Alberta’s Lubicon Lake First Nation expects to mark the end of a decades-long fight for recognition on Tuesday.
But Chief Billy-Joe Laboucan says the real work will begin after the band signs off on its land claim with the province and the federal government.
He says the $113 million included in the deal will allow the band to get to work rebuilding the community of Little Buffalo.
Money in the settlement is already tagged for essentials such as decent housing, a new school and an elders care facility.
Laboucan says the 246 square kilometres included in the claim are in good shape and relatively unaffected by industrial activity.
Laboucan credits former chief Bernard Ominayak for that, saying his advocacy work let companies know the Lubicon had an interest in that land and discouraged them from working there.
In the late 1800s, British officials missed the Lubicon as they negotiated Treaty 8 with other Indigenous groups. Canada agreed the Lubicon deserved title to their land in 1939, but a deal was never reached.
The issue stagnated until the 1970s when oil and gas companies began carving through local traplines. By then, the Lubicon were so poor that diseases such as tuberculosis were a problem.
In 1988, Ominayak staged a protest at the Calgary Olympics and blockaded roads into the disputed area. The dispute went global as a United Nations committee criticized Canada for its treatment of the Lubicon.
“If that hadn’t been the case, we wouldn’t be here,” said Laboucan. “A lot of credit has to go to previous chief Bernard Ominayak and council, and all the chiefs before him.”
Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan says signing the deal will feel a little like history.
Feehan says everyone at the negotiating table sat down with the knowledge that the time had come to settle the dispute.
Ominayak has been invited to the ceremony, although it’s not clear if he’ll attend.
Laboucan said the band can finally focus on it’s future, not its hard-luck past.
“Up until this point, we haven’t had our own land base. It’s pretty hard to do what you need to do without a land base.”