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Manitoba First Nations community clears final hurdle in $200M 'cows and plows' settlement with feds to right century-old wrong

A northern Manitoba First Nations community has cleared the final hurdle in a massive legal settlement that will see more than $200 million injected into the community, and each individual member receive a $30,000 payout, because of promises made more than a century ago that were not kept.

Last Thursday, Pine Creek First Nation (PCFN) Chief Derek Nepinak took to Facebook to announce that Chief and council now expect to have the entire amount of $205,519,700 from a ‘cows and plows’ settlement in their possession sometime this spring.

“Confirmed by our lawyer this morning is that Canada has signed off on our final settlement agreement as of Feb. 27,” Nepinak said in a video statement.

“And what that does is kick-start a 45-day window from the time of signing to the dispersal of the proceeds to our trust, so by mid-April it should be completely done.”

Legal documents found on the Indigenous Services Canada website on Monday confirm the federal government did sign the agreement on Feb 27.

According to Nepinak, once they receive the money, they will also begin working to pay out per capita payments that are part of the settlement, and will see every band member who lives on or off-reserve receive $30,000.

Nepinak said many band members have already received $5,000 early payouts as part of the process, and can now expect the rest of the money owed to them to be coming as soon as chief and council can begin to distribute it.

“Council will be meeting to decide how to best expedite this process, so that by mid-April when we receive the money, then everyone can begin to receive a timely deposit through EFT or through cheque, if that was requested,” Nepinak said.

“Bear with us, we are looking at a way of administering the payments that includes an independent administrator of those proceeds on our behalf.”

PCFN, a community located about 110 kilometres north of Dauphin on the shores of Lake Winnipegosis, is home to approximately 648 on-reserve and 2,912 off-reserve members.

Back in November, the community announced they had come to an agreement with the feds over what is commonly referred to as a ‘cows and plows’ claim.

PCFN is part of Treaty 4, and according to the federal government when the Treaty was originally signed in 1874, they promised to supply agricultural equipment and livestock to families and individuals, to assist them in adjusting to an agricultural-based economy and society.

The federal government now admits however, that they did not supply the agricultural equipment and livestock that was promised in Treaties including Treaty 4, and is now working to compensate communities with financial settlements adjusted to today’s currency in several First Nations in Canada.

“The Crown is not offering us oxen, or cattle, or farming tools,” Nepinak said when the agreement was confirmed in November. “The Crown is instead offering financial instruments of exchange, so that we can decide for us what works best for us in today’s economic realities.”

In 2020, PCFN became the first Manitoba First Nation to file a ‘cows and plows’ claim, and the federal government later agreed to work with the community to seek a negotiated settlement.

Nepinak says the community has now reached a “milestone” since filing the lawsuit, as they inch closer to the full settlement being paid out.

“We now have a strong sense of the finish-line, so this news is a major development in the timeline, and that’s good news,” he said.

As part of the agreement, all PCFN youth will also receive $30,000, but that money will be put into a trust they cannot access until they turn 18 years old.

The remainder of the money that doesn’t go to individual band members will go into a trust fund, and PCFN said in a media release last November that the community hopes to retain some of the money for “future education and business opportunities.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun