Time for both Crowns to negotiate settlement of historic wrong

The First Nations signatories of the Robinson Huron Treaty across Northern Ontario are celebrating an historic December 27 court victory that determined both Ontario and Canada have been shortchanging members of those communities for 150 years. By not increasing a promised annuity that formed part of the payment arrangement agreed to by the First Nations the Crown has been found to have failed in its duty.

This is an historic wrong that must be corrected and corrected with dispatch. No appeal of this court decision should be countenanced by either level of government and both sides should move to negotiate a fair and equitable solution to this travesty of justice.

In case you may have missed it, the Crown has been paying out an annuity of the ludicrously low sum of $4 since the last time the payment was increased in the mid-1800s. Now $4 was a goodly sum back in the day, and was probably reasonably close to a fair share of the resource revenue being derived from the lands those communities had passed over to the Crown. But somewhere along the line the powers that were decided to cap the deal on the simple basis that they thought they could and nobody could do anything about it.

In her late December ruling, Justice Hennessy pointed out that this wasn’t actually the case.

There are no shortages of these unconscionable wrongs to be found in the dealings between our nation (and provinces) with the First Nations, but few are more clearly evident to the common person as not increasing a payment, as had been promised, for a century and a half.

The natural inclination of the Crown in these dealings has often been to appeal, appeal and otherwise delay meeting their obligations. It’s a lot of money and no government likes to have to part with the taxpayers’ dollars.

But to be clear. This isn’t taxpayers’ dollars we are talking about. The annuities in question are the agreed upon sharing of the royalties derived from the resource wealth that has, and is, flowing from the territory that the First Nations turned over to the Crown. In fact, the evidence heard by the court pretty clearly established that the 21 First Nations that were part of the original agreement were helping the early Ontario government with its cash flow problems by accepting the deal.

The Crown quite clearly has a duty to make this right. While the tried (we won’t use true) method for dealing with these setbacks by the government has been to delay the inevitable, this is so clearly wrong that it would be a monstrous waste of time and money to devote any further of the taxpayers’ purse on lawyers. 

It is long past time to settle this issue in a fair and equitable manner. Get on with it.

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