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Government ignoring claims commission


Linda Caldwell, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Calgary







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The Indian Claims Commission's first annual report includes a list of six recommendations for the federal government to help speed up the process for the settlement of specific claims.

So far the government has not made any formal response to any of the five inquiries into disputed land claims the commission has concluded, said co-chair Jim Prentice.

"There is frustration on the part of some of the commissioners," said Prentice.

"In terms of tangible results, one of the issues which is out there is that at this point, the government has not responded to the recommendations put before them.."

"We are at the stage where we are clearly saying: "It's time to respond."

Following an inquiry into claims made by Cold Lake First Nation in Alberta and Canoe Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, the commission concluded Ottawa breached its treaty and fiduciary obligations by forbidding each band from hunting on traditional lands. Those lands, abruptly appropriated in 1954, now comprise the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range, approximately 300 km northeast of Edmonton.

The communities were virtually destroyed by the loss of their traditional livelihoods. In 1975 and again in 1986, the bands submitted land claims to the federal government. Both were rejected because Ottawa said there was no "outstanding lawful obligation" and that the treaty permitted the government to take the land for settlement.

When the commission submitted its report to then-Minister of Indian Affairs Pauline Browes in October 1993, she said the commission could expect a formal response in two to three months.

The report on the Athabasca Denesuline Inquiry, which affects three First Nations, was completed in December 1993 but the government has not responded.

Two more inquiries have been completed, the Lax Kw'alaams in June 94 and the Young Chipeewayan this month.

The commission, which had an operating budget of $5 million in 1993-94, was established on July 15, 1991, in the wake of the Oka crisis. Commissioners spent the first year in discussions with the Assembly of First Nations to determine the commission's mandate.

Since July of 1992, besides completing five inquiries, it has started investigating 12 more claims, has accepted 11 for future inquiries, is actively mediating another 10 claims and helped another 14 claims get back to the negotiating table, Prentice said.

Despite his disappointment at the lack of government response to the commission's work, Prentice is convinced the group is doing valuable work.

"I think the commission has shown an independent commission such as this is essential and that it can work," he said.