Officials with the Fort William First Nation say an almost $99 million settlement offer from the Canadian government is a historic one.

The offer is in relation to a land claim, of about 650 hectares, started almost 20 years ago for territory expropriated in 1905 to build a terminus for the former Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

Chief Peter Collins told reporters Friday morning that the First Nation never gave up its rights to the land that lies along the bank of the Kaministiquia River, and that the forced relocation created hardships for the community and its members.

"They had farmlands on that territory and they buried their loved ones there and they're all exhumed and removed from those lands," he said.

"The worst part about it for us — when the Federal government pushed us onto the rock and onto the swampland — was rebuilding our community."

Now that the settlement offer has been made, Fort William council has to pass a resolution accepting the deal, Collins said. There also needs to be a ratification vote by members of the community.

The First Nation will hold a general meeting on Monday to get input from the community on how the money is to be distributed, including how much goes to individual members and how much to the First Nation itself.

Peter Collins chief Fort William First Nation

Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins says the community never gave up its rights to the land along the Kaministiquia River. In his words, the government of the day pushed the community "on to a rock and onto swampland." (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Change in government sped up the process

The change in government in Ottawa played a role in an offer being put on the table, Collins said.

"There has been a lot of work in the past and it's kind of gotten quiet for the last little while," he said, referring to the period of time the federal Conservatives were in power.

"When the new Liberals got elected, we started getting aggressive,  sending emails and having meetings with Canada's negotiator. We were just waiting for that offer."

Collins said he remembers hearing stories from his grandmother about the move. "They had to walk into the city or get into the township to get their supplies," he said. "Those are hardships that were created by being moved off the land."


Plans for future land use

The original lands are also slated to be returned to the First Nation, and both Collins and lands director for the community Ian Bannon, told reporters the plan is to keep them for industrial use.

"There's environmental issues on various parcels of property. Those environmental levels are all different in various locations," Bannon said.

"It will be deemed as industrial from this [point] going forward with these lands."

Bannon added there are other issues as well, with some parts of the land having been sold or rented to third parties over the years.

Community officials said the 1905 expropriation was the largest for a railway in Canada.

Newsletter from FWFN Chief Peter Collins