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Fisher River Cree Nation files class-action lawsuit against the federal government over Treaty Annuity Payments

todayDecember 18, 2023 1596 4

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Fisher River Cree Nation wants class-action status for its lawsuit against the federal government, which alleges the $5 annuities paid to Treaty 5 First Nations over the last 148 years violate the agreement because they don’t keep up with inflation.

The First Nation wants to represent all Treaty 5 nations and their members who opt in to the class action.

Stefan Lorne Cochrane, a former chief and band councillor of Fisher River, would be the lead plaintiff, according to the statement of claim filed at the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench on Dec. 12.

In the suit, Fisher River claims the Crown breached its obligations under Treaty 5 by failing to regularly increase the $5 annuities to maintain their value at the time of the document’s 1875 signing.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. A statement of defence has not been filed.

There are 36 First Nation communities that make up Treaty 5, which spans about 260,000 square kilometres across northern and central Manitoba as well as small parts of eastern Saskatchewan and western Ontario, according to the suit.

The Crown entered into Treaty 5 with various Saulteaux and Swampy Cree First Nations in and around northern Manitoba in September 1875 with a promise to provide one-time and continuous supports in exchange for the use and occupation of their lands and resources, the suit says.

“One of Canada’s key promises was to make annual payments to Treaty 5 nations and their members,” the suit says. That included $5 for members, $25 for chiefs, $15 for councillors and $500 for the nation each year.

The annuities were presented in a specific monetary amount but represented “a level of purchasing power,” the suit says.

Throughout the negotiations of Treaties 1 to 5, the Crown’s agents promised First Nations that the annuities would allow them to care for future generations, according to the suit.

Annuity’s fall in value unforeseen, suit says

First Nations interpreted that promise as a guarantee that the annuities would improve their quality of life or at least provide their basic needs into the future, the suit says.

Fisher River members have seen their day-to-day expenses rise, but their treaty annuity amount remains frozen in 1875, the suit says.

“Over the same period of time, the value of the land and resources claimed by Canada through Treaty 5 has grown astronomically, yielding billions of dollars in revenue for the benefit of the Crown and settlers,” the suit states.

“No one could have reasonably expected that prices would rapidly rise and the purchasing power of the annuities would fall,” it says.

The federal government promised Treaty 5 nations a level of monetary value each year and then contributed to the inflation that destroyed most if not all of it, which means it was required to increase the annuities to compensate for that difference, the suit claims.

The lawsuit seeks aggravated and punitive damages. It also requests liquidated damages for breaches of Treaty 5 that amount to the difference between the annuities adjusted for inflation and what was actually paid, and special damages accounting for interest on that lost money.

In the alternative of liquidated or special damages, the First Nation would also accept equitable compensation for the Crown breaching its fiduciary duty as outlined in Treaty 5, according to the suit.

Fisher River also requests court declarations that say the annual payments must be adjusted for inflation and the Crown has breached and continues to breach Treaty 5 by not modifying them.

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada heard Ontario’s appeal of a provincial court’s decision that it had an obligation to increase Robinson-Huron treaty annuities, which were capped at $4 per person in 1874 and haven’t increased since.

In February, Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation also sued the federal government for $11 billion on behalf of Treaty 1 status members, arguing they’re owed “full and fair” annual payments promised by the Crown as part of treaties signed in the early days of Confederation.

Written by: fisherriver

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Fisher River Cree Nation is a community in which our history, language, traditions, and culture are paramount to who we are as a people. We will protect and maintain the spirit and intent of the treaties and our inherent rights. Fisher River will be a self-sustaining progressive community with a strong and accountable government. We will provide an environment where all people are healthy, safe, and respected.