09/09/2014 12:32 EDT | Updated 11/09/2014 05:59 EST

First Nations Take Federal, Ontario Governments To Court Over $4/Year Benefit


TORONTO - The annual payment of $4 to members of First Nations under a treaty signed in 1850 has not been increased in 140 years and that is unfair, a group of chiefs is arguing as it takes the federal and Ontario governments to court.

The chiefs from the Robinson-Huron Treaty territory say the Anishnabek agreed under the treaty to share their lands and resources with newcomers and in return the Crown would pay annuities that were supposed to increase over time. But, they say, the last increase was in 1874 and they still receive just $4 per year.

"The Robinson-Huron Treaty anticipates and provides economic benefits for us in perpetuity," Chief Dean Sayers wrote in a statement.

"The annuity was intended to be our revenue stream, our share of the wealth generated by revenues from our territory, yet many of the beneficiaries live in poverty. This is not what our ancestors and the Crown agreed to."

There are 30,000 beneficiaries to the Robinson-Huron Treaty in 21 First Nations communities and their territory has generated "vast amounts of revenues" from forestry, mining and other resource development, the chiefs said in a statement.

"The treaty is explicit in stating that the annuities would increase if the resource revenue generated from the territory produced such an amount as to enable the increase without incurring a loss," the chiefs said.

The chiefs want an accounting of revenue generated since the treaty signing and for the annuities to be increased.

"This is a serious, long-standing breach of the Robinson-Huron Treaty and a breach of fiduciary obligation on the part of the Crown," Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ghislain Picard said in a statement.

"Canada has grown rich off the traditional territories of First Nations and both provincial and national economies benefit while too many of our communities and citizens face chronic poverty. This is clearly unfair and is not consistent with the Treaties and agreements we entered into in good faith with the Crown."

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Ontario's aboriginal affairs ministry wouldn't comment on the specific treaty because of the legal action, but said in a statement that it is "moving forward with a new treaty strategy," including $7.9 million over three years announced in the last budget.

Ontario "is committed to meeting the province's constitutional and other obligations in respect of Aboriginal Peoples," the ministry said in an email.

A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada said in an email that the department has not yet seen a statement of claim, so it couldn't comment further.

The Ontario NDP's aboriginal affairs critic said it would be "fair and honourable" for the government to sit down and work out a framework for honouring the terms of the treaty.

"I also think that this government as with its other progressive promises talks a good game when it comes to honouring First Nations and respecting treaties and their treaty rights, so I'm interested to see how the government and the minister in particular proposes to address this historic oversight," said Sarah Campbell.

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