Treaty annuity case a 'historical landmark' for Ontario First Nations
Superior court decision allows hearings to be broadcast online
As a landmark case involving treaty annuities for Ontario First Nations continues in Sudbury, people representing the communities at the hearings believe it's a historic moment that will serve as an important record for generations to come.
First Nations under the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior treaties, both signed in 1850, are arguing for an increase to the annual annuities their citizens receive, which hasn't increased from $4 per person since 1874.
Hearings began in Thunder Bay last September, with testimony from elders, community leaders, and history experts from the First Nations. They resumed in Sudbury last week, with a superior court ruling allowing the proceedings to be live-streamed online.
"It is a monumental case. It is a historical landmark," said Roger Daybutch from Mississauga First Nation, one of the trustees representing the 21 Robinson-Huron First Nations.
"What I've noticed is the amount of history that has been captured since 1850 and even prior to 1850, leading up to the case, leading up to the signing of the treaty," he added. "What was the feel of the Anishininaabeg people around 1850? What was the feel of the industry around 1850? What was the feel of the Crown around 1850? What was going on in our territories?"
Mike Restoule, chair of the Robinson-Huron Treaty Litigation Trust, believes the hearings are a good opportunity for all Canadians to learn about treaty history and the relationship between the Crown and First Nations before Canada became a country.
"The promise in 1850 was that from the territory that was ceded to the Crown, because the chiefs at the time wanted a higher annuity to cede their land to the Crown, it was denied," said Restoule.
"But the compromise was that...if the territory makes more revenue for the crown, we'll increase the annuity. That was a promise that was made in 1850, and today they're not honouring that. So that's why we're in the court."
'We want to be healthy communities'
Witnesses for the province and the federal government will testify for the remainder of this phase of the case, which is expected to wrap up in Sudbury in early March. If the justice presiding over the hearings rules in favour of the First Nations, negotiations would likely follow to determine how the annuities would increase, according to Restoule.
"I think it had buying power in 1874. But today, $4, what does it get you? Maybe a couple of loaves of bread, that's about it," said Restoule, with a laugh.
"For us to be self sustaining, we want to be healthy communities. I think everyone needs that (increase)," said Peter Recollet, representing Wahnapitae First Nation. "And I think once we come to be true partners in this territory...those nation-to-nation treaty obligations will come forward."
"Once we've heard all the witnesses and the research that has been done on our behalf, it's just overwhelming from the educational side," said Daybutch. "Stuff that you don't learn in the schools and university. It's just exciting times for us. We've waited 167 years for this moment, and it's happening."