First Nations in Manitoba take Ottawa back to court over failure to live up to land debt agreement

First Nations in Manitoba are suing the federal government for what they say is a failure to live up to a 25-year-old land debt agreement.

The Treaty Land Entitlement Committee of Manitoba has filed a statement of claim in Federal Court arguing Canada is liable for losses resulting from its failure to honour treaty land entitlements in a timely manner.

The committee, which represents more than a dozen First Nations, signed an agreement with the provincial and federal governments in 1997 to address outstanding land agreements from when the Crown originally signed several treaties.

In the agreement, roughly 405,000 hectares were supposed to be reserved for member First Nations, but the committee says they’ve received about half that.

The statement of claim says the committee wants compensation for financial, cultural and social losses from Canada breaching its obligations to the First Nations.

A statement of defence has yet to be filed and the federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Allegations contained in the statement of claim have not been proven in court.

In the document, the committee alleges Canada has not lived up to its fiduciary duties and the principle of reconciliation because of its delay in honouring the agreement in a “diligent, timely and purposeful manner.”

“Canada’s ongoing violation of the treaty promise to provide our First Nations with reserve lands continues during this National Indigenous History Month. Because of this, we are now claiming economic loss and cultural and spiritual losses dating back to the making of our treaties with the Crown due to Canada’s failure and delays in providing our reserve lands,” Chief Nelson Genaille of the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, who is committee president, said in a release.

This is the second time the First Nations have taken Canada to Federal Court over the agreement.

The committee says delays and unilateral changes by Canada previously plagued the implementation process. An arbitration decision in 2018 ruled that Canada breached the agreement by trying to alter the agreed-upon process to reserve lands.

The court upheld the arbitration two years later.