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Supreme Court of Canada says treaty entitled Alberta First Nation to larger reserve

OTTAWA — An Alberta First Nation ended up with less land than it should have received under a treaty made with the Crown well over a century ago, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a 7-0 decision Friday, the top court declared that the Blood Tribe was entitled to more than 162 square miles of additional territory, saying the Crown “dishonourably breached” the treaty provisions.

Members of the Blood Tribe near Lethbridge, Alta., had long argued that Canada did not fulfil a promise made in 1877 to set aside a reserve with an area of one square mile for each family of five people.

In its decision, the Supreme Court noted the Crown recently acknowledged its breach of the land entitlement commitment.

However, the court characterized the admission as an eleventh-hour concession in a protracted legal dispute.

Under the treaty, the Blood Tribe was entitled to a reserve of 710 square miles in area, the court said.

In providing a reserve of 547.5 square miles, Canada “dishonourably breached the treaty land entitlement provisions,” Justice Michelle O’Bonsawin wrote on behalf of the court.

“Ultimately, a declaration is a discretionary remedy that must be considered within the unique context of the legal dispute at issue,” she said. 

A declaration the Blood Tribe was entitled to more land will serve an important role in “identifying the Crown’s dishonourable conduct, assisting future reconciliation efforts and helping to restore the honour of the Crown,” O’Bonsawin added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2024. 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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