Government officials hailed the historical significance of urban treaty payments at The Forks Monday morning, but many of the hundreds of attendees who lined up in a white tent near the Red River said they were there to collect their $5 annual payment to buy food or cigarettes.
Four federal government employees examined photo identification of aboriginal Manitobans eligible to collect the annual treaty payment, administered by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Parks Canada.
The yearly $5 payment is part of seven numbered treaties signed on behalf of First Nations communities across the province in the 1800s and early 1900s. In the seven treaties signed from 1871 to 1906, First Nations ceded about 500,000 square miles of land in exchange for annual financial recompense and recognized reserve lands, as well as recognition of aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.
“The treaty payments are significant to First Nations peoples,” said Dennis White Bird, Manitoba’s Treaty Relations Commissioner, a position he was appointed to in 2005 by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the federal government to educate the public about the treaties. “They give us a base to move forward.”
About 120,000 Manitobans are eligible to collect the $5 treaty payment, and there are booths set up by INAC across the province to hand the funds over.
Funds can accumulate from year to year, but attendees at The Forks Monday said they wanted to use the money to make ends meet or for small everyday pleasures like coffee or pop.
“It doesn’t go a long way, five dollars, it’s not much,” said Lorena Hayden, a resident of Winnipeg who grew up in Roseau River.
Roseau River was a signatory to Treaty No. 1, which ceded 16,700 square miles of land in south-central Manitoba in 1871. In exchange, each five-person family received 160 acres of reserve land. When the treaty was signed in August 1871, the annuity was $3, but it increased to $5 in 1876 when the treaty was amended.
For Winnipegger Carmel Clearsky, a former resident of Waywayseecappo reserve, collecting one of the crisp $5 bills lying on the white linen tables was impossible. The mother of two said she was unable to produce her identification because she was unsure how to fill out the paperwork to re-obtain it after she lost it. Instead, she waited outside the tent for her boyfriend to collect his $5 payment.