Indigenous leaders pushing governments to settle after landmark ruling

Leaders from Robinson-Huron treaty now calling on provincial and federal governments to negotiate settlements rather than ongoing litigation which could take at least a decade.

Leaders now calling on provincial and federal governments to negotiate settlements rather than ligation.

Leaders from the 21 First Nations that are part of the Robinson-Huron Treaty speak at a news conference in Sudbury on Thursday. (Kari Vierimaa/CBC)

Leaders from Robinson-Huron treaty are now calling on provincial and federal governments to negotiate settlements rather than risk ongoing litigation which could take at least a decade.

"We're prepared to sit down and negotiate a settlement," said Mike Restoule, Chair of the Robinson-Huron Treaty Litigation Fund.

Restoule says the group of twenty-one First Nations in northeastern Ontario have written to Greg Rickford, Ontaro's Minister of Energy, Mines, Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs, and federal Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Dr. Carolyn Bennett requesting negotiations to address treaty issues which date back to 1850. 

"It's been a long journey since this grievance was brought forward and it would be really nice if the governments of the day would agree to sit down and discuss the settlement with us," he said.

A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says the ministry is reviewing the decision, but are open to "discussions" with First Nations who were part of the legal challenge. (CBC)

Governments reviewing decision; Ottawa open to 'discussions'

In a statement the Government of Ontario said it's reviewing the recent decision. 

Ottawa, meanwhile acknowledges "honouring the treaty relationship [...] is key to advancing lasting reconciliation."

A spokesperson for Bennett said the department is reviewing Friday's decision, but "Government of Canada remains open to discussions with the interested parties."

That's something David Nahwegahbow— one of the lawyers representing the Indigenous plaintiffs—  believes is the best path forward. 

"As Justice Hennessy outlined [in her ruling], it's harder to achieve reconciliation and an adversarial process which is why negotiations are the preferred venue for coming to terms with this decision and implementing this decision," Nahwegahbow said. 

Batchewana Chief Mike Sayers said sitting in negotiation is "true reconciliation."

"Sitting at a meaningful table that's really founded on culture and openness and understanding of each other's way of life and knowing that we need to reconcile this," Sayers said. "We don't want to have the future generations having these confrontational discussions way down the road when we have an opportunity right now based on this decision to get as much mileage as we can out of it."

David Nahwegahbow, one of the lawyers for the First Nations part of the Robinson-Huron Treaty says he hopes the federal and provincial governments will opt for negotiations rather than continued litigation. (Kari Vierimaa/CBC)

Battle over treaty rights has wider implications: lawyer

The recent victory for indigenous leaders of the Robinson-Huron Treaty territory also impacts a separate claim by two First Nations in the Robinson-Superior Treaty territory.

The Robinson-Superior claim was launched several years before the Robinson-Huron treaty claim was initiated.

The court has decided to try them both together, while compensation or declarations from each case will remain separate.

Their claim—  launched years before the Robinson-Huron Treaty claim— deals with similar language around the escalator clause which exists in both treaties.

"The decision, while it talks about the principles that underlay the treaty relationship and which ought to be the basis on which the augmentation occurs, doesn't say what the amount is and it recommends that the parties negotiate that amount," Nahwegahbow said.

"It does talk about duties on the Crown which will assist us in coming to a determination of that amount."

Nahwegahbow said while the specific aspects of the decision related to the treaty language can only be applied to the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior treaties, he adds the aspects that contributed to the decision will be significant for future cases. 

"The court in this case said when determining the Indigenous perspective it's important to look at Indigenous laws, important to look at the long history of the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous nations which was one of the allies rather than subjects and that's a very important component in this case," he said.