Alberta’s bear paw first nation competes with the federal government for the right to manage their own savings


An aboriginal in southern Alberta is competing with the federal government for the right to control their own oil and gas royalties.

Bearspaw First Nation asked Ottawa to no longer collect any payments on its behalf and to return approximately US$50 million collected from oil field activities on its traditional territory.

The organization claimed that the government did a poor job of investing in savings and would not release funds because Ottawa did not trust the Aboriginal people to properly handle the funds.

Since the late 19th century, the federal government has controlled band funds and acted as trustee for any energy royalties earned by indigenous people. To this day, the government retains money earned from other sources, such as the sale of land, wood, and gravel.

Some other aborigines in western Canada successfully withdrew all funds from the federal government, but the process has been challenging. One case took 16 years of legal disputes.

Bearspaw not only wants to use all of its funds, but also wants to ensure that future income flows directly to the indigenous people. The band committee hopes to establish its own trust fund, which is expected to receive more interest.

“We don’t ask for charity. All we ask for is the management of our funds,” Chief Darcy Dixon said in an interview.

“Today, they are still saying,’Hey, guys. You can’t take care of your money. You can’t do better than us.'”

Dixon said that if indigenous people want to withdraw millions of dollars for a housing project, this is easy to do, but it turns out that it is “impossible” to control the entire fund.

Other aboriginal people control money

Bearspaw leaders stated that the Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) told them on June 3, 2020 that the government would transfer all funds to the Indigenous people, but the transaction has not yet occurred.

Dixon wrote a letter directly to Indigenous Services Minister Mark Miller this month, urging the government to “take the necessary measures immediately, truly respect your commitment to us, and take immediate action.”

In an email response to CBC News, ISC officials stated that due to confidentiality, the department was unable to comment on the transaction with Bearspaw First Nation.

Watch | How Bearspaw First Nation spends part of the oil and gas royalties:

Darcy Dixon, Chief of Bearspaw, said the savings in the community help calm the plan and provide care for the elderly. 1:31

“We are committed to working with Indigenous people who are interested in managing their trust funds. This includes working with Bearspaw Indigenous people to support the goals of their respective trust funds,” ISC spokesperson Danielle Geary said in an email.

There was no response to Miller’s interview request.

Samson Cree Nation, located about 100 kilometers south of Edmonton, launched a legal battle against Ottawa in 1989 to obtain its funds, and finally won in 2005. The following year, the federal government transferred $349 million to the newly established Kisoniyaminaw Heritage Trust Fund for the Aboriginals.

At the beginning of 2017, the balance of the fund was US$456 million, and Samson Cree had withdrawn US$202 million.

The aboriginal people of Canada have never done so before withdrawing all their oil and gas royalties and managing the money themselves.

“The federal government is doing its best. They spent millions of dollars to prove they were correct and really forced us to be unable to take care of our own money colonialism,” said former Samson’s son Stephen Buffalo. Chief Victor Buffalo.

Stephen Buffalo, the son of the former chief of Samson Cree Nation, Alberta, the tribe initiated a legal action against Ottawa in 1989 to obtain its funds, and eventually won in 2005. He is optimistic that the indigenous people of Bearspaw can succeed in managing their savings. (Kyle Bacchus/CBC)

Among other honors, Victor Buffalo was awarded the Order of Canada for his important role in Samson’s control of his natural resource income.

Since then, Ermineskin Cree Nation, located next to Samson, and Onion Lake Cree Nation, which straddles the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, have established their own trust funds after years of cooperating with the federal government.

The Ermineskin Trust Fund was established in 2011 with a capital of 123 million U.S. dollars. According to the fund’s 2020 annual report, if the Aboriginals left this money under the control of Ottawa, it is now 214 million more than the amount paid by the federal government. Dollar. Report.

Since its establishment, the fund’s annualized rate of return is 10%, and if the funds are regulated by the government, it is 2.17%.

Onion Lake’s fund started in 2016 and has a scale of more than $44 million. Previously, it fought a so-called “long and difficult struggle” to gain control of its own funds. Since then, the trust has paid US$59 million to indigenous people, with a balance of slightly more than US$37 million. The annualized rate of return is close to 11%.

All three aborigines took legal action to try to control their funds from Ottawa.

‘Canada should be transparent’

“It’s really sad that the federal government thinks we can’t manage this by ourselves,” said Stephen Buffalo, who is optimistic that Bearspaw First Nation can successfully manage its savings.

Buffalo, chairman of the Calgary Indian Resources Commission, which represents the aboriginal people, said: “If you set a precedent in this case to control your own oil and gas income, I think they must move forward.” There is oil on their land. And natural gas production – or potential production.

Bearspaw First Nations promoted its proposed trust fund on a billboard along the Trans-Canada Highway west of Calgary. After legal action was taken, some other Aborigines in western Canada have successfully withdrawn all funds from the federal government. (Kyle Bacchus/CBC)

Bearspaw is one of the three bands that make up Stoney Nakoda Nation. Last year, each band passed a resolution allowing Bearspaw to withdraw the federal government’s share of capital per capita held by Stoney Nakoda Nation.

Brad Bryan, a professor at the University of Victoria School of Law and an assistant professor who studies Indigenous financial relations, said: “Canada should transparently explain why they are delaying or why they cannot surrender control of capital.”

He said that the current financial arrangement with Ottawa is similar to having to ask your parents in advance for every dollar you spend.

Bryan said that any financial abuse by Aboriginal members is limited and rare.

“In my experience, when I worked as a lawyer in the community, I found that members (not just board members) have a very high level of financial knowledge,” he said.

In 2017, the National Aboriginal Economic Development Committee, which provided strategic policy recommendations for the economic development of the Aboriginal people of Ottawa, prepared a report on this issue at the request of the Aboriginal Senate Standing Committee.

In its recommendations, The board stated that the federal government “Every effort should be made to work with indigenous peoples and indigenous organizations to overcome internal policy and legislative obstacles that prevent indigenous peoples from controlling Indian funds.”

The report says that Ottawa should use the guiding principle: “India’s money should be in the hands of the indigenous people, not the Canadian government.”



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