Treaty of 1850 makes First Nations full economic partners

Posted on June 28, 2018 in Equality Policy Context – Opinion/Contributors
June 27, 2018.   By

We, as Anishinabek communities of the Robinson Huron Treaty (RHT) are looking forward to sitting down with new Ontario Premier Doug Ford. After he was elected, the Conservative leader said, “We have taken back Ontario,” which we hope to educate him on what that means to First Nations, more specifically to RHT communities.

First Nations and Crown relations have never held such prominence in Canadian political consciousness as it does today, yet the relations have never been so stagnant. Often, while it appears like we are making progress, we are actually moving backwards.

This is evidenced by a federal government whose prime minister has exclaimed that “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples” yet his government spends record amounts of public dollars fighting First Nations rights in court.

Well before the imposition of the Indian Act in 1876, which was meant to assimilate Indigenous People in Canada, the Crown signed treaties with First Nations with whom they recognized as sovereign nations of this land. Treaties are only made amongst sovereign and independent nations.

For example, the Treaty of Niagara in 1764, ratified the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Canada has said, “In accordance with the Royal Proclamation of 1763, many Indigenous Nations and the Crown historically relied on treaties for mutual recognition and respect to frame their relationship.”

Canada has also said in its recently issued “Principles to Guide the Relationship between Canada and Indigenous Nations” that, “treaties have been and are intended to be acts of reconciliation.” We agree with that statement. We are also of the same mind when Canada said, “…historic treaties, like the Robinson Huron Treaty are frameworks for living together, including the modern expression of these relationships.”

Final arguments have wrapped up before the Superior Court of Justice wherein 21 First Nations have taken the governments of Ontario and Canada to court over the Crown’s failure to implement the terms of the 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty. At issue is that the beneficiaries have received no increase to the $4 annuity since 1874, even though it was stipulated in the treaty that the annuity “shall be augmented from time to time.”

The annuities to Anishinabek were to be paid from sharing of the revenue gained from their respective territories. Since the last increase in 1874, extraction or development of natural resources in the treaty territory has been profitable to developers and both levels of government. However, Anishinabek, have not seen the same parity of revenue increases as our partners in the treaty.

While RHT First Nations maintain the treaty relationship is the basis for the wealth that Ontarians enjoy, the other treaty partner — the Crown — has not held up its end of the bargain. Instead of upholding its responsibilities under the treaty, it has abandoned them. Instead of reviewing and renewing the treaty relationship, it has asserted dominance over and imposed its will upon us.

Anishinabek are seeking to fulfil the role that our ancestors who signed the treaty always had in mind — to be nothing but full partners in the economy and in building a better society for us all. This is nothing new coming from Anishinabek through their court action. We articulate the same sentiments that other First Nations leaders have, that our ancestors did not intend for us to be poor in our own homelands when they signed the treaty.

On Valentine’s Day this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to renew its nation-to-nation relationships. The prime minister, himself, has even acknowledged that, “Instead of outright recognizing and affirming Indigenous rights, as we promised we would, Indigenous Peoples were forced to prove, time and time again, through costly and drawn-out court challenges, that their rights existed, must be recognized and implemented.”

It is believed that the rights outlined in RHT precede the Constitution Act of Canada, which treaty the Anishinabek leadership signed with the Crown nearly 170 years ago.

First Nations have been living up to our part in this treaty relationship. All we ask is for our treaty partners to remember their past, renew the treaty relationship and uphold their end of the agreement. There is no doubt that as treaty partners, together, we need to once again repair and renew our relationship.

Wikwemikoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier has been chief of his community since 2012, prior to that was an elected council member since 2006, and has been a Robinson Huron Treaty Trustee since 2010.

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