Mitaanjigamiing First Nation settles historic flood claim

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer
kkellar@fortfrances.com

Mitaanjigamiing First Nation has seen a historic flood claim recognized and signed, signalling the end of more than a decade of negotiation and a strong economic future.

In a ceremony at the northern First Nation last Thursday, August 25, 2022, Mitaanjigamiing First Nation chief Janice Henderson, along with representatives of both the Ontario and Canadian governments, signed off on the tripartite agreement that will see the First Nation receive compensation for the building of the Fort Frances-International Falls dam in 1905. The dam caused many areas of critical importance to the First Nation, including agricultural and living grounds, to be swallowed up by the rising waters of Rainy Lake. Now, the First Nation will receive $84.45-million in compensation from the two governments, which Chief Henderson said will be used to secure a better future for all the band members.

“We’ve been asked what our plans are to spend these settlement dollars,” Henderson said.

“A 50-year trust account… was developed and voted on when we settled the Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) claim in 2018. The majority of the settlement dollars from this flood claim were also deposited to that account. This will ensure there’s money for the future generations. the community will be able to develop with the interest dollars derived annually from the capital dollars in the trust account.”

Mitaanjigamiing First Nation youth Elizabeth Henderson

Henderson said the community will also be able to make use of the trust as leverage for creating future economic wealth, adding that a comprehensive community plan has been developed and approved by the band members before the earlier TLE claim was finalized. The community plan laid out directions for current and future chiefs and councils to help steer the economic development of Mitaanjigamiing First Nation. The interest from the trust has already allowed the community to finish projects like surface treating their access road, bringing Fibre internet to the community and new housing and infrastructure developments.

The negotiations for this most recent claim have been underway for more than a decade, according to a release from the province announcing the claim settlement. With the dam having been built in the early 1900s and damages from rising water accruing over time, the claim itself was filed in 1994 for the “unauthorized and uncompensated flooding of reserve land due to the building of a dam across Rainy River.” The claim was first accepted for negotiation by the province in 2003 and then by the Canadian Government in April 2009. Henderson said during the ceremony that many different individuals throughout the community were instrumental in seeing the claim process through, and gave special recognition to a key figure who was no longer with them.

“I do want to acknowledge my dad, the late Allan Henderson,” she said.

“He was a former chief, and as I mentioned in a press release, he started the process of filing these land claims, and I quote him. ‘I started these land claims for all the future generations.’ His dedication and commitment to our community will not be forgotten. He played a big part in getting our community together and established.”

Ontario Ministry of Indigenous Affairs’ Lisa Hansen, left, Mitaanjigamiing First Nation chief Janice Henderson and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada’s John Scime shake hands following the signing of Mitaanjigamiing’s historic flood claim settlement on Thursday, August 25, 2022. The First Nation will be receiving more than $84-million from the Ontario and Canadian governments for damages and lost land stemming from the 1905 construction of the Fort Frances-International Falls dam. –Ken Kellar photo

Youth from the community were invited to speak to the crowd assembled at the Mitaanjigamiing First Nations powwow grounds about how the flood claim would impact their futures. One such youth, Elizabeth Henderson, shared that she hopes the settlement money will help the community continue to invest in new, Indigenous-owned and led businesses in the community, as well as help community members to continue to improve their own lives.

“Even in my short life, I have seen how much growth and economic development has happened throughout the years,” she said.

“I’m very proud to see how far we’ve come as a community. Today we are celebrating the flood claim. The flood claim can mean different things to different people. To me, it means an opportunity to be financially smart. I’ve been learning about investing and thinking about life changing purchases like a vehicle or a boat. I’ve been thinking of ways to increase my own personal wealth, and from a community perspective, I see it as an opportunity to buy land, build Indigenous-led businesses, and create job opportunities that are off-reserve.”

Representatives from both the provincial and federal governments were on hand, including Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada’s John Scime, as well as Ontario Ministry of Indigenous Affairs’ Lisa Hansen. Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski was also in attendance for the signing ceremony. In the press release announcing the settlement, Powlowski said the achievement was another step towards mending the relationship between government and Indigenous people in the northwest of the province.

“I am pleased to see the Government of Canada and Mitaanjigamiing First Nation come together and finalize this land claim settlement,” he wrote. 

“This is an important step that will help strengthen Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Northwestern Ontario.”

Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford was unable to attend the ceremony in-person, but also passed along a message of congratulations to the First Nation community.

“This settlement with Mitaanjigamiing First Nation is the result of respectful and meaningful negotiation,” Rickford was quoted as saying. 

“It demonstrates Ontario’s commitment to rectifying historical wrongs and moving forward together on the path of reconciliation.”

For her part, chief Henderson shared that she has now been at the helm of the community for three different claim settlements, and though she announced she has no plans to run again for chief when her current term is over, she will continue to live in and work with the community to help them achieve their goals and seek to improve the lives of all members, both on-reserve and off.

“This has certainly been quite the ride for me as chief throughout the years,” Henderson said.

“It’s been a rewarding and a challenging experience. We have a good team here, and we’re not perfect but we strive to provide a safe, healthy environment for our community.”