A court case being closely followed by members of the Red Rock Indian Band, Whitesand First Nation, Fort William First Nation and nine other First Nations in the Lake Superior region is inching toward a conclusion in Superior Court, possibly next year.
"This case is about the Crown honouring the promises made and the agreements made with the Robinson-Superior communities over 170 years ago," said Red Rock Indian Band Chief Marcus Hardy.
At issue is how much the federal and Ontario governments are obligated to give signatories to a 173-year-old treaty, in compensation for resource extraction.
Under the terms of the treaty, the Crown received access to the land around Lake Superior from Batchewana Bay to Pigeon River in exchange for a portion of any resource revenue.
The annuity was initially set at $1.60 per person, and increased in 1875 to $4 per person, but was never adjusted since.
First Nations in Northwestern Ontario that signed the Robinson-Superior Treaty, as well as those in Northeastern Ontario that signed the Robinson-Huron Treaty, have argued that the federal and Ontario governments failed to implement the annuity augmentation provision of the agreements.
A Superior Court judge in Sudbury is presiding over separate trials for the two treaty groups.
After Justice Patricia Hennessy ruled in 2018 that periodic adjustments to the annuity should have been made, what remains to be decided is the size of those adjustments.
Potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in retroactive payments are at stake, but the opposing sides disagree sharply on the extent to which revenues from resource extraction can be balanced against government expenses such as roads, railways and health care.
Ontario maintains that its expenditures in the Robinson-Superior area have actually exceeded revenue by almost $8 billion, a claim that Hardy calls outrageous and insulting.
In an interview, he said if Robinson-Superior Treaty members end up getting the compensation they believe they deserve, it will give them things such as health care, schools, and potentially the ability to become sovereign.
"It's gonna bring mino bimaadiziwin. It means 'the good life,' right? And that's what we're all striving for," Hardy said.
The chief said members of his own community are following the case very closely as it winds its way through various stages in court, and are receiving regular updates from the First Nation's leadership.
"There's a very unique dynamic, and a very good dynamic within the 12 First Nations of the Robinson-Superior Treaty area," he said. "They have entrusted their faith in me to represent them in media releases, et cetera....We're making history here. Everyone is working together. It's extremely overwhelming."
Hardy believes a judgment in the case may come down in the spring or summer of 2024.