Big land claim battle in federal court won by the Blood Tribe

By Aaron Mahoney - Lethbridge News Now
June 12, 2019 - 1:37pm

BLOOD RESERVE, AB – A long time has passed since it was initially filed, but on Wednesday, June 12, Justice Zinn of the Federal Court of Canada ruled in favour of the Blood Tribe in their land claim against the federal government.

Justice Zinn, in his decision, found that Canada shortchanged the band when the boundaries were drawn as part of 1877’s Treaty 7. He stated the Blood Tribe was entitled under the Treaty Land Entitlement formula to a reserve of 710 square miles, whereas the current reserve is 547.5 square miles. Canada is liable to the Blood Tribe for this breach of Treaty.

The Big Claim was set out in three parts as follows:

1: The Blood Tribe claimed that Canada failed to fulfill its Blackfoot Treaty obligation to provide 1 square mile of reserve land for each five members of the Blood Tribe (the Treaty Land Entitlement).

2: The Blood Tribe claimed the lands between the St. Mary and Kootenay Rivers, to the mountains and the International Boundary as its reserve;

3: The Blood Tribe claimed that its reserve was established by the 1882 Nelson survey, which surveyed the southern boundary of the reserve 5 miles further south than it is currently, which would add approximately 100 square miles to the reserve; and

The Federal Court’s findings agreed with the Blood Tribe’s claim that there was an outstanding Treaty obligation and that the Tribe is owed a further 162.5 square miles based on the population at the time.

The Big Claim was first filed in Federal Court in 1980 and was held in abeyance there while other processes to litigation were pursued.

After all those processes were exhausted, the Big Claim was ordered to be heard in the Federal Court in three phases. Phase 1 was the oral history evidence of Blood Tribe Elders and was heard in May of 2016 in Standoff, Alberta. Phase 2 was a hearing on the substantive legal issues and was heard in Calgary in May and June of 2018. Historical and expert evidence was presented at that time. Phase 3 will deal with remedies or the damages that the Blood Tribe suffered.

The Blood Tribe attempted to negotiate a resolution to this claim including by filing it with Specific Claims Canada in 1996, but in 2002 Canada informed the Blood Tribe that the entire claim was rejected for negotiation through the Specific Claims process.

Now that the Federal Court of Canada has provided its decision, Blood Tribe Council will be reviewing the options available to them including the steps to bring this before the court to have Phase 3 held and will continue to keep Blood Tribe members informed on the steps being taken in the Big Claim.

The Blood Tribe notes that Canada has set out in its litigation guidelines that decisions on judicial reviews and appeals should be subject to full consultation within government and be limited to important questions and that the Government of Canada will not judicially review or appeal every decision with which it disagrees.

The Blood Tribe, in a release, states they trust that given the history of the Big Claim and the fact that both the ICC and the Federal Court have found that the Blood Tribe has a valid claim that Canada will not be appealing this recent judgment and that there will be finality to this long outstanding treaty obligation.

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