Deal reached on district land claim

After 20 years of effort, including 10 years of negotiations with three levels of government, the people of Rainy River First Nations have some closure today.
On Friday, Chief Albert Hunter and Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant made a joint statement announcing an agreement in principle on the settlement of the band’s land claim.
The claim concerned eight parcels of land and a sum of money that is to be given to Rainy River First Nations as compensation for lands that were improperly appropriated from it in 1912.
Negotiations with municipalities, within which some of the land in question sits, as well as the federal government already had been concluded. A deal with the provincial government was the last major hurdle to a final resolution.
That resolution came just prior to the 34th-annual Manitou fish fry last Friday, with Bryant and Chief Hunter making the announcement in the roundhouse at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre.
“This is great news,” Chief Hunter told a packed roundhouse. “Not just for our community, but for the surrounding communities, as well.”
The basis of the deal is in two parts—money and land.
If approved by band residents in a referendum expected this fall, Rainy River First Nations will receive parcels of land equivalent to the amount taken from it more than 90 years ago.
The amount totals more than 46,000, of which 15,000 acres consists of Crown land.
The remainder currently is in private hands. Part of the deal entitles the band to purchase that land over the next 40 years from willing sellers.
In addition, the band will receive a cash settlement of $71.1 million (half of which is coming from the province and half from Ottawa), with which it can purchase the land and as compensation for lost revenues from the land it formerly possessed.
Bryant, who also is the minister responsible for native affairs, echoed Chief Hunter’s sentiments.
“There’s a good feeling today amongst the entire community,” he remarked. “The government has approved it, the cabinet has approved the basic terms. The next step is to finalize it.”
All that remains is for the negotiators to work out the fine details, but neither Bryant nor Chief Hunter anticipated any obstacles.
The final step will be a referendum by the entire Rainy River First Nations population (roughly 400 members) before the deal is sent back to cabinet for final ratification.
Bryant said afterwards he saw the deal as an indication of things yet to come from the new Liberal government in Queen’s Park.
“The McGuinty government is committed to a new relationship with First Nations,” he vowed.
For Chief Hunter, Friday’s announcement came as a moment of tremendous relief and satisfaction. He stressed he’s but the last in a long line of negotiators and chiefs who were involved in both the claim and the negotiations.
“This is a huge step, a huge accomplishment,” he remarked.
It began, he said, in 1982 under the administration of Chief Willie Wilson, who authorized the original research into the land claim. The claim itself was initiated under the administration of Chief Sonny McGinnis in 1987 and progressed through the administration of Chief Gary Medicine.
“I’m one of a long line,” Chief Hunter, who was elected Feb. 19 of this year, said as he gazed across the Rainy River. “I’ve been a negotiator for five years.”
But his association with the land claim goes back much further than that.
“I’ve been taught the history by my elders since I was 13 years old,” he recalled. “I spent two summers here as a teenager.”
Chief Hunter’s parents and grandparents are from Paskonklin F.N. (Hungry Hall 2) on Lake of the Woods, where his grandparents are buried. When asked if he could hear them speaking to him now, he replied he could.
When asked to sum up his feelings now that the deal is, for all intents and purposes, done, Chief Hunter said, “Humility.”
Chief Hunter also said that even when things seemed bogged down, he never lost hope or faith in the final outcome.
“You know, we always knew that if we did things in the right way, the honourable way, the way our elders directed us to carry ourselves, that we would come to this day,” he concluded.
The ratification vote by band members is scheduled for some time this fall after all the final details have been ironed out. But as far as the vote is concerned, Chief Hunter said it should be smooth sailing.
“I don’t see any problems at this time,” he remarked. “We’ve made certain that everybody was aware and have taken unprecedented steps to make sure our people know what’s taking place.”