The Crown broke a promise to First Nations. It could now owe billions. – by Amanda Coletta (Washington Post – January 18, 2024)

Patricia Tangie’s ancestors thought they had a deal. More than 170 years ago, before Canada confederated in 1867, Indigenous people in what’s now Northern Ontario signed treaties, ceding a vast territory north of Lake Superior and Lake Huron to the Crown in exchange for a promise: that the wealth flowing from the land would be shared with them.

Instead, their descendants argue, the Crown has long broken the promises it made in 1850, turning a profit from the minerals buried deep beneath the ground and the trees reaching high into the sky, while they’re shackled by poverty, lack adequate housing and suffer poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous Canadians.

“One treaty partner is getting rich at the expense of the other,” said Tangie, chief of Michipicoten First Nation, 144 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. “Our elders have always said that the only consistent thing about the treaty is that it has never been honored by our treaty partner.”

Now, that broken promise is at the center of a legal fight that’s being closely watched — not just because it could end with the largest litigation award in Canada’s history, but also because it could dictate how resource revenue is shared with Indigenous people in the future and the role of courts in reconciliation.

The case turns in part on a clause that’s found in no other treaty in Canada. But Kate Gunn, a partner at First Peoples Law in Vancouver who represented an Indigenous group that filed an intervention in the case, said its outcome “will have significant repercussions for Treaty First Nations and the Crown far beyond the individual litigants.”

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