February 16, 2022
Ryan Lake and Antonela Cicko
Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation is heading back to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to litigate their boundary claim after it was dismissed for delay in 2013. The boundary claim relates to the unlawful alienation of 2,670 square kilometers of lands in the Sudbury area owed to Atikameksheng under the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850.
In 2008, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek filed a claim against Canada and Ontario relating to the unlawful alienation of lands promised to the First Nation pursuant to Treaty. The claim was dismissed for delay in 2013. In November 2021, Maurice Law was successful in setting aside the dismissal order and re-instating the action.
Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation was formerly known as the Whitefish or Whitefish Lake Band. On September 9, 1850, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek entered into the Robinson-Huron Treaty with the Crown. The surrender clause in the Treaty stated that the Anishinaabe nations agreed to surrender their rights, title and interests in the whole of the territory within the Treaty area but expressly excepted out certain “reservations” of lands to be retained by the First Nations for their exclusive use and benefit. The Reservation as described in the Treaty roughly corresponded with the traditional territory occupied by Atikameksheng Anishnawbek. The size of the Whitefish Reservation Lands was approximately 2, 870 square kilometers.
At the time of Treaty, Atikameksheng understood that it had retained the area described as reservation lands set out in the Treaty for its sole use, occupation, and benefit. Atikameksheng relied on that promise and in exchange, surrendered exclusive rights to their broader traditional territory outside of their summer village sites near Whitefish Lake and Lake Penage (Panache).
In 1884, thirty-four years after Atikameksheng Anishinawbek adhered to Treaty, the Crown surveyed Indian Reserve 6 for Atikameksheng, totaling approximately 200 square kilometers. The size of the reservation surveyed by the Crown in 1884 is substantially smaller than the size of the reservation described in the Treaty, with a net shortfall of approximately 2,670 square kilometers.
Atikameksheng suffered and continues to suffer damages from the extraction and sale of timber, mineral, and other natural resources on lands which the First Nation has not expressly ceded title to. Furthermore, the Provincial Crown assumed control and ownership of all lands, mines, and royalties within the Whitefish Reservation Lands and were thereby unjustly enriched to the detriment of the First Nation. The Whitefish Reservation Lands currently overlap the greater portion of the local municipality of Sudbury, Ontario. This region has seen significant resource extraction and industrial development during and since the alienation of the Whitefish Reservation Lands.
With the dismissal order now set aside, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek is heading back to court to finally seek a just resolution of a claim dating back to more than 130 years.