More than a century after a small First Nation in Northwestern Ontario was flooded by a dam on the Rainy River, the community has reached an $84-million land claim settlement with the federal and provincial governments.
Chief Janice Henderson of Mitaanjigamiing First Nation said the recent settlement is life-changing for her community, and now that it’s finally complete, the nation will focus on creating economic wealth, building infrastructure and generating opportunities on-reserve and off-reserve.
“The sky’s the limit right now,” she said.
The Mitaanjigamiing First Nation Treaty 3 Flooding Claim – between Mitaanjigamiing First Nation, a Treaty No. 3 community north of Fort Frances, Ont., and the provincial and federal governments – was settled after nearly 30 years of effort.
Canada will pay $45.05-million while Ontario will add $39.4-million.
The province accepted the claim for negotiations in 2003 with Ottawa following suit in 2009. The claim was in response to the “unauthorized and uncompensated flooding from a dam built in the early 1900s across the Rainy River,” according to a statement last week from the province’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. The reserve lands have continued to deal with flooding for more than a century.
The Mitaanjigamiing First Nation, which translates to “where a smaller lake flows into a bigger lake,” was formerly known as Stanjikoming. Its name changed in 2009.
Waters once flowed into Stanjikoming Bay through a small channel, about three to five metres wide, from Rainy Lake, where thick brush lined the entryway into a bountiful land of manoomin – a type of wild rice – and wildlife that people had to push their canoes through with poles. The secluded area attracted people from around the region.
But the dam built on the river in the early 1900s near the United States border flooded the channel and altered the landscape into shallow, sandy shores, disrupting ducks and geese and destroying the traditional manoomin yield.
The community relocated in the late 1980s to an isolated location, said Ms. Henderson. Today, there are nearly 200 members of a younger demographic, about half living on-reserve.
Ms. Henderson said she is following in her father’s footsteps, former chief Allan Henderson, who filed the original claim against the government in 1994 for the future generations. He died in 1997.
She said the community is looking at economic development opportunities off-reserve, perhaps expanding across the province.
“We’ve been very careful in how we’ve developed our community since we’ve moved,” Ms. Henderson said. Band members have developed and approved community plans over the years, providing direction to the chief and council leadership.
She said there aren’t many elders left in the community, so a key focus will be on retaining their culture and language, and practising their treaty rights.
Ms. Henderson said the majority of the settlement funds have been deposited into a trust account called Gegabekamig, which translates to “it is forever” in Anishinaabemowin, set up by the community when it settled its Treaty Land Entitlement claim in 2018.
Like other treaties, the 1873 treaty between Mitaanjigamiing and the Crown did not account for all members entitled to land as per the terms of the agreement. The Treaty Land Entitlement process accounts for land owing to the First Nation, and provides opportunities for communities like Mitaanjigamiing to expand and develop.
Canada has resolved more than 590 specific land claims with First Nations since 1973, including at least 183 since 2016 worth $8.9-billion.
Jaime Battiste, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Crown and Indigenous Relations, said the federal government acknowledges Canada’s failure to protect the community’s lands and is committed to rebuilding trust.
Ms. Henderson said the nation will use the interest from the trust fund to further what has already been accomplished, including surface treatment for the community’s access road, fibre internet, housing and new infrastructure.
“We need a daycare,” she said about what’s possibly next. “We need a new band office, administration building.”
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