The Salt River First Nation (SRFN) said on Thursday members living on Indian Affairs Branch lands in Fort Smith will, after decades, receive title to their land in the coming month.
The land title issue dates back to the 1968 landslide in Fort Smith, which forced many Salt River families to relocate onto Indian Affairs Branch (IAB) land set aside for them after they lost their properties.
“In 1999, Chief James Schaefer and his negotiation team promised members that during the land claims process they would try to enable those dispossessed members living on the IAB lands to convert the lands to their ‘fee simple’ ownership,” the First Nation said in Thursday’s news release. Fee simple means someone owns their property completely and without limitations, except for taxes, debt obligations, and zoning restrictions.
The negotiation team convinced the federal government to give the IAB land to members and, in the treaty settlement agreement, these lands were called corporation lands.
The treaty settlement agreement, signed in 2002, included a section on corporation lands that was to be implemented “as soon as practically possible,” the First Nation continued.
However, the title to that land has remained with the federal government until now, even though affected families built homes and have lived on the land for more than half a century.
Last year, the Salt River First Nation pushed to finally resolve the issue.
“This outstanding issue, that has eluded closure for almost 20 years, is nearing finality. SRFN members who will be receiving fee simple ownership of their IAB lands will be contacted by our Lands Department,” Chief David Poitras was quoted as saying.
Poitras thanked former chiefs and councils and the negotiation team for their work.
“Lastly, to those members who will receive title to their lands in the coming month, I would like to thank you for your perseverance and commitment in creating safe and healthy homes despite your lack of actual property ownership,” he said.
“It is warm comfort for your children and grandchildren to know their home and lands are now a legacy asset within your families. You are all a testament to how Indigenous people can adapt and surpass the challenges they face, no matter how impossible it may seem at the time.”