Land treaty anniversary shines light on agreement, land still owed

Last Friday marked an important anniversary for treaty land entitlements in Manitoba.

May 29 was the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Manitoba Framework Agreement (MFA) on Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE).

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The MFA was signed on May 29, 1997, by the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee (TLEC) of Manitoba, Canada and the province to address and resolve the outstanding TLE claims.

Manitoba Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke said advancing the TLE remains a priority for the provincial government.

“The recent provincial budget committed $500,000 in new funding to pursue innovative approaches that will lead to more land transfers under the agreement. The government recognizes there is significant economic and community benefit potential in these lands,” she told the Winnipeg Sun May 29.

“Under the MFA, 21 First Nations are to receive 985,949 acres of unoccupied Crown land. To date, the First Nations have selected 760,625 acres of Crown land and have purchased 10,773 acres.”

She added that since 2016, Manitoba has transferred 94,043 acres to the federal government for the use and benefit of the First Nations.

“Manitoba continues to work closely with the TLEC of Manitoba Inc., the individual Entitlement First Nations and the federal government to implement the 1997 MFA,” she said.

“As part of the implementation, the three parties prepared an annual strategic plan to guide progress and meet the obligations in the agreement.”

Sapotaweyak Cree Nation and President of the TLEC Chief Nelson Genaille said the anniversary is to acknowledge the TLE.

“Twenty-three years have passed and yet, only 560,000 acres have been set aside as Reserve by Canada instead of the 1.1 million acres that were originally intended,” he said.

“My concern is that if it took them 23 years for them to fulfill half of the deal, would it take 23 more for them to keep up with their promise?”

Genaille added that Sapotaweyak has made two land purchases in the Town of Swan River which host two economic development projects, one being a gaming establishment and the other a Petro Canada gas station.

“We have the opportunity to buy and acquire land to improve economic development whether it is farming, commercial or industry. Land transactions are happening between other organizations, business owners and governments and here, we are left waiting,” he said.

“By not fulfilling the agreement, the government is not allowing us to set up business opportunities and provide employment to the community.”

TLEC executive director Chris Henderson said it is important to mark this milestone to remind the Crown government, Canada and Manitoba, there are still a lot of lands that have yet to be processed.

“The anniversary serves as a reminder to not forget about their legal constitutional obligations set up under the MFA,” he said.

Nicole Wong covers northern and Indigenous issues for the Winnipeg Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.

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