Settlement money making positive impact for Clearwater River Dene Nation: Chief

A settlement that Chief Teddy Clark says was a long time coming is making a positive impact for people within the community.

Unfulfilled treaty obligations led to compensation for Dene Nation

Chief of the Clearwater River Dene Nation, Teddy Clark says his community is seeing a positive impact from a settlement agreement it reached with the federal government earlier this year. (Chief Teddy Clark/Facebook)

A northwestern Saskatchewan Dene Nation reached an agreement with the federal government for its failings to meet obligations laid out in Treaty 8.

Now money is starting to flow into the community, and Clearwater River Dene Nation's chief said it's been nothing but beneficial for band members so far.

"It's been a long time coming," Clearwater River Dene Nation Chief Teddy Clark said in an interview. 

"The agreement that was made back in 1899 when the treaties were signed, the government had committed to families to give them cows and plows … and that was never fulfilled."

Clark said some of the Treaty 8 signatory bands looked into what they could do about the government's failure and took action about seven or eight years ago. 

Eventually, through the Specific Claims Process, which provides avenues to find resolution between the federal government and First Nations communities for a variety of subjects, it was agreed — through community involvement — that $122 million was a fair price.

The deal was made this March.

Each of the 2,600 band members are set to receive $44,000, while children under 18 will have settlement funds placed in a trust until they turn 18 years old, Clark said. 

He initially heard some doubts about how people would use their money — some speculated it would be "chaotic" — but Clark said that's not the case.

"I said the people can decide that. I trust my membership. I have a lot of faith in my membership, I know these people. I grew up with everybody," he said.

"A lot of people cannot afford certain things. A lot of them are on social assistance, a lot of them are working but on minimum wage or in low income families. [The settlement money] benefited them in a positive way."

He's seen families buying houses, cars, and furniture they needed, while others invested their money for the future. 

Clark said as chief, working with a team of people and including the community's voice to provide independence for members was something that felt good and a point of pride for him.

Ammo and twine clause next

Another piece of unfulfilled treaty business is Treaty 8's ammunition and twine clause. 

Along with the promise of cows and plows, signatories of Treaty 8 — and other numbered treaties in Canada — were promised money for ammunition and twine from the Crown.

The treaty text reads as follows:

The aforesaid articles, machines and cattle to be given once for all for the encouragement of agriculture and stock raising; and for such Bands as prefer to continue hunting and fishing, as much ammunition and twine for making nets annually as will amount in value to one dollar per head of the families so engaged in hunting and fishing.

Like the agricultural unfulfilled promises, Clark said Clearwater River Dene Nation and other bands would pursue a settlement with the federal government.

"The ammo and twine is not going to be as big as the cows and plows, but there will be some dollars there," Clark said. "From nothing to getting a little bit is a lot."

With files from The Canadian Press