Tuesday, March 11, 2008

DIA deposes customary council, again


Rivals promise to bar new chief at Barrière Lake

Indian Affairs Recognizes New Leader, Council Members

Jorge Barrera, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Indian Affairs Yesterday Recognized a New Chief and Council as the Legitimate Leadership of a Troubled Algonquin Band, Triggering Warnings of More Strife on Quebec's Barrière Lake Reserve.

The long-running internal conflict at Barrière Lake exploded last week with clashes and arrests, and the band's previous leadership vowed it would never accept the department's decision.

Barrière Lake reserve, about 300 kilometres north of Ottawa, remains on edge with supporters of the previous leadership planning to block today's scheduled return of new Chief Casey Ratt and his councillors. Chief Ratt and his supporters left the community for the weekend after a series of clashes last week forced the Sûreté du Québec to intervene in large numbers and arrest six people on both sides.

Chief Ratt said he and his supporters planned to re-enter Barrière Lake today at about 2 p.m. He said the leadership struggle had split families and friends, but he hoped Indian Affairs' recognition would help everyone move on.

"Hopefully, this does not get out of hand. I am trying to look at both sides and I don't want anyone arrested or hurt," he said. "We don't know what their attitude will be towards us. I know it will not be with open arms."

In a letter faxed to Chief Ratt yesterday, André Côté, Indian Affairs' Quebec regional director general, acknowledged Chief Ratt as the new chief and urged him mend frayed relations.

"The department is fully cognizant of the difficult situation and the internal conflicts afflicting the community," Mr. Côté wrote.

Former acting chief Benjamin Nottaway said Chief Ratt would not be allowed back into Barrière Lake.

"The plan is not to let them through," he said. "The majority are ticked off. They don't like (Indian Affairs') decision at all."

Mr. Nottaway also sent a letter to Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, warning him to "act carefully" and "reconsider" the decision to recognize Chief Ratt and his councillors. The letter also called for a judicial inquiry into the actions of Indian Affairs' Quebec office.

Four men were arrested by the Sûreté du Québec yesterday after they were caught cutting trees in preparation for a barricade near the entrance to the community.

Sgt. Gilles Mitchell said the police were also still investigating what charges could be laid against those arrested last week.

The crisis began last September, when former chief Jean Maurice Matchewan stepped down after being charged with gun- and drug-related offences. He remained on council, and Mr. Nottaway was named acting chief.

Chief Ratt said the change was made without consultation and his supporters held their own selection process, which ended in January.

The Algonquin Nation Secretariat, a tribal council that counts Barrière Lake as a member, recognized Mr. Nottaway as the legitimate chief on Feb. 22.