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‘Canada Has a Lot of Unpaid Bills’: $10B Settlement Reached in Landmark First Nation Treaty Case

It took more than a decade of litigation, but 21 Anishinaabe communities along the north shore of Lake Huron in Ontario will finally access a fair share of the wealth generated on their lands over the past 173 years.

The Robinson-Huron Treaty signed in 1850 promised its Indigenous beneficiaries annual payments in exchange for the right to use their lands.

A clause in the treaty explicitly tied the value of the annual payments to resource revenues.

Northeastern Ontario mining, lumber and fishing industries generated billions of dollars in profits over the past two centuries, but annual payments to First Nations were capped at $4 per person in 1874 and haven’t increased since.

In 2018, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the Crown had a duty to increase annual payments to the beneficiaries of the Robinson-Huron Treaty.

Canada, Ontario and these First Nations communities have been negotiating outside the courts since January.

The three parties announced a proposed $10-billion settlement to compensate for unpaid past annuities during a press conference in Sudbury, Ont., on Saturday.

The federal government will pay half of that amount, while the other half will be shouldered by the provincial government.

Renewing the treaty relationship 

Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers said the proposed settlement means the Crown and the Indigenous communities of Robinson-Huron treaty territory are moving together on the path of reconciliation.

“This is only a first step,” he said. “The proposed agreement only deals with past annuities.”

Negotiations to review the terms of annual payments going forward are ongoing, but Sayers said the proposed settlement brings hope for the future of the treaty relationship.

“It’s a symbol of the commitment to respect and uphold treaty rights,” he said.

A man sitting on a chair, smiling.
The chair of the Robinson-Huron Treaty Litigation Fund, Mike Restoule of Nipissing First Nation, said he was feeling ‘ecstatic’ about reaching a proposed settlement with provincial and federal governments. (Aya Dufour/CBC)

For Duke Peltier, the secretary-treasurer of the Robinson-Huron Treaty Litigation Fund, the proposed settlement carries a lot of meaning.

“Our communities have struggled economically, socially and politically because the Crown breached the treaty,” he said.

“The compensation from this settlement will ensure stronger and brighter futures for our nations.”

Communities to be consulted on distribution 

Peltier said Robinson-Huron First Nation community members have “many burning questions” about what this settlement entails.

He asks people to be patient.

“We have to have talks in our communities,” Peltier said, adding that there will be consultations in every community in the months to come.

These conversations will guide “the development of policies and procedures so that the compensation fund can be distributed evenly throughout the communities,” he said.

A report with recommendations will be prepared by former Anishnaabe judge Harry LaForme, who served on the Ontario Court of Appeal until retiring in 2018, in the next six to eight months.

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod said that part of the compensation will be used to fund community development projects.

There is also an “individual component to the annuity,” he said.

“The First Nations will distribute this money to individuals. This amount has not yet been determined,” McLeod said.

As for the federal and provincial governments, they need to go through internal approval processes before the proposed settlement can be finalized. 

‘Even a library book would cost a small fortune if it took 173 years to pay the late fees’: minister

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said the proposed settlement is not about one specific parcel of land in Canada.

“It’s about the entire relationship upon which this country has been built,” he said.

Miller said he hopes this compensation will “right a historical wrong.

He said the public needs to be educated on this issue. “This is not taught in schools,” he said.

“People are going to have views on this, but people need to understand that this is about Canada and Ontario paying bills that are long overdue,” Miller said. “Even a library book would cost a small fortune if it took 173 years to pay the late fees.”

He said that “Canada has a lot of unpaid bills,” but work is underway to speed up compensation claims throughout the country.

Source: CBC



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