SUDBURY -- October 24, 2009 – Serpent River First Nation and Lake Huron Regional Grand Chief, Isadore Day, Wiindawtegowinini is urging the federal government to take the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 into account when implementing the harmonized sales tax (HST) in Ontario and exempt them completely from the new tax.
“Our First Nations are being subject to a cash grab with this new tax regime and we are adamantly voicing the message; hands off, tax exemption is a treaty right.”
First Nations in the Lake Huron Region are willing to consider various actions should the new tax, due to take effect in Ontario in July 2010, be imposed on their citizens. At question are many fundamental arguments like the legal duty to consult, the precedent established on off-reserve tax exemption, treaty annuities and other legal arrangements that set aside the resource sharing obligations that save First Nations free from tax.
"One Nation cannot tax another without their consent, and we have never given that consent to any government," said Chief Day. "The international standards of treaty-making process are clear; monetary and fiscal arrangements must be part preempted by negotiations, not impositions; the Constitution of Canada further clarifies this."
The Lake Huron Region of the Union of Ontario Indians represents 19 communities which represent about 25,000 of Ontario's roughly 170,000 First Nations people.
A lobbying campaign, demanding that First Nations people be fully exempt from the HST, which will be administered by the federal government is on the immediate horizon with many Chiefs and Council’s being quipped with mandates to bring forward stern petitions from their citizens into a collective voice of consensus telling the government of Canada – “hands off!”
In the three provinces that already have a harmonized sales tax (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador), First Nations have received tax exemptions.
In Ontario, First Nations are currently exempt from the provincial sales tax (PST) and partially exempt from the goods and services tax (GST).
Chiefs in Ontario worry that when the HST does come into effect, it will be administered in the same way that the GST is now, which they say is an administrative regulation that impacts on their rights and they say that this is clearly unconstitutional.
Under current GST rules, goods and services purchased by status Indians on First Nations reserves are exempt, but items bought by status Indians off a reserve must be delivered to a reserve to qualify for a GST exemption. The same rules will apply to the HST, as per the tax exemption rules set out in the Indian Act.
Chief Isadore Day says that Chiefs are also opposed to getting the tax exemption through a rebate system, which it believes the federal government is considering for the HST, rather than receiving the exemption right away at the point of purchase.
“Our leadership is saying a rebate system will be cost-prohibitive for many First Nations members, particularly those on fixed incomes.”
"At the point of sale, many of our citizens can’t already afford high costs to goods on the retail side. I also speculate that government is rubbing together their money mitts and banking on a perceived loss of people who won’t understand this rebate system, leaving millions of dollars in rebate gains in government coffers; that is reinforcing poverty and widening the gap of disparity of First Nations.”