Bill for 145 years of thiev­ery is due

Toronto Star - - CANADA - Tanya Ta­laga Twit­ter: @tany­ata­laga

A flurry of “good news” an­nounce­ments has re­cently come from the Ford gov­ern­ment on In­dige­nous is­sues, from a $27.5-mil­lion in­vest­ment in In­dige­nous busi­nesses to a help­ful in­ter­ven­tion in set­tling an im­por­tant trans­mis­sion line is­sue in the North.

But do those an­nounce­ments serve as a smoke­screen to cover up what is ac­tu­ally go­ing on be­hind the scenes in pro­vin­cial-In­dige­nous re­la­tions?

Two weeks ago, On­tario in­di­cated it would be ap­peal­ing a court de­ci­sion that would re­sult in a sub­stan­tial set­tle­ment to First Na­tions peo­ple who’ve es­sen­tially been ripped off since 1874.

In late Jan­uary, On­tario an­nounced it in­tends to ap­peal the Robin­son-Huron Treaty court de­ci­sion that says the Crown must ad­just an­nu­ity pay­ments to those gov­erned by the terms of the Treaty, from $4 a year — a pay­ment that has not in­creased in 145 years — to mod­ern rates.

The 21 First Na­tions, from Lake Huron to the Que­bec border, who signed the Robin­son-Huron Treaty have re­ceived their an­nual $4 pay­ment, de­spite a pro­vi­sion that says the an­nu­ity would in­crease as wealth is gen­er­ated from the rich resources on the land. The court’s rul­ing also ef­fects the Robin­son-Su­pe­rior Treaty area, where 57,000 square kilo­me­tres along the shores of Lake Su­pe­rior was taken by the Crown.

Both treaties were signed within days of each other in early Septem­ber 1850, be­fore the coun­try of Canada was even formed.

In essence, treaties cov­ered pay­ments of goods and cash and pro­tected hunt­ing and fish­ing rights but they also saw the ces­sion of First Na­tions’ land and the cre­ation of re­serves. The Crown’s be­trayal of the treaties, along with pa­ter­nal­is­tic pieces of leg­is­la­tion like the In­dian Act, have kept First Na­tions peo­ple sub­servient to Cana­dian gov­ern­ments in or­der to al­low the set­tle­ment of the coun­try.

On­tario Jus­tice Pa­tri­cia Hen­nessey ruled in De­cem­ber 2018 that the sta­tus quo was un­ac­cept­able. It was time to pay up and with costs.

Her de­ci­sion left both Ottawa and Queen’s Park quak­ing.

Both gov­ern­ments are keenly aware this will cost them un­told bil­lions.

Upon hear­ing the rul­ing, Crown In­dige­nous Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett said Ottawa would not chal­lenge it.

To be frank, how could they? By now, Ottawa is quite aware of the his­tory of bro­ken prom­ises sur­round­ing the treaties. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments broke them as soon as they signed them.

But On­tario came out with its own de­ci­sion to both ap­peal the rul­ing and start ne­go­ti­a­tions, both at the same time.

How can you put a price tag on 145 years of thiev­ery, of resources pulled from the land by cor­po­ra­tions of­ten with­out In­dige­nous in­volve­ment or re­source shar­ing?

It sounds like On­tario is speak­ing out of both sides of its mouth.

Rather than ful­fill­ing its treaty obli­ga­tions or pro­vid­ing com­mu­ni­ties with clean wa­ter, schools, health care and hous­ing, Queen’s Park is us­ing its money to take First Na­tions to court, said Sol Ma­makwa, the NDP critic for In­dige­nous Re­la­tions and the Ki­i­wetinoong MPP.

On­tario says it is just re­serv­ing its right to ap­peal but at the same time go­ing for­ward with so-called “good faith” ne­go­ti­a­tions, ex­plains Sara Mainville, an In­dige­nous law ex­pert and partner at OKT Law. (She was not in­volved in the case.)

To Mainville this looks like a lever­age tac­tic. “If they don’t like what they hear in the me­di­a­tion room, they’ll ap­peal,” she said.

Ogi­maa Duke Peltier, Chief of Wi­ik­wemkoong First Na­tion, a Robin­son-Huron na­tion, said the province is send­ing a “mixed mes­sage.” “I’m still hope­ful things will re­solve through am­i­ca­ble re­la­tions. It has al­ways been our way,” Peltier said.

Hen­nessey’s de­ci­sion was a wa­ter­shed, one that could af­fect all the other num­bered treaties in Canada, Mainville ex­plained.

The treaty clearly spells out that an­nu­ities would es­ca­late as more re­source de­vel­op­ment oc­curred. That plainly never hap­pened. While this ex­act word­ing does not ex­ist in other treaties, First Na­tions chiefs who signed the num­bered treaties had an oral un­der­stand­ing that all would ben­e­fit and every­thing would be shared in good faith.

How much is On­tario on the hook for? That is any­one’s guess. But how can you pos­si­bly put a price tag on all that was lost?

SEAN KIL­PATRICK THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Robin­son-Huron Treaty of 1850 gives 21 On­tario First Na­tions an an­nu­ity linked to resources taken from their lands. The pay­ment has been $4 per year for 145 years, Tanya Ta­laga writes.

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