North

Settling Treaty 8 claim means 'money in the bank' for future of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation plans to place the majority of a $50-million settlement with the federal government into a trust fund for projects that would make the First Nation more financially independent from Ottawa.

Most of $50-million 'cows and plows' settlement to be placed in trust fund, says chief

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says the First Nation will use the funds from its 'cows and plows' settlement to fund economic development. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation plans to place the majority of a $50-million settlement with the federal government into a trust fund for projects that would make the First Nation more financially independent from Ottawa.

In June, the First Nation ratified a settlement for outstanding agricultural benefits promised in Treaty 8, originally signed in 1899. The outstanding issue has been known as the promise of "cows and plows" from the federal government. 

For years, the federal government had failed to live up to its obligations under Treaty 8. It is now in the process of resolving outstanding claims from 21 different First Nations that signed it, including the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta and the N.W.T.  

When the money comes in from Ottawa, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation will pay out $10,000 directly to each member out of the $40,000 each they'd be entitled to under the settlement signed this summer, explained Chief Allan Adam.  

The remainder — about 75 per cent of the total — will be placed in the trust fund. Each year a portion of the interest will be reinvested into the fund, another portion will go to programs and services, and another portion will be paid out to members. 

About 1,200 people are members of the First Nation, most live in the community of Fort Chipewyan, Alta.

"Money is scarce, government is tightening all over and you can't depend on [government] like you used to," Adam said. "We have to make sure there's money in the bank to sustain us."

Money from the trust will be spent on social programs and economic development projects that bring jobs to the First Nation.

"If you want to be independent and self-sustaining and you want to be part of Canada, you have to work for what you do," he said. "We're trying to do things differently, things that have a direct benefit on the good of our members."  

An aerial view of Fort Chipewyan, Alta., in 2011. It's the home to members of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
A new grocery store for the community is an example of this approach, Adam said.

The store is under construction and expected to open in April 2018. It will focus on selling quality food at affordable prices — something needed in Fort Chipewyan, where a four-litre jug of milk sells for $14 and a loaf of bread is $6.

It will be wholly owned and operated by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. Adam expects 16 people will be hired to run it.  

"Sixteen people working means 16 more people who don't have to depend on the First Nation for anything," Adam said. "They don't have to depend on handouts, they're on their own."

"You could become a store manager, assistant manager, a clerk. How could you go wrong with a job like that?"  

Though the grocery store was built by funds the band raised before the settlement, in the future money from the trust fund could finance similar projects, Adam said.

"Everything is available for us to do what we want to do," Adam said. "We have the financial backing to do what we want to do as a nation."

A spokeswoman with the federal government said in an email to CBC News that the next step in this process is for the government to approve the settlement agreement, then the money can be paid to the First Nation.