STONEY NAKODA— Bearspaw First Nation, one of three Nations located in Stoney Nakoda, is battling the federal government for the right to control its oil and gas royalties.
Bearspaw First Nation band member and CEO Rob Shotclose said the Nation is seeking to establish the Ozîja Thiha Legacy Trust through the propsed transfer of Capital moneys. The independent trust is designed to benefit band members for generations to come.
“This is not government moneys, this is not industry just giving you moneys for consultation or anything— This is our own source revenues that are created from the production of non-renewable resources, oil and gas primarily, on the Stoney reserves,” Shotclose said. “This is us taking our per capita percentage.”
Bearspaw First Nation, Wesley First Nation and Chiniki First Nation call Stoney Nakoda home, and Bearspaw is seeking to remove about 37 per cent, around $50 million, of the money held by the Canadian government trust, Shotclose said. The reserve has $150 million total split between the three Nations.
Currently, the three nations must agree on how funds are requested from Canada and it can be challenging to get on the same page when requests are made, he said.
The Bearspaw Nation’s goal is to achieve economic self-sufficiency by creating the Ozîja Thiha Legacy Trust.
The money will be put aside for future generations so they can enjoy some benefits from the non-renewable resources on the reserve, Shotclose said, and will be professionally managed in a secure trust that will grow through investments.
Shotclose noted the proposed trust would be operated separately from the band.
“These own sources revenues are to fill in all the gaps. We want to ensure that we always have income that is derived from oil and gas production that has opened over the past 60, 70 years on the Stoney reserves,” Shotclose said.
He added Nation members are not satisfied with how the federal government has been managing the funds and the interest being generated. He alleged the fund has not kept up with inflation and the interest accrued each year sits at around one per cent, limiting the growth of the funds.
The federal government has controlled bands' money since the late 1800s and acted as trustee of any energy royalties earned by First Nations. The government continues to also manage money earned from other resources, including the sale of timber, gravel and land.
Other First Nations in Western Canada have succeeded in withdrawing all of their funds from the federal government. However, the process has often proven to be arduous.
Shotclose said Bearspaw has spoken with other Nations who have made similar requests, both successfully and unsuccessfully, including the Alberta First Nations Samson Cree, Ermineskin Cree and Onion Lake Cree.
Samson First Nation, formally Hobbema, has four Nations on a common reserve at Pigeon Lake. The area generates oil and gas revenue, producing 100’s of millions of dollars of revenue for the four bands. Samson and Ermineskin fought in the courts to have control over revenues in a long-drawn-out court battle.
Shotclass said it has been a 15-year long fight to establish a similar trust for Bearspaw First Nation. The effort has been fuelled by the success Samson saw in establishing their own trust in 2008.
“It’s an obvious test case where you can read what they’ve done and you can see that they’ve made 100s of millions of dollars more than they would have made if they kept it in Ottawa,” Shotclose said.
The funds freed up in the Samson Nation have helped support and grow programs in the area while continuing to grow the money in the trust.
Shotclose added Bearspaw First Nation is working with the same people to help set up the proposed Ozîja Thiha Legacy Trust.
“We don’t need to go talk to Ottawa every year to request our own money back,” Shotclose said. “It’s really in our best interest to set this up and have that money flowing in— This trust is set up to last forever.”
Indigenous Services Canada declined The Cochrane Eagle's request for interviews regarding the Ozîja Thiha Legacy Trust or any other specific details of this work.
An email statement was provided to The Cochrane Eagle in regards to general First Nation organized trusts, noting the process to transfer moneys held in a trust by Canada is guided by the Department’s Policy on the Transfer of Capital Moneys.
"The Government of Canada fully supports First Nations interested in managing their trust moneys. We are committed to working collaboratively with First Nations interested in managing their trust moneys. This includes working with the Bearspaw First Nation to support their goals for their respective trust funds."