Bearspaw First Nation believes the longer the federal government holds on to its funds, the more money they'll lose.

The First Nation says it has successfully negotiated the transfer of capital funds being held in trust by Indigenous Services Canada and has been waiting for ministerial approval of the transfer.

"We've been losing money by not having our money transferred and invested," says Bearspaw CEO Rob Shotclose. "By our calculations, we've probably lost $3.5 million in earnings that we could have earned over this 3 to  3 1/2 month delay."

Shotclose says there's approximately $150 million in capital funds being held by the federal government on behalf of the three First Nations forming Stoney Nakoda. Bearspaw's share is approximately $52-$53 million. 

Changes to the Indian Act, specifically paragraph 64(1)(k), allow for the transfer of capital funds to a trust for the use and benefit of a First Nation. Bearspaw has created the Ozîja Thiha Legacy Trust to do just that.

Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon says the goal to achieve economical self-sufficiency will be significantly advanced and enhanced with the establishment of the legacy trust.

"The proposed transfer of capital moneys to Ozîja Thiha Legacy Trust will stand for the protection and growth of Bearspaw First Nation assets for Bearspaw children, grandchildren, and children yet to be born."

The funds are generated from the extraction of oil and gas and other natural resources on the Stoney Nakoda First Nations.

Shotclose says the Indigenous Services initially established the capital trust because spending was getting out of hand.

He says the fund has built over the years, but there's been a sharp decline in oil and gas revenue as well as production, consequently, expenditures are higher than revenue. 

"At this moment we're earning the least amount of money in history of about one per cent a year, and that just does not help the First Nation at all."

He says other First Nations who have taken control of their own capital funds have done remarkably well.

In June 2020, Bearspaw was permitted to proceed and by October had reached a BFN with the Chiniki and Wesley First Nations. By the late spring, they had completed the necessary work, been told everything is in order, and have been waiting for the transfer.

"We're hoping to get some positive news soon. The technicians that we work with have helped a lot and they're very positive to work with, but I think some other levels of the Indigenous Affairs office are maybe being a little more careful than they need to be."

He says the sooner the transfer takes place, the better.

"The projections from our professional Nakoda Oil and Gas people show us a real slow decline. Over a 20-year period, we're going to go gradually go down to almost nothing. We've got to get this out and invested right away."

CEO Shotclose says some of the money is used to top up treaty funding that doesn't adequately address needs like health, education, and public works.

It is also used to stimulate economic development to create jobs and opportunities.

"If you don't have your own sources revenue, well then you're not really in control of it, so we have to build that and keep that."

William Olscamp, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada, says they fully support First Nations interested in managing their trust moneys.

"We are committed to working collaboratively with First Nations interested in managing their trust moneys," states Olscamp in a written statement. "This includes working with the Bearspaw First Nation to support their goals for their respective trust funds."

He says he is unable to comment on the specific details or confidential discussions with the Bearspaw First Nation.