Treaty rights vindicated, 131 years later

Wikimedia Commons. An illustration of the Battle of Duck Lake, where 12 died on the government side and six among the resistance.

Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation will receive $4.5 million in compensation for treaty annuities withheld after the North-West Rebellion

A tribunal has ordered the government to pay $4.5 million to Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, in compensation for a treaty violation dating back more than 130 years.

The Beardy’s and Okamasis lands lie about half an hour south of Prince Albert. They hosted the opening act of the North-West Rebellion, an 1885 uprising led by Louis Riel. It was there, at the Battle of Duck Lake, that the North-West Mounted Police fired the first shots on the rebels.

Chief Beardy, so named because of his beard, kept his people out of the uprising. But that didn’t protect the band from government retribution. Beardy’s and Okemasis became one of 14 bands to lose their annuities – yearly payments the government had guaranteed in perpetuity when it signed Treaty 6.

“They came back and started to point fingers and made decisions that were totally illegal,” said Chief Rick Gamble, the current chief of the band. “We were never part of it. Maybe one or two or three people were involved, but our Chief Beardy (kept us out).”

The Specific Claims Tribunal agreed. The government withheld the $5 annuities from 1885 to 1888 – giving a total loss of a few thousand dollars. But the tribunal, which adjudicates treaty claims and land rights, factored in 131 years of compound interest.

For Gamble, the decision has symbolic value.

For more on this story please see the Dec. 28 Subscription-based print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.