NORTHEAST TOWN—Council for the Northeast Town received a letter from Robinson Huron Treaty Litigation Fund representative Chief Dean Sayers at its August 31 meeting, seeking support in its ongoing negotiations with both the Crown and the province of Ontario.
“The Robinson-Huron Treaty recognizes the political and economic relationship between the First Nations signatories and the Crown, including the sharing of revenues of any resource development on the lands involved in the treaty, which covers approximately 35,700 square miles of territory, primarily in Northeastern Ontario,” Chief Sayers writes. “The Crown has not acted honourably in maintaining its promises set out in the treaty and the Robinson-Huron Treaty chiefs, successors of the original signatories, are acting on their responsibility to ensure that the terms of the treaty are honoured.”
As has been reported previously, several Indigenous peoples located north of Lake Huron, including on Manitoulin Island, signed the treaty more than 170 years ago. The Robinson-Huron Treaty allowed the British Crown and its people to access resources from the land, in exchange for compensation to members of the First Nations whose representatives signed the treaty. There are 21 present-day First Nations that represent original signatories to the treaty.
In 1850, the Crown agreed to pay each Robinson-Huron Treaty Indigenous person $2 in exchange for the privilege of accessing the natural resources of present-day Ontario. That number had grown to $4 per person per year by 1874 but it has not increased since that time.
The annuities case is split into three components: first, to determine if the treaty required the Crown to manage the lands and act in the best interests of the First Nations in a way that was unique to this agreement; second, to listen to arguments from the Crown about why it feels it should not have to increase the annuity or compensate signatories for prior years if the annuity is deemed to have been too low; and third, to determine how much is owed, what obligations exist for each of Ontario and Canada, and at what level the annuities should be set for the future.
“Canada’s mandate to resolve this claim comes with the requirement that the Province of Ontario be party to the negotiations and settlement, given the shared responsibility for the diligent implementation of the Robinson-Huron Treaty between the provincial and federal Crowns,” Chief Sayers states. “We write to you today to ask you to call upon Ontario to come to the table and enter into good faith negotiations to resolve this ongoing dispute.”
Chief Sayers reminded mayor and council that when the First Nations communities of Manitoulin benefit, everyone benefits, adding “we shop in the same stores and restaurants in Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands as you and we want to support the local economy.”
“Tell Ontario to come to the table and enter into good faith negotiations to resolve this ongoing dispute, ask your constituents to lend their support and uphold your responsibilities that come with living on this land.”
A motion of support was made by Councillor Michael Erskine and seconded by Councillor Bill Koehler.
“I’ve been following this whole thing rather closely since its start,” said Councillor Erskine, who noted the costs and challenges involved in navigating the court system. “Mediation makes more sense. We need to encourage the province to sit down and find a mediated settlement for this.”
The motion of support, to be sent on to the province, was passed unanimously.