And they got it without a shot being fired or a tomahawk being raised in anger, as one might have expected from a group watching the land it had roamed freely for years passing into the hands of interlopers.
I believe the Treaty wasn’t worded well when it came to the annual payment, basically saying government only had to pay up if it thought it could afford it and the amount paid to each individual should not exceed one pound provincial currency.
To me, that more or less left it to the good graces of the governments to follow through in providing the natives with a share of the fruits of the land.
But Hennessey in her ruling took a much stronger stand, finding that the Crown has a” mandatory and reviewable obligation” to fulfill the treaty’s promise to increase the payments over time.
“The Treaties were not meant to be the last word on the relationship,” she wrote. “Renewal of the relationship was necessary to ensure that both parties could continue to thrive in changing environments.”
And in truth the Crown should have recognized this, considering it augmented the original $2 agreed to in 1850 with another $2 in 1875, which brought the annual payment to the $4 that exists to this day, 146 years later.
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.
Hennessey ruled for the natives in the first two. She did not go so far as to say how much the payments should be, noting that there may be further steps and considerations in the implementation of her ruling.
Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers, a spokesperson for the Robinson Huron Treaty trust, was quoted as saying that if the courts make the ultimate ruling on what is owed to treaty beneficiaries, it will likely end up costing a higher amount than if the Crown’s representatives negotiate a deal with Treaty signatories directly, due in part to the ongoing costs of litigation.
He said First Nations have been ready for a long time to have meaningful discussions with Ontario and Canada about fulfilling their respective obligations.
He noted the discrepancy between the intergenerational impacts and poverty that many First Nations have faced in contrast to the mass economic benefits that colonial governments have derived from extracting resources on the traditional territories of treaty signatories.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Ontario government has to know this.
As such, it should withdraw its appeal and begin negotiating with the other parties to the Robinson Huron Treaty in good faith.
Editors Note: The last two sentences were added after publication once Mr. Millroy realized they were missing from his initial submission.