Waywayseecappo gets formal apology

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WAYWAYSEECAPPO FIRST NATION — A Westman First Nation received an apology on Wednesday that was owed to them for 140 years.

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This article was published 12/08/2021 (365 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WAYWAYSEECAPPO FIRST NATION — A Westman First Nation received an apology on Wednesday that was owed to them for 140 years.

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told an assembled crowd at Waywayseecappo First Nation’s powwow arbour that Canada’s seizure and sale of 21,013 acres of the nation’s land in 1881 was an historic injustice.

It was the final step of a process that also saw the First Nation approximately 150 kilometres northwest of Brandon compensated with a $287-million settlement.

Colin Slark/The Brandon Sun Waywayseecappo First Nation Chief Murray Clearsky delivers a speech during a ceremony announcing the settlement of a longstanding land claim with the federal government on Wednesday.

The community was also given five acres of land just north of Brandon, where Waywayseecappo has operated a gas station on an urban reserve since July 2020.

In July 2019, members of the First Nation voted overwhelmingly in favour of accepting the settlement, with 854 votes in favour, 45 against and 23 spoiled ballots.

The accompanying apology was meant to happen earlier, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the in-person event.

Colin Slark/The Brandon Sun Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks with guests before a ceremony at Waywayseecappo First Nation on Wednesday.

The importance of a visit by someone of Bennett’s stature to Waywayseecappo’s powwow arbour was not lost on Chief Murray Clearsky, who said he couldn’t remember a visit by a high-ranking member of government since John Diefenbaker visited when he was prime minister.

After a musical performance by drumming group Blue Sky and an introductory blessing and prayer from elders Sidney Longclaws and Georgeline Beaulieu, there were speeches from Clearsky, Waywayseecappo’s councillors, former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels and AFN Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse.

“One hundred and forty years ago, the Government of Canada took land from your nation and sold it,” Bennett said. “The Waywayseecappo people’s land was unfairly taken from them with no compensation in return. To advance reconciliation and build new relationships with Indigenous people, we must acknowledge mistakes and harms committed in the past.

Former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine (centre) is gifted an eagle feather and blanket by Waywayseecappo First Nation as Chief Murray Clearsky (left) shakes his hand and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas (right) looks on after a ceremony on Wednesday.

“Today, we are announcing that we have reached a settlement and agreement to settle the 1881 surrender specific claims. This settlement acknowledges the wrongs of the past and provides $287.5 million in compensation. This is the largest settlement agreement in Manitoba.”

lked about the difficult process of seeing the land claim through after work started in 1991.

“It’s been a long struggle,” he said. “We’ve been after this since ’91 … There’s a lot of lawyers that we paid to get to where we are today. It wasn’t just given to us because we said we had a claim. There was a lot of doubt that it would ever happen. But the good lord and the elders helped us to get where we are today. Today, let us appreciate the success of what has been accomplished on behalf of all of us.

Colin Slark/The Brandon Sun Members of Blue Sky sing and drum at Waywayseecappo First Nation's powwow arbour on Wednesday.

“It’s been a tough journey, but yet we did it.”

He thanked members of the community and legal staff for their hard work in researching and pursuing the claim — Fontaine for acting as lead negotiator for the First Nation during the recent settlement process and former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, who acted as mediator.

He also used the occasion to commemorate the elders who kept the knowledge of the land seizure alive and worked on the land claim but who died before their work came to fruition.

“It’s significant in terms of the way it was done in terms of negotiation and being at the table together,” Bennett told the Sun after the ceremony. “But also, as you can see by the presence of the regional chief of the AFN, the two grand chiefs, this is significant I think to all of the First Nations leadership here in Manitoba.”

Since Waywayseecappo’s journey to get this settlement took 30 years, Bennett was asked if her government would speed up the process for future land claims.

“We got to the table really just two and a half years ago,” Bennett said. “It was done very quickly once you move from that adversarial relationship to an understanding that harm was done, we’re sorry and that we want to make sure that things are put in place to right those wrongs. I think that becomes hugely important as we deal with so many other agreements that we’ve been able to sign throughout COVID.”

Clearsky thanked the current federal government for sitting down with his First Nation instead of leaving the matter hanging.

“We are the first First Nation to ever negotiate our own claim,” Clearsky said. “Thanks to the Liberal government for that.”

Wednesday’s event, however, did not signal an end to Waywayseecappo’s work on land claims. Clearsky told the Sun that his First Nation is working on three more claims.

South of the Waywayseecappo reserve, Clearsky said land was taken from his people to create the Birtle Indian Residential School, which operated between 1889 and 1975.

East of the reserve, there’s a fishing station where Waywayseecappo residents traditionally fished that still bears their name. Clearsky said there are burial sites there for people from Waywayseecappo.

In Riding Mountain National Park to the north, there is an open prairie where Indigenous people in the area used to camp, hunt and collect traditional medicines.

In the last case, Clearsky said a coalition of seven First Nations that surround the national park is working together to get access to that land with a meeting between those chiefs and representatives of the park scheduled for late next week.

As for what the settlement money will be used for, Clearsky said he hopes to build a high school in the community that will also serve other nearby communities. The chief hinted that the desire to build a high school stems from concerns over Bill 64, which will eliminate the province’s school boards.

He also said that every man, woman and child received a payout of approximately $10,000.

The visiting dignitaries were given gifts of blankets and moccasins after the ceremony. Bennett told Clearsky that the First Nation would be given an artisanal maple bowl to symbolize its relationship with Canada.

» cslark@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @ColinSlark

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