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First Nations file class action against federal government

Photo: Justin Tang The Canadian Press In September 1874, Canada signed Treaty No. 4 with indigenous Cree and Saulteaux tribes of Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan.

Jeremy Simes – The Canadian Press to Regina

2:09 p.m.

  • Canada

Lynn Acoose says she is taking the road that the elders and leaders of her community's past have always been reluctant to take.

The chief of the Zagime Anishinabek Nation, which has numerous reserves in southeastern Saskatchewan, has filed a class action suit against the federal government. She criticizes Ottawa for not having paid the annuities due under Treaty No. 4 signed approximately 150 years ago.

Chief Derek Nepinak of the Minegoziibe Anishinabe Nation in west-central Manitoba is also part of the lawsuit recently filed in Federal Court. Chief Murray Clearsky of the Waywayseecappo Nation filed a similar class action in the Manitoba Court of King's Bench.

“We are doing something our Elders told us not to do,” said Mrs. Acoose. They do not want the spirit and objective of the treaty to be cast in stone. I feel like I'm taking a big risk, but it's a risk I'm willing to take. »

The allegations have not yet been proven in court. The federal government has not presented its defense.

In September 1874, Canada signed Treaty No. 4 with indigenous Cree and Saulteaux tribes of Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan. This allowed the government to use and occupy 195,000 square kilometers of territory that today covers southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and west-central Manitoba.

In return Ottawa was to create reserves and pay $750 per year in ammunition and twine. The federal government also had to build a school and transfer tools and other supplies.

And he had to undertake to pay annually and in perpetuity an amount of $5 to each man, woman and child of each of the bands.

The plaintiffs accuse the government of having contravened its obligations by not increasing this amount.

According to them, annuities have never kept pace with inflation. First Nations believe they should have the same purchasing power as 150 years ago.

The plaintiffs allege that the signatories did not know that the real value of the annuities would decrease over time.

“Those five dollars were not a symbolic sum,” says Ms. Acoose. Why would we accept this ? Our ancestors knew what they were giving. »

She says that everyone who participated in the negotiations leading to the treaty knew that the annuities were intended to allow members of native bands to purchase goods that would help them survive.

“Our legal argument is this: the spirit and purpose of the treaty was for it to remain fair over the years. There is a big difference between what is written in the wording of the treaty and the promises that were made. An oral promise is as good as a legal document. »

The plaintiffs are seeking $100 million in punitive damages from the federal government, or such amount as the Court deems appropriate.

And the government must also increase the annuities.

The Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs is aware of the collective actions that have been initiated, acknowledges a spokesperson. The government is reviewing the documents before making a decision on this matter.

Respecting treaties and working in partnership are key elements of reconciliation.

“Canada recognizes that more must be done to renew the treaties. He remains open to exploring ways to advance this important work,” the written statement read.

Last summer, the Canadian and Ontario governments offered a proposed $10 billion settlement to the First Nations of the Robinson-Huron Treaty signed in 1850. The government of what was then Canada United, a British colony, was required to pay these groups an annual annuity tied to revenues from the natural resources of their territory.

Annuities increased only once in 1875 when they went from $1.70 per person to $4 per person. The amount has remained the same since that time.

Ms. Acoose says her community did not file lawsuits for several years because its leaders were reluctant to pursue treaty rights in court.

“It’s a discussion that has existed for several generations,” she says. But we are entering one of the worst periods we have experienced in years economically. We believe that we should not be the poorest population in our own territory. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116