Signatories to the 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty want Ontario to drop its appeal of the first phase of an ongoing lawsuit launched by 21 First Nations against the federal and provincial governments over treaty annuity payments.
Justice Patricia Hennessy ruled in December 2018 during phase one of the hearings that both Canada and Ontario had failed to live up to its obligations to increase annuity payments over time as mineral and forestry resources were being developed in treaty territory.
The province begins its appeal of the phase one ruling of the Robinson Huron Treaty annuities case in court Tuesday. The federal government has decided not to appeal that decision.
“Canada hasn’t appealed, but Ontario continues to cost everybody money at the end of the day. I think it’s a pretty straightforward resolution,” said Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers during a news conference held Monday. “There’s been enough decisions, enough action, enough education that should be compelling Ontario to pay their rent on behalf of Ontario and Canadian citizens.”
“We always expected that we would have a fair share of the revenues generated from our resources, and it’s not a new expectation.”
The annual treaty payment, which currently sees each of the roughly 30,000 treaty beneficiaries entitled to receive $4 annually, hasn’t increased since 1874.
“They have taken on the responsibility from the crown to ensure that the annuity is to have been augmented, and through this stage one appeal, they’re indicating that there was never any intention by Ontario to increase the annuity, which is disheartening, to say the least, because of the fact that they are the ones that brought this english language wording into play, and it was definitely something that was understood by all Anishinabek peoples at treaty-making time, is that the annuity would be increased - and in fact, there was acknowledgement of that in 1874 where there was an increase,” said Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory Ogimaa Duke Peltier. “So, I think what we’re hoping for here from the courts is that further validation that this case is grounded in lawful and true justification of what that relationship should be.”
Peltier believes that Ontario will argue in the Court of Appeal that a “fair share” on annuity payments was a concept not understood by the Anishinabek peoples, despite historical evidence that shows Indigenous leaders were clear about an annuity that would be augmented to compensate for resource extraction, or any settlement or development.
“We expect Ontario to be bringing forward arguments that that wasn’t the understanding, but we know that the historical evidence indicates otherwise,” he said.
Both Peltier and Sayers told reporters that both the federal and provincial governments have yet to provide a mandate to engage in discussions around negotiation and settlement of the annuities claim.
“We think that the sooner each level of the Crown begins to determine its negotiation mandates, the sooner we can get to a resolution, and we think that can happen fairly quickly, because we were going through this exercise through the courts, which in our view isn’t necessary because there is those promises that were made through treaty that were very clear in its intents to augment this annuity.”
Sayers says those talks need to happen before the next stage of the annuities case “or the people of Ontario might like the outcomes of stage three, when a number may be prescribed for them.”
“Canada and Ontario need to honour the obligations set out in the escalator clause within the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850. It’s blatant, it’s clear, it’s straightforward - so we’re calling on Ontario to drop your appeal,” said Sayers. “Stop wasting energy, time and money, and let’s set that table and let’s have a productive table on behalf on everybody that have agreed to live side by side and share the lands and resources.”
The Ontario government has also appealed the stage two decision of the annuities case which ruled in favour of treaty beneficiaries. Canada chose not to appeal the June 2020 decision.