By Maurice Switzer
NationTalk: Anishinabeknews.ca – ROBINSON HURON TERRITORY— How does one feel when someone pays a long overdue debt? Pleased? Relieved? Angry that it took so long?
First Nations citizens of the 21 Robinson Huron Treaty communities are experiencing a range of emotions after the announcement that Canada and Ontario have agreed to pay them a $10 billion settlement for “past losses” because the Crown breached sacred promises for 173 years.
To the average Canadian, legal settlements for land claims and treaty settlements – not to mention the genocide of Indian Residential Schools — might look huge in headlines, but for the First Nations whose members have been socially and economically marginalized for seven generations, no amount of compensation can ever make up for the hardships endured by their community members.
The radio broadcaster I recall comparing such court-ordered settlements to “winning a lottery” has likely never had to rely on food banks or social assistance cheques, or require physical or emotional counselling as a consequence of government policy. He and the residents of communities situated on lands the Robinson Huron First Nations agreed to share take for granted such privileges as paved roads, schools, and safe drinking water.
Mathematics is important to help Canadians grasp the enormity of the injustice inherent in ignoring treaty promises. One Sudbury miner for Vale Canada Limited currently earns more in one year than the $4 treaty annuity payable collectively to 21,000 First Nations beneficiaries.
The company formerly know as INCO estimates it has taken trillions of dollars in mineral wealth from the Sudbury basin since it began operations in 1902, and it is merely one of dozens of lumber and mining companies that have extracted resources from Robinson Huron territories.
If the $10 billion settlement that 21 chiefs will now discuss with their community members was a proposal to resolve a contract like Vale makes with its 4,000 regional employees, it would work out to about a dollar a work-hour for the living 21,000 “beneficiaries” for the 173 years they have been shortchanged by the Crown for agreeing to share their lands with settlers.
“But that’s in the past!” the critics will whine. The corporate mindset would consider it retroactive pay. Let’s not forget that the Algonquin are still waiting for Canada to pay its back rent for the land under the Houses of Parliament.
“There are a lot of people who care about Reconciliation,” said the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations for Canada, at the Sudbury settlement announcement. “But there are a lot of people who want it for free.”
Anishinabek leaders now start the challenge of communicating the settlement implications with community members, and encouraging them to consider how these funds can contribute to a better future than their ancestors had been forced to endure.
“It is for the benefit of our community members, and community members to come,” Wiikwemkoong negotiating team member Duke Peltier reminded the gathering.
As an example, Alderville’s Williams Treaty trust is now able to ensure that every qualified student is able to be funded for post-secondary education, instead of going on a waiting list because Canada treats education as discretionary, and not a treaty obligation.
There is good reason for Robinson Huron citizens to celebrate the recognition that Canada and Ontario – which will split the $10 million past-issues portion of the treaty settlement – have admitted to historic wrongdoing.
They can be pleased; but do not have to be grateful.