Dispute over $4 yearly treaty payments in Ontario will end soon say chiefs

Twenty-one First Nations in northern Ontario that are signatories to the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 say they’re about to finalize a $10 billion settlement agreement with the federal government and the province.

“We’ve been fighting the two levels of government for some time now on past compensation, trying to get what was coming to us,” says Scott McLeod, chief of Nipissing First Nation. “Our members have always you know, kind of grown accustomed to the $4 a year, but really never understood a lot of what was said in the treaty, until this court case.”

The treaty set aside lands for each community while maintaining their right to hunt and fish. The treaty included annuity payments to individuals. The payments were supposed to increase, but that only happened once, in 1874, to the current rate of $4 a year.

Joyce Tabobondung, 82, from Wasauksing First Nation near Perry Sound, says it’s about time.

“It’s taken 173 years to get to an agreement,” she says. “When I was about eight or nine years old my grandfather used to have caucus meetings before they’d go to Ottawa and I would sit in the meeting, make sure their water glasses were full and their ashtrays empty and I’d sit there all day listening to caucus for two or three days and then they’d go.

“I was just young, but I remember that was the big subject that annuities, that there was nothing happening then.”

In 2018, the Ontario Superior Court ruled the Crown has an obligation to increase annuities and reflect the economic value it receives from the treaty area.

The federal government did not appeal, but the province did. After the Ontario Court of Appeals upheld the decision, Ontario filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The province has since agreed to settle out of court.

“Ontario‘s ready to go, ready to sign,” says McLeod. “There was a bit of a glitch with the federal minister on when he can sign, that’s delayed until November.”

Chief Lloyd Myke of Magnetawan First Nation says once the agreement has been signed, it will take 60 days for the money to flow to the communities.

He says in the meantime, discussions and learning about the treaty is a good start for communities.

“Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of work going on, you know, in regards to a trust and that as well and looking out for the community’s best interest,” he says.

Negotiations on raising the annuity above $4 a year, will begin after the settlement agreement for past annuities is finalized.

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