Sask. First Nation wants federal government to follow through on Treaty promise
REGINA -- Charlie Bear has spent 30 years trying to persuade the federal government to honour a promise that was made to his family 146 years ago.
“Educating different people on the matter was a long struggle. With perseverance, we wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was a fight and we had to take it to the courts,” Bear said.
Bear and his family members, Winston and Sharon Bear along with Peter and Sheldon Watson are direct descendants of Chief Chacachas.
“Chief Chacachas gave Chief Kakisiwew orders to look after his people while he left to find more of his people. He never made it back home. Kakisiwew’s promise continued until yesterday. We always lived together,” said Elder Wesley Bear.
During the signing of Treaty 4 in 1874, between the Crown, the federal government and the Indigenous people of this land, Chief Kakisiwew and Chief Chacachas signed their "X" and agreed to share the land with the rest of Canada.
Reserve land was promised for both leaders and their people but instead, the two First Nations were combined into one and later called Ochapowace after Chief Kakisiwew’s son. Ochapowace leadership says it happened without consultation or consent.
“The elders tell us that they always knew something was wrong. A wrong was done to them. Something wasn’t right,” said Chief Margaret Bear of Ochapowace.
“They never gave that consent to the government to join together. In the 1940s, a lawyer from Grenfell was hired to help Ochapowace with this issue and back then, we weren’t allowed to have legal representation. In the end, the lawyer was asked by his law society to step back from this case. He was threatened that his license would be revoked. As a result of that, our people went into fear so they buried those legal documents to protect them. That was the circumstances we lived under and how Canada and the Indian Agent controlled our people,” she said.
In November 2019, the federal government organized a hearing and listened to Ochapowace leadership, and heard oral stories from four elders about the creation of Ochapowace. Charlie Bear’s family and the Watson family were the main plaintiffs in the hearing.
Historian Kenton Storey testified about how Treaty 4 was formed and the division of land for reserve land. He also said many Indigenous people were starving when the Treaty was signed because of Canada’s decision to exterminate the buffalo.
On Tuesday, federal justice Minister Michael L. Phelan said the amalgamation of the two First Nations was unlawful and the government failed to implement the promises of Treaty 4 in accordance with the honour of the Crown.
“It’s emotional. When you think of the stories you were told and think about the starvation our people went through. It really impacted the Treaty signing. The injustices that were done to Indigenous people. The judge agreed with us and we’re happy. It’s a win for every First Nation in this country,” said Charlie.
The Bear family says many community members who kept the negotiations going have since passed on.
“They fought hard. They believed in those Treaty rights and the late Chief, Cameron Watson wouldn’t give up. He went at it and we’re here today because of his hard work, love and dedication. We’re very, very thankful for the outcome. If the government would have just read their own documents, this process wouldn’t have happened. We don’t think there will be an appeal because its all there,” said Winston.
“I think this decision encourages everybody, all First Nations that the Treaties have weight and if we don’t have that, we don’t have much,” said Charlie.
Ochapowace leadership says phase one of Chacachas was all about recognition. There are now plans for Ochapowace to communicate with the community about the history of Chief Kakisiwew and Chief Chacachas, the signing of Treaty 4 and what was promised to the chiefs.
Ochapowace now has 90 days to decide on what to do next for phase 2 and deciding the future of Chacachas.