First Nation’s court victory sets precedent for equitable compensation
National Observer 21 July 2021
More than 90 years after the Lac Seul First Nation’s reserve land was flooded to build a hydroelectric dam, Chief Clifford Bull says his people may finally receive just compensation.
The impact of the dam on the Lac Seul First Nation, traditionally the home of the Obishikokaang Anishinaabeg, was severe. It destroyed the nation’s way of life and many people moved away, Bull says.
“When I talk about total devastation, I mean there were 80 homes that went under … our sacred grounds, campsites, burials were washed up and bones were exposed — skulls were exposed — and that continues to this very day,” he said.
In 1991, the nation filed a claim against Canada in Federal Court, and was granted an initial offer of $30 million for damages. But the nation felt that didn’t come close to justifying the losses and appealed.
Bull’s optimism that fair recompense is now possible stems from a recent precedent-setting Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decision about how compensation should be calculated.
The SCC decision revolves around Canada’s “fiduciary duty” to Indigenous peoples in the context of reserve land, as opposed to traditional territory. In this case, that means Canada broke its obligation to act in the best interests of the nation by not protecting its reserve land when it chose to flood the reservoir. In Southwind v. Canada, the SCC is essentially tackling the question of how equitable compensation should be calculated when the fiduciary duty is broken.
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