Backgrounder: Negotiations with the Williams Treaties First Nations toward a Negotiated Resolution of the Alderville Litigation

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The Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario and the seven Williams Treaties First Nations are working together toward a negotiated settlement of the Alderville litigation. The seven First Nations are: Alderville First Nation, Beausoleil First Nation, Chippewas of Georgina Island, Chippewas of Rama, Curve Lake First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation and Mississaugas of Scugog Island.

Looking back: Historic treaties and the Alderville litigation

The seven First Nations are signatories to various 18th and 19th century treaties that covered lands in different parts of south central Ontario. After these pre-Confederation treatiesFootnote 1 were signed, the First Nations maintained that they continued to have an interest in other lands in central Ontario, known as their northern hunting grounds. These lands had not yet been addressed through treaty and were increasingly being subject to encroachment. To address these outstanding issues, new treaties (called the Williams Treaties) were signed between the seven First Nations and the Crown in 1923.

More than 90 years later, questions remain about the making, terms, interpretation and implementation of the Williams Treaties. In 1992, the seven First Nations filed litigation to seek a resolution of this longstanding dispute. The case, known as the Alderville litigation, went to trial in 2012.

In their litigation, the First Nations allege that the Crown breached its duties to them in the making and implementation of the Williams Treaties. 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 Alderville 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.

A new beginning: Moving into negotiations

In early 2016, Canada, Ontario and the seven First Nations began substantive exploratory discussions to see if they could find the common ground to negotiate a settlement of the Alderville litigation outside of the courts. A negotiated resolution achieved through co-operation and dialogue is preferable to litigation.

In February 2017, the parties agreed to a process to begin formal negotiations toward a negotiated settlement of the Alderville litigation and the court case was adjourned on March 27, 2017 on joint consent of the parties. Canada and Ontario have also recognized pre-existing treaty harvesting rights of the Williams Treaties First Nations' members to hunt, trap, fish and gather for food, social and ceremonial purposes in certain areas of pre-Confederation Treaties No. 5, 16, 18, 20 and 27-27 ¼. These treaty harvesting rights are constitutionally protected.

While this is an important first step, negotiations are just getting underway and much remains to be done before a final settlement can be reached. This will include joint work to ensure an effective implementation of treaty harvesting rights as well as consultation with other Indigenous groups.

Harvesting rights: Then and now

In October 2012, based on evidence obtained and prepared for the trial, Canada and Ontario recognized on an interim basis, the treaty harvesting rights of the Williams Treaties First Nations in Treaty No. 20. Canada and Ontario have now formally recognized these rights, not only within Treaty No. 20, but also within certain areas covered by pre-Confederation Treaties No. 5, 16, 18 and 27-27 ¼.

The parties will work together at the negotiating table to coordinate the implementation of the First Nations' treaty harvesting rights. These rights are subject to provincial and federal laws necessary for conservation, public health and public safety. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of natural resources for future generations are key priorities for all parties going forward.

Land-related settlements: A general overview

Negotiated settlements in Ontario can involve both financial compensation and the transfer of Crown lands to be set aside as reserve lands for First Nations.

When Crown land is being considered as part of a negotiated settlement, a consultation process is conducted on the proposed Crown land to be transferred. This has included consultation with neighbouring Indigenous groups, municipalities, individuals, groups and members of the public whose interests may be affected.

No one will lose their private property in this process and access to private property is protected. Any private property land transaction is on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis.

Looking Ahead: Toward a negotiated settlement

At this early stage in the process, it is too soon to speculate about what a future settlement might look like. Once the key elements have been agreed upon, negotiators for all parties will work together to develop a draft Settlement Agreement.

Members of the seven Williams Treaties First Nations will have the opportunity to vote on the proposed final agreement. Canada and Ontario will also have to conclude their own internal approvals processes. The settlement agreement will not be final until it is signed by all parties.

Canada, Ontario and the Williams Treaties First Nations are committed to working together in a spirit of partnership and collaboration to find a just and shared solution that respects the rights of Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. The recognition of the First Nations' constitutionally protected treaty harvesting rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather in certain pre-Confederation treaty areas for food, social and ceremonial purposes addresses a longstanding dispute between the parties. This is an important first step toward renewed relationships and reconciliation with the First Nations for the benefit of everyone.

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