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Unchanged treaty annuity is ‘weight of injustice’ on Anishinabek

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By David P. Ball Birchbark Writer Toronto







If treaty annuities—the yearly payout to status Indians under some of Canada’s historic agreements— were stock market investments, their rate-of-return might leave stock traders scratching their heads.

The 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty signed with the Anishinabek is one such example of Canada neither respecting the spirit nor letter of the agreements.

Originally offering First Nations people $2 a year, the annuity was beefed up to $4 in 1874 but has languished there ever since.
On Sept. 10–the 162nd anniversary of the signing of the treaty–leaders representing the signatory nations delivered a letter to Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor demanding an increase to modern-day values from what is otherwise a purely symbolic payout.

They warned that a lawsuit will follow if a new accounting–and annuity increase–is not made “liberally and justly,” according to the claim.

“We really need to call Canada to task on fulfilling the obligations they inherited from the Crown with our treaty relationship,” Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways told Birchrbark on the Ontario Legislature grounds, explaining that the treaty allows an increase as long as the government doesn’t incur a loss.

“If you look around at the enormity of the wealth that’s here, I’m sure they should have been able to increase it without incurring a loss... We’re going to see a proper resolution.”

For a Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation councillor presenting the annuities request at Queen’s Park, the issue is about respecting the spirit of the Robinson Huron Treaty, which he said emphasized nation-to-nation respect between settlers and First Nations.

“It’s significant every day,” said Councillor Angus Toulouse, who served as Ontario regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations until June. “We’re still mired in the inability of Canada to implement the annuities provision of the treaty, which would allow for sharing of the wealth and richness of this province and Canada.

“We’re still at $4 to this day, in 2012! That $4 doesn’t represent the kind of sharing that it represented back in 1874. The spirit of the treaties–we’re always reminded by our Elders–talked about the relationship and how we are to live side-by-side, understanding that we were distinct nations.”

Emerging from the Legislature buildings in a feather headdress, and carrying a large black cylinder, Sayers said that he joked with the clerk receiving their unusual delivery.

“I told the guy that received the letter that it may have looked like a heavy envelope, but believe me, it is heavy!” he quipped, to laughter from a dozen supporters waiting outside. “It’s carrying the weight of our ancestors and all our people up until this point in terms of the injustice we’re facing.”

Under the Robinson Huron Treaty, Indigenous nations under its purview agreed to share their resources and territories–spanning more than 92,000 square kilometres–with European settlers, in exchange for a number of benefits, including annual payments.
The 1850 agreement itself states that the Crown “desires to deal liberally and justly” with its subjects, and “promises and agrees” to boost the annuity “in case the territory hereby ceded by the parties of the second part shall at any future period produce an amount which will enable the Government of this Province without incurring loss.”

Tribal leaders say that billions of dollars in mining and forestry resource revenues, for instance, are an example of such a profit which would enable an increase in the payout.

“The treaty is pretty clear that the annuities would increase when the resource revenue generated from the territory increased,” said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee of Anishinabek Nation in a statement. “It couldn’t be plainer that the territory has generated vast amounts of revenues from forestry, mining and other resource development. Still we receive four dollars per year. That is unfair and not what we bargained for.

“Corporations have realized trillions of dollars in resource wealth from our territories. And various levels of government in Canada are taking big shares of that wealth, some of which rightfully belongs to the First Nations who agreed to treaties like Robinson Huron.”
The treaty sets the annuity at a lump sum delivered to signing nations, to a maximum of “one pound,” which was doubled 24 years later.

“The same shall be augmented from time to time,” the treaty continues, “provided that the amount paid to each individual shall not exceed the sum of one pound provincial currency in any one year, or such further sum as Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to order.”

The Province of Ontario has not yet responded to the annuity increase demand.