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'We want justice': Lawsuit claims feds owe $11 billion to Treaty 1 First Nations


An annual $5 payment to members of seven First Nations has remained the same for more than 150 years, but one man is hoping to change that.

Zongidaya Nelson is suing the federal government for $11 billion, or whatever amount is determined by the court, on the behalf of his Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation and the six other First Nations in Manitoba that signed Treaty 1 in 1871.

“We want justice. We're tired,” Nelson said in a Wednesday press conference.

Since 1874, as part of an amendment to the original $3 payment amount, members of the seven First Nations have been given $5 per year.

That amount hasn’t changed since 1874.

Jason Zushman, one of the lawyers representing the claim, said the price of gold, inflation, and the Consumer Price Index could affect the amount owed in the lawsuit, which will determined by the court.

At the time when Treaty 1 was signed - people could get a basket of goods with blankets, clothing, traps and other things that would be worth a total of $5 in Montreal instead of the cash.

"Obviously, $5 in current day buys something entirely different than it would have in 1871 - even when accounting for the increase that was paid out in the $5 increase,” Jason Zushman, one of the lawyers representing the claim said.

Terrance Nelson, Zongidaya’s uncle, says for most people, the $5 is a recognition of the promises made in Treaty 1.

"It’s not just the $5,” he said. “It's very, very important for people to understand. There are a lot more benefits that were supposed to be there."

Their family has been vocally disagreeing with the integrity of Treaty 1 since witnessing its signing in 1871.

"Reconciliation requires that the Crown act fairly and honourably in its dealings with the First Nations people,” Zongidaya said. “That's where we're at. We’re trying.”

Norman Rosenbaum, senior associate with Merchant Law Group in Winnipeg said, "the treaty is a living organism in a relationship. And the idea of true reconciliation means that one lives up to one’s bargain."

Zongidaya says this lawsuit could take decades - hoping it won't take another 152 years to update this payment.

He says because of the unknown timeline, it's too far in the future to estimate what will be done with the money if they win the lawsuit.


Indigenous Services Canada says it received the claim, which was first filed in 2019, and the most recent amendment in November.

 "Honouring the Treaty relationship and working together in partnership with First Nations is key to advancing lasting reconciliation," it says in a statement. "Canada will continue to work co-operatively with Treaty One First Nations to make progress together on shared priorities to help strengthen our ongoing Treaty relationship and advance reconciliation." Top Stories

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