Williams Treaties settlement a step in reconciliation

By Sue Tiffin and Jenn Watt

Published Dec. 4 2018

Seven Williams Treaties First Nations have reached a negotiated settlement agreement for the Alderville Litigation with the federal and provincial government.

The litigation deals with a longstanding treaty-related dispute about the making terms interpretation and implementation of the 1923 Williams Treaties. The parties had been working together toward a negotiated resolution since March 2017.

The Williams Treaties cover land in central and southern Ontario around Lake Simcoe the Muskoka region east to the Ottawa River including land that is now Haliburton County.

“In their litigation the First Nations allege that the Crown breached its duties to them in the making and implementation of the Williams Treaties” reads the Government of Canada’s Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada website.

“In particular the First Nations allege that they were not fairly compensated for their lands and should have received additional reserve lands at the time of treaty. Harvesting rights are another key issue raised in the litigation. The First Nations maintain that the pre-Confederation treaties they signed with the Crown protected harvesting rights and that those rights were not affected by the Williams Treaties and continue to exist.”

The Alderville Litigation was first filed in 1992 by the seven First Nations – Alderville First Nation Beausoleil First Nation Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation Chippewas of Rama First Nation Curve Lake First Nation Hiawatha First Nation and Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation and went to trial in 2012.

In an interview with the Haliburton Echo in the summer of 2017 Doug Williams an elder and knowledge keeper at the Curve Lake First Nation explained some of the more recent history of the Haliburton area.

Prior to 1923 the land now covered by the Williams Treaties was part of First Nations territory.

“That’s when we signed the treaty with the government to turn over that area. Before that it was aboriginal territory and land and all resources belonged to us” Williams said.

The Williams Treaties (one of the three-person commission was named Angus Williams – no relation to Doug Williams) are key to the history of settlement in the Highlands.

“For the Haliburton area that’s an important treaty. That’s how they are there legally. But much was taken from there and never been compensated” Williams said.

In a press release following news of the settlement parties said they were pleased with the final outcome.

“After years of litigation and repeated attempts at negotiations I am extremely proud that the negotiations team has successfully resolved our longstanding battle for constitutionally protected hunting and fishing rights” said Chief Kelly LaRocca Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation Portfolio Chief Williams Treaties First Nations.

“Our ancestors have fought since 1923 to exercise our rights freely and without encumbrance and finally we have been able to secure this for our people and for future generations. It is a success for the Williams Treaties First Nations but also for all Ontarians and Canadians who will see a new way forward in Crown-Indigenous relations.”

Terms of the negotiated settlement include:

Under the settlement according to the CIRNAC the First Nations can use the funds to buy land on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis and apply to Canada to have the land added to their reserve land base.

“On this historic day we acknowledge the hard work of our ancestors our elders our leaders and knowledge keepers in their determination to have our collective treaty rights recognized and affirmed” said Chief Phyllis Williams Curve Lake First Nation. “We are on a path of reconciliation healing and treaty implementation for Curve Lake members and for our future generations. Miigwetch to those who have made this settlement possible.”

“This is a significant step forward on our path to advance reconciliation with the Williams Treaties First Nations” Stephanie Palma media relations for CIRNAC told the Echo .

A ceremony commemorating the settlement took place on Nov. 17 in Rama Ont. where the governments of Canada and Ontario issued apologies for the negative impact of the treaties on the First Nations.

“While no amount of compensation financial or otherwise can ever truly compensate or repair the intergenerational trauma or loss of cultural continuity that the seven First Nations signatory to the Williams Treaties have suffered this settlement agreement marks the beginning of healing for our people” LaRocca said in a press release.

Find a map of treaties of Ontario here .