Anishinabek leaders continue to seek negotiations with province

Chief Dean Sayers, of the Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways near Sault Ste. Marie, speaks at a media conference held by the First Nations in the Robinson-Huron Treaty to provide reaction to a ruling that the provincial and federal governments are obligated to increase treaty annunities. Wiikwemkoong Chief Duke Peltier and lawyer Dave Nahwegahbow look on. photo by Northern Life’s Arron Pickard

ROBINSON-HURON TERRITORY – While the federal government has indicated it is ready to negotiate a settlement in the Robinson Huron Treaty annuities case, the province of Ontario has at this point only indicated it wants to meet with Anishinabek leaders again. 

Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation stated, “I wanted to take the opportunity to point out that I have met with the Premier (Doug Ford) to provide education,” and attempt to curtail the court cases. “He provided assurance to me that will be meeting with us in the next few weeks when he will be visiting the North.” Chief Sayers was speaking at a press conference of the Robinson Huron Treaty Litigation Fund (RHTLF) members last month.

“We have been successful in gaining the support of the courts in the first two appeals filed by the province; the most recent decision was handed down by the Ontario Court of Appeal only last Friday,” stated Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reserve Chief Duke Peltier. “It was stated by the Court of Appeal, ‘We unanimously reject the majority of the arguments raised on the appeal to the court, and we dismiss Ontario’s appeal from the Stage Two proceedings in its entirety.”

Chief Peltier explained that the treaty was signed between the Crown and the Anishinabek in 1850 and specified that both settlers and First Nations people were to benefit from the resource of the land, “to share the wealth of the territory, and that Ontario courts have ruled that Ontario must implement the augmentation clause. 

The annuity was originally set at $1.60 a year and while it was increased to $4 a year in 1875, it has remained at the $4 per year level ever since.

“It is time for the leaders of Ontario to embrace the reality, embrace the facts, embrace our history and also embrace the rule of law relating to the Robinson-Huron Treaty,” said Chief Peltier, saying that it is time for the province to meet the leaders of the Anishinabek Nation and work on a settlement.

“We believe we should immediately begin meaningful negotiations to implement the decision of Ontario’s courts of law,” Chief Peltier said.

Chief Peltier was joined by Chief Dean Sayers of the Batchewana First Nation, Mike Restoule, chair of the RHTLF and David Nahwegahbow, the co-lead legal counsel. They all relayed the message that it is past time a settlement was reached at the negotiating table.

The recent Court of Appeal ruling, “affirmed the enforceability of the treaty and that the wealth was to be shared,” said Chief Peltier. “We’ve seen many letters and petitions sent to get the governments to act and honour their commitments in the treaty. And we have received notice from the Canadian government that they are ready to negotiate a settlement.” He said the Anishinabek leaders have also received support from many Mayors in cities like Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Parry Sound and Espanola and from other communities. “We thank all these communities for their support and economic benefits.”

Chief Sayers said that the recent Ontario Court of Appeals decision is, “an incredible moment in the history of our lands here in Canada and that residents of Ontario are witnessing beautiful history unfold. Anishinabek people are reclaiming our inheritances,” and the province, “has to come equipped to the table to negotiate an equitable agreement.”

“It is unfortunate that we have had to go down this road,” said Chief Sayers. “We want to encourage Ontario to come equipped to the negotiating table.” 

“Ontario is hanging in an untenable position,” said Chief Sayers. “We look forward to working with the province, at the table, and myself and Chief Peltier will be signing off on correspondence being sent to Minister Greg Rickford on this.”

Mr. Nahwegahbow, the Robinson-Huron legal counsel, said that he understands that since the Court of Appeal decision, Ontario lawyers have been analyzing the case, but he hasn’t received any reaction from Ontario or the government’s lawyers. “Hopefully we will, shortly.”

Mike Restoule told the press conference, “It is a pleasure and an honour to be the chair of the Robinson Huron Treaty Litigation Fund. “The land belonged to our people before the treaty was signed. And it stated that our territories would share in the land and resources, to receive our share of benefits of the land.” 

“Since then, billions of dollars have been earned by those that settled in our territories,” said Mr. Restoule. “Yet our territories are poor. This is not right. We have won every step of the legal process, but if it is litigation Ontario wants, we are prepared to go there. But we would rather sit down and negotiate. We are the Anishinabek of the territory and we own the land and should share in its benefits.”