The Papaschase band was recognized as a member of the Assembly of First Nations on Thursday, a milestone for the community as it works toward recognition from the federal government.
“It’s been a long struggle and we’re very proud to be here today,” Chief Calvin Bruneau said, addressing the assembly after a pair of resolution in support of Papaschase band passed unanimously.
“We’re taking our rightful place as a Treaty 6 Nation and reasserting and establishing our sovereignty, self-determination and self-governance. We’re here to stay and we’re here to work with you.”
The Papaschase band signed an adhesion to Treaty 6 in August of 1877 and took up more than 60 square kilometres of reserve land in what is now southeast Edmonton.
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Thursday’s resolution passed at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly held in Ottawa, calls on the assembly to support Papaschase, “in its quest to right past wrongs” and to receive federal recognition.
Chief Bruneau expressed hope that the lobbying power of the AFN and the support of First Nations across the country would expedite a decades-long struggle to be recognized by the federal government. Recognition, he told CBC News after returning to Edmonton on Friday, would be the first step toward negotiating a settlement.
Some community members were “brought to tears” when they heard the resolutions had passed, said Chief Bruneau.
“It was such a momentous occasion,” he said. It’s been something that we’ve been wanting for a very long time and to finally see it happen, it was very emotional and very powerful.”
Within two decades of signing Treaty 6, according to band history, Papaschase people were removed from their land and forced to join nearby First Nations, including Enoch Cree Nation and Alexander First Nation. Others, motivated by starvation and in the absence of federal relief, signed away their treaty rights in exchange for money.
By 1930, the band claims the federal government had sold off the entirety of their reserve lands.
“There’s been no restitution, no compensation, no acknowledgement from the federal government. Our issue has never been addressed,” said Chief Bruneau.
The Lawsuit of 2001
A lawsuit was filed in the names of the Chief and Councillors of the Papaschase Descendants Council in February 2001. The lawsuit was filed against the Attorney General of Canada, claiming that the Federal Crown caused the dissolution of the Papaschase Band through various breaches of Treaty 6 and its fiduciary duty to the Band which resulted in a large portion of the original Band being discharged from Treaty, as well as the alleged surrender of the Band’s Reserve and the loss of its status as a recognized Band pursuant to Treaty 6 and the Indian Act. As such, the lawsuit sought – among other things – a declaration that the Papaschase Band No. 136 is a recognized Band under Treaty 6 and the Indian Act, as well as reserve land – or compensation in place of the reserve land owed to the Papaschase Band. The Crown in right of Alberta was added as a party to the action in January 2003.
The lawsuit involves complex treaty rights issues and historical events, requiring the gathering of extensive historical records. Maurice Law has worked to gather and review the historical documents, as well as working with the Papaschase Descendants Council in order to build its strength as a community and as a council. This has taken much time, but the Council and the firm have worked hard to push the litigation forward.
The Summary Judgment
In May 2004, the Attorney General of Canada made a motion in court to have the Papaschase lawsuit dismissed. Alberta did not participate in the motion. Unfortunately, this motion was granted. The decision of Justice Frans Slatter was released on September 13, 2004 and can be viewed by clicking on the link below.
Filing the Appeal
In the wake of this decision, the Council and Maurice Law have worked to file an appeal with the Alberta Court of Appeal in Edmonton. The written arguments for the appeal have been filed by both the Papaschase Descendants and by Canada.
The Intervention by FSIN
In September 2005, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) appeared before the Court of Appeal requesting to become an intervener in the appeal. This motion was supported by the Papaschase Descendants, represented by Maurice Law because FSIN has both expertise in treaty claims and an understanding of the history of Canada’s treatment of and policy towards Indian Bands in the prairies during the time that the Papaschase Band was dissolved. The FSIN motion was granted, and FSIN will be intervening in the appeal.
However, Canada and Alberta were successful on their later motion to have parts of the written argument and supporting material filed by the FSIN deleted. This decision can be viewed by clicking the link below.
The Appeal Hearing
Canada and Alberta have now filed their responses to FSIN’s written argument and the appeal hearing has been set for Thursday, September 7, 2006, at the Court of Appeal of Alberta in Edmonton, at the Law Courts Building, 1A Sir Winston Churchill Square. We encourage any Descendants or interested persons to attend the hearing in person and we recommend that you plan to arrive at the Law Courts Building by 9:30 that morning.