Northern Ontario First Nations take federal and Ontario governments to court over $4 annual treaty payments

Twenty-one First Nations in northern Ontario are taking the federal and Ontario governments to court in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Monday to demand an increase to their annuities, which have not been raised in over 140 years.

Beneficiaries of the Robinson-Huron Treaty have not seen annuities go up since 1874

Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve Chief Duke Peltier is leading the push to make the federal and Ontario governments honour the Robinson-Huron Treaty. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

Twenty-one First Nations in northern Ontario are taking the federal and Ontario governments to court in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Monday to demand an increase to their annuities, which have not been raised in over 140 years.

Since 1874, beneficiaries of the Robinson-Huron Treaty have been collecting $4 annually.

The treaty was originally signed in 1850. It stated that payments were supposed to increase if the resource revenues generated from the territory produced such an amount as to enable an increase without incurring a loss, according to Serpent River First Nation Chief Elaine Johnston.

"So Canada and Ontario receive revenues from the land that we agreed to those treaties," Johnston said.

"But we haven't seen a recognition for that."
Indigenous leaders who are part of the Robinson-Huron Treaty are prepared to take their annuities claim as far as they can, according to Serpent River First Nation Chief Elaine Johnston. (Bryan Hendry/Supplied)

Now First Nation leaders who are part of the treaty spanning north of Parry Sound to Sudbury and west to Lake Superior are taking legal action to order an acknowledgment of a century-old promise. 

Holding out hope for nation-to-nation relations

"Many citizens in each of our communities continue to call into question why the amount is only $4 when they hear news reports of many of the multinational corporations that operate within the territory obtain significant quarterly profits," said Duke Peltier, chief of Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, who is leading the annuities claim.

"Unfortunately, at times the courts are the only mechanism that exists for Indigenous people to advance our petitions to the Crown, and we still hold out hope that the desire for nation-to-nation relations is something that the government wishes to advance in a meaningful way outside of the courts."

Atikameksheng First Nation Chief Steve Miller said he feels optimistic heading into the legal proceedings because the $4 payments indicate the treaty is alive.
Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Chief Steve Miller said he feels positive about the Robinson-Huron Treaty court case. (CBC)

"It does hold merit, and it stipulates that it would be increased with the revenue generated by the provinces or Canada itself," Miller said.

"The honour of the Crown is at stake when it comes to signing agreements with First Nations."

Ontario government says its meeting constitutional obligations

The chiefs said they hope the case will lead to new treaty negotiations. 

They are prepared to take their arguments as far as they can, Johnston said, even if that means bringing them to the Supreme Court. 

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation wrote that the province respects Aboriginal and treaty rights, as recognized and affirmed under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

"We are committed to meeting the province's constitutional and other obligations in respect of Indigenous peoples," a spokesperson for the ministry wrote.

"We are committed to support sustainable, healthy and prosperous Anishinabek communities in Ontario and our government is working diligently to realize this goal."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

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Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.