Peguis First Nation settled a century-old "illegal land surrender" with Ottawa this month for a $126-million compensation package.

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This article was published 18/10/2010 (4060 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Peguis First Nation settled a century-old "illegal land surrender" with Ottawa this month for a $126-million compensation package.

And it's going to be one heck of a Christmas this year at the Interlake community. Every man, woman and child will get a $1,000 cheque and every elder over 55 will get $1,500. Another $90 million has been placed in a permanent trust fund.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson says the trust money will be used for community development.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson says the trust money will be used for community development.

The settlement is compensation for what's been politely called an "illegal land surrender."

Rules for administrating the fund are set out in detail in a trust agreement that also calls for a slate of 12 trustees to be elected by a community vote. The trustees will administer the trust as well as oversee economic development for the 8,900-member Ojibway community 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson said the trust will be used for community development.

"The surrender money is meant to benefit the community and provide for infrastructure funding," he said.

"The trust can be dissolved but it requires a 90 per cent vote of our members. It will never happen. That's some of the protection and restrictiveness we've written into it."

The compensation amount is based on a complicated federal formula for First Nation claims, calculated by the value of lost real estate and infrastructure and capped at $150 million.

The land in question is the St. Peters reserve, originally a parish founded by Chief Peguis after the Selkirk settlers arrived in the early 1800s. Peguis members lost the town, about 20,235 fertile hectares in East Selkirk, in 1907.

Peguis leaders estimate the $90-million trust will earn $6 million a year in interest.

Council has approved bursaries, scholarships, efforts to advance treaty and aboriginal rights, health care, even a credit union as legitimate projects for funding under the trust agreement.

That leaves some money left over. The balance, in the neighbourhood of $18 million, is slated for a separate building fund.

"We have a whole list, a suite of projects, to create opportunities and jobs for our community members," Hudson said.

An arena, an RCMP complex, two seniors' complexes and 100 new homes are on the list. Who decides when and how the money will be spent is unclear so far. However, the terms for governing the capital trust are set out in great detail, an effort to curb the First Nation's passion for feuds and partisan politics. The last election, which saw Hudson and rival Chief Louis Stevenson battle it out, was appealed to a federal court, which overturned the local decision.

Hudson said the agreement is deliberatively "restrictive and protective."

There are explicit rules barring corrupt or incompetent candidates from running for trustee spots. The agreement bans a nomination from anyone who is bankrupt, a member of council or carries a criminal conviction from the previous decade. Any criminal conviction for a financial matter or being listed on the child abuse registry rules out a candidacy.

Election as a trustee is permanent. But trustees may quit, be removed by petition from other trustees and council or dismissed for a long list of infractions including failure to disclose a conflict of interest.

Lobbying for support is expected to be fierce and draw out the community's veteran political warriors.

"People are being lobbied, and it definitely is a concern," Hudson said.

Peguis still has $64 million from a four-year-old agreement, compensation for treaty land entitlement of some 36,420 hectares.

Critics say decisions over that money have moved at a glacial pace, but the chief says the band is simply moving carefully.

"It's taken us four years, since the ratification and when we received the money until now, to set up the mechanisms to operate," Hudson said. "With the surrender, we're already well underway. We'll move a lot faster with this (latest compensation)."

The trust agreement is 81 pages long and available on the Peguis First Nation website (http://www.peguisfirstnation.ca/).

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca