Letter: A former lands director weighs in on the annuity case

Sign the petition at the Robinson-Huron website and have your say

To the Expositor:

As some of you may have read online from the Robinson-Huron Litigation Fund, a Court of Appeal hearing has been scheduled for April 13 via Zoom. Recent announcements on 94.1 FM, the Moose, by Jennier Simpson, representative of the Litigation Fund has been broadcasting and calling on all aboriginal people in the Robinson-Huron region to sign a petition calling on the provincial government to own up to its fiduciary responsibilities for lost annuities, lost resource revenue sharing which hasn’t materialized since the signing of the Treaty in 1850.

This case is essentially about non-payments of a $4 annuity not paid by the Crown to the aboriginal people and the taking of natural resources from their traditional lands without compensation going to the benefit of its citizens.

As previous lands director for the United Chiefs and Councils for Manitoulin in the latter half of the 1990s, I was tasked to assist with the archival research behind this claim; at the time, the First Nations had hired the firm of Blake Cassels, Graydon, LLP, under Mr. William Hobson, Q.C. Since then, this case has undergone a significant number of reviews, researchers, legal counsels over the last three decades before this litigation was submitted by Robinson-Huron First Nations.

This class action suit against the federal, provincial Crown is nothing new to aboriginal people nor does it abrogate or derogate their aboriginal and treaty rights held under section 35 of the Constitution of Canada, nor does it eliminate or diminish the treaty relationship with First Nations and the Crown.

Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution will mark its 40th anniversary in 2022. In many court challenges throughout the past 40 years, Section 35 of the Constitution was always and continues to be heavily relied upon in court challenges and 99 percent of those cases and decisions always favored aboriginal and treaty rights because of the principle recognition outlined in Section 35 being rooted in law as being “sui generis.”

Ordinarily, negotiations would be the preferred route in this action, but the annuities case will rely heavily on Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. So, will this litigation case be any different from other challenges? I do think the Court of Appeal of Ontario will have a daunting task of explaining why this action can be refuted as this claim because will involve Section 35 rights.

What this case is also trying to do is accomplish and impress upon mobile change, social change, a reawakening if you will of the true spirit and intent, which hasn’t been seen or acknowledged since the signing of the Treaty in 1850.

In the province of BC, the courts recognize that past court cases must generally be inclusive of aboriginal and treaty rights and title and not be dismissive of them, especially when such rights are impacted by social and economic means. 

Governments make rules and laws to protect the interests of the public, but we rely on the courts to apply them equally and fairly under those same laws.  

So, Go to the Robinson-Huron website, sign the petition and have your say. This is just one of many steps which will undoubtedly be a long drawn out battle for both sides.

Donald J. McGraw

M’Kwaa Dodem

Aundegomniikaaning First Nation