Bearspaw First Nation in Alberta is challenging the federal government for the right to handle its own funds.

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Kirti Pathak
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Alberta's Bearspaw

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A First Nation in southern Alberta is fighting the federal government for the right to regulate its own oil and gas royalties. The Bearspaw First Nation is requesting that Ottawa stop collecting money on its behalf and return around $50 million in proceeds from oilpatch operations on its traditional territory.

The band claims the government is not properly investing the savings and will not release the monies due to Ottawa's distrust in First Nations' ability to manage money. Since the late 1800s, the federal government has controlled band funds and served as a trustee for any energy royalties collected by First Nations. The government also keeps money gained through other sources, such as the sale of land, wood, and gravel, until this day.

A few other First Nations in Western Canada have succeeded in withdrawing all of their federal government subsidies, but the process has always been difficult, taking 16 years in one example.

The Bearspaw wants not just to access all of its cash, but also to ensure that future earnings flow directly to the First Nation. The band council wishes to establish its own trust fund, which it anticipates will yield significantly more interest.

"We are not requesting freebies. All we want is that you handle the money that belongs to us "Darcy Dixon, Chief of Police, stated in an interview. "Hey look, guys,' they still say today. You are incapable of managing your finances. You won't be able to outperform us.'

It would be simple for the First Nation to withdraw a few million dollars for a housing project, according to Dixon, but taking control of the whole fund is proving "difficult."

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