In 1991, Mitchikanibikok Inik (Algonquins of Barriere Lake, or ABL) negotiated a groundbreaking Trilateral Agreement with Canada and Quebec giving their joint management of their territory. Both governments refuse to honor the agreement. Algonquins of Barriere Lake is a 450-person community located at Rapid lake; 4 hours north of Ottawa.
Their 59 acre reserve at Rapid Lake was established in 1961. ABL community relies on diesel generators for electricity even though they are situated on hydro-grid. Because the generators have operated at fully capacity and also the reserve is too small, no more new houses or buildings can be added to the community.
The housing on the reserve is under very critical condition. Most of the houses are moldy and over crowded with 8 to 18 people living in one house. Over 80% of community members are unemployed.
Due to the dire housing situation in the community, Quebec Youth Protection Agency is refusing to allow infants to return to the community from the hospital.
Language is culture! Despite the colonial oppressions from Canada and Quebec, ABL community members still speak their own language – the oldest dialect of the Algonquin language.
The territory of Algonquins of Barriere Lake covers the area of La Verendrye wildlife reserve, north of Maniwaki, Quebec. Mitchikanibikok Inik has never surrendered Aboriginal title to its territory.
1989 – Unrestrained clear-cut logging within La Verendrye wildlife reserve depleted the animals they hunt and trap, consequently threatened Algonquins’ way of life and subsistence. ABL blockaded logging roads under the leadership of their customary chief Jean-Maurice Matchewan to protest clear-cutting operations.
For background leading up to the signed Trilateral Agreement, watch this NFB film directed by Boyce Richardson: Blockade – Algonquins Defend The Forest.
You can watch it online http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2014545830459943832 or
check out the DVD at http://onf-nfb.gc.ca/eng/collection/film/?id=18423
1991 – ABL signed Trilateral Agreement with Canada and Quebec to sustainably co-manage 10,000 square kilometers of ABL’s traditional territory. Under this agreement, ABL community is able to protect their traditional way of life and receive 1.5 million out of 100 million annual revenues through logging, hydro-electricity and tourism from their land.
1996 – Canada imposed an Interim Band Council (selection by petition) and placed ABL in Third Party Management (TPM).
ABL codified its traditional oral customs into “Mitchikanibikok Inik Anishinabe Onakinakewin” (Customary Governance Code) at the insistence of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
1997 – Quebec Superior Court Judge, Rejean Paul issued a mediation report confirming the legitimacy of ABL’s Customary Chief and Council led by Harry Wawati, and therefore Canada wrongly interfered in ABL’s customary governance. Canada reversed its decision on the interim Band Council and Third Party Management and recognized the legitimacy of ABL’s Customary Chief and Council.
ABL and Canada signed Memorandum of Mutual Intent and a Global Proposal to Rebuild the Community. ABL and Canada also signed Special Provisions Agreement, which commits Canada to engage in a process with ABL to address the financial issues related to Canada’s interference with ABL’s governance in 1996-97.
1998 – ABL entered Bilateral Agreement with Quebec.
2001 – Canada withdrew from Trilateral Agreement
2006 – ABL negotiator, Clifford Lincoln, and Quebec’s negotiator, John Ciaccia, jointly issued a series of recommendations for co-management of the territory, resource revenue sharing, expansion of the reserve and connection to the hydro grid. Read about the recommendations: Bilateral Agreement – 2006 Lincoln-Ciaccia recommendations
Canada refused to recognize the legitimate Jean-Maurice Matchewan Chief and Council due to a new leadership selection process. Canada made a decision to put the community into Third Party Management (TPM) in July because of financial deficient.
Third Party Management (TPM) – An outside manager is hired by the department of Indian Affairs to deliver the programs and services on the reserve. The Chief and Council have no say under TPM.
As a result of TPM:
- Local services have been reallocated to friends and relatives of the Third Party Management, some from off-reserve.
- Local school teachers have been replaced with teachers who do not speak Algonquin, and the curriculum has been changed to eliminate traditional teachings.
- Services have deteriorated.
- Non-TPM supporters who did retain local jobs were made to feel threatened at work.
- Locks on community buildings such as band offices, community centre, fire hall and gymnasium are changed to exclusion of local residents.
- Roughly 80% of the community has stopped accepting services from TPM.
2007 – Quebec Superior Court Judge, Rejean Paul issued a mediation report confirming the legitimacy of ABL’s Customary Chief and Council led by Jean-Maurice Matchewan. Canada had no choice but recognize Jean-Maurice Matchewan’s leadership.
March 2008 – Once again, Canada intervened with ABL’s self-governance by recognize a Chief and Council not selected by the community according to the community’s customs. Benjamin Nottaway, the Customary Council Chief at that time was ousted by Canada in what many have called a “government orchestrated coup d’état.” (Coup d’état in Indian Country Community members say traditional leadership ousted by the Canadian government – http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/1803)
The Barrier Lake community demands that Canada and Quebec honour signed agreements and respect their traditional governance.
- That the Government of Canada agree to respect the outcome of a new leadership re-selection process, with outside observers, recognize the resulting Customary Chief and Council, and cease all interference in the internal governance of Barriere Lake.
- That the Government of Canada agree to the immediate incorporation of an Algonquin language and culture program into the primary school curriculum.
- That the Government of Canada honour signed agreements with Barriere Lake, including the Trilateral, the Memorandum of Mutual Intent, and the Special Provisions, all of which it has illegally terminated.
- That the Government of Canada revoke Third Party Management, which was imposed unjustly on Barriere Lake.
- That the Province of Quebec honour signed agreements with Barriere Lake, including the 1991 Trilateral and 1998 Bilateral agreements, and adopt for implementation the Lincoln-Ciaccia joint recommendations, including $1.5 million in resource-revenue sharing.
- That the Government of Canada and the Province of Quebec initiate a judicial inquiry into the Quebec Regional Office of the Department of Indian Affairs’ treatment of Barriere Lake and other First Nations who may request to be included.
- The Government of Quebec, in consultation with First Nations, conduct a review of the recommendations of the Ontario Ipperwash Commission for guidance towards improving Quebec-First Nation relations and improving the policing procedures of the SQ when policing First Nation communities.
Listen to Russell Diabo on the History of Barriere Lake leading up to the 2008 Blockade (held at Native Friendship Centre Montreal, on 4 November 2008) http://www.ncra.ca/business/admin_ncra/progex/programFiles/598/Defenders_of_the_Land_-_Russ_Diabo_-_Nov_4.mp3
October 2008 – the Barriere Lake Algonquins (Mitchikinabikok Inik) and non-native supporters blockaded Highway 117 ” an obscure but economically important link between Montreal and northern Quebec.” (video – http://blip.tv/file/1391794). The community, including Elders, youth and children, were met with a brutal police response from Sûreté du Québec (SQ). Riot cops used tear gas and pain compliance, instead of negotiators. The police response has drawn criticism from international human rights groups, the Chiefs of Ontario, and the Christian Peacemaker Team.
November 2008 – With no response from the governments on entering a negotiation, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake and allies blockaded the highway again on Nov. 18, 2008. This time, SQ police deliberately targeted community members and arrested four Algonquins, including Acting Chief Benjamin Nottaway. (video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyGBFMwjhXM).
Recently revealed correspondence between the head of Indian and Northern Affairs of Canada (INAC) Chuck Strahl and Marc Perron, a representative for the Minister during an alternative dispute resolution process between the federal government and Algonquin of Barriere Lake First Nation in the fall of 2007, backed up the claim of INAC sponsored coup d’etat. The correspondence was obtained under court-order. Read “Another Smoking Gun: Top Diplomat’s report to Minister laid out strategy for government subversion of Algonquin community” http://barrierelakesolidarity.blogspot.com/2009/08/another-smoking-gun-top-diplomats.htmlfor more details.
June 2009 – Customary Chief Benjamin Nottaway sent letters to forestry companies – Domtar, AbitibiBowater, Commonwealth Plywood, Bois Omega, and Louisiana Pacific, notified them the suspension of new logging within the 10,000 square kilometres of their traditional territory covered by Trilateral Agreement between Barriere Lake and Quebec and Canada, until Canada and Quebec uphold the signed agreements. (Source: http://www.indigenousportal.com/Self-Determination/Algonquin-ban-logging-in-vast-traditional-territory-until-Quebec-and-Canada-respect-agreements.html)
September 2009 – Algonquins placed bodies in front of logging machines: prevent logging until Quebec and Canada respect agreements and leadership – http://barrierelakesolidarity.blogspot.com/2009/09/medias-release-algonquins-place-bodies.html.
October, 2009 – Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl sent notice to the Algonquins of Barriere Lake that he will not recognize their legitimate leadership, but instead impose elections on the community in April, 2010 by invoking Section 74 of the Indian Act that would abolish the customary method they use to select their leaders.” Press Release – Canada seeks to unconstitutionally abolish Algonquin’s customary government to avoid honouring agreements and recognizing legitimate leadership – https://ipsmo.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/release-barriere-lake-governance/.
Section 74 of the Indian Act: “Whenever he deems it advisable for the good government of a band, the Minister may declare by order that after a day to be named therein the council of the band, consisting of a chief and councillors, shall be selected by elections to be held in accordance with this Act.”
According to Section 35 of 1982 Constitution, Canada “recognizes and affirms the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of aboriginal peoples”. Barrier Lake’s customs were not extinguished prior to the entrenchment of Aboriginal rights in the Constitution Act, 1982; therefore ABL Customary Governance Code is constitutionally protected. The Minister of Indian Affairs is prevented from changing their customary system of government.
- Imposition of Section 74 is an attack to the ABL Customary practice which is passed by their ancestor to protect their identity, culture, language and territory against acts of assimilation, marginalization and discrimination.
- According to the Customary Governance code, elders play key role in governance: nominating potential leadership candidates, who would be approved or rejected by community members in public assemblies.
- To be part of leadership selections and decision making: you must be an adult, live within the traditional territories at least 12 months, speak the language, and have knowledge and connection to the land. Chief’s position is based on hereditary entitlement, leadership abilities, knowledge of the land, and community support. Leaders can be removed by will of the people.
- ABL’s Customary government is directly democratic form of government accords well with decentralized organization.
- If ABL customary governance structure is being replaced by the election system, it would open up voting to non-residents who have no connection to the land, consequently, jeopardize proving Aboriginal title to their territory. It would further contribute to Canada’s agenda of assimilation, extinguishment of Aboriginal title and collective rights of Indigenous peoples.
July 2010 – Barriere Lake community members set up a peaceful blockade on the access road to their reserve to prevent an electoral officer from conducting a nomination meeting for Indian Act band elections.
August 2010 – On August 12, another nomination meeting was called. Barriere Lake Algonquins mounted boycott of government-imposed election poll in face of threats of arrest by Quebec police. On August 13, despite overwhelming community opposition, the Department of Indian Affairs announced that a new Indian Act Chief and Council have been elected by acclamation in Barriere Lake, after between 6 and 10 nomination mail-in ballots were received by a government electoral officer. On August 20, the acclaimed Chief, Casey Ratt, announced he rejected the Indian Act Chief position.
In Solidarity with Mitchikanibikok Inik (Algonquins of Barriere Lake)
“Our Feast is where we give thanks for what we feed our families, the foods that come from our lands and waters. The Three String Wampum is a symbol for shaking hands with our Brothers and Sisters, their children and all living things. This is where our teachings come from. We have a big responsibility: To Protect Our Land, To Protect Our Animals, Fish and Birds. To defend our hunting way of life so our teachings and our feast will continue to exist for our children, grandchildren and the coming generations, along with our Language and Beliefs.”
– from the Algonquins of Barriere Lake Community
Majority of us have long forgotten our connection to the land, where our food, clothes and everything else come from, as we are so entrenched in this capitalist, industrial society. Majority of us have also long forgotten why our ancestors immigrated to this land long ago at the first place. The Algonquins made an agreement with the English and French to live together in harmony, which is well documented in the Three Figure Wampum. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 promised to the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (Canada) that their territories and sovereignty would be protected by the King of Britain. The Royal Proclamation is a legal document and it is still valid today.
The Algonquins have uphold their word to co-exist with the new comers by sharing their majestic lands. However, Canada has constantly broken its promises to remain good relationships with the First peoples of this land by restricting the native peoples living on the reserves, forcing young native children as young as 5 years old to go to residential schools, where majority of the children experienced physical, psychological and/or sexual abuses, giving away their land to corporations for resources exploration and/or exploitation without their consents, providing inadequate child welfare, health care and educational services to the children and families on the reserves, and so on.
Particularly with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, Canada has broken its promises by dishonouring signed agreements: Trilateral Agreement, Memorandum of Mutual Intent & Global Proposal to Rebuild ABL community and the Special Provisions.
We, who are in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, understand that Canada’s ultimate goal is to terminate Indigenous peoples, so the elites can take their lands without stealing them. Greed! That is why Canada has consistently behaved unethically, without respect, towards native peoples on our behalf, in our name.
We, who stand with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, understand that the survival of the Algonquin people, therefore the survival of their lands and waters, means the survival of all of us. We are all connected in this global community. All of us need to understand, care and be responsible for the land.
Therefore, it is our, allies’, responsibility to hold Canada accountable for the broken promises to reconcile with the Algonquins by meeting their demands: uphold the agreements, revoke Third Party Management, respect ABL’s leadership selection, customary code, self-determination and sovereignty.
If you agree with us, feel compassionate towards the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, please talk to us so we can work together in solidarity with the Algonquin people. If you don’t agree with us and think that Canada is working on our best interest and entitled to treat the Algonquins unjustly, please talk to us so we could start a dialogue.
Please contact us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org