The Mikisew Cree First Nation has said yes to a $136 million agricultural benefits settlement, voting to ratify an agreement with the federal government under Treaty 8, which was originally signed over 100 years ago.
Seventy-four per cent of voting Mikisew Cree First Nation members voted yes for the settlement, as well as a controversial trust fund designed to manage it. The fund led some members to launch a petition to remove chief and council.
The First Nation says voter turnout was 52 per cent.
Polling was held in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., on Oct. 15, and advanced polls were held in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Fort McMurray, Edmonton, and High Level. Members were also able to vote online.
Chief Archie Waquan says he is "jubilant" and believes "people should be happy" with the settlement. Waquan said he started the Treaty 8 claim in 1993, and "now I am going to be the one that is going to sign it off.
"A lot of people have said we didn't give them consultation," said Waquan, responding to the concerns of dissenting members, many of whom signed the petition. "But we did. We had meetings."
Waquan said he didn't want to respond to those concerns prior to the vote to avoid "a fight, an argument." At 70 years old and into his sixth term as chief, he says he's seen disputes of this type before.
"After all those years of being chief, you know how to deal with people," he said.
Councillor Ruby-Helen Shirley says her grandfather Thomas signed the original agricultural benefits treaty in 1899. "It wasn't until 1991 that Chief Archie realized that there were some issues that were unresolved regarding the agricultural benefits," she said.
"Now, we can move forward with the dreams that our grandfathers had for us."
The next step for the First Nation, according to Waquan, is to take the court case off the docket in the court system.
"We have to sign a band council resolution to that effect," he said. "Next, we have a period that we have to wait, just in case somebody appeals it. We cannot go ahead and start doing things until we know the appeal period is done."
After the steps are completed, there still may be a wait before the First Nation receives their settlement, said Waquan. "I've seen other First Nations, they're still waiting," he said. "Some of them have done their vote in June and they still haven't received their money yet."
In the meantime, the petition calling for the removal of chief and council has been sent to the Prime Minister. Waquan said he can't comment on the petition as it's in the hands of lawyers, but said he believes money always splits people.
"We, as a government, went this route, and hopefully it's for the benefit of everybody now and into the future," he said.