Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Canada, Quebec condemned before UN re:Barriere Lake

APRIL 21 - MAY 2, 2008


Arthur Manuel, Spokesperson, Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET)

Chairperson, Members of the Permanent Forum:
I have been asked to make this submission to the Permanent Forum and the delegates, by Elder Harry Wawatie, who is a member of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake Elders Council,

Elder Wawatie thanks you for giving me the opportunity to deliver his message on the mandate of the Permanent Forum the Millenium Development Goals and the matter of Human Rights.


• The Algonquins of Barriere Lake have a population of about 450.
• They have a 59 acre Indian Reserve that was set aside in 1962.
• The housing situation is critical, most of the 60 houses have been condemned by Health Canada for mould infestation, yet the houses are overcrowded with 8 to 18 people living in one house. Quebec’s Youth Protection Agency is refusing to allow infants to return to the community from the hospitals because of the poor housing conditions.
• The unemployment rate is about 80 to 90%.
• The federal government has mismanaged the community’s education services, one study has shown serious age-grade deficiencies under the federal administration of the school.
• The community is one of the last in Quebec who depend on diesel generators for electricity. These generators are operating at full capacity so no no houses or buildings can be added to the community grid.

Despite the poor social and economic conditions, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake have maintained their language, culture and customary system of government.


Over the last 12 years the government of Canada has interfered in the internal affairs of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake three times.

In 1996-97 the Canadian government imposed an outside group as the Chief and Council. The federal government had to reverse its decision and recognize the legitimate customary Chief and Council on April 17, 1997.

In 2006, the federal government refused to recognize the legitimate Chief and Council during a new leadership selection process.

It took the intervention of a Quebec Superior Court Judge, Rejean Paul, who issued a mediation report in May 2007, confirming the legitimacy of the Customary Chief and Council, the Canadian government subsequently had to respect the community’s leadership selection.

However, on March 10, 2008, the government of Canada once again recognized a Chief and Council who according to the Barriere Lake Elders were not selected by the community in accordance with the community’s customs.

The Barriere Lake Elders’ Council has launched a court action against the federal Minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl, to have the Minister’s decision to change the Chief and Council overturned. The Department of Indian Affairs even refuses to release the information they based their decision on, to the Barriere Lake Elders. Even though the Barriere Lake Elders are responsible for overseeing leadership selection under their customs.

Not only is there a flagrant disregard for Indigenous customs regarding leadership selection, but the federal government is using the Quebec police force to install the federally imposed Chief and Council, even though the majority of the people do not agree to recognize the federally imposed group as their leaders.

The result of the federal imposition of an unaccepted Chief and Council has led to problems with the delivery of programs and services and confusion around who is the legitimate leadership.


The federal government is trying to replace the legitimate customary Chief and Council just as negotiations were to start on implementing three major precedent setting agreements the Algonquins of Barriere Lake had entered into with the governments of Canada and Quebec.

In 1991, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake convinced the governments of Canada and Quebec to sign a Trilateral Agreement establishing a pioneering land management planning process based upon the Brundtland Report’s concepts of sustainable development, conservation strategies and that Indigenous Peoples have a ‘decisive voice’ over land use decisions that affect them.

Further agreements were signed with the governments of Canada and Quebec but the governments have continued to try and to get out of their obligations and liabilities under these agreements.

Now, the Canadian government has breached Barriere Lake’s governance customs and replaced their Customary Chief and Council with a federally imposed Chief and Council, in yet another effort to get out of the signed agreements,, because of the precedent setting nature of these agreements.

In contravention of the Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples and the signed agreements with the community, the federal and provincial governments are collaborating on promoting infighting within the community while refusing to honour signed agreements, which contributes to the poor social and economic conditions in the community.

From this case and other like KI, it appears there is a pattern in Canada to remove the Indigenous Peoples from their traditional lands to allow for unfettered corporate resource access and exploitation of forests, minerals, oil & gas and hydro projects.

In conclusion, we recognize that the mandate of the Permanent Forum does not extend to mediating complaints. However, it is our submission the Permanent Forum can examine cases, such as the Barriere Lake situation.

We recommend that the Permanent Forum accelerate the timing of a meeting to determine their role in facilitating the implementation of the UNDRIP, as well as the Millenium Development goals, otherwise the human rights of Indigenous Peoples will continue to be violated by state governments hostile to the norms set out in the UNDRIP.

We also recommend that the Permanent Forum consider ways and means to look into cases like the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, where state governments violate Indigenous cutoms and break signed agreements.