BIG GRASSY, ON and OJIBWAYS OF ONIGAMING FIRST NATIONS, ON, July 5, 2023 – In a momentous announcement, Chief Lynn Indian of Big Grassy First Nation and Chief Jeff Copenace of Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, alongside the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations, and the Honourable Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, revealed the successful conclusion of tripartite negotiations and the settlement agreement for the First Nations’ flooding claims.
Responding to the unauthorized construction and operation of the Rollerway and Norman dams by Canada and Ontario, resulting in detrimental changes in water levels on Lake of the Woods and subsequent flooding of portions of the Assabaska Band’s reserve land since 1887, the First Nations submitted their claims seeking authorization and fair compensation.
After separate votes ratifying the settlement agreement, the Chiefs and Councils of Big Grassy and Onigaming First Nations signed the agreement in December 2022. In January 2023, Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs executed the settlement agreement, followed by Canada’s Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations in March 2023.
Under the terms of the settlement, the Big Grassy and Ojibways of Onigaming First Nations will receive a total compensation of $157 million. Canada will provide $119 million, with the remaining $38 million contributed by Ontario.
Additionally, as part of the agreement, both First Nations will have the opportunity to acquire up to 1,932 acres of land for their respective reserve lands. The land acquisition will be carried out through willing buyer/willing seller negotiations, presenting new prospects for community economic development that will benefit the First Nations and the regional economy for generations to come.
Chief Lynn Indian of Big Grassy First Nation expressed the significance of acknowledging the First Nation members, including ancestors, who endured the effects of illegal flooding on their original homelands by government authorities. Chief Indian emphasized the importance of concluding these longstanding negotiations and reaching a fair settlement that paves the way for a positive future and rebuilding relationships.
“It is only appropriate that we give honour and recognition to the members of our First Nation, including our ancestors who have suffered the effects of the illegal flooding of our original homelands by those in positions of Government. We are happy that we have concluded these long-standing negotiations by reaching a fair and just final settlement with all parties involved. As always, we look to the future in rebuilding a positive relationship,” said Chief Indian.
Chief Jeffrey Copenace of Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation reflected on the bittersweet nature of this day for their families. While justice has been achieved, the unnecessary delays and negotiations have caused the loss of community members and Elders who passed away without witnessing this day. Chief Copenace paid tribute to the spirits of those lost and the Ancestors who suffered due to deliberate flooding, resulting in disease, death, and the loss of the Anishinaabe way of life. He expressed hope that the investments from the settlement will lead to a healthier future for future generations, ultimately lifting the State of Emergency for Suicides and Mental Wellness.
“It is a bittersweet day for our families,” said Chief Copenance. “It is hard to understand why this claim took so long to negotiate and faced so many unnecessary delays to achieve compensation. During our State of Emergency in recent years, we have lost many community members and Elders who passed away and who will never see this day of justice. So, we honour their spirits today. We honour the many Ancestors we’ve lost, who faced disease, death and loss of Anishinaabe way of life because of this cruel, intentionally deliberate flooding of our Anishinaabe homelands. We are hopeful that these investments will pave a healthier path forward for our future generations so that we can ultimately lift our current State of Emergency for Suicides and Mental Wellness once and for all.”
Minister Marc Miller acknowledged the resolution of this claim as a significant step in Canada’s relationship with the people of Big Grassy and Ojibways of Onigaming First Nations. He commended the leadership of both First Nations for their dedication to resolving this longstanding claim and expressed a commitment to rebuilding trust and working towards a more positive future.
Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford, emphasized that the settlement signifies the province’s commitment to honoring legal obligations and rectifying historical wrongs. By doing so, Ontario aims to move forward together on the path toward reconciliation.
Minister Rickford stated, “This settlement with Big Grassy and Ojibways of Onigaming First Nations is the result of respectful and meaningful negotiation. It demonstrates Ontario’s commitment to honouring our legal obligations and rectifying historical wrongs so that we can move forward together on the path toward reconciliation.”
The announcement concluded with a congratulatory message to the people of Big Grassy and Ojibways of Onigaming First Nations. The achievement of this settlement has been a long time coming, and gratitude was expressed to all those who dedicated countless hours to make it a reality.