A total of 21 First Nations in northern Ontario are taking the Ontario and federal governments to court, accusing them of failing to uphold a key clause of a treaty their ancestors signed almost 150 years ago.

The Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850 states that First Nations people on the land, which spans an area from Sault Ste. Marie to North Bay and north to Kirkland Lake, would receive payments for any revenue generated from their territory. The treaty also stipulated that those payments would increase as revenues increased.

The payments were raised in 1874 to $4 per person, but haven’t budged since. Now, First Nations leaders are finally suing the Ontario and federal governments.

Chief Duke Peltier of Manitoulin Island’s Wikwemikong First Nation, says the territory covered by the treaty has generated plenty of revenue in the last 150 years.

“Hundreds of millions are generated in royalties alone and in revenues in permitting systems,” he told CTV’s Your Morning Friday. “And that doesn’t include the profits generated by the mines and other companies operating on the territory.”

Peltier says indigenous leaders began asking questions about raises to the annuity almost as soon as the treaty was signed.

The Assembly of First Nations has said that even while provincial and the national governments have profited from the land, Indigenous communities have been left out and faced chronic poverty. They say that is not only unfair but inconsistent with the treaties that were signed in good faith.

After years of Indigenous leaders petitioning the governments for compensation, they are resorting to a lawsuit, initiating proceedings in 2014.

The 21 First Nations chiefs are asking the court to make an accounting of the revenue generated since the Robinson Huron Treaty was signed, and to decide how the annuities should be increased.

Peltier would not give a dollar figure for how much he and other chiefs are asking for, saying only that is “one of the questions the court will have to tackle.”

Ontario Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, David Zimmer, says the province is committed to meeting their constitutional obligations. He added: “Ontario would prefer to negotiate rather than litigate as negotiated settlements can result in enduring solutions and strengthened relationships…”

Peltier says he and other chiefs “have been hearing that response from Ontario for a while.” He said he is hopeful that First Nations leaders and the governments can arrive at a solution, “however, we need to get serious about having these discussions.”

The first phase of hearings in the case took place from Sept. 25 to Oct. 20 in Thunder Bay. They now move next to Manitoulin Island, then on to Garden River First Nation, and Sudbury.