SAULT STE. MARIE—First Nations parties to the Robinson-Huron Treaty haven’t seen their benefits increased in 140 years. So chiefs from the Robinson-Huron Treaty territory filed a statement of claim on Tuesday in right of Canada and Ontario regarding the longstanding failure of the Crown to raise annuities under the Treaty signed in 1850.
“There are 21 First Nation communities (including all First Nations on Manitoulin Island) 30,000 beneficiaries to the Robinson-Huron Treaty,” said Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee. “Each person receives $4 per year. The annuity has not increased since 1874. This is a long time coming and a giant step forward.”
On Tuesday, September 9, the 164th anniversary of the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850, First Nations signatories announced a major step they are taking to enforce the terms of the treaty.
“This is a pretty historic event,” Chief Madahbee told the Recorder. “I had been part of this when the claim got started and one of the key players in all of this was Glen (Hare, deputy grand council chief).”
The Robinson-Huron Treaty recognizes the political and economic relationship between the First Nations signatories and the Crown, including the sharing of revenues of any resource development on the lands involved in the treaty which covers approximately 35,700 square miles of territory of what is now southern Ontario, a release indicates. “The Crown, however, has not maintained its promises set out in the treaty and the Robinson-Huron Treaty chiefs, successors of the original signatories, have inherited the responsibility to ensure that the terms of the treaty are honoured.”
Chief Madahbee explained, “in 1850 the treaty was completed and until the late 1800s treaty persons received $4 dollars per year. However, the government also removed a lot of people from the treaty list. I know for instance in my home community (Aundeck Omni Kaning) we have 400 on-reserve residents and 100 off-reserve residents that receive the treaty funds of $4 annually. This has to be delivered in person by the Crown, usually two people and a government representative and those persons to receive the four dollars annually have to stand in line to receive it.”
“This is the way this program has been going since 1850,” said Chief Madahbee.
“The treaty is pretty clear that the annuities would increase when the resource revenue generated from the territory increased,” said Chief Madahbee, who helped initiate this process over 30 years ago. “It couldn’t be plainer that the territory has generated vast amounts of revenues from forestry, mining and other resource development, still we receive $4 per year. That is unfair and not what we bargained for.”
Under the Robinson Huron Treaty, the Anishinabek (the Ojibway First Nations) agreed to share their lands and resources with the newcomers, approximately 35,700 square miles of territory. In return, the Crown, among other things, was supposed to pay annuities that were to be augmented from time to time explained the grand chief.
“This is the 164th anniversary of the signing of the Robinson-Huron Treaty,” said Chief Madahbee. “It was meant to provide economic benefits for our people. This is not what our ancestors signed on for.”
Of the 21 signatory communities, 19 are Anishinabek Nation communities and the other two are Batchewana and Shawanaga.
“On the 164th anniversary of the signing of the Robinson Huron Treaty chiefs declare that our people have exhausted their patience waiting for the Crown to act honourably, they want their fair share and they want the Crown to honour its promises,” said Chief Dean Sayers, spokesman for the chiefs. “Shortly after the treaty was entered into the chiefs began petitioning the Crown for an increase in the annuities with limited results. Today’s Robinson-Huron Treaty chiefs and councils intend to ensure that the Crown lives up to its obligations under the treaty.”
“The Robinson-Huron Treaty anticipates and provides economic benefits for us in perpetuity,” said Chief Sayers. “The annuity was intended to be our revenue stream, our share of the wealth generated by revenues from our territory, yet many of the beneficiaries live in poverty. This is not what our ancestors and the Crown agreed to.” Chief Sayers also noted that any revenue sharing received by the Robinson-Huron Treaty First Nations will provide significant benefit for the economy of Northern Ontario.
The chiefs are seeking an accounting of revenue generated since the treaty signing; they want the level of annuities increased and compensation for losses suffered as a result of the Crown’s failure to increase the annuities under the Robinson-Huron Treaty as promised. The Statement of Claim asks that the Crown deal “liberally and justly” with their claim, in accordance with the honour of the Crown, and engage in negotiations to settle the claim.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ghislain Picard stated, “this is a serious, long-standing breach of the Robinson-Huron Treaty and a breach of fiduciary obligation on the part of the Crown. 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 AFN calls on the Crown to honour its promises and negotiate a fairer share with First Nations.”