Robinson-Huron annuities negotiations passes hurdle as Canada agrees to settle

Patsy Corbiere, chief of the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation

Ontario’s objections have been heard, judicial ruling soon

MANITOULIN – A Manitoulin Island chief is in agreement that the federal government commitment to settle a long-standing annuities case with the Robinson-Huron Treaty Nations is welcome news.

“This is great news,” stated Patsy Corbiere, chief of the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation. “This is great news and hopefully it means this case will be settled.” 

The 21 First Nations of the Robinson-Huron Treaty welcomed the recent news that the Government of Canada has completed its mandating process and is prepared to negotiate and settle the ongoing annuities case. Canada has stated that the negotiations and settlement process requires participation from the government of Ontario.

“This is a significant step in the right direction, and one that we have long been waiting for,” said Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers, who is also a member of the litigation management committee (LMC) for Robinson Huron Treaty Litigation Fund (RHTLF). “The mandate is clear, and we welcome the opportunity to enter conversations with Canada and Ontario to bring this case to an end through a settlement that will benefit everyone in the Robinson-Huron Treaty land.”

Locally among the 21 First Nations included in the RHTLF taking legal action against the governments of Canada and Ontario are Aundeck Omni Kaning, M’Chigeeng First Nation, Sheguiandah First Nation, Sheshegwaning First Nation, Whitefish River First Nation, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and Zhiibaahaasing First Nation.

Chief Sayers said the announcement of negotiation and final steps towards compensation for commitments unfulfilled is an emotional moment for the nation.

“It’s really nice to have support from everyone in such a concerted way. It is an emotional time for us,” Chief Sayers told the Sault Star in its August 17 edition. “Our primary mandate is to get this annuity resolved from a historical perspective to speed it up to date.” 

In September 1850, the Robinson-Huron Treaty was signed and included an escalator clause. This clause defines payment based on the value of the land, which is based on revenue and growth.

Signed in September 1850, the Robinson-Huron treaty includes the clause so that in return for the Lake Huron Anishinabe sharing their lands and resources with the Crown, the Crown was to pay annuities that were to be augmented as resource revenue generated in the territory.  The annuity amount for treaty beneficiaries was raised to $4 in 1874 and has not been increased since.

The 21 Lake Huron Anishinabe communities would share its lands and resources with the Crown, and in return, the Crown would pay a yearly annuity, which would be adjusted as resource revenue increased on the land. When it was first signed, the annuity per person was $1.60, said Chief Sayers.

Chief Sayers told the Sault Star, “there was always expectations that there would be gradual increases to actual annuities or the escalator clause. Eventually, there was an increase that took place in 1874, which brought it up to $4 per person. And we had expected that there would be a continual revisiting of the expenditures and revenues that were generated.”

However, after the annuity change in 1874, the Crown failed to continue the agreement. With no increase on the part of the governments, the 21 First Nation bands came together to bring this forward. After five years the Robinson-Huron Treaty is on its way to the negotiation table towards a settlement taking place. Stage three is scheduled to take place in March 2022.

Settlement of the case will affect over 30,000 beneficiaries across territories.  

The Robinson-Huron Nations came together in 2012 to pursue legal action related to the Annuities Claim through the RHTLF. In 2018, the Ontario Superior Court found the Crown has a mandatory and reviewable obligation to increase the Treaties’ annuities when the economic circumstances warrant reflecting a fair share of the value of the net Crown resource-based revenues generated from the territory. In 2020, the Court found that the First Nation plaintiffs’ claims are not barred by Ontario’s limitations legislation and that the government of Ontario does not benefit from the doctrine of Crown immunity.

While Canada did not appeal the stage one and two decisions in the case, Ontario has appealed. The appeals were heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal in April and June 2021 and the decisions of the Court have not yet been released. The Robinson-Huron Treaty Litigation Fund has called on Ontario to drop their litigation and begin honourable negotiations.

“The province has appealed the rulings, while the federal government wants to settle the case,” said Chief Corbiere, who is one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“This has been a legal battle, and if you look at all the resources taken by the governments and royalties they have collected over time, the annuity of $4 should have been increased a long time ago,” said Chief Corbiere. “Not everyone (within the 21 communities) is a treaty Indian and part of the Robinson-Huron Treaty. What we have received in payments is pennies compared to what we should be receiving.” 

“Hopefully the government will honour their commitment and what they are saying and we can move forward,” said Chief Corbiere. However, she noted, “we are still in court for the 1990 Manitoulin Island land claim.”

“Now, we need the province to come to the table to make this settlement happen,” said Chief Sayers. “It is time for Ontario to honour the escalator clause and engage in negotiations on behalf of all people we have welcomed on our lands.”