By Greg Plain
LONDON, Ont. – It took the better part of 200 years, but Canada has finally settled a claim involving lands sold without the knowledge of the Chippewas of the Thames.
“This agreement closes a long and painful chapter for our Nation,” said Chief Joe Miskokomon during the Dec. 9 ceremony formally ratifying the Big Bear Creek land claim agreement. “Through perseverance and hard work we managed to negotiate the best possible agreement for our children’s future. Chippewa now has an opportunity to utilize the settlement to move forward and implement economic and education strategies to revitalize our Nation and create a life of pride and prosperity for the Chippewa People.”
The specific claim stems from the sale of Chippewa lands near Florence, Ontario by the British Government of Upper Canada in the 1830s. The reserve that was near Big Bear Creek was to be surveyed and set aside for the Chippewas’ exclusive use, according to Longwoods Treaty talks between 1818 and 1822. This land was sold off by the Crown in the 1830s without the consent of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.
“This historic settlement is a major step forward on a path of renewal and reconciliation,” said Indian Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, who represented the Crown in Canada at the official signing ceremony. “Through the negotiations we found a win-win solution that delivers on both past commitments and opens up new economic opportunities for the First Nation.”
The negotiated settlement was voted on by the Chippewas of the Thames membership on March 23. Citizens approved the agreement, along with the First Nations plans for the management of its settlement funds.
Under the settlement, Canada agreed to provide the First Nation with nearly $120 million in compensation for past damages resulting from the claim. The First Nation now has the ability to purchase 5,120 acres of land, which will be processed through the federal Additions to Reserve.
Chief Miskokomon has indicated the First Nation is pursuing possible economic opportunities – including an industrial park – with the neighbouring city of London.
Settlement funds will also be used for a program of monthly pension supplements to elders, and to establish an education fund.