Why the Robinson Huron Treaty Annuities belong to the People
By Tim Ladouceur
The Robinson Huron Treaty was signed in 1850. The Chiefs and Principal Men of the Tribes were responsible for the accepting and signing of the Treaty. The Chiefs alone could not unilaterally make decisions. Decisions were made by a Council of the Chief and Principal Men. The Indian Act of 1867 removed our governance system and replaced it with the colonial system of an elected Chief and Council. These “elected officials” were then controlled by an Indian Agent who dictated how our affairs were run, even if it contradicted what we wanted. It was colonial governance. A Chief and/or Councillors could be removed on a whim by the Indian Agent.
When the Treaty was signed we had no schools, we had no band offices, we had no public works, we had no infrastructure. These were things we were forced to adopt to be part of the Colonial Governance model. The Indian Act not only told us how to Govern ourselves but it also created rules on how we were permitted to use land set aside for us. It denied us our connection to Mother Earth and the bounty she had provided us. The Colonial Governance took away our right to remain Anishinabe if we wanted to fight for our Country or if our Women wanted to marry outside of the Anishinabe race. The Children from such a union were not considered Anishinabe. Children were taken from families on Reserves and sent to residential schools and day schools. They were to be indoctrinated into Colonial ways and punished for being Anishinabe.
For many years we were not permitted to hire lawyers to hold the Canadian Government accountable in its fiduciary duty to us. They were and are responsible for our well being. As of late with the Robinson Huron Treaty litigation, the Province of Ontario is being held liable for the sale of our resources too. It has been a long battle to come to this point. Many of our ancestors suffered with less to put monies into this legal battle so that future generations could and would have a better life. We are that future. Our ancestors would not want us to continue suffering. Too many of our family, friends and neighbours have passed onto the next journey with the Creator when they should be here enjoying the rewards with us.
It took many millions of dollars and a court order to finally get the Federal Government to accept that the Treaty is a living document and that the augmentation clause is binding. The Province is somewhat accepting of this by offering compensation at this time. During a meeting on a Reserve, discussion of the RHT Fund and the impending suit had one Councillor say “We’ve been starving this long, we can starve a little longer”. Times always get tougher and attitude can only go so far in making life better. Covid has become a daily part of life. With Covid came shortages and high prices. Carbon taxes implemented by the Federal Government have drastically increased the cost of all delivered goods. We became poorer and further starved just like so many other low to middle income families became.
Many Reserves can count half or more of its Anishinabe as living off reserve. Although we do not see them suffer, rest assured that many suffer the same as us on reserve. They are in need of a good education, a healthy diet and good housing. The Corbiere Decision by the Supreme Court of Canada is a landmark ruling that determined off reserve membership are equal and deserving as on reserve Anishinabe. Off-reserve are described as a discrete and insular minority and therefor are protected under Section 15.1 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The reasons for living off-reserve can be attributed to many things such as a lack of housing, furthering education in college and/or universities, employment or just not wishing to live on reserve.
Colonial governance has changed our way of lives in so many ways. We gave up too much of our ways so we could be civilized instead of heathen savages. For many of us it is a journey to the past to find peace. For some they find peace in their part of the world. We live, we work and we find life wherever we are. We are all equal under the eyes of the law. Now your Chief and Council must accept that we are and always will be children of the Creator and as many of our Ancestors did, roam the earth following the winds. The winds may plant us or they may continue to move us around.
If you wish to build houses, build a school, create infrastructure and a new Band Office, I ask you this: Will you build homes in the towns our families live in for them? Will you build schools for the children who live off reserve? Will you build Healing Centres for the families in the towns they live so they can come and partake in the healing? Will you travel to them and assist them in travel to medical appointments? Will you do all the things for the families off reserve as you do on reserve? Will it be on reserve members who get the benefits? Will families have to quit jobs, take children out of school and move to the Reserve to get the benefits? If off reserve families get less benefits then that is unjust enrichment.
For the last 149 years we have been fighting for a treaty to be upheld. Now we ask that you Chief and Council uphold the spirit of the treaty. Del Riley pushed the Federal Government to uphold our rights under Sections 25 and 35 of the Constitution. We expect that you will also uphold our rights to a treaty that was preconfederation and pre Indian Act. Will you violate our rights in the treaty? Will you continue to govern us under the Colonial fist? Will you treat off reserve family as though they are less? Will on reserve membership be more deserving of housing, food, education or even dignity?
The Reserve is not only just land but it is also the People. The money belongs to the membership. It is the resources for our benefit that brings the annuities. This is not the final and only payment. Discussion on future payouts is still forthcoming. Chiefs and Councils have had many years to acquire funding for services. It is not our fault that you may not have gotten adequate funding and we should not have to suffer because of inefficiencies at your level.
The structuring of the annuities is once again being dictated to the rightful People. Why is there a structure that was not approved by the Chiefs and Principal Men? That wasn’t and is not part of the Treaty. We were not given right to determine where and how these resources were and are being used. We do not get to say if these resources are used in our own country or shipped abroad. We do not get to say if foreign nationals or companies buy our land. No matter how far we come it seems we have no say and this must stop. It is OUR land and it is OUR money. If You Chief and Council will not listen to US then we demand a General Election be called and WE will make it loud and clear that this is a NO Confidence vote in your leadership. The Anishinabe of this Reserve put you there and they can remove you too. The choice is yours and so will be the consequences.