By Mike Restoule, Chairperson, Robinson Huron Treaty Trust
The annuity payment covering the Robinson Huron Treaty (RHT) territory shared with the crown by treaty, signed in Bawting (Sault Ste. Marie), in 1850 has not increased in approximately 143 years, according to the Chiefs of the 21 First Nations of the shores of Lakes Huron. The Chiefs decided to take their case to the courts after their petitions to crown officials over nearly a century and a half to convince the crown to increase the annuity in accordance with the augmentation terms of the Robinson Huron (pre-confederation) treaty were a waste of time. In the RHT, the Crown promised increased annuities to the First Nations if the territory shared by the Lake Huron First Nations with what is now known as Canada should produce more revenue.
Justice Patricia Hennessy is presiding over the case in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. To get a sense of what this case is about, one needs only to read the first sentences of the RHT opening statement:
“This case involves the interpretation of the augmentation of the annuities clause in the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850. The treaty relationship between the Anishinaabe and the Crown is a fundamental, sacred and ongoing one. Like all long-term relationships, to be functional, it requires respectful attention, mutual understanding and renewal.”
Phase 1 of the hearings started on September 25, 2017, were held at the Court House in Thunder Bay, Ontario, at Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre in Little Current and at the Community Centre in Garden River First Nation. The change in venues was to provide ample opportunity for First Nation citizens and the general public to attend the court to hear the evidence.
All of the plaintiff expert and elder witnesses have completed presentations of their evidence to the court. Our Expert Witnesses included Jim Morrison, Alan Corbiere, Heidi Bohaker, Heidi Stark and Carl Beal. These people presented evidence on the ethnohistory, economic history and traditional Anishinabe law and governance surrounding the making of the Treaty in the 1800s.
Anishinabe Chiefs and elders also presented evidence to the court from the Anishinabe perspective on how the treaty would have been understood by the First Nation participants at the time is was negotiated. Four insightful elders testified on behalf of the RHT First Nations team, Fred Kelly from Treaty #3, Rita Corbiere of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Irene Stevens of Batchawana First Nation, and Irene Makadebin of Sagamok Anishnawbek. The Court is now at its final hearing location, the Radisson Hotel in Sudbury. Over the next 7 weeks, the court will continue to hear testimony from crown witnesses. Closing arguments are scheduled for March 19 to 29, 2018. Phase 2 of the case begins in October 2018.
At each of the court locations, local First Nations have participated in arranging pipe and sweat lodge ceremonies. A sacred fire is lit and burning at each of the hearing locations for the duration of the trial. Elder Leroy Bennett of Sagamok Anishnawbek has been coordinating the cultural events at each of the locations. The public are invited to visit the teepee and offer tobacco at the sacred fire. All court hearings are open to the public and we encourage RHT First Nation and Anishinabek Nation leadership, citizens, staff members and students of all ages to attend.
Hearing dates until the end of Phase 1 are as follows:
- November 27-30, 2017 – Canada’s witness Dr. Alain Beaulieu
- December 11-15, 2017 – Canada and Ontario Opening statements (December 11), & Canada’s witness Dr. Douglas McCalla (Dec.12-13);
- January 10-12, 2018 – Ontario’s witness J.P. Chartrand
- January 15-19, 2018 – Ontario’s witness J.P. Chartrand (Jan.15); Ontario’s witness Dr. Laurence Mussio (Jan.15-18); Ontario witness Scott Mantle (Jan.19)
- January 22-25, 2018 – Canada’s witness Alexander von Gernet
- January 29-February 1, 2018 – Court to continue on procedural matters if required
- February 5-8, 2018 – Canada’s witness Dr. Paul McHugh
February 12-15 – Robinson Huron reply witness to Dr. Paul McHugh
- March 19-28, 2018 – Closing Arguments
Thanks to FirstTel Communications, anyone can watch the livestream or the archived videos at: https://livestream.com/firsttel. Please also follow us on Facebook (search: Robinson Huron Treaty Trust – Annuity Case), Twitter (@1850RHTreaty) and check our website: rht.ca for updates.