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Saskatchewan's 'landless bands' fight for recognition, reconciliation

Saskatchewan's 'landless bands' fight for recognition, reconciliation
From CBC - August 13, 2017

In 1876, Chief Chippewayan signed onto Treaty 6, which designated 77 square kilometres of land near Laird, Sask., to the Stoney Knoll Band.

But in the years that followed, a series of challenges made it difficult to sustain the 80-person population on the reserve land. With dwindling buffalo herds making food scarce, and difficulties with a transition to farming that was encouraged by the government, the band was forced to leave the area in search of food.

Within just over 20 years, the Canadian government had given the land to someone else.

"Largely due to starvation they landed up leaving that land to look for food and they landed up at Cypress Hills," said Leonard Doell from the Mennonite Central Committee in Saskatchewan.

"In the meantime, their land was taken away from them at Laird in 1897, and then it was given to Mennonites to settle."

Now, 120 years later,the Mennonite and Lutheran communities are working with descendantsof the YoungChippewayan, also known as the Stoney Knoll Band, towarda land claim settlement.

Land transferred without consent

The Department of Indian Affairs started withholding payments from Young Chippewayan band members in 1885 because it suspected members had participated in the Riel rebellion.

'The YoungChippewayanstory is not totally unique.' - Leonard Doell, Mennonite Central Committee

By 1888, it no longer identified the Young Chippewayan as a separate band, and in 1895 talks were underway about dispossessing the band of its land. The Minister for the Interior concluded it did not need consent from the band and moved to transfer the members to other reserves, where theywere not always welcomed.

In the early 1990s, descendants of the Young Chippewayan First Nationsubmitted a specific land claim. But in 1994, the Indian Claims Commission inquiry concluded that under the Indian Act and the law the claimants were not a bandtherefore not entitled to submit a specific claim.

Fundraising concert to track genealogy

In a partnership that started about 10 years ago,the Young ChippewayanFirst Nation is working with the Mennonite and Lutheran communities towardthe land claimsettlement.

To do so, Doell said the federal government requires them to track the Young Chippewayan genealogy and identify the living descendants to whomthe land should be returned.

This Saturday, the Spruce River Folk Festival fundraiser is being held near Prince Albert to help pay a researcher hired to do the genealogy work.

But the event has a broader goal of raising awareness about "landless bands" like the Young Chippewayan.

"The Young Chippewayan Band is only one of a number of bands that never received their land or signed treaties but for some reason either lost their land or had it taken away," said Doell.

"The Young Chippewayan story is not totally unique that way."

Others seeking recognition

Ray Funk, an advocate for landless bands who works with the Young Chippewayan, said he was aware of at least six other landless bands in Saskatchewan.

"Other landless bands became aware of what we were doing and got in touch, so we have provided a forum, at this point for four landless bands, to tell their story," said Funk.

"And then, happily, some move forward."

He said a band of Chief Big Bear's descendants near North Battleford, Sask., recently had their land claim recognized, providing hope for others.

'There's a definite sense of loss regarding the identity of the YoungChippewayanBand.' - Young Chippewayandescendant Gary LaPlante

In 2013, a conference for landless bands was held at the Dakota Dunes Casino in Whitecap, Sask., about 30 kilometres south of Saskatoon.

Part of the reason for holding the conference was to build on the limited information about landless bands.

Keeping story strong

Future hopes

Indian Claims Commission Young Chipeewayan Inquiry

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