By Frank Larue
During a century which Ottawa made a habit out of breaking treaties and making up their own rules,
the Feds also decided to take 10,000 acres of land from the Tobique First Nation. There was never any compensation, even though many Tobique leaders pleaded their case over the years.
Finally, under the Trudeau government, the Tobique First Nation have been given $39 million, which the Tobique chief Ross Perley describes as, “basically compensation for the land that they took. For lack of a better word, stole.” The settlement at first impression seems like a lot of money but for such a large portion of land — 4,000 hectares, for over a century — the figure is not over the top. In fact, former chief Stewart Paul told the CBC, “The offer is really low. I think the government is getting away real cheap.”
Yet the problem may not be the amount of the settlement but how it is to be distributed. The plan the Chief and Tribal council came up with would give each member $13,500, the children’s money would be held in trust fund and the remaining $20 million would go towards investments. The band members have been given a vote, which is expected to be a unanimous yes. But there are mixed reactions from band members. Larry Sockabasin holding his grandson with him told the CBC, “I’m looking towards their children, their grandchildren. See the benefit each year before Christmas. It makes a great difference.”
The positive can’t be denied but the negative is the possibility the cash could be used to promote the cycle of alcohol and drug abuse that exists already in the community. “What scares me the most with that kind of money,” Lifetime band member Anthony Paul Sappier told the CBC, “There’s people that’s never had that kind of money. I’m afraid they’re going to hurt themselves, whether it be drugs or vehicles or what have you.”
There are 2,000 band members and 20% of the $39 million would be put in a trust fund and 80% would go to band members. This of course all depends on the yes vote going through but if it does become a no vote, the negotiations with the government would start all over again. “It’s an unknown, we don’t know if the evaluation (of the land claim) is correct, or even if the government is willing to open the claim back again. It could take decades, we don’t know.”
We can assume the yes vote will make the settlement final and we can hope that the tribal council remains vigilant on how the money is spent. In any case, what should be remembered is that it took over a century for the government to pay the bill. Some of the problems that exist in the native community today might have been avoided if the debt was paid within its proper time frame. There will be band members who may become excessive because of the settlement, but they will also witness the improvement of life conditions around them, which may make them reconsider the price of any form of addiction.