Ocean Man First Nation and Canada Sign Landmark Recognition Agreement

On February 23, 2022, Ocean Man First Nation (“Ocean Man”) signed a landmark Recognition Agreement with the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations on behalf of Canada. The agreement clarified the basis upon which Ocean Man exercises its rights under Treaty No. 4.

Canada Amalgamates Ocean Man with Two First Nations

Ocean Man adhered to Treaty No. 4 on September 15, 1875. A reserve was subsequently surveyed and set apart for Ocean Man near present-day Stoughton, Saskatchewan, and the people of Ocean Man occupied that land until 1901. In 1901, Canada wrongfully amalgamated Ocean Man with two nearby First Nations, Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nation (“Pheasant Rump”) and White Bear First Nations (“White Bear”). After the amalgamation, Canada stopped recognizing Ocean Man and Pheasant Rump as First Nations separate from White Bear. The people of Ocean Man and Pheasant Rump were moved to the White Bear reserve, and continued to reside there for the decades that followed, but they always asserted that they were their own Nakota nation.

Canada Recognizes Ocean Man as a First Nation

In 1989, Ocean Man was formally recognized as a First Nation by Canada, despite the wrongful amalgamation of 1901. However, there was disagreement over whether the Ocean Man First Nation that was recognized in 1989, was the same band as the one that adhered to Treaty No. 4 in 1875 or whether it was a new band created pursuant to S. 17 of the Indian Act.

Ocean Man Signs Landmark Recognition Agreement

The February 23, 2022 Agreement establishes clearly that Ocean Man has existed continually since 1875, has never been lawfully extinguished, amalgamated or dissolved, and has never surrendered its treaty rights. Minister Miller commented:

This Agreement formally recognizes Canada’s ongoing Treaty relationship with Ocean Man First Nation, and their inherent rights under Treaty No. 4. We look forward to continuing to work together as treaty partners to advance reconciliation and build a better future based on community priorities. Congratulations to Chief Big Eagle, Elders and community members on this historic day.

The agreement was signed at MLT Aikins Regina, Saskatchewan attended by Ocean Man leadership and elders, and virtually by Minister Miller and other federal government representatives. Following the signatures, an exchange of gifts took place between Ocean Man and Canada. The proceedings opened and closed with ceremonial songs by a traditional hand drummer from Ocean Man.

Today’s agreement is the product of years of negotiations between Ocean Man and Canada at a Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination (“RIRSD”) table, marking the end of a prolonged period of disagreement between Ocean Man and Canada in respect of Ocean Man’s status as a Treaty 4 First Nation. While there remains much to be done at the RIRSD table as Ocean Man and Canada work towards reconciliation and righting the wrongs of 1901 and afterward, Ocean Man is hopeful today’s agreement will lead to meaningful progress in the months ahead.

Of the Recognition Agreement, Chief Connie Big Eagle said:

Ocean Man has been working toward and waiting for significant progress in our negotiations with Canada for many years. I want to acknowledge and thank all past and current Ocean Man leadership for their contributions in bringing us to the signing of this Recognition Agreement between Ocean Man and Canada.

MLT Aikins was pleased to act for Ocean Man First Nation in negotiating this landmark agreement with the federal government.

Ocean Man First Nation and Canada Sign Landmark Recognition Agreement
Photo credit: Justin Holness