Federal, provincial governments apologize for impacts of Williams Treaties

The federal and provincial governments apologized in Rama, Ont., Saturday for the negative impacts of the nearly century-old Williams Treaties on the Williams Treaties First Nations.

"We are sorry for the historical hardship and sorrow and other negative impacts to the people of William Treaties First Nations," Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford said for the making, negotiation, terms and implementation of the 1923 Williams Treaties.

"I want to thank the negotiating teams who worked to tirelessly to close this dark chapter in our province's history."

Federal Minister of Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett apologized for the treaties not resolving grievances held and for the Crown not honouring the long-standing treaty relationship that previously existed.

"We are sorry that, even before the Williams Treaties were concluded, your ancestors were unable to fully enjoy the bounty of your traditional lands," she said. "We are sorry that the Crown failed to recognize and respect your treaty rights."

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Settlements were made in September and include a total of $1.11 billion in financial compensation from both governments to the Williams Treaties First Nations, recognition of pre-existing treaty harvesting rights and allowing each First Nation to add up to 11,000 acres to reserve land bases.

The federal government says that exploratory talks began in December 2015, with negotiations beginning in March 2017 and the federal and provincial government signing a settlement in August of this year.

The Williams Treaties First Nations include Alderville First Nation, Chippewas of 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.

Harvesting rights eliminated

Bennett said that the Williams Treaties were thought to have eliminated all harvesting rights outside of Williams Treaties First Nations reserves, which in turn led to many challenges, injustices and indignities.

"Unable to fully exercise their treaty harvesting rights, some mothers and fathers were unable to provide for their families as they had before," she added. "This, along with other colonial policies and practices, led to hardship and increased dependence on government."

Chief Laurie Carr says the apology has been a long time coming and that it means a lot to the community.

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"Our people have lost culture and language, but more so their rights to hunt and fish," she said. "We've had many of our men who were charged or in jail for hunting and fishing when they were out to feed their family and exercise their right."

Bennett said she realizes members had their nets, traps, or fishing lines taken from them, while others were fined, but she ended her apology looking forward toward reconciliation.

"There is no way to undo the past, nor to fully atone for wrongs perpetuated over many decades," Bennett said. "We are committed to writing this next chapter together, in the spirit of reconciliation and partnership."