in resolving Specific Claims has until recently, been slow and cumbersome. A very large number of Specific Claims built up over time to create  a backlog in the system. Many claims sat waiting to be considered for ten years or more.  Others were rejected with minimal or no explanation. In 1990, at the request of the Federal Government, a group of First Nations Chiefs formed the Chiefs Committee on Claims. One of the recommendations made by this Committee was the establishment of an independent Specific Claims Tribunal. The Committee's  submission also led to the formation of the Indian Specific Claims Commission, which reviewed Specific Claims that had been rejected and issued non-binding reports.
 In December 2006, the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples issued its final report on Canada's Specific Claims process entitled "Negotiation or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice". This report clearly stated the urgent necessity to settle Specific Claims, and called again for the establishment within two years of an independent Tribunal.  This report was followed by a document entitled Specific Claims: Justice at Last,  published by INAC in 2007. The Specific Claims Tribunal will soon be able to make binding decisions on claims that have been rejected by the Federal Government.

Beardy’s and Okemasis Band #96 and #97 (Claim currently at the Specific Claims Tribunal)

The Beardy and Okemasis Band #96 and #97 live near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

On December 6, 2001, the Beardy and Okemasis First Nation filed a Treaty Annuities Claim against the Government of Canada. According to the Band, the Crown’s decision to end treaty annuities from 1885-1889 was illegal. The First Nations argue that failure to pay the annuities to the Band members is a breach of the Crown’s fiduciary duty and are seeking compensation.
History of the Claim:

In 1876, several First Nations in Saskatchewan signed Treaty 6 with the Crown. The Beardy’s and Cut Nose Band – predecessors of Okemasis - were among the bands that entered the treaty. Since the Cut Nose Band is the ancestor of the Okemasis, the Okemasis is also subject to the terms of Treaty 6. The treaty required that the Bands surrender 121,000 square miles of land. In exchange, the Crown promised to pay an annuity of $5 to every Band member annually for as long as they were alive.

The Northwest Rebellion broke out in 1885 when the Métis, led by Louis Riel, formed a provisional government at Batoche which is located close to the Beardy’s reserve in Duck Lake. Although the rebellion began near the Beardy reserve, the band and the Okemasis remained largely uninvolved. Chief Beardy informed the NWMP that he was not interested in taking part in the conflict although some accounts indicate that a few members did take part. Nevertheless, no one from the Beardy and Okemasis Band was charged for allegedly participating in the rebellion, a strong indication that their involvement was minimal.

Despite the ample evidence which indicated that the chiefs were not involved in the 1885 rebellion, the Crown claimed that the band was disloyal and decided to terminate the treaty with them. A trial was never held to indicate whether the members of the Beardy and Okemasis Band had taken part in the rebellion. Instead, the Crown withheld the treaty annuities to almost all members of the bands from 1885-1888. Between 1885-1889, a total of $4,275 was withheld from band members. The Department of Indian Affairs created a pass system for the Beardy and Okemasis Band which unlawfully confined members of the Bands to their reserves. The Beardy and Okemasis band alleges that t his was illegal and was a violation of civil and human rights. The Crown also confiscated all their guns and horses, withheld rations during times of starvation, broke up bands without their approval, refused to pay Chiefs' salaries. They even ordered that any Indian found with a rifle was “liable to be shot on sight.” When the rebellion came to an end, the Department of Indian Affairs decided to implement a plan for managing the First Nations if situations such as the Métis rebellion were ever to rise again.

In their 2001 specific claim, the First Nation argued that when the Crown unlawfully terminated the Treaty and failed to pay annuity payments, the Crown breached its fiduciary duty. Canada rejected the claim in 2008 because it argued that the Crown’s terminations of treaty annuities between 1885-1889 were owed to individuals and not to the Bands. The band asserts that under the terms of Treaty 6, the Crown promised to pay $5 annually to every band member. Furthermore, in the court decision Soldier v. Canada, it was established that the right to annuity payments is a collective right.

This claim is currently at the Specific Claims Tribunal.