Demand for treaty fund hike awaits judge’s ruling

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NORTH BAY—The final arguments have been delivered by the lawyers for the Robinson Huron and Robinson Superior First Nation annuities cases and now the decision lies in the hands of Justice Patricia Hennessey.

At issue in both cases is the interpretation of an augmentation clause that was to provide for increases in the annuity. When the treaties were signed in 1850 by the bands and Commissioner William Benjamin Robinson for the government, the average Indigenous person living in one of the Lake Superior or Lake Huron bands should have received an annuity payment of about $1.60. The annuity increased to $4 over time, but has remained at $4 since the 1880s. The position of the Ontario and federal governments is that once the annuities reached $4 per person, the ability for the treaty to ensure the Anishinabek received a “fair and equitable share of the proceeds of the land” was wholly exhausted. The First Nations have disagreed ever since, but both provincial and federal governments have turned a deaf ear to arguments to the contrary.

“They are finished Phase 1 of the case,” said Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier, “now we are just waiting on the judge to render her decision.” If a resolution cannot be found, then the case will move to Phase II.

“The next phase deals with technical issues,” said Anishinabek Nation director Mike Restoule. “Things like the doctrine of laches (whether the plaintiffs waited too long to bring their grievances forward) and the statute of limitations (which could limit the amount of financial liability faced by the governments).”

“We have evidence from as far back as 1851 showing that the chiefs have been trying to press their case,” said Mr. Restoule. “Our lawyer maintains that the statute of limitations does not apply to treaties.”

The Crown maintains that the case has been dealt with before when in the 1890s an argument between the federal and Ontario government was heard as to who had the responsibility to pay. The First Nations were not party to that discussion.

When asked if he was optimistic about the outcome, Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier replied “always!”

“We are pretty positive,” agreed Mr. Restoule.

Should Justice Hennessy determine that the government does have a responsibility to have increased the annuity beyond the $4 a year the government claimed had exhausted the value of the land, and the government fails to settle, then the case will continue on to Phase II.

The judge’s decision is expected sometime in December of this year, with Phase II, should it prove necessary, beginning sometime around March of 2019.