New Brunswick

Tobique First Nation votes on $39M land claim settlement

There is fierce support and opposition among members of Tobique First Nation over a nearly $40-million dollar land claim that's been under negotiation more than 40 years and is finally being decided through a vote Wednesday.

Land claim has been under negotiation with federal government for more than 40 years

Tobique First Nation Chief Ross Perley said a land claim settlement with Ottawa would not affect hunting or fishing rights. (Julianne Hazlewood)

There is fierce support and opposition among members of Tobique First Nation over a nearly  $40-million dollar land claim that's been under negotiation more than 40 years and is finally being decided through a vote Wednesday.

The $39.2-million settlement from the federal government would be compensation for 10,000 acres of land near the reserve — or more than 4,000 hectares — that was taken over by Ottawa a century ago.

"It's basically compensation for the land that they took. For lack of a better term, stole," said Chief Ross Perley.

The deal, which would provide at least $13,500 for every member of the First Nation, could drastically change the lives of people in the community.

Larry Sockabasin says he is thinking of future generations at Tobique First Nation when he votes in favour of a $39 million land claim settlement.
But whether the change would be beneficial is very much up for debate.

As Larry Sockabasin holds his grandson Easton, while walking out of the polling station, he explains why he voted Yes.

"I'm looking towards their children, their grandchildren. See the benefit each year before Christmas," Sockabasin said.

"It makes a big difference."

Former chief opposes

Former chief Stewart Paul, who dealt with the issue for years, can understand why people would vote Yes, although he is firmly opposed.

"The offer is really low. I think the government is getting away real cheap," said Paul.

"I know areas where they've paid $2 million for two acres," he said.

I think the government is getting away real cheap.- Stewart Paul, former chief

Paul said he takes issue with how the deal would affect treaty rights that flow from the river.

But the deal wouldn't affect fishing or hunting rights, according to Perley.

The chief said the First Nation hasn't had harvesting rights on the 10,000-acre area for more than 100 years, when the federal government illegally took the  land.

Several residents from outside the First Nation own properties on the land, south of the Tobique River.

Other concerns over the land settlement include not enough consultation with Ottawa and the influx of cash spurring on the cycle of alcohol and drug abuse in the community.

"What scares me the most with that kind of money [is] there's people that's never had that kind of money," said Anthony Paul Sappier, who's lived in Tobique First Nation his entire life.

"I'm afraid they're going to hurt themselves, whether it be drugs or vehicles or what have you," Sappier said.

2,000 band members get 80%

If the First Nation votes Yes, 80 per cent of the money would go to the more than 2,000 band members.

Even children will receive their full share, but it will be kept in a trust fund until they're 18 years old.

The other 20 per cent of the lump sum would go toward a trust to be used for community development and the purchase of a new piece of land.

If the majority of people vote against the proposal, it's back to the drawing board.

Some worry it could take decades more to negotiate another offer from Ottawa.

"It's an unknown, we don't know if the evaluation [of the land claim] is correct, or even if the government is willing to open the claim back up again," said Perley.

"It could take decades, we don't know."

Voting ends at 8 p.m.