First Nations owed $11B in treaty payments: lawsuit
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A Manitoba Indigenous man argues members of seven First Nations are owed $11 billion related to a treaty signed more than 150 years ago, in a lawsuit against the federal government.
Zongidaya Nelson of Roseau River, representing members of the seven southern Manitoba reserves that signed Treaty No. 1 with the Crown in 1871, filed the suit in Court of King’s Bench seeking the “full and fair effect” of annuity payments promised to community members who have treaty status.
“The promises which were made to our people at the time of the treaty were, and remain, unfulfilled,” Nelson said in a statement via his lawyer, Norman Rosenbaum.
“We were left without the ability to access finances, goods and tools which would foster our equal participation in a foreign economy which the Crown forced upon us.”
The federal government has not submitted a statement of defence in the lawsuit, which was filed in 2019 and amended in November 2022. New legal documents were filed in the past week. Roseau River plans to hold a news conference about the case today.
Each status member of the First Nations — Roseau River, Brokenhead, Sandy Bay, Peguis, Sagkeeng, Long Plain and Swan Lake — receives an annual $5 treaty payment from the federal government; the suit argues the treaty stipulates the payments should have been indexed to inflation.
In the treaty’s 1875 amendment, status members were entitled to either $5 cash or the equivalent of $5 in goods if purchased in Montreal.
The suit argues the amount of cash should have increased along with the price of the goods — named in the treaty as blankets, clothing, prints, twine and traps.
Nelson’s suit alleges the federal government, acting on behalf of the Crown, breached the treaty and the honour of the Crown and its fiduciary duty.
“The treaty represents a constitutionally entrenched relational and ongoing agreement which is reflective of the reciprocity and the honour of the Crown… which includes the duties of loyalty, good faith, diligence, integrity and fair dealing,” the suit reads.
The Crown has unlawfully used the “eroding power of inflation” to give itself an advantage, the suit argues.
The suit seeks compensation for payments of $11-billion, plus damages.
“Reconciliation requires the Crown to act fairly and honourably in its dealings with First Nations people,” Nelson’s statement reads.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.
Updated on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 6:40 AM CST: Adds tile photo
Updated on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 10:30 AM CST: Corrects typo