Dave Heron expected to get his yearly $900 treaty land entitlement payment through the Salt River First Nation last Monday— until he got a form letter from the chief on Oct. 30 telling him he and 144 other members wouldn’t be getting one again.

Dave Heron is one of 145 members of the Salt River First Nation who have been told by their chief and counsel that they will no longer get yearly payouts from the band’s treaty settlement, in favour of preserving payments for those who were members in 2002 when the settlement was signed. Photo courtesy of Dave Heron

He says he’s filed a human rights complaint against the First Nation, through the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and that this decision might even split up the band itself.

“There’s lots of talk of seeing what can happen, possible legal action or just another route altogether in forming a separate band,” said Heron, who lives in Yellowknife. “Everything’s open and possibly happening.”

The reasoning stated in the letter is that the band is not getting additional funding from Canada for Heron and other members who became members of the band after the First Nation’s treaty was settled in 2002, so the chief and council voted to halt payments to preserve the amount the original signatories are getting.

“This decision affects you and the other 144 who were added to our membership list after 2002 but who are not descendants of the original 757 beneficiaries,” reads the letter, signed by Chief Frieda Martselos and the six members of council.

Martselos did not respond to News/North’s request for comment.

“While council must protect and preserve the TLE [treaty land entitlements] for the beneficiaries against the dilution of additional members imposed on [Salt River First Nation] by Canada, we assure you that we will continue to fight to receive rightful and appropriate compensation from Canada so that you can be added to the TLE as a beneficiary,” the letter also states.

It goes on to advise members to take their complaints directly to Canada, pinning the blame on the federal government for refusing to pay more compensation into the First Nation’s trust—the funding behind which was agreed upon in the First Nation’s 2002 settlement.

The text of the treaty settlement states that Canada agreed to pay the band $83,180,000 “in full satisfaction of Canada’s obligations related to the provision of reserve land and ancillary treaty benefits under the terms of Treaty No. 8 and related matters.”

Heron says he’s not the only one who views this decision as wrong, but he’s received support from members both new and among the original 757.

“I know they have their reasons but they’ve got to realize that we’re people they’re dealing with and not numbers,” said Heron.

According to the Salt River First Nation’s yearly audits, posted on its website, the settlement trust accounted for $4,235,424 of the total $4,958,317 in revenue in its 2016 budget. This pays for every aspect of the band’s, and their reserve’s, operations. Of this money, per capita distribution was pegged at $636,769—the third largest consolidated expense item. The largest expense posted was salaries and benefits for the first nation, pegged at $853,983.

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