Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A quiet "coup d'état"

Riot police ensure calm at Barrière Lake

Chief Casey Ratt returns to reserve

Jorge Barrera, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

BARRIERE LAKE, Que. - An uneasy calm descended on the Barrière Lake reserve yesterday as Sûreté du Québec officers equipped with riot gear ensured that the return of the Algonquin community's new chief did not spark another round of violent clashes.

Police controlled the flow of traffic into the community, letting in cars four at a time while a group of about two dozen men, women and children loyal to the previous leadership held signs supporting him and heckled supporters of Chief Casey Ratt.

"We are trying to show the people that we don't agree with Indian Affairs choosing who is in control" said Margaret Wawati, 54, who was demonstrating against Chief Ratt. "The majority of the people here are not in favour of (Ratt)."

The leadership 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 Benjamin 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.

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

A dispute erupted in violent clashes last week between community members after Chief Ratt was given an ultimatum to either stop lobbying for recognition as chief or face permanent banishment from the community, which is 300 kilometres north of Ottawa. Indian Affairs legitimized Chief Ratt's leadership in a letter issued Monday that said the department would now only deal with his council.

Chief Ratt and his supporters returned to Barrière Lake yesterday amid threats they would be met with barricades.

The Sûreté cleared away several logs yesterday morning that had been placed across the seven-kilometre road leading to the reserve, which sits off Highway 117. They set up a checkpoint near the highway and another at the edge of the community. Officers in riot gear sat in their cruisers.

Much of the anger among Chief Ratt's opponents was directed at Indian Affairs, which they accused of helping orchestrate "a coup d'état."

"We are going to keep on fighting the government for the decision they made," said Mr. Matchewan, the former chief.