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Treaty 4 takes legal action against feds for annuity payments

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Over 30 First Nations have filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government demanding compensation of annuity payments that go as far back as the signing of Treaty 4.

“This benefit, the $5 annuity, was intended as an exchange for the agreement under the Treaty to allow non-First Nations settlers to come into our territory to take up farming, and for other reasons as well, but primarily farming,” said Zagime Anishinabek Chief Lynn Acoose, referring to the reason behind the lawsuit.

“At that time it seemed a fair deal in addition to all of the other promises made under Treaty, but in today’s currency, in today’s economy it’s not fair at all.”

With various Saulteaux, Cree and other First Nations in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., Treaty 4 was signed with Canada to allow the crown to occupy 195,000 square kilometers of land, which is now known as southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and west-central Manitoba.

After the agreement was signed, the federal government was to set aside land for reserves and pay an annuity of $5 per year to each Status First Nation person.

However, the payments have not been adjusted to match the cost of living since the Treaty was signed nearly 150 years ago.

“As the Crown and right of Canada, their obligation is to honor those treaties and under our treaty we were promised an annuity of $5 per year and at that time $5 had significant purchasing power,” Acoose told CTV News.

"We are asking for the annuity to be adjusted to meet the same kind of purchasing power as it would have had in 1875.”

Acoose and Chief Derek Nepinak of Minegoziibe Anishinabe in west-central Manitoba are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and will be representing 33 First Nations listed in the class-action.

"For the future generations, we were told for our children and our grandchildren, and those yet unborn, that these benefits would remain in place for them, but it wasn't intended that the benefits would stay fixed in time,” said Acoose.

One First Nation member said collecting the annual $5 payments was something to look forward to when she was growing up.

“I know when I was younger $5 bucks seemed like a big deal, but in this economy $5 is basically nothing,” said Regan Agecoutay from Big River First Nation.

A statement to CTV News from Canada’s Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs said: “Canada recognizes that more needs to be done to renew the Treaty relationship and remains open to looking at ways to advance this important work.”

They also mentioned that they are “currently reviewing the Statement of Claim to determine next steps,” and cannot comment further as these matters are before the courts.

A similar lawsuit was filed by Robinson-Huron Treaty and 21 other First Nations in Ontario back in 2014. They are seeking $100 billion to honor a 173-year-old treaty promise, but no decision has been made.

Although there is no fixed amount Treaty 4 is asking the federal government for, Acoose said they hope an agreement can be made before taking the matter to court.

“We are also hoping that Canada will agree to negotiate so that we don’t litigate in court,” she said. “We’re hoping that Canada will avoid litigation and begin negotiating with us in good faith on the Treaties moving forward.”

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