Calls for Ontario to drop appeals in Robinson Huron annuities case

In the backdrop of the discovery of 215 bodies at a former residential school, First Nations leaders called on the province Monday to drop its appeals of the Robinson Huron Treaty annuities case. (File)

In the backdrop of the discovery of 215 bodies at a former residential school, First Nations leaders called on the province to drop its appeals of the Robinson Huron Treaty annuities case.

"Our people are once again in the midst of grieving," Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation said at the start of a media call Monday.

Sayers took a moment of silence to remember the victims, asking everyone to offer thoughts "to our people that are challenged right now with this and are struggling."

He then turned his attention to the annuities cases, congratulating Dokis First Nation, which recently signed a $26.9 million agreement to settle a long-standing claim.

But he said the Robinson Huron fight has taken 100 years, yet the province continues to resist.

The Robinson-Huron Treaty allowed settlement of First Nations land in exchange for a share of resource revenue. It was signed in September 1850 between agents of the Crown and representatives of the Ojibway Nation of northern Lakes Huron and Superior.

Under the agreement, the share of revenue First Nations receive from resources being extracted from the land would increase as revenues increased over time.

The 30,000 people living in the more than 40,000 square kilometres covered by the treaty each receive $4 a year, an amount that has not increased since the 1870s.

The Phase 2 hearings dealt with the Crown's arguments of immunity and statute of limitations as barring the plaintiffs from getting relief from the court. Ontario is appealing

In October 2019, Justice Patricia Hennessy ruled in favour of the First Nations involved in the legal battle, ruling the Crown has a legal obligation to increase the revenue sharing under terms of the treaty.

Ontario is appealing that decision. Sayers said Monday they have waited long enough for justice.

"I don't think we're going to have the appetite to be able to, I guess, digest another hundred years of dragging feet on the part of the Crown," he said. "They are dishonouring not only their ancestor's promises, they're dishonouring the promises made by my ancestors, our historic leadership, who had very well-defined expectations of how the relationship was to evolve."

"I, once again, call on Ontario to drop their appeals. The writing is on the wall. We cannot continue wasting time, wasting energy, wasting financial resources."

Ogimaa Duke Peltier, of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, said with the case set to resume Tuesday, it's time to put into action the words coming from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"I think it's important for the provincial and federal governments who represent the Crown to live up to the promises … embedded in the treaty document," Peltier said. "The decisions of Justice Hennessy … has correctly held that Ontario is not immune from claims for breach of fiduciary duty. And that there is no limitation period."

"All that we are asking for both levels of the Crown to sit down at the negotiating table and address this issue immediately."