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Old 06-30-2006, 06:35 AM   #1
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Treaty money 'a joke,' but no laughing matter

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Treaty money 'a joke,' but no laughing matter
Native bands are demanding that Ottawa increase annuities to meet inflation

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Karen Felker was mystified when the federal government cheque for $216 turned
up on her desk.
"I couldn't figure out what it was for," recalled the chief of West Point
First Nation, a 72-member band near Hay River, NWT.
Her confusion soon turned to anger when she realized it was the band's annual
hunting and fishing allowance.

"That's $3 a person," she said. "In the Northwest Territories, you can buy a
coffee for that. You can't buy nets to catch fish, ammunition to hunt
The harvesters' allowance is a legal provision under Treaty 11, signed in
1921. The government used to send the actual supplies, twine and ammunition ($3
worth for every band member), but replaced it with money in the early 1990s
without consulting the band.
In a move that has caught the attention of aboriginal bands across the
country, Ms. Felker, 41, sent the cheque back to Ottawa this month with a terse
warning that it won't accept any more money until the federal government
accounts for inflation or at least sends actual hunting supplies.
The band is also threatening to send back an annuity -- $5 a person -- that
every band member is entitled to according to Treaty 11. Council members and
chiefs receive slightly more.
"This money is an insult," Ms. Felker said.
The chief of this tiny band located on the shores of Great Slave Lake knows
they are in for a long and arduous fight with Ottawa.
"We are one of the smallest bands around," she said. "We have the smallest
voice . . . but enough is enough. This is wrong."
More than 300,000 status Indians who were born to one of the 11 numbered
treaties signed during the 60 years after Confederation vividly understand West
Point First Nation's point. These now measly annuities and harvesters'
allowances were also written into their treaties.
"This money has been a joke for a long time," said Mel Buffalo, president of
the Indian Association of Alberta and a member of a Treaty 6 band.
He said most bands don't publicly balk at the amount of money because it's
largely become a potent symbol of the treaties signed by their ancestors and
the Crown.
"Every year, we get the money and every year we are reminded of the treaty
and what happened," he said.
He applauds Ms. Felker and her band's stand and hopes it's the start of a
trend. "Maybe if more people did that, the government would sit up and take
notice and say: 'Hey, we have to do something. We have to right a wrong that has
been out there,' " Mr. Buffalo said.
The annuity and other provisions such as the harvesters' allowance are
usually handed out during what's known in Western Canada and the territories as
Treaty Day. The annual event takes place on different dates in June and early
July depending on which treaty is being commemorated.
The day is steeped in tradition and not much has changed since the deals were
Each side comes fully decked out in ceremonial garb. The RCMP officers, who
decades ago helped negotiate these deals that saw the Crown secure large
tracts of land in exchange for provisions such as the treaty payments, are dressed
in their scarlet tunics and Stetsons. The aboriginal leaders wear their
headdresses and deerskin regalia.
Some bands have turned the day into a large-scale celebration, such as Peguis
First Nation, located 190 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
The band, which has been lobbying for an annuity increase for years, puts
politics and bitterness about the effects of its treaty aside on this day and
instead opts for a community party, complete with powwows, native dance
competitions and even a midway.
The event, which marks the signing of Treaty 1 on Aug. 3, 1871, attracts many
James Dempsey, a professor at the University of Alberta's School of Native
Studies and an expert on treaties, said when the deals where originally stuck,
the Crown did little to make sure they stood up for a great length of time.
He said the government's intention was to assimilate aboriginals and
provisions such as the $5 payments weren't important because it was widely assumed
that by now they would no longer be paid.
Prof. Dempsey, a member of Alberta's Blood tribe and Treaty 7, said most
aboriginals have a love-hate relationship with Treaty Day and all that comes
with it.
"Despite the frustration, many still feel the treaties are sacred because of
the overall intention," he said. "It represents to Indians what promises were
made by the government at the time that the treaty was signed."
He said that over the years, some bands joined forces after Ottawa broke
provisions outlined in the treaties.
For instance, Prof. Dempsey said, during the 1970s, several bands under
Treaty 7 sued Ottawa after it decided to stop sending them ammunition, despite it
clearly being written in that treaty. The bands won a $300,000 payment.
There has been little public debate on annuities, Prof. Dempsey noted. He
said it would be a difficult fight to win because it's a provision that is being
honoured, not broken, by the federal government.
Two years ago, the Treaty Annuity Work Group, which is affiliated with the
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, published a report on the issue. The
group, headed by Métis intellectual and former Manitoba MLA Jean Allard,
recommended the annual treaty payments be increased from $5 to an amount that brings
it closer to a yearly livable salary for families.
Mr. Allard has long advocated giving more government money directly to
individual natives instead of the current system where it is sent to a band and
then divvied up.
Patricia Valladao, a spokeswoman for the federal government's Indian and
Northern Affairs Department, said the annuities and other provisions such as the
harvesters' allowance aren't negotiable.
"Treaty annuities are the fulfilment of a specific legal obligation created
by a treaty between [the Crown] and the signatory bands. Treaties do not
provide for an increase in the value of the treaty annuities or other provisions."
Ms. Valladao said that in the case of West Point First Nation, the money it
sent back will be put in a special fund and will be returned in full if the
band eventually decides to collect it.
Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.
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