It's been decades in the making, but the people of Rainy River First Nations will finally be getting what was promised to them when their forefathers signed Treaty 3 in 1873.
A land claim agreement between the federal government and the First Nations was signed on May 20, righting a wrong perpetrated in 1914 and 1915 when the federal government took more than 46,000 acres of reserve land from the seven First Nations in the area and consolidated them all onto one reserve.
At the time of the treaty signing, the province of Ontario maintained that land within the province could not be designated as reserve land without Ontario's agreement. The province was willing to confirm creation of all remaining Treaty 3 reserves in Ontario if six of the seven Rainy River reserves were surrendered, a condition the federal government agreed to.
The First Nations filed a claim with both the federal and provincial governments in 1982, stating that the surrenders of the six reserves were invalid because they were done without the consent of the First Nations. Ontario accepted the claim for negotiation in 1987, with the federal government following suit in 1994. A settlement agreement was arrived at earlier this year, and was ratified by members of the First Nations in a referendum.
Under the agreement, the First Nation will receive about $71 million in compensation from the federal and provincial governments, which includes money to cover Rainy Rivers' negotiating costs and the market value of just under 15,000 acres of provincial Crown land that will be set aside for reserve land for Rainy River.
The settlement also gives the First Nations the right to purchase, on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis, an additional 31,300 acres of replacement land over the next 40 years, which they can then apply to have converted to reserve status.
The official signing of the agreement took place during Rainy River First Nations' annual fish fry, held at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre, and was part of a week of festivities held to mark the resolution of the long-standing claim.