Wednesday, November 10, 2021

History of Reconciliation

I didn't see much notice of a recent Ontario Court of Appeal case beyond this Canadian Press story in the Globe and Mail. But what it says sounds like where this much-talked-of thing called reconciliation is going and has to go.

Whitesand FN (a litigant)
The case is called Restoule v Canada (full text of the OCA decision here). It concerns territories covered by what are known as the Huron-Robinson and Superior-Robinson Treaties of 1850.  According to the newspaper summary, the court found that the derisory $4 a head paid annually by the Crown to the First Nations involved (an amount unchanged since 1875) in no way fulfills the treaty agreement "to share the resource wealth from the territory"

"To share the resource wealth from the territory." More or less forever, First Nations elders, leaders and scholars across Canada have declared that the treaties they made with the Crown were negotiated as agreements to share the land and its wealth. More or less forever, the Crown has declared that the treaties were surrender agreements -- the land and its resources passed once and for all to the Crown. 

In the last few decades, indigenous and non-indigenous historians have been affirming and documenting in a flood of studies that the First Nations' interpretation is the accurate one. Restoule is another piece of evidence that the courts, while gamely insisting that these matters would be better solved through negotiation than litigation (fat chance!), are moving to an overwhelming and irresistable affirmation that the First Nations (and lately the historians) have been right.  As Restoule says, "an agreement to share the resource wealth from the territory."

Exactly how to share the resource wealth is not determined in Restoule, and quite likely the Supreme Court of Canada will want the opportunity to weigh in on many aspects of this case. But sharing the land, sharing the wealth is coming. First Nations are co-owners of their treaty territories, entitled to a share of the (immense, duh) wealth it generates, and entitled to use that share to support indigenous self-government within their territories.  

When that actually comes to pass, we can talk about reconciliation happening. 

Meanwhile, the almost simultaneous budget statement of the Government of Ontario proposes to commit a billion dollars to build a road that will give mining companies access to the minerals of the "Ring of Fire" region (in Treaty 9 territory north of the Restoule locations) in blithe confidence that Ontario owns everything there and can do what it wants with its resources while giving no serious attention to Treaty obligations as the courts are beginning to interpret them. On the Crown side, reconciliation remains a very long way away.  

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