First Nations to Canada: Time to Start Paying Up

First Nations are suing the government over 1850 treaty
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2017 8:15 PM CDT
First Nations to Canada: You Owe Us a Lot of Back 'Rent'
First Nations "Idle No More" demonstrators march and block the International Bridge between the Canada and U.S. border near Cornwall, Ontario, Canada on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 to protest proposed changes to environmental laws and land rights in Canada.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Fred Chartrand)

When William Benjamin Robinson arrived on the shores of what would ultimately become Ontario, Canada, in 1850, he made a deal on behalf of Queen Victoria: The indigenous communities currently living on the land would allow the crown access to more than 35,700 square miles of their land in exchange for hunting and fishing rights plus an annual payment equivalent to C$2 per person per year. That amount was raised to C$4 per person per year in 1874, but has otherwise remained unchanged. Now, 21 First Nations—representing around 30,000 people—are suing the federal and Ontario governments over a deal that, they say, has not been interpreted correctly, the Guardian reports. Per the First Nations, the Robinson Huron Treaty actually promised that if the territory produced more revenue for the crown than the amount of the annuity, the annuity would be increased accordingly.

And yet, today, "despite the fact that trillions of dollars have been gained from the territory for the crown and for corporations," the annuity remains unchanged beyond its sole increase nearly 150 years ago, says one of the representative plaintiffs in the case. Some estimates put the amount of revenue from the land over the years at between C$500 million and C$1 billion. The plaintiffs want increased annuities in the future plus retroactive payments after a full accounting of profits has been presented. Per a press release last month, "The Trudeau government has said there is no relationship more important than the relationship with Indigenous people and they have committed to working toward reconciliation with First Nations people. In reality we have not seen those words put into action," Chief Duke Peltier says. He told CBC at the time that many citizens wonder why their payments are just $4 when they hear of the profits made by multinational corporations operating within their territories. (More First Nations stories.)

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