First Nations that are part of the Robinson-Huron Treaty say they're tired of waiting for a raise.
Their chiefs — who represent 21 communities stretching from Parry Sound, to Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, and north of Lake Superior — have filed a Statement of Claim against the provincial and federal governments.
- Visit CBC Aboriginal for the latest in First Nations news
- First Nations take governments to court over $4 annual benefit
They are calling on the government to increase their annual treaty payments, last negotiated under an agreement forged in 1850. They receive the payments in exchange for sharing their land and resources with the Crown.
The payments remain at $4 per person.
There are 30,000 beneficiaries to the Robinson-Huron Treaty in 21 First Nations communities and their territory has generated "vast amounts of revenues" from forestry, mining and other resource development, the chiefs said in a statement.
"The treaty is explicit in stating that the annuities would increase if the resource revenue generated from the territory produced such an amount as to enable the increase without incurring a loss," the chiefs said.
'A thorn in everybody's side'
The chiefs want an accounting of revenue generated since the treaty signing and are asking for the annuities to be increased.
"It's been, I guess, a thorn in everybody's side when we see the wealth and the benefits that Ontario and Canada have,” Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Chief Steve Miller said.
The treaty states that the money should increase to reflect the use and development of the territory. But that hasn't happened in 140 years.
"Our treaties are alive and well and we certainly believe that the courts are going to see it the same way," said Garden River First Nation Chief Lyle Sayers.
Officials with the federal government wouldn't comment on the legal action because they hadn't seen the statement of claim. Ontario's aboriginal affairs ministry also wouldn't comment on the specific treaty because of the legal action, but said in a statement that it is "moving forward with a new treaty strategy," including $7.9 million over three years announced in the last budget.
Ontario "is committed to meeting the province's constitutional and other obligations in respect of Aboriginal Peoples," the ministry said in an email.
The Ontario NDP aboriginal affairs critic said it would be "fair and honourable" for the government to sit down and work out a framework for honouring the terms of the treaty.
"I also think that this government, as with its other progressive promises, talks a good game when it comes to honouring First Nations and respecting treaties and their treaty rights, so I'm interested to see how the government and the minister in particular proposes to address this historic oversight," said Sarah Campbell.
Nipissing University professor emeritus John Long said he wonders if the treaty can be seen as an open-ended agreement.
“Is it something that was settled — the letter of the agreement settled everything in 1850 — or is it something that is a living agreement that, as situations change, the sharing changes?"
First Nations say they plan to take the case as far as they can.
"This is a serious, long-standing breach of the Robinson-Huron Treaty and a breach of fiduciary obligation on the part of the Crown," Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ghislain Picard said in a statement.
"Canada has grown rich off the traditional territories of First Nations and both provincial and national economies benefit while too many of our communities and citizens face chronic poverty. This is clearly unfair and is not consistent with the Treaties and agreements we entered into in good faith with the Crown."
The allegations have not been proven in court.