Waywayseecappo reaches $288M settlement with Ottawa over forced surrender of their lands

A Manitoba First Nation has reached a $288 million settlement with the federal government over a historic claim for the forced removal of 30 square miles of traditional land more than a century ago.

Emotional vote leaves Chief Murray Clearsky with a 'lump in my throat'

Residents in Waywayseecappo First Nation agreed to a $287.6 million settlement from Ottawa as an apology for the forced surrender of some of their lands in 1881. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

A Manitoba First Nation has reached a $288-million settlement with the federal government based on a historic claim over the forced removal of 30 square miles of traditional land more than a century ago.

The citizens of Waywayseecappo First Nation voted in favour of the pact, with 92 per cent of the 951 voters casting their support on Monday.

It was an emotional occasion for Chief Murray Clearsky and many band members.

"We had quite a few crying, tears of joy, and it sure as hell put a lump in my throat, I'll tell you," said Clearsky, who has tried to right this wrong for his community since the 1990s. 

A long time coming

"I didn't think I would ever see the day it would be settled, it's been a lot of work put into this."

Ottawa's $287.6-million deal is in response to the surrender of approximately 30 square miles — or 7,700 hectares — of Waywayseecappo land in 1881, the First Nation 281 km northwest of Winnipeg said in a news release.

The settlement would provide each band member with a minimum $2,500 initially and another $2,500 instalment of cash before Christmas. The remaining funds would be set aside in a trust fund and the First Nation would spend the interest.

The immediate need in the community is more housing. There is a backlog of 100-150 homes to be built, Clearsky said.

Waywayseecappo First Nation chief Murray Clearsky says building new homes will be a priority for the community after receiving compensation from Ottawa. (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs)

He's grateful the federal government is making amends.

"Economically, this is a big thing for our community, provide jobs for our community, housing, for now and for the future," Clearsky said. "Our plans are to invest our money and living off the interest for our community members."

The chief said his community would also develop economic development support, specifically for small businesses.

The agreement also permits the First Nation to buy back around 21,000 acres of land.

Surrender vote never valid

The Specific Claims Research Centre, a research organization partially funded by the federal government, says not enough community members attended the surrender vote in 1881 and thus it happened illegally. 

A few years earlier, the government sold lands near the reserve to Joseph Sharman, despite the First Nation already claiming stake to some of the land, the organization said.

When the Crown tried to obtain a legal surrender of 30 square miles of land, including a segment of Sharman's lands, in 1881, the vote went ahead with a fraction of the eligible male voters in attendance. The First Nation, the research centre notes, was never told they were voting on land that had already been surrendered.

Today, Waywayseecappo has a registered population of 2,818 people, according to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, with 1,604 individuals living on reserve.