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Treaty 4 Chiefs Commence Annuity Payment Class Actions Against Federal Government

Press Release

REGINA – TREATY 4 TERRITORY, SK, Feb. 6, 2024 – Chief Derek Nepinak of Minegoziibe Anishinabe First Nation, Chief Bonny Lynn Acoose of Zagime Anishinabek First Nation, and Chief Murray Clearsky of Waywayseecappo First Nation announce the launch of two class actions against the federal government for failing to maintain the value of annuity payments under Treaty 4.

With the endorsement of their respective Band Councils, Chief Derek Nepinak and Chief Bonny Lynn Acoose have commenced a class action against the federal government in the Federal Court of Canada. Similarly, Chief Murray Clearsky has commenced a parallel class action in the Court of King’s Bench of Manitoba. The three Chiefs will work together to advance their respective claims in the best interests of Treaty 4 beneficiaries. They call on other Treaty 4 leaders to join them in these important cases.

Among other relief, the two class actions seek an order requiring Canada to compensate beneficiaries of Treaty 4 for unpaid or underpaid annuity payments, and a declaration that Treaty 4 contains an augmentation or indexation provision requiring Canada to continually adjust annuity payments for losses in purchasing power. In this manner, the claims are intended to both address the wrongs of the past and safeguard the future.

Background

Executed in September 1874 by the Crown and various Saulteaux, Cree, and other First Nations, Treaty 4 represents solemn and sacred promises between Canada and First Nations.

The Treaty 4 First Nations upheld their end of the bargain: they allowed the Crown the use of approximately 195,000 square kilometres of land spanning southeast Alberta, through southern Saskatchewan and west-central Manitoba. The Crown, however, did not reciprocate.

Among other promises, the terms of Treaty 4 provided for annuity payments to be made in perpetuity by the Crown to the members of the signatory First Nations and their descendants. This annuity payment was initially set at five dollars per person, which, in 1874, commanded significant purchasing power. However, despite the parties’ shared understanding that annuity payments would have real value, the Crown has failed to increase payment of the annuities to reflect the effect of inflation over the last 150 years.

Today, the annuity payments under Treaty 4 have only token or symbolic value. This is a tangible symbol of the Crown’s failure to honour the spirit of its bargain, and it represents another link in a long chain of broken promises.

The class actions

The class actions allege that Treaty 4 contains an augmentation or indexation provision, and that Canada has breached its obligation under the Treaty, its fiduciary duties to the Treaty 4 beneficiaries, and the honour of the Crown.

Among other relief, the class actions seek an accounting and payment of the annuities under Treaty 4 that remain either unpaid or underpaid; special damages to compensate the class members for the loss of opportunity and inability to invest unpaid or underpaid Treaty 4 annuities; and punitive damages.

The proposed classes comprise all persons and estates of persons entitled to receive annuity payments from Canada under Treaty 4.

Chief Derek Nepinak, Chief Bonny Lynn Acoose, and Chief Murray Clearsky are committed to representing the rights and interests of all Treaty 4 beneficiaries entitled to annuity payments from the Crown. They call on other leaders of Treaty 4 nations to join them in advancing their claims.

Quotes

Chief Derek Nepinak, Minegoziibe Anishinabe First Nation

“Symbolic gestures in the Treaty relationship do not address the prescribed poverty that we have endured from the systemic denial of Treaty implementation for generations. It’s time to hold governments accountable to our Crown relationships and the annuities are an important element of that relationship.”

Chief Bonny Lynn Acoose, Zagime Anishinabek First Nation

“Generations of First Nations Peoples within Treaty 4 have waited for the Crown to honour our Treaty. Our people can no longer rely upon advocacy and negotiation to see the benefits of Treaty 4 fulfilled. Our living Treaty is an agreement between First Nations and the Crown, intended to create harmonious relations and mutual benefit. Like any other Treaty between nations, Treaty 4 grants a legal right to seek redress for breeches of this binding agreement.”

Chief Murray Clearsky, Waywayseecappo First Nation

“Today marks a critical step in our ongoing pursuit of justice and accountability. The launch of these class actions against the Crown are vital in addressing the historical wrongs inflicted upon the Treaty 4 First Nations. These proceedings seek to uphold the Crown’s commitments to our members and our children, ensuring that promises are not just made, but honoured.”

For more information on the Treaty 4 annuity payment class actions, visit here

For further information: Chief Derek Nepinak, Chief Bonny Lynn Acoose, and Chief Murray Clearsky are represented by McCarthy Tétrault LLP, working with Boudreau Law and Jason Zushman Law Corporation; For media inquiries, please contact: Michael Rosenberg, Partner, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, mrosenberg@mccarthy.ca, 416.601.7831; For class member inquiries, please contact: Alana Robert, Associate, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, alrobert@mccarthy.ca, 416.601.8022

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