Truth, treaties and resource revenue sharing



by Lorraine Rekmans

Lorraine Rekmans

In David Shanahan’s article about Truth and Reconciliation, he noted the issues facing the treaty annuitants of the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850. Namely, that Ontario and Canada neglected to increase annuity payments to treaty beneficiaries for 148 years. The annuity, which is paid to every single person who is a band member of the Robinson Huron Treaty First Nations increased only once in 148 years rising from approximately $1.70 per person to $4 per person in 1875 and has not increased since.

In June, the Government of Canada announced that the litigants from the Robinson Huron Treaty Litigation Fund and representatives of the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario reached a proposed out of court settlement that incudes $5 billion from Ontario and $5 billion from Canada. This settlement was to be reparation for neglecting to increase annuity payments as the value of resource extraction activities continued to increase every year since 1875.

The proposed settlement was reached by negotiation between the parties and guided by decisions that were made by the judge. In the legal challenge that Indigenous peoples made to the Crown for compensation for this more than century long rip-off of Indigenous peoples, it was determined by Canadian courts that the Crown would share only a percentage of the royalties collected from the resources that were extracted from the treaty territory.

In the interest of truth, it must be made known that the amount of the proposed settlement, which may seem staggering to some, is indeed a small fraction of what revenues were amassed by both Ontario and Canada. The wealth that was generated by the provincial and federal Crown, was far greater than $10 billion and came from various sources aside from royalties; in fact, royalties were indeed intentionally kept low to entice development.

By deciding to share wealth only extracted from the royalty fee system, both governments are perpetuating the unfairness of colonial systems and discrimination, dishonouring the intent of the Treaty, and ignoring the inherent rights of the Anishinabek Nation.

Canada and Ontario have various systems in place to generate revenue which include the collection of royalties from resource extraction, licensing, fees and taxation. Much of the wealth generated from the development of natural resources is not due to royalties.

As Ontarians, we are aware of the common refrain coming from the provincial governments that “Ontario is open for business.”  This usually means that governments will “cut red tape”, “remove barriers to development” i.e., cut environmental standards, lower business taxes etc. to pave the way for industry to set up shop. In many cases, this means that royalty fees are intentionally set very low.

As an example, Ontario’s only diamond mine operated by De Beers Canada paid Ontario $226 in royalties in 2013-2014.  In fact, for the same period, the Ontario government made more money on salt royalties than on diamonds, collecting $3.89 million in royalties for salt.

This is just one small example of the mismanagement of Ontario’s natural resources which are assets shared by Indigenous peoples and the people of Ontario. The cavalier undervaluing of the resources extracted from our natural environment should incite Ontarians to outrage.

In the Indigenous tradition, we, as Anishnabe people, are expected to make decisions for the benefit of seven generations. The principles of managing ecosystems ethically and sustainably, thinking ahead to our grandchildren and great- grandchildren, required careful thought and planning to ensure that the benefits of healthy ecosystems would endure. Management of natural resources was not tied to market pressures, commodity values or political agendas.

When governments commit to create jobs, it simply means enticing industry to open up shop and extract resources so that people can get people working, and government can collect income taxes, property taxes and retail taxes.

The 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty was an agreement between the Anishnabek Nation and the Crown to share territory and the benefits that could be derived from the territory. The Treaty was mis-used as a colonial license to open up the territory to a gold rush mentality of exploitation of resources and environmental destruction. Today, in Elliot Lake, there are 150 million tonnes of radioactive mine waste left deposited in the territory as a legacy environmental problem for future generations.

A true partnership of sharing a territory would include sharing jurisdiction in decision making, resource management and wealth generation. The proposed settlement amounts to a handful of crumbs when one considers the wealth that Canada and Ontario amassed over more than 100 years while destroying ecosystems by clearcutting forests, and poisoning water systems with mill and mining wastes and toxic chemicals. This settlement does not include reparation for areas of the Treaty territory that have been left unusable for future generations.

The sharing of royalties is a pittance. But the real tragedy here is that we have left a legacy of destruction for future generations to contend with because resource management was uninformed by Anishnabek values, traditions and culture. It was something that sustained people in this territory for thousands of years and sadly both Crowns saw no market value in protecting Mother Earth. In light of Truth and Reconciliation, we must make time to critically examine truth, examine our approaches and find a better way. When we know better, we should do better.


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