I would like to update you on developments on the Big Claim, our largest and longest outstanding land claim. As the membership of the Blood Tribe is only too aware the Blood Tribe’s Claim for the land “between the two rivers and to the mountains” has been outstanding for over one hundred and twenty years.
The Blood Tribe claims the lands between the St. Mary and Kootenay (Waterton) Rivers to the mountains and to the international boundary (the “Big Claim lands”) as its reserve. It was never the Blood Tribe’s understanding that the Blood Tribe was to give up the Big Claim lands at the time of Treaty 7.
The Blood Tribe understood Treaty 7 to be a sacred peace agreement and the basis of a relationship of mutual obligation between the Blood Tribe and Canada, including an agreement to share certain portions of their traditional territory.
The Blood Tribe has also claimed that the lands surveyed in 1882 by Nelson established its reserve.
The Blood Tribe reserve was first surveyed in 1882 by Nelson. Although this survey purportedly established the Blood Tribe’s reserve, the 650 square miles surveyed fell far short of meeting the Crown’s obligations pursuant to the Treaty or in the alternative, through the exchange agreement, as the lands did not reach the mountains and stopped 9 miles north of the international border.
In 1883, the Crown conducted a further survey of the Blood Tribe’s reserve. That survey moved the southern boundary five miles further north of the international boundary.
The written terms of Treaty 7 contain a formula for minimum sizes of reserves based on population. The Blood Tribe has argued that if the lands set aside for the Blood Tribe’s reserve were to be determined according to the formula described in the written provisions of Treaty 7, the Blood Tribe did not receive sufficient land under the formula and now have a Treaty Land Entitlement claim.
The Blood Tribe first filed the Big Claim Statement of Claim in Federal Court in 1979. It then submitted the Big Claim to Indian Affairs (Specific Claims) in July 1996 (with further submissions in 2000 and 2001) regarding the southern boundary of the Blood Indian Reserve and an outstanding Treaty Land Entitlement. Canada rejected the entire claim in November, 2001.
In January, 2003, the Blood Tribe formally requested that the Indian Claims Commission (“ICC”) conduct an inquiry into the Big Claim and the ICC subsequently agreed to conduct an inquiry. The matter was heard by the Indian Claims Commission in 2004 through community sessions where Elders gave their evidence and the Blood Tribe sent its written submissions to the ICC on June 15, 2005 and the Blood Tribe and Canada made oral submissions, based on their respective written submissions, to the ICC in October 2005.
By correspondence dated August 7, 2007, the ICC informed the Blood Tribe that it found Canada should negotiate part of the Big Claim. Specifically, the ICC recommended that Canada accept the claim that the Blood Indian Reserve was created in 1882 and that a surrender was required when it was reduced in size in 1883 with the movement of the southern border. The ICC also found that the date of first survey for Treaty Land Entitlement purposes was 1882.
The ICC’s decision was not binding on Canada and despite the Blood Tribe’s continued requests for Canada to reconsider, Canada has refused to negotiate any aspect of the Big Claim.
The Federal Court action was held in abeyance while the claim made its way through the Specific Claim and ICC processes and in November of 2009 Blood Tribe Council found that the only option currently available to the Blood Tribe was to move forward with the litigation of the Big Claim and steps are being taken to expedite the Claim through this process.
The Federal Court Action is scheduled to be held in three phases as follows:
1. Elder Hearing: Commencing on May 2, 2016 a Court room will be set up in the Kainai Multipurpose Building in Standoff and there will be Elder Evidence heard for the month of May.
2. Trial on Substantive Issues: The date for this phase has not yet been set but it has been
requested that it follow quickly after Phase 1. This Phase will be held in the Federal Court in Calgary and it is anticipated that Blood Tribe witnesses will include a member of the Blood Tribe and various expert witnesses.Canada will provide any expert or other evidence during this Phase.
3. Hearing on Damages: This Phase of the Trial will likely be held after a decision has been issued on Phase 2 and will be legal argument on damages as a result of the findings in Phase 2.
The Elder Hearing is open to the Blood Tribe and we are hoping many of you will come out and support the Tribe and the Elders who are part of the Hearing beginning May 2, 2016. For more information please call Tribal Government at (403) 737-3753 or (403) 894-8105.
CHIEF CHARLES WEASEL HEAD
BLOOD TRIBE CHIEF AND COUNCIL