June 18th, 2019

‘Big Claim’ a big win for Blood Tribe First Nation

By Mabell, Dave on June 13, 2019.

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

dmabell@lethbridgeherald.com

After years of litigation, the Blood Tribe has won a second major victory.

In a decision released Wednesday, the Federal Court declared the Blood Nation was short-changed by more than 160 square miles during the Treaty Land Entitlement process about 140 years ago.

Federal Court Justice Russel Zinn agreed with the tribe’s claim that there was an outstanding treaty obligation and it is owed a further 162.5 square miles of land based on its population after Treaty 7 was signed. But he rejected submissions that the band should gain control of land now occupied by the Town of Cardston and part of Waterton Lakes National Park as compensation.

A court hearing will be ordered to hear submissions on what compensation would be appropriate.

Earlier this year, Blood Tribe members voted to accept a $150-million settlement related to the early days of cattle ranching on reserve lands. After 20 years of legal wrangling, federal officials agreed to settle a claim that Indian Affairs officials took over, mismanaged and starved the band’s 7,500-head herd more than 100 years ago – and then sold it off at a loss, without the Bloods’ permission.

The Blood Tribe’s “Big Claim” goes back even further. It was filed with the Federal Court in 1980, but was held in abeyance while alternate processes to litigation were pursued. After those processes were exhausted, the court agreed to consider the claim through a three-part process.

Oral history evidence from Blood Tribe Elders was heard in May 2016 in Standoff, and then the second phase – a hearing on the substantive legal issues – took place in Calgary a year ago.

Chief Roy Fox welcomed Wednesday’s historic decision, but pointed out the issue is not yet resolved.

“Now that the Federal Court of Canada has provided its decision, Blood Tribe Council will be reviewing the options available,” he said.

They include the steps required to open the compensation hearing.

Meanwhile, Fox said, chief and council “will continue to keep Blood Tribe members informed on the steps being taken in the Big Claim.”

The federal government’s litigation guidelines, he noted, call for decisions on judicial reviews and appeals to be “subject to full consultation within government” but be limited to important questions.

“The Government of Canada will not judicially review or appeal every decision with which it disagrees,” the guidelines say.

It’s time for a final agreement, Fox pointed out.

“The Blood Tribe trusts that given the history of the Big Claim and the fact that both the ICC (Indian Claims Commission) and the Federal Court have found that the Blood Tribe has a valid claim, that Canada will not be appealing this recent judgment and that there will be finality to this long outstanding treaty obligation,” he said.

The ICC ruling came in 2007, after four years of hearings and deliberations. It found the Blood Reserve was created in 1882 and that a surrender by the Blood Tribe was required when Canada moved the southern boundary five miles north to the present boundary.

As no surrender occurred, it said, Canada breached its fiduciary obligations to the Blood Tribe.

But then federal officials took nearly two years to consider the ICC report, only to reply by stating it was the government’s view that it had no outstanding lawful obligation with regard to the Big Claim.

So chief and council filed their case with the Federal Court once again.

“The Blood Tribe Council wishes to thank the many people that supported this claim through the years,” Fox said Wednesday.

They include “the many Elders who have provided evidence at both the Indian Claims Commission hearings and the Federal Court,” along with previous band council members who persevered, and “the Blood Tribe members who participated in the blockade and the run to Ottawa.”

Fox also paid tribute to “the Elders who have passed on without seeing this result, but continued to give us strength throughout.”

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