The leadership of the Enoch Cree Nation took advantage of a gathering of community members and visitors to the territory to put pen to paper to right an historic wrong.
Chief Ron Morin, along with past chiefs and current councillors, Elders and dignitaries delayed the Sunday grand entry of the community's annual powwow held Aug. 6 to 8 to formally sign the settlement of a land claim begun in the 1970s, registered in the courts as Cardinal versus the Crown.
The settlement is worth $54 million, compensation paid for oil and gas revenues lost by Enoch from 10 sq. miles of land surrendered under duress in 1908. Morin said it was the longest standing claim unresolved in the courts. Former chief Clark Peacock said an over-zealous Indian agent encouraged the community to sell off that part of the reserve during a time of starvation and struggle.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada was represented at the signing ceremony by Regional Director General Roy Bird, who said that, in the past, government's role was "to lay obstacles in front of you. We are pretty good at that. Now government's role is to clear the way for you to move forward."
A source in the department said the federal government worked with Enoch to settle the grievance rather than "to continue expending resources on litigating the matter in court and to avoid the possibility of a court decision that may not be favorable to Canada."
Enoch Cree Nation members ratified the settlement in a referendum held Jan. 29 and 30, but before that vote, when the claim was resolved and Canada and Enoch shook hands on the agreement, Morin said he stood back, overwhelmed with emotion that, after all the many years, they had brought resolution. He thanked the senior members of the community, some who had passed on, who had the vision to put the claim forward and suffer the hardships for doing so.
"Young people need to understand the sacrifices many of the old people endured to keep the issue alive," said councillor Jerome Ward.
Morin said the settlement money will be used for economic development initiatives being planned for the community. Enoch has provincial government approval to build a resort-style casino on their land, located on the western edge of Edmonton.
"When that casino opens, I want to be the first to drop my toonie in there," said Elder Louis Rain, joking with the crowd.
To conclude the ceremony, Morin, Bird and Chief Eddie Makokis of Saddle Lake First Nation led the people who worked on the claim, as well as members of their families, in a dance around the powwow arbor.