Garden River, Batchewana Chiefs make public appeal

With a $10 billion dollar Robinson-Huron Treaty settlement on the horizon for this summer, Garden River First Nation Chief Karen Bell and Batchewana First Nation Chief Mark McCoy are concerned some of their members may make bad decisions and be otherwise vulnerable after receiving their settlement shares.

The $10 billion settlement will be divided among 21 First Nations, including Garden River and Batchewana.

The two Chiefs were invited to come to council by Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker to get their message out to a broader audience.

“As you know our First Nation will soon be receiving funds from the Robinson-Huron Treaty settlement,” Chief McCoy told council. “This is largest First Nation settlement in the history of Canada. 

“These funds are for past annuities and generations of our ancestors who didn’t receive the expected annual payments they were promised by the Crown in 1850, in exchange for access to our lands and resources. Batchewana is anticipating that the money will flow to our First Nation this summer.

“Our populations will be stimulating the local economy, which will be of great benefit to our neighbours in Sault Ste. Marie.”

Chief McCoy said Batchewana First Nation is cognizant the money may have detrimental effects on some of its vulnerable members.

“We are preparing for this by setting up as many information and support sessions as we can to help people in need.

With Sault Ste. Marie benefiting from the wealth that will be brought to the city we do expect the City to help provide the necessary care for the vulnerable ones that are in the city. We hope to see the City invest with support resources for our urban members who may require assistance.”

Chief Bell, the first female Chief in Garden River First Nation history, shared many of the same concerns and said steps are being taken to address potential issues for its members who are receiving “an extremely large amount of money.” 

She said the funds are expected to be distributed to local members in late July, early August.

Bell said Garden River First Nation plans include a mix of payment to its members, a legacy trust, including a minor’s trust. She said Garden River First Nation has retained the services of a Robinson-Huron Treaty Coordinator, Robert Peace, and will offer comprehensive information sessions on financial literacy, wills and estates, cyber crime, elder abuse, mental health and addictions. 

Bell said Garden River F N will hold extensive consultations within the Garden River community and Sault Ste. Marie and on-line engagement sessions for members who live outside Algoma District.

“Seventy to 75 per cent of our members live away from the Nation,” said Chief Bell, adding Garden River F N has about 3,500 members.

Collaboration and partnership between Garden River First Nation and the City are very important, said Bell, he added community leaders are key “to navigating this very uncharted” and historic event. 

“Garden River First Nation is requesting service providers in the city of Sault Ste. Marie be cognizant that a hard, long influx of its members at a higher rate than normal, will have extensive wealth. Though they have the right to utilize the monies as they see fit, the leadership hopes that any anomalies will be brought to our attention,” added Bell.

She said the Garden River’s proximity to the Sault means members will be spending a lot of money in the Sault.

“There are some people who have never had any money, lived very sub-standard. They’re going to spend a lot of money in the City of Sault Ste. Marie. 

“I’m asking you, wholeheartedly, and with passion, don’t hurt our people. Treat them with dignity and respect. If you have any issues or concerns, I’m in the phone book. I’m a phone call away. I just don’t want to see a lot of devastation of our people. They’re going to be in a lot of areas of potential wealth, and they don’t have a lot of background in financial literacy, which we’re trying to provide.”

Chief Bell also challenged council to honour Call to Action 57, a recommendation which came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in June, 2015.

“That call to action specifically invites all public servants, at all levels of government to learn and understand the history of indigenous peoples. Specifically, to understand and acknowledge the impact of colonization and inter-generational trauma.”

Bell said Garden River is also making an official request of the city of Sault Ste. Marie to start acknowledging the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe people at each and every Greyhound home game.

Ward 2 Councillor congratulated both Chiefs and called the settlement “a generational opportunity…and one I know you both are keen to see as a building block for your nation.”

Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker said he hopes it’s the beginning of a better path forward.

“It’s a great thing to see that a breach of contract, as it is kind of in the simplest terms, is being rectified after all these years,” said Shoemaker.

The Mayor said if the City can participate in that better path forward they would be happy to do so. He said the City and council has been involved in various indigenous events and is committed to a range of cultural and informative steps, including Call to Action 57.

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