Press release: Barriere Lake governance


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Canada seeks to unconstitutionally abolish Algonquin’s customary government to avoid honouring agreements and recognizing legitimate leadership

Kitiganik/Rapid Lake, Algonquin Territory:– On Friday, October 30, 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 a section of the Indian Act that would abolish the customary method they use to select their leaders.

The attempt at assimilation would be a violation of Barriere Lake’s constitutionally-protected Aboriginal right to their customary system of government.

“The Canadian government doesn’t want to deal with our Customary Chief and Council because we are demanding that the federal and Quebec governments implement agreements they signed with us regarding the exploitation of our lands and resources. So rather than recognize me, they want to do away with our customary system of government by which I was selected,” says Jean Maurice Matchewan, Customary Chief of Barriere Lake. “And while they are not recognizing our community’s legitimate leadership, Quebec has been taking advantage by illegally allowing forestry companies to clear-cut our forests in violation of our Trilateral agreement.”

Documents released under court-order indicate the Government of Canada was invested in quashing the precedent-setting Trilateral agreement, signed with Barriere Lake in 1991, and undermining Barriere Lake’s legitimate Customary Chief and Council.[1]

Jean Maurice Matchewan was reselected as Customary Chief on June 24, 2009, but the Government of Canada has refused to answer six consecutive letters sent by Barriere Lake’s lawyers, the last on Thursday, October 29, requesting that the Government recognize this result. The June leadership selection process was facilitated by Keith Penner, a former Member of Parliament who chaired the Special Parliamentary Committee on Indian Self-Government in 1983 that culminated in the historic Penner Report on Indian First Nations Self-Government. Penner concluded that Matchewan and his Council “followed and adhered to in each and every respect” Barriere Lake’s Customary Governance Code and are the “the legitimate and properly constituted leaders,” a result which should clear up confusion about the identity of Barriere Lake’s legitimate Customary Chief and Council.[2]

At a Federal Court hearing on September 24, 2009, Prothontary Tabib urged the Minister, in light of the new leadership selection, to withdraw his recognition of Casey Ratt, whom the Minister has been dealing with as Chief since March 2008.  This could allow the claims to leadership to be resolved through the Courts. Rather than recognize the June leadership selection or take direction from the Courts. Minister Strahl has decided to impose elections on Barriere Lake, alleging the community is “lacking the political will and the governance tools to resolve this matter” of their leadership selection.

“We already have a Customary Governance Code, which would work well if it were not for the internal interference of the Government of Canada. First the Government of Canada recognized and worked with a minority faction which didn’t respect our Customary Governance Code, in order to derail our signed agreements. Now that we have the Government backed into a corner because of our legal challenges and the recent leadership selection process, which was documented by credible witnesses, they are trying to win some more time by attacking our customs,” says Customary Chief Matchewan.

Section 74 of the Indian Act states that the Minister of Indian Affairs can impose an electoral system on First Nations with customary leadership selection processes. But Barriere Lake’s Customary governance code is recognized and affirmed by Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, and the Minister is therefore prevented from changing their customary system of government.

Barriere Lake wants Canada and Quebec to uphold signed agreements dating back to the 1991 Trilateral Agreement, a landmark sustainable development and resource co-management agreement praised by the United Nations and the Royal Commission since 2001. Quebec signed a complementary Bilateral Agreement in 1998, but has stalled implementation despite the 2006 recommendations of two former Quebec Cabinet Ministers, Quebec special representative John Ciaccia and Barriere Lake special representative Clifford Lincoln, that the agreement be implemented. The 2006 recommendations include forest plans to harmonize logging operations with the Algonquin’s land use and revenue-sharing to give the Algonquins a $1.5 million share of the $100 million in resource revenue that comes out of their territory every year.

The Algonquin Nation Secretariat, a Tribal Council representing three Algonquin communities including Barriere Lake, continues to support Chief Matchewan.

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Media contacts:
Jean Maurice Matchewan, Customary Chief of Barriere Lake: 819-435-2136