A judge in Calgary is hearing the final arguments in a long-running Aboriginal land claim that affects a big swath of territory in southern Alberta.
Lawyers representing the Crown and the Blood Tribe will wrap up their cases Thursday in what’s known as the Big Land Claim at Federal Court.
The band already occupies the largest reserve in Canada, stretching 1,400 square kilometres across the southwestern Alberta prairie from west of Lethbridge down to Cardston.
But the Blood Tribe has long claimed its territory encompasses more land — everything from the St. Mary River in the east all the way to the Waterton River in the west, and south to the U.S. border.
Justice Russel Zinn is evaluating evidence from letters, oral history and a past government’s intentions — including statements made by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald — to try to determine whether the tribe’s reserve should be bigger.
On Wednesday, Zinn had tough questions for the Crown lawyers about why the reserve’s final size wound up being roughly 265 square kilometres smaller than the results of a land-to-population survey in 1882 suggested.
Lawyers for the federal government say the 1882 survey was a just a draft — never finished or approved — and that a followup survey done a year later moved the Blood Tribe’s southern border to where it is today.
Zinn said it’s almost impossible to know what the Blood Tribe’s population was more than 140 years ago — but that it was Canada’s responsibility to find out and draft the boundaries based on that population.
The Crown’s position is that any population counts or surveys done before 1883 were not official — and that, in the end, the tribe received the land it was promised.
The government contends the updated boundaries were clearly defined in an amendment to Treaty 7 in 1883 that the Blood Tribe accepted.
But lawyers for the Blood Tribe told court that the oral history tells a different story, and that the tribe’s land was taken away despite a sacred agreement with the Government of Canada.
Proceedings are expected to wrap up on Thursday. Justice Zinn will then draft a written decision.
The band is looking for compensation and reconciliation.