Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Globe & Mail: Government-imposed chief's house burns downs

www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ story/LAC.20080604.BARRIERE04/TPStory/National

The Globe & Mail finally deigned to report on the situation in Barriere Lake, after a hiatus of several months. They weren't interested in the government orchestrated coup d'etat of March, nor the several protests conducted by the community in the ensuing months. But a fire, that's sensational!

Bill Curry has written previously about Barriere Lake, one article about Barriere Lake's short-lived camp-out on Parliament Hill in the summer of 2007, and another about the school closing in the community. The first was decent, but the second uncritically accepted the government's description of events, assuming that their "intervention" in the community was well-intentioned. But there are mounds of legal evidence, freely available on our website, accessible to Curry, that conclusivly demonstrate otherwise. Curry has also yet to visit the reservation.

This latest article, however, is quite bad. There's nothing like an alleged arson, as well as allegations of band "corruption," to stoke the usual prejudices about natives, in a story mostly devoid of the necessary political context.

Arson suspected after fire levels native chief's house


June 4, 2008

OTTAWA -- Quebec police are launching a criminal investigation into a suspected arson on the Barriere Lake reserve after the house of a native chief went up in flames over the weekend.

Police say investigators discovered flammable liquid at the scene, leading them to suspect criminal activity.

The possibility of arson raises the stakes in a bitter leadership dispute that has divided this impoverished Quebec Algonquin community 300 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

["Divided" gives the impression of an balanced split; but the deposed Chief and Council are supported by a large majority. Even if Curry didn't have time to visit the reservation, and make a judgement for himself, he could have read Quebec Superior Court judge Rejean Paul's report from 2007, issued at time of the last leadership "challenge." It is available on our resources section. Judge Paul labelled the faction now collaborating with the federal government a "small minority" that "clumsily followed the Customary Governance Code." There is no evidence available to indicate that the number or the lack of respect for customary procedures has changed. ]

Chief Casey Ratt, 35, lived in the small, two-bedroom home with his pregnant wife, two sons and his mother and father. They were looking for a new place to live yesterday. He says he has no doubt the fire was deliberate.

"Right now, we're not quite sure who it is, but we suspect it's the opposition," he said.

Mr. Ratt and a new council were chosen in a band procedure earlier this year.

[Calling the minority faction's leadership challenge a "band procedure" lends it a legitimacy there is no reason to believe it deserves]

The fire occurred on Sunday morning while the Ratt family was at a powwow in Maniwaki, about 200 kilometres southeast of Barriere Lake. The family had already been concerned for their safety. On the previous Tuesday evening, Mr. Ratt said he was watching television with his mother and four-year-old son when vandals smashed his bedroom window and fled.

"The whole window just shattered," he said.

Mr. Ratt and the new members of council say they organized their bid to replace the previous chief and council in January as a group of concerned parents taking a stand against what they saw as a corrupt traditional leadership. Frustrated by alleged mismanagement of the local school and band finances, they called a special community meeting to trigger a provision of the band's leadership code for replacing the chief and council.

["Corrupt native leadership" just sets bells ringing in the minds of Canadians systematically mis-educated by mainstream journalism. A responsible journalist might seek out a smidgen of evidence for this allegation, or at the least ask Mr. Ratt what he means. But when the subject is the alleged corruption of native leadership, well, you don't really need evidence. If Curry had done some digging, he might also have discovered that there is no "provision" that the community can trigger to replace the chief and council; there is, however, a mechanism that can be triggered for a leadership review by Barriere Lake's Elder's Council. In this case, there had been no consensus amongst the Elders about the need for such review (this can be read about in the legal challenge on our resources pages).]

The previous chief and council, led by Benjamin Nottaway, say the meeting was not legitimate and insist they are still in charge. The umbrella regional native group, the Algonquin Nation Secretariat, continues to support Mr. Nottaway as chief.

Mr. Nottaway said yesterday he doubts the fire was deliberate, but if it was, Mr. Ratt's supporters did it to win public support.

"If they're calling it arson, they have the money to pay their own supporters to go burn his own house down," he said. "Us, we're broke. Why would we be doing that?"

Mr. Nottaway and his supporters say Mr. Ratt has been imposed on the community by non-native outsiders because his administration has been too vocal in fighting for a cut of Quebec's natural resources. The reserve used to have its own police force, but Barriere Lake was recently placed under third-party management because of long-standing federal concerns about the way it was run.

[Long-standing federal concerns about the way the community is run is a by-word for: the government is upset that the Algonquins of Barriere Lake will not take an assault on their rights sitting down]

The old chief and council accuse the Quebec and federal governments of using the provincial police to impose a less confrontational chief, claiming that only 30 or 40 people attended the meeting at which the new chief and council were selected, and most of those were band members who don't live on the reserve.

[This happens to be the key to the issue – naturally, the G & M relegates it to the bottom of the article. The number of 30 or 40 is probably accurate, but the only reason we don't know for sure is because the federal government refuses to reveal the report filed by a Maniwaki social worker who observed the process, and which provided the information that the government claims justified the leadership change.]