Rainy River land claim nearing final stages

Two of the three main parties involved in negotiations on the Rainy River First Nations land claim are voicing cautious optimism a settlement could be forthcoming within the next year.
Talks between the Rainy River First Nations, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs have “progressed significantly” over the past year, according to MNR spokesman Jeff Wiume.
“We’d like to be done within a year from now,” said Wiume, who provided an update on the status of the land claim at the annual fall meeting of the North Western Ontario Tourism Association last Friday at the Fort Frances Curling Club.
“That is ambitious, though, because of the decisions that have to be made on what to do with the people currently on the land that will be affected,” he admitted.
The claim—which covers a combined area of 46,326 acres—was launched by the Rainy River First Nations in 1982, relating to their surrender and sale of six reserves to the federal government in 1914-15.
The tri-party negotiation began in 1994, with the main difficulty arising from trying to determine fair compensation for the First Nations members after having them go almost 90 years without being able to benefit from the land.
“Trying to determine loss of use is not a science,” noted Wiume. “You can’t just look in the Yellow Pages for a rate and dial.”
An extended public consultation currently is underway as part of the negotiations to gather feedback that can be worked into the final agreement, which would need to be ratified by all three parties.
Full implementation of the agreement likely would take at least a year or two, said Wiume.
Rainy River First Nations Chief Gary Medicine said he would have preferred the negotiations not have drawn out so long, but acknowledged many unanticipated issues came about throughout the course of the talks which needed to be dealt with.
“It was important to our people to be informed on a regular basis that at least the meetings were bearing fruit,” said Chief Medicine, who promised the rights of the people currently owning or residing on the disputed land would not be trampled beneath the onset of a new agreement.
“People on the land right now are worried that we’re going to come in and tell them to pack their bags,” Chief Medicine said. “That’s not the case. We want this to work as a partnership.”