Alanna Rizza, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, December 27, 2018, 6:55 EST
Last Updated Thursday, 27 December 2018 7:44 EST
SUDBURY, ON. – The provincial and federal governments have changed First Nations in Ontario for more than a century, a high court judge ruled last week when he ordered stagnant and raised annual payments.
The court found that the Crown had "mandatory and observable obligations" to increase annuities under the Robinson-Huron Agreement, which was signed in 1850.
Judge Patricia Hennessy wrote that it was Crown's obligation to fulfill the promise of an agreement to increase payments over time.
"The covenant is not intended as the last word in the relationship," he wrote. "Relationship renewal is needed to ensure that both parties can continue to develop in a changing environment."
Hennessy did not say how much payment should be, noting that there might be further steps and considerations in implementing the decision.
A delegation from 21 First Nations argued in the 2014 lawsuit that it was unfair that the annual payment of $ 4 for each member had not been raised, even though some members had lived in poverty.
Hennessy's decision states that the increase did not occur since 1875, even though the agreement promised to "increase collective annuities when economic conditions require it."
There are around 30,000 beneficiaries of the Robinson-Huron Agreement in 21 communities.
The heads of the affected areas in northern Ontario said the Anishinabek people agreed under the agreement to share their land and resources with newcomers. In return, Crown will pay annuities that should increase when the region generates income from forestry, mining and other resource development.
A spokesman for the Ontario government said it was in the process of reviewing the court's decision and refused to say anything else. The federal government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
NDP Legislator Sol Mamakwa, critic of the Opposition Indigenous Peoples relationship, said the decision was a step forward towards reconciliation and he hoped for a "significant increase" for annuities.
"Indigenous people are always treated as second class citizens in this country," Mamakwa said. "When we think of resources from the land, that is our cultural livelihood, that is the livelihood of our people – and I don't think there is a definite number for that, but I think that is important to us."
Mamakwa said the increase in annuities would increase access to resources along with programs and services offered in the community.
Batchewana chief Dean Sayers said the decision was "big" and leaders would comment further on Thursday.
Hennessy said in his decision that the agreement was unclear, and could be interpreted in various ways, but payment of $ 4 per person "indicates that the Agreement is a one-time transaction.
"As indicated by historical and cultural contexts, this does not happen; those parties and continue to be in a sustainable relationship," he wrote.
Hennessy also said the court and all parties involved in the agreement must develop processes and procedures for the "modern era" about how to move forward with increased payments.