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Historic Settlement Reached: Indigenous Communities Closer to Receiving Long Overdue Compensation
After Years of Legal Battles a Proposed Settlement Offers Hope for Justice and Compensation for the Exploitation of Ancestral Lands
"Within this settlement, each of the 21 First Nations will receive a portion of the compensation amounting to $10 billion, which should have been rightfully paid to our ancestors over the course of the past 170 years," expressed Chief Dean Sayers of the Batchewana First Nation on Saturday afternoon.
The treaty land encompasses a vast area, stretching from Parry Sound to Sudbury, from North Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, and along the shores of Lake Huron. It is home to 21 First Nations communities.
"It is important to note that this proposed settlement solely addresses past compensation," Sayers emphasized. "While this settlement holds immense significance, we still have a long journey ahead of us."
The Robinson Huron Treaty Litigation Fund, established in 2010, has been advocating for the unpaid treaty annuities owed to members of these 21 communities.
"The proposed settlement we are announcing today is long overdue," acknowledged Marc Miller, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. "It is about holding governments accountable for their long-standing debts. Nearly 173 years ago, your ancestors gathered at Sault Ste. Marie to engage in a treaty with the Crown, and we acknowledge that the Crown failed to fulfill its treaty obligations."
Saturday's announcement of the proposed settlement marks a significant step towards resolving historical annuities through respectful and meaningful negotiations, as stated by Greg Rickford, Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs. "Ontario is committed to revitalizing this crucial treaty relationship, and we extend our gratitude to all those involved as we continue to advance reconciliation and prosperity for Indigenous peoples." The precedent continues to be set for significant financial settlements for the past exploitation of ancestral lands. From hydroelectric dams, gold mines and oil sands to future rare earth minerals opportunities, the stage is set for a cascade of billion dollar settlements to begin to right the wrongs of the past, or at least share in some of the bounty.
Since the signing of the Robinson Huron Treaty in 1850, ancestral lands have been exploited for their rich natural resources, including nickel, copper, uranium, lumber, and fishing industries, generating billions of dollars in revenue. However, the value of the annuity, as outlined in the treaty, has remained stagnant. The annuity has only increased once since 1850, from around $1.70 per person to $4 per person in 1875, and has not seen any further increase since then.
"The compensation will be distributed in accordance with the terms of a compensation disbursement agreement that was adopted by our First Nations chiefs and councils at the beginning of this case," stated Chief Sayers. "Your respective First Nation councils will be responsible for allocating funds for community purposes and providing per capita payments to individuals."
While there is a compensation agreement in place, there are still some legal procedures that need to be completed.
"The settlement will not be finalized until it is approved by all parties involved, and the settlement agreement for past compensation is endorsed by a judgment from the Ontario Superior Court," explained Duke Peltier, a member of the litigation management committee and spokesperson for the RHTLF. "Once the settlement is signed and endorsed by the superior court, we will proceed with the next steps in the process."
No specific timeline for signing or endorsement of the settlement has been announced.
"Once the settlement is finalized, information about its implications for you and your community will be shared online, through the media, and in person within your communities," assured Peltier. "We will share this information as soon as possible, ensuring that it is done correctly and accurately."
This case has been ongoing in the Ontario courts since the plaintiffs' opening statement in September 2017. The end is now in sight, and Peltier requests continued patience as the process moves towards its anticipated conclusion.
"We have asked for your patience, and we assure you that we will be there," Peltier affirmed. "We will come to talk to you about the settlement and begin developing policies and procedures to ensure that the compensation funds are applied fairly, uniformly, and equitably across all communities."
For Chief Sayers, this announcement brings a sense of relief.
"I am holding back my emotions," expressed Chief Sayers. "This burden has been carried by the hopes and expectations of our ancestors, and today's leadership has shouldered that responsibility. We will find solace in sleep tonight, but we are also aware that there is much more work to be done."
While still only a drop in the bucket this is definitely a step in the right direction towards financial reconciliation at least.