Garden River approves Robinson-Huron deal

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Nov. 4, 2023 edition of The Sault Star.

Garden River First Nation leadership has finally approved their Robinson-Huron annuity settlement, with this agreement involving around $10 billion in federal and provincial money split between 21 Indigenous communities.

Of these 21 First Nations, Garden River was the last one to accept its individual settlement agreement, a byproduct of a Sept. 19 election that resulted in a new chief and several different members of council.

"We had to catch ourselves up to speed on all of this," Chief Karen Bell told the Sault Star on Thursday afternoon, shortly after this settlement announcement was released.

"And we had some engagement with our elders and ... the negotiating team and the legal team, so that we knew what we were signing and why we were signing. So that was a little bit of a process."

Following consultation, Garden River's new band council signed off on the parameters of the settlement Monday, clearing the way for this process to move forward for all 21 First Nations.

"This is more than just compensation; it's about acknowledging and reaffirming the original intent and spirit of the Robinson Huron Treaty," Bell wrote in an accompanying press release.

The Robinson-Huron Treaty was originally signed in 1850 between the British Crown and 21 First Nations living along the shores of Lake Huron.

While the Crown promised to fairly compensate these Indigenous communities for use on their land — which led to the extraction of valuable resources such as nickel, cooper, uranium, timber and fish — annuity rates have remained the same since 1875.

After first bringing these matters before the court in 2012, the 21 First Nations reached a proposed settlement this past summer, with members of the provincial and federal government agreeing to pay around $10 billion for past losses.

Garden River's slice of the pie won't be finalized until later this month, according to Bell.

However, the chief said she remains optimistic that this large settlement will provide her community with much extra economic mobility moving forward.

"Our ancestors envisioned collaboration based on equality and Nation-to-Nation relationships and today we move closer to that vision," Bell wrote in Thursday's press release.

"We stand by that vision and the special relationship we have with the Crown."

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government

Kyle Darbyson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sault Star