'This is not gouging but simply parity': Crooked Lake lease increases a fair move by Sakimay First Nation

"The cottage owners have no choice but to accept the new reality and realize that times have changed."

'The cottage owners have no choice but to accept the new reality'

A decision by the Sakimay First Nation to raise prices on waterfront lots leased to non-Indigenous cottage owners has caused controversy. (Submitted)

When the First Nations signed treaties with the Crown, they were told to go and select land to live on. The leaders of the day took their people to land that would offer good hunting and fishing. Lakes that could support fish and waterfowl were especially prized. This land would later be known as today's reserves. 

The government wanted all the best farmland for settlement. They were quite happy that the First Nations sought land with different potential. The result is reserves along rivers and lakes as well as traditional hunting grounds like Moose Mountain, Touchwood Hills and the Qu'Appelle Valley. 

The cottage owners at Crooked Lake don't realize how cheap they were getting the land for.- Doug Cuthand

The southern part of the First Nations that lived along the Qu'Appelle lakes extended into the good farming land to the south. Gradually most lost about half their farmland to dubious land surrenders on the part of the Department of Indian Affairs. 

This left a few of the First Nations with lake frontage that could be developed for recreation potential. The Sakimay First Nation was one such reserve. Sakimay decided to allow leases for non-Indigenous cottage owners on their land.

'Reserve land' a contentious issue

The definition of reserve land is one of those contentious issues between First Nations and the federal government.

In our view, reserve land has never been a part of Canada. We regard it as land that we held back for ourselves when we signed treaty. The federal government, on the other hand, sees it as land it holds in trust for "the use and benefit of Indians."

Under the Indian Act, the Department of Indigenous Affairs holds trusteeship of First Nations lands. This is in a piece of 150-year-old legislation. It is hopelessly out of date.

In the case of the Sakimay First Nation, it's apparent that the department did not work in the best interest of its trust responsibility. For years, the value of the land and leases has been undervalued. This is a department run by bureaucrats, not business-oriented individuals. The results speak for themselves. 

Some people on waterfront lots on Crooked Lake owned by Sakimay were paying leases of around $700 to $800 per year, which was far under the market value. 

The First Nation raised the lease for waterfront property to around $4,500 per year and the cottage owners cried foul. 

'A fair price'

Now let me offer a little reality check here.

I have a cabin in a subdivision at a northern lake and I was paying a Crown lease of $1,200 a year. A couple of years ago the provincial government raised the lease rate to $5,700 and it wasn't even lakefront property. We also pay annual northern municipal taxes of around $450, a cost that the Sakimay cottage owners don't have.

People grumbled, but the leases were paid. 

The cottage owners at Crooked Lake don't realize how cheap they were getting the land for before the First Nation brought the costs up to parity.  

The issue of lease increases for the cottage lots has taken a nasty racial turn with cottage owners feeling that they are being held hostage and the Indians are gouging them. It should be made clear that this is not gouging but simply parity and a fair price. Sakimay is also planning to update the waterfront with a marina and other features. 

The controversy continues with threatened evictions and court challenges. The cottage owners have no choice but to accept the new reality and realize that times have changed.

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About the Author

Doug Cuthand is an Indigenous affairs columnist, freelance journalist and filmmaker who lives in Saskatoon. He is a member of the Little Pine First Nation, Sask.