20 years on, First Nations reflect on historic land deal

It's been 20 years since a landmark agreement was signed to settle outstanding treaty land claims in Saskatchewan.
FSIN Bobby Cameron says First Nations people need jobs, so he hopes the treaty land entitlement process speeds up. (CBC)

It's been 20 years since a landmark agreement was signed to settle outstanding treaty land claims in Saskatchewan.

The $600-million deal was designed to right a historic wrong, where First Nations were promised land they never received.

In general, bands that received compensation were able to buy land and also invest in economic development initiatives.

Carry the Kettle First Nation was able to parlay its settlement into $45 million in natural gas revenues.

Chief Barry Kennedy says his reserve has ploughed that money back into safe water systems, roads and housing.

"It's given us opportunities that we wouldn't normally have," Kennedy said.

Since the deal was signed in September, 1992, more than 320,000 hectares of land have been converted to reserve status.

The process is still underway. The 320,000 hectares is only about a third of what could ultimately be restored to First Nations.

And at the current pace, it will take at least another two decades to complete the process.

That concerns Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice-chief Bobby Cameron, who says First Nations people who need jobs now can't afford to wait that long.

"For our communities the consequences are devastating," he said. "It's our people back home that feel the effects with these kind of things not going forward in a more efficient manner."

There has been a darker side to the treaty land entitlement settlements. There have been a number of cases where treaty land entitlement money has been misspent.

In some cases, fraud charges have been laid against chiefs, council members and other band officials who had been entrusted with the funds.

Cameron says those problems are a matter for individual First Nations to deal with. Overall, the successes of the treaty land entitlement process far exceed any failures, he said.