2 First Nations near Halifax to vote on potential settlement of 100-year-old land dispute


A 100-year-old land claim involving two Mi'kmaw communities in Nova Scotia has one mother weighing the implications of a surrender of reserve land set aside for her family's ancestors.

A referendum is scheduled to take place Nov. 21 among Millbrook First Nation and Sipekne'katik First Nation members on whether to accept a proposed settlement in what's known as the 1919 Halifax County land claim.

Jennifer Denny, an entrepreneur and mother of two from Millbrook First Nation, organized a bus tour of one of three parcels of reserve land subject to the claim that would be surrendered to the federal government in the proposed settlement. She brought along her family and four other Millbrook band members.

"It's a big eye-opener to see what the value of the land is with our own eyes," Denny said, standing along the water in Sambro, N.S., one of the areas encompassed by the land claim.

3 reserves created for 'Halifax County Indians'

According to a community information document about the proposed settlement agreement obtained by CBC News, the three reserves were created between the late 1700s and 1850 for the group of Mi'kmaq known then as the "Halifax County Indians," whose descendants eventually came to reside in Millbrook and Sipekne'katik.

The three parcels of land just outside of Halifax include nearly 300 acres (121 hectares) of land in Sambro, just over 300 acres (121 hectares) in an area known as Ingram River, and over 700 acres (283 hectares) of land in an area known as Ship Harbour.

On June 18, 1919, the federal government "took a surrender" of the three reserves — claiming them as Crown land — but the Mi'kmaq argued that because Canada didn't follow the proper protocol under the Indian Act, the "surrender" was illegitimate.

The Mi'kmaq worked on the issue for decades, and eventually the communities of Millbrook and Sipekne'katik took it on together, submitting the land claim in September 2005. In 2007, Canada agreed that the 1919 surrender was not valid, and settlement negotiations followed for over a decade.

The current proposed settlement includes a total payment of just over $49 million to the two First Nations with about $19.3 million for the 1,955 registered members of Millbrook and just under $28 million for the 2,755 Mi'kmaq of Sipekne'katik.

Each community is also entitled to share a percentage of 1265.35 acres (512 hectares) of other Crown land in the province, an allotment equivalent to the area of the Sambro, Ingram River and Ship Harbour reserves being surrendered. Each community will be able to apply for the land, on a per capita basis, through the federal government's Additions to Reserve process.

Denny said she organized the bus trip so that community members would be able to make a more informed decision on the proposed settlement.

Sambro is well known in Nova Scotia for its commercial fishing, and for one of the Atlantic region's most popular summer destinations, Crystal Crescent Beach. She said the group was surprised to find numerous properties in Sambro for sale, and areas that she believed to be Crown land recently cleared for residential development.