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'Get the job done': Manitoba First Nations call on government to fulfil 25-year-old land agreement

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Sunday marked the 25th anniversary since the Manitoba Framework Agreement (MFA) on Treaty Land Entitlement was signed --a day of celebration, but also an important reminder of unfinished business.

The Treaty Land Entitlement Committee (TLEC) held an event on Sunday afternoon to mark the occasion. It gathered the three parties that originally signed the document: the Crown, Manitoba Government and Indigenous leaders.

The MFA aimed to address and resolve outstanding land claims of the TLEC's member First Nations.

According to the committee, it was originally intended to provide 1.1 million acres of additional reserve land. More than 25 years later, only about half has been set aside by Canada for the 15 First Nations that signed onto the MFA.

"Canada basically breached the agreement, and when they breached it, it's like breaking the marriage, so we had to go through our arbitrator to have it ruled in our favour and Canada was supposed to remedy the issue, and they haven't yet," said Chief Nelson Genaille of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation and TLEC president

Genaille said the two urban land parcels his community has received have been turned into a gaming establishment and a gas station, helping the First Nation with much-needed funding.

At the Sunday event, First Nation leaders like Genaille called on the federal and provincial governments to give more land and follow the MFA.

"Premier Doer, you know, said we'll get it done in ten years. Trudeau ten years ago said we'll get it done at ten years. It's already 25 years. Is there going to be a new premier, new prime minister to see it get done?"

Premier Heather Stefanson was at the event and spoke about the work the province has done since the MFA was signed and the work still needed.

"I also recognize that TLE is more than the transfer of land for reserve creation. It is about reconciliation, relationship building and creating important social and economic opportunities," said Stefanson.

Absent from the event was a representative of the federal government.

Organizers say the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada did send a minute-long video message but felt it didn't warrant being aired.

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said:

"The Government of Canada is deeply committed to advancing reconciliation and to renewing the relationship with Indigenous Peoples based on the affirmation of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.

Crown-Indigenous Relations takes it treaty relationship with the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee of Manitoba Inc. very seriously. The resolution process requires lengthy bureaucratic and legal proceedings, but we are firmly committed to resolve issues with respect to adding lands to Entitlement First Nations’ reserves. We are working in partnership with the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee of Manitoba Inc. and Manitoba Entitlement First Nations to resolve challenges with respect to adding lands to Entitlement First Nations’ reserves for the benefit of their communities.

In terms of the Minister’s presence, he could not attend due to scheduling conflicts. However, he spoke to Chief Genaille Friday, and highlighted the work undertaken with the Department of Crown Indigenous Relations to accelerate this process."

With 25 years now behind the agreement, Indigenous leaders are now looking to the future.

"If there is one ask or one promise to be asked for, you know, that's get the job done," said Genaille, "If not, you know, I would urge First Nations across Canada to remind Canada and the different provinces we are here, we're not going anywhere." 

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