'A long, long road': Two landless Sask. First Nations fight for recognition in Federal Court

This month, the federal court is hearing arguments for the Chacachas and Kakisiwew nations in Saskatchewan to be recognized as separate nations. The plaintiffs argue the two nations were merged without consultation.

Chacachas and Kakisiwew band members seek re-establishment of two treaty nations

Ochapowace First Nation hosted a historic federal court hearing within its reserve last week. The court is hearing arguments for the nations of Chacachas and Kakisiwew to be recognized and reestablished, with plaintiffs saying these two nations were amalgamated and became Ochapowace, without consultation. (Ochapowace First Nation/Website)

It's been more than 30 years since Charlie Bear first started fighting for his people to be recognized as their own First Nation.

This month, Canada`s Federal Court is hearing arguments for the Chacachas and Kakisiwew nations in Saskatchewan to be recognized as separate nations. Bear said he is gratified as a descendent of Chief Chacachas.

"It's been a long, long road," said the 51-year-old Bear.

"We finally have our day in court. It's emotional, for sure, when you hear the stories of our elders' testimonies."

Elders from the community testified in Ochapowace First Nation last week, sharing their history and knowledge with the federal court.

That history holds that the chiefs of Chacachas and Kakisiwew signed treaties on behalf of their bands in 1874. However, the plaintiffs allege that Canada amalgamated the two bands without consultation, creating what later became known as Ochapowace. 

Plaintiffs allege breach of treaty

Bear and the other plaintiffs in the case are alleging a breach of treaty, trust and fiduciary duties, and say the Chacachas Band and the Kakisiwew Band are both entitled to land under Treaty 4.

The Crown has argued the plaintiffs are members of the Ochapowace band and cannot also be members of the Chacachas or Kakisiwew bands. It has also stated that Canada and Ochapowace had negotiated and executed settlement agreements in the 1990s and that plaintiffs now cannot assert two independent First Nations continue to exist, or that the Ochapowace Nation could not properly sign these agreements.

Ochapowace chief calls for righting of historic wrong

Ochapowace Chief Margaret Bear said her chief and council are "involuntary trustees" of two separate nations, as Ochapowace was formed under the Indian Act.

She describes the amalgamation as an historic injustice.

"For us it's an inherent right to self-determination, and about nationhood, of a people, who were once part of a nation. And the next day they weren't," she said.

Ochapowace Chief Margaret Bear says she is hoping that in the spirit of reconciliation, the federal court will realize the wrong that was done when two separate nations were amalgamated without consultation. (Ochapowace First Nation/Website)

Bear said that it would be in the spirit of reconciliation for the court to see the historic wrong that was done, and recognize and reestablish the two separate nations.

For Chacachas First Nation Coun. Charlie Bear, that would mean realizing what his ancestors had hoped for, back in 1874.

"It would mean, finally, a treaty is recognized. It would feel fulfilling."