After a battle with Ottawa, the Bearspaw First Nation has taken control of the savings fund.

Bearspaw First Nation
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The transfer of monies is described by the chief as a “proud, important, and historic event.”

After settling a disagreement with the federal government, the Bearspaw First Nation in southern Alberta will soon be permitted to establish a savings trust fund with more than $50 million of its own money.

The West Calgary First Nation had grown dissatisfied with the process of securing ownership of royalties derived from oil and gas production around its village.

Since the late 19th century, the federal government has had custody of band money and functioned as trustee for any energy royalties obtained by First Nations under the Indian Act. The government also keeps money received from other sources, such as land, wood, and gravel sales, until this day.

The band believes the government is mismanaging the money, which is why the First Nation wants to take control of the assets.

Bearspaw leaders claim they were told by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) on June 3, 2020, that the government would transfer all of the funds to the First Nation, but they didn’t get confirmation until earlier this month, following coverage about the disagreement in late July.

Chief Darcy Dixon stated at the time that the Bearspaw First Nation was “certainly irritated” by the delays in being able to handle its savings.

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller issued a ministerial standing order sanctioning the transfer of monies on August 13, two days before the federal Liberals called an election.

The Stoney Nakoda Nation is made up of three bands. The Bearspaw is one of them. Last year, the Bearspaw and the Stoney Nakoda Nation both passed a resolution permitting the Bearspaw to withdraw its per-capita part of the money held by the federal government for the Stoney Nakoda Nation.

Bearspaw owns around $53 million of the company. It has now become the fourth First Nation in western Canada to entirely withdraw all funds from the federal government.

Dixon called the money transfer “a proud, vital, and historic event for the Bearspaw Nation” in a statement.

In 1989, the Samson Cree Nation, located roughly 100 kilometers south of Edmonton, began a legal struggle with Ottawa to acquire access to its funds, which it won in 2005. The federal government transferred $349 million to the newly established Kisoniyaminaw Heritage Trust Fund the next year.

The fund had a balance of $456 million at the start of 2017, with the Samson Cree withdrawing $202 million.

The Ermineskin Cree Nation, which is located near Samson, and the Onion Lake Cree Nation, which straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, have both followed suit and formed their own trust funds after many years of delays working with the federal government.

The annualized rate of return on the Ermineskin fund has been 10% since its creation, compared to 2.17 percent if the money had been left under government supervision.

“What they’ve done with their trusts is demonstrable,” Shot close said of the increased investment return. The Bearspaw trust will be modeled after similar organizations that presently exist.