Boyce Richardson, author, journalist, filmmaker. His books include Strangers Devour the Land, and People of Terra Nullius: Betrayal and Rebirth in Aboriginal Canada. He was a recipient of the Order of the Canada in 2002.
I have known people in Barriere Lake since the late 1980s. I have written
extensively about them, and filmed them for a National Film Board film. I
have found them down-to-earth people with a real attachment to the land, an
attachment that they have continued even when pushed up against
extraordinary interference and provocation by governments and businesses. I
have found many of them to be repositories of the ancient bush wisdom of
When the original split occurred within the community I was in the position
of knowing, liking and admiring people on both sides of the argument.
What dismayed me was the evident determination of the federal government to
seize the initiative by embarking on their customary divide-and-rule
Their decision to replace the original band council with a council made up
of dissidents was, in my view, inexcusable. But then, who could have been
surprised? The decisions to rob Barriere Lake of its traditional hunting
grounds; the decision to jam Barriere Lake people into the 59 acres of Rapid
Lake; the many failed programmes, programmed to fail, as far as I could
judge; the manifest bad faith of the federal government in its negotiations
over the Trilateral Agreement: all of these were inexcusable, so the later
decision to intervene in the governance of Barriere Lake was no more than a
continuation of the many years of neglect, misunderstanding and arrogance in
relation to Barriere Lake that the federal government showed.
In fact, the history of Barriere Lake since Europeans first arrived among
them could stand as a template for the experience of Aboriginal people in
Canada --- theirs has been a history of hardship, promises and betrayals.
Is this the best that these people can expect in the way of governance? Is
this the best they can hope for in the way of financial and moral support
from the federal government, the government constitutionally responsible for
the care of these people?
Barriere Lake suffers from being remote from the cities; it is difficult for
them to get a real hearing in the cities. And the fact that they are poor,
in addition, puts them into the category of voiceless people occupying the
bottom rung of Canadian society.
I heartily support the actions of Barriere Lake as they struggle to keep
their heads above water, and battle to get the governments to fulfill the
many promises that have been made to them over recent decades.