OTTAWA — The federal government signed a historic agreement with an Algonquin First Nation Monday that includes a $116-million settlement, the largest the community has ever seen.
The agreement settles 29 specific claims related to Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg reserve land that was taken between 1873 and 1917 to develop the town of Maniwaki, Que.
"You can't move forward as a country until we've addressed the wrongs of the past. And settling claims is one of those important steps on the shared journey of reconciliation," said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation also signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government — a non-binding pledge that maps guidelines for future discussions between the government and the community.
Band councillor Frankie Cote said Monday's signing ceremony has been more than 20 years in the making for the Quebec First Nation.
Cote said despite the fact that the Algonquin nation has never signed a treaty, governments "have long treated us as though we have had no rights."
Community members voted to accept the government's offer on Jan. 5. A portion of the settlement money will be distributed to eligible community members. Most of it will be placed in a community trust that will help Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg try to buy 363 acres to grow its reserve lands.
Bennett said growing the reserve land will create new economic opportunities for the community and its neighbours.
"These settlements are about strengthening the nation-to-nation relationship between the government of Canada and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg," she said. "This is a marriage, not a divorce."
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A gift exchange marked the end of the ceremony, with the First Nation community presenting Bennett with a jug of maple syrup produced on Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg territory.
"This looks more delicious than ours," said Bennett, who gave community members a book showcasing her department's Indigenous art collection.
Talks between Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation and the federal government were accelerated after the community's former chief filed a separate December 2016 claim for land that includes Parliament Hill.
That claim has not been settled, but the memorandum of understanding signals that both sides are willing to continue talks, opening a door to the possibility of another settlement.
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