PICTOU LANDING – This weekend, many members of Pictou Landing First Nation will make the pilgrimage to Chapel Island in Bras d’Or Lake for the annual St. Anne celebrations. The Maritime’s Mi’kmaq have met there, as the Potlotek First Nation wrote, since time immemorial.
But there’s reason to celebrate in Pictou Landing as well this weekend. The Boat Harbour Trust Agreement comes to an end freeing up millions in both community and individual compensation.
The act states the term of the trust lasts one day less than 21 years from the date it was signed on July 20, 1993
The trust signed between the Government of Canada and Pictou Landing First Nation forms part the Boat Harbour Settlement Agreement. That agreement ordered Canada to pay $35 million to Pictou Landing as compensation to the band and its members due to the adverse effects of the Boat Harbour Effluent Treatment System.
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Of the $35 million, $8 million was immediately distributed to individual Band members, $7.5 million was spent on legal costs and the remaining $19.5 million forms the bulk of funds in the 1993 Trust Agreement
Some of the funds will be paid to chief and council for community projects while other funds remain in limbo. Over $3 million will be paid in equal shares to band members directly.
“We want to get the most up to date Band membership list to give everyone a chance to register,” said Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul. “We expect payment will take place on Friday, July 25.”
A presentation to Band members on Apr. 14 stated that balance of the continuing compensation account, the account from which Band members would be paid, currently stands at $3,328,710. Based on the latest numbers, 628 members will receive approximately $5,300 each.
“I just think that’s great for our members," said Paul. "The trust has been there for so long, to have payment coming is a wonderful thing for the members. They’re looking forward to it and making their plans and happy to get something from it."
Children are also entitled to compensation, though parents will receive half and half will be put in a trust fund until the child reaches the age of majority.
The $19.5 million in the Boat Harbour Trust Agreement was divided into three accounts: $15 million in the community development account for costs arising if the reserve decides to relocate; $3.3 million in the individual/continuing compensation account and; $1.2 million for the band compensation and development account for use by the band as a group.
It appears the trust has been financially well managed. Despite spending a total $8.6 million for community projects and $3.4 million though annual Christmas bonuses for band members, the trust has still increased in value by $9.8 million.
“All of those accounts have grown,” said Dan MacDonald, a corporate trustee and advisor to the band on the Boat Harbour Settlement Agreement. “Every year the community holds a referendum to decide where to spend generated revenue from the trust, from a school lunch program to church programs.”
While the 1993 agreement specifies that the $4 million from compensation and development account must be used for resource, infrastructure, economic or cultural development, Paul noted that the band council and community have not yet decided how it will be spent.
“We’re looking at putting together a few expenditure reports that will be presented to band members,” she said. “We’ll move forward once we get approval.”
As for the remaining $22 million in the community development account in case the band decides to relocate, Paul said it’s not clear how those funds can be used.
“We’re still in discussion with Canada as to what it will be used for. It’s not clear.”
Section 6.6.1 of the act states the parties, Canada and Pictou Landing First Nation, will “consider the appropriate application of such moneys to other band purposes to be identified”.
For Paul, organizing a blockade and protest when Northern Pulp’s effluent leak over aboriginal burial ground and analyzing the intricacies of the Boat Harbour Settlement Agreement have been challenging.
“It’s been a busy time and a huge learning time for me. Being chief has been an interesting time since there are lots of things happening.”
She thanked the council, Dan MacDonald, her staff and the community for all the feedback and comments as discussions about the trust that took place.