Mitchikanibikok Inik, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake (ABL), have lived on their territory for thousands of years. Teachings, knowledge and respect are passed down from generation to generation. The Barriere Lake community is among the few Indigenous communities across northern Turtle Island – Canada – that still speaks their own language, maintains their customs and carries out their customary way of life including a traditional leadership selection and governance process.
The vast territory of Mitchikanibikok Inik (15,000 square kilometers) covers the area of La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve located in north-west of Quebec. Mitchikanibikok Inik have never ceded or surrendered their territory.
The Trilateral Agreement
To protect the water, forest, plants and wildlife that the Algonquin people’s very existence depends on, the Barriere Lake community negotiated and signed with Canada and Quebec in 1991 a landmark sustainable co-management agreement over the 10,000 square kilometres of their land. This Trilateral Agreement recognizes the right of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake to have a decisive say about development on their territory and a modest share of approximately $1.5 million of the $100 million in annual revenues from resource extraction, hydroelectricity and tourism operations within the Trilateral Agreement territory. The agreement was praised by the United Nations and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples as an “environmental trailblazer and a model of co-existence” between Indigenous peoples and the states.
Forced Assimilation – Section 74 of Indian Act
Neither Canada nor Quebec are honouring the agreement. Instead, Canada has sought to undermine it by interfering in Barriere Lake’s customary governance. The latest attempt of the Canadian government is to forcibly assimilate Barriere Lake’s customary governance system by using an archaic and rarely invoked piece of Indian Act legislation – Section 74. The community attributes the strength of their Algonquin language, culture, and protection of the land to the endurance of their own governance system, the Mitchikanibikok Anishinabe Onakinakewin. By breaking the Algonquin’s connection to the land, the Canadian and Quebec governments hope to get away with violating resource-use agreements by permittingclear-cutting and other resource extraction activities in their traditional territory.
During the summer of 2010, Canada imposed a chief and council election on Barriere lake community and acclaimed a chief and four councils based on 10 mailed-in ballots for the community of 450 people. The majority of the community members do not want the Indian Act band-council electoral system. Before the imposition of the election, 200 Barriere Lake community members signed a community resolution in support of the Mitchikanibikok Anishinabe Onakinakewin. The INAC acclaimed chief has since rejected the position to show his solidarity. And since then, the four band councils have been in discussion and making deals with forestry and mining exploration corporations to open their land for unsustainable development, including the copper nickel exploration project – Rivière Doré by Copper One Inc. based in Montreal, without any consultation with the community. The mining exploration project is, in fact, in the heart of the hunting and fishing areas of several families that straddles two watersheds, the Gatineau River and Cabonga River; both of which eventually flow into the Ottawa River.
As a result of Canada’s interference in their internal affairs since 1996, the community has a history of diviision. However, since the imposition of Section 74 of the Indian Act, the community of Barriere Lake has gone through a reconciliation process to unite themselves once again to fight for their land, identity and way of life. Currently, the community has come together and plans to undertaken a customary leadership selection process. United, Mitchikanibikok Inik demand Canada and Quebec to negotiate with the duly selected customary leadership for the implementation of the Trilateral Agreement.
For a recent history of Barriere Lake’s struggle, please visit these two pages: