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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

A tale that hits home

BY Will Nicholls Mar 17, 2023

As Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It’s getting harder to know what the best consists of these days. One could bet it has nothing to do with the obscene profits being raked in by grocery, petroleum, pharmaceutical and electricity corporations, among others. In the past, businesses that profited from wars would be denounced. Why are these guys being spared the shaming?

Federal and provincial governments engage in their own form of profiteering. For example, look at the way Ontario fails to honour the Robinson treaties signed in 1850. These treaties specified that the annuities paid out to Indigenous residents would increase along with government revenue from natural resources such as logging, mining and other resource exploitation. From an initial annuity of $1.75 per person in 1850, it increased to $4 per person in 1875. In 2023, almost 150 years later, it is still $4 a year.

To many Cree this isn’t an isolated incident of agreements and treaties not being honoured. Remember the Paix des Braves revenue-sharing scheme that promoters promised could be worth billions? Well, the Quebec government never sent us figures to put into that magic formula in the beginning. 

In the Robinson treaties case, Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently testified as an expert witness, saying that Ontario has “short-changed” the First Nations by more than $100 billion. The government replied that it had paid out more than $300 million since 1850 and that the colonization investment (which included everything from health care, including facilities, railways, roads and the kitchen sink) exceeded any possible increase in the annuity. 

Does that mean that Ontarians should get down on their knees and thank First Nations for making their comfortable even lives better? Surely that would be a sight to see, but one that will never happen. 

The battle for who’s right and wrong and who owes what is still ongoing as the Anishinaabe case is being appealed to the Supreme Court by the Ontario government after the Anishinaabe won at Appeal Court – even as the judge is still trying to determine what they are owed. The Cree may compare this to the Malouf Decision in 1974, which the Cree won but then lost in the Quebec Court of Appeal six days later. 

It makes one wonder if we can take a legal system to court as for its systematic racism. Oops, we forgot that systematic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec.

We believe that the revenue-sharing formula combined with Quebec’s reported revenue from resource exploitation that has been independently audited be shown year by year since the implementation of the Paix des Braves agreement. After all, we wouldn’t want to have to wait 175 years like the Anishinaabe First Nations to see if the Cree are receiving what they are entitled to.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.