Friday, March 28, 2008

Order came from the top

B.C. chiefs enter fray at Barrière Lake

Quebec Indian Affairs office accused of meddling in First Nations

Jorge Barrera, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A major British Columbia First Nations organization says Indian Affairs is backing one group over another in a bitter leadership dispute that has engulfed the northern Quebec First Nations community of Barrière Lake.

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs has called on Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl to rein in his department's Quebec office and quell the strife that has led to at least 10 arrests and several violent clashes this month in the Algonquin community of 650 people that sits about 300 kilometres north of Ottawa.

"I am urgently appealing for your immediate personal intervention to order cease and desist of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's efforts to unseat the rightful customary leadership of (Barrière Lake)," said the March 20 letter, signed by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. "It is certainly not the role of the department ... to arbitrarily decide the outcome of customary leadership selection processes, which the Quebec regional office ... has done in this case."

The letter also backs the leadership of ousted acting chief Benjamin Nottaway.

The letter did not sit well with Barrière Lake Chief Casey Ratt, who said Grand Chief Phillip should stay out of the affair.

"I don't think any chief has the right to come into a community and decide who is going to be chief or not," said Chief Ratt.

Indian Affairs "acknowledged" Chief Ratt's leadership in a March 10 letter that said the department would no longer deal with the previous leadership. The letter arrived after a chaotic week on the reserve that was triggered when the previous leadership tried to ban Chief Ratt, his father and two other men from the community.

Mr. Strahl's office referred queries to Pierre Nepton, Indian Affairs' associate regional director for Quebec. Mr. Nepton said the final decision to acknowledge Chief Ratt's leadership came from Ottawa. The department was simply following the wishes of the community, said Mr. Nepton.

The situation on the reserve remains tense.

The Sûreté du Québec said it has resumed normal policing duties on the reserve.

Chief Ratt's opponents continue to reach out for support. They have sent a messenger to one of three Longhouses in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, which sits near Montreal.