THUNDER BAY — A Superior Court judge in Sudbury has decided in favour of 21 northern Ontario First Nations in a case involving the interpretation of treaties that were signed 168 years ago.
The decision opens the door to what is expected to be a significant increase in annuity payments from the Crown to members of Fort William First Nation and other treaty signatories around the Lake Superior shoreline as well as in northeastern Ontario.
"We're ecstatic" with the outcome, said Mike Restoule, chair of a committee that brought the case to court on behalf of the First Nations.
First Nations which signed the Robinson Superior and Robinson Huron treaties in 1850 alleged that the federal and Ontario governments had failed to implement the annuity augmentation provision of the treaties.
The provision, they said, was intended to allow for increases in the payments based on the wealth generated by the land and resources in the territory ceded to the Crown.
The annuity has been paid to community members at the rate of four dollars per person since 1874, with no revisions.
Hearings on the matter were conducted in Thunder Bay in 2017, followed by hearings in Sudbury earlier this year.
According to Restoule, Justice Patricia Hennessy ruled in a decision issued on Friday that the treaty requires periodic adjustments in the annuity.
"We were right in our contention that the treaty annuity should be augmented...We are entitled to a share of the revenues from the territory designated in our treaty...To us that means any sort of revenue," he said.
The court decision leaves the payment levels still to be determined, but an economic historian hired by the First Nations has already come up with some figures.
"He came up with numbers, and the numbers are huge," Restoule said.
He declined to reveal the consultant's findings, however, saying the matter will now be subject to negotiation with the governments.
Restoule expects examples of annuity payments to First Nations across Canada will be examined as part of the negotiating process.
- TBNewswatch.com/Dougall Media