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Karen Felker was mystified when the federal government cheque for $216 turned up on her desk.

"I couldn't figure out what it was for," recalled the chief of West Point First Nation, a 72-member band near Hay River, NWT.

Her confusion soon turned to anger when she realized it was the band's annual hunting and fishing allowance.

"That's $3 a person," she said. "In the Northwest Territories, you can buy a coffee for that. You can't buy nets to catch fish, ammunition to hunt animals."

The harvesters' allowance is a legal provision under Treaty 11, signed in 1921. The government used to send the actual supplies, twine and ammunition ($3 worth for every band member), but replaced it with money in the early 1990s without consulting the band.

In a move that has caught the attention of aboriginal bands across the country, Ms. Felker, 41, sent the cheque back to Ottawa this month with a terse warning that it won't accept any more money until the federal government accounts for inflation or at least sends actual hunting supplies.

The band is also threatening to send back an annuity -- $5 a person -- that every band member is entitled to according to Treaty 11. Council members and chiefs receive slightly more.

"This money is an insult," Ms. Felker said.

The chief of this tiny band located on the shores of Great Slave Lake knows they are in for a long and arduous fight with Ottawa.

"We are one of the smallest bands around," she said. "We have the smallest voice . . . but enough is enough. This is wrong."

More than 300,000 status Indians who were born to one of the 11 numbered treaties signed during the 60 years after Confederation vividly understand West Point First Nation's point. These now measly annuities and harvesters' allowances were also written into their treaties.

"This money has been a joke for a long time," said Mel Buffalo, president of the Indian Association of Alberta and a member of a Treaty 6 band.

He said most bands don't publicly balk at the amount of money because it's largely become a potent symbol of the treaties signed by their ancestors and the Crown.

"Every year, we get the money and every year we are reminded of the treaty and what happened," he said.

He applauds Ms. Felker and her band's stand and hopes it's the start of a trend. "Maybe if more people did that, the government would sit up and take notice and say: 'Hey, we have to do something. We have to right a wrong that has been out there,' " Mr. Buffalo said.

The annuity and other provisions such as the harvesters' allowance are usually handed out during what's known in Western Canada and the territories as Treaty Day. The annual event takes place on different dates in June and early July depending on which treaty is being commemorated.

The day is steeped in tradition and not much has changed since the deals were inked.

Each side comes fully decked out in ceremonial garb. The RCMP officers, who decades ago helped negotiate these deals that saw the Crown secure large tracts of land in exchange for provisions such as the treaty payments, are dressed in their scarlet tunics and Stetsons. The aboriginal leaders wear their headdresses and deerskin regalia.

Some bands have turned the day into a large-scale celebration, such as Peguis First Nation, located 190 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

The band, which has been lobbying for an annuity increase for years, puts politics and bitterness about the effects of its treaty aside on this day and instead opts for a community party, complete with powwows, native dance competitions and even a midway.

The event, which marks the signing of Treaty 1 on Aug. 3, 1871, attracts many non-aboriginals.

James Dempsey, a professor at the University of Alberta's School of Native Studies and an expert on treaties, said when the deals where originally stuck, the Crown did little to make sure they stood up for a great length of time.

He said the government's intention was to assimilate aboriginals and provisions such as the $5 payments weren't important because it was widely assumed that by now they would no longer be paid.

Prof. Dempsey, a member of Alberta's Blood tribe and Treaty 7, said most aboriginals have a love-hate relationship with Treaty Day and all that comes with it.

"Despite the frustration, many still feel the treaties are sacred because of the overall intention," he said. "It represents to Indians what promises were made by the government at the time that the treaty was signed."

He said that over the years, some bands joined forces after Ottawa broke provisions outlined in the treaties.

For instance, Prof. Dempsey said, during the 1970s, several bands under Treaty 7 sued Ottawa after it decided to stop sending them ammunition, despite it clearly being written in that treaty. The bands won a $300,000 payment.

There has been little public debate on annuities, Prof. Dempsey noted. He said it would be a difficult fight to win because it's a provision that is being honoured, not broken, by the federal government.

Two years ago, the Treaty Annuity Work Group, which is affiliated with the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, published a report on the issue. The group, headed by Métis intellectual and former Manitoba MLA Jean Allard, recommended the annual treaty payments be increased from $5 to an amount that brings it closer to a yearly livable salary for families.

Mr. Allard has long advocated giving more government money directly to individual natives instead of the current system where it is sent to a band and then divvied up.

Patricia Valladao, a spokeswoman for the federal government's Indian and Northern Affairs Department, said the annuities and other provisions such as the harvesters' allowance aren't negotiable.

"Treaty annuities are the fulfilment of a specific legal obligation created by a treaty between [the Crown]and the signatory bands. Treaties do not provide for an increase in the value of the treaty annuities or other provisions."

Ms. Valladao said that in the case of West Point First Nation, the money it sent back will be put in a special fund and will be returned in full if the band eventually decides to collect it.