July 3rd, 2008
Patience isn't such a virtue, it seems. On June 25, a group of Algonquin youths from Barrière Lake and supporters entered the Gatineau office of Conservative MP Lawrence Cannon. For hours they refused to leave unless they were granted a meeting with him. In the end, the only response to their endurance came from police: six demonstrators, including one minor, were taken to Hull Prison.
The impoverished Algonquin community of Barrière Lake, located about 300 km north of Ottawa in Quebec, has already been waiting for more than 20 years for the government to comply with a landmark 1991 agreement to conserve the forest and wildlife, and to give them a share in the revenue from the logging and hydro projects on their traditional territories. Corporations extract $100-million a year, while the local unemployment rate is 90 per cent.
In March, members of the population protested what they called a "government orchestrated coup d'état," in which the previous Customary Council Chief, Benjamin Nottaway, was ousted by rivals alleging mismanagement. Things heated up on June 1, when government-supported Chief Casey Ratt's house burned down. Responding to a police investigation of the suspected arson, Nottaway issued a statement denying that he or any member of the Customary Council were responsible.
"There's no doubt that the Department [of Indian Affairs] recognizes a minority faction. The reason why they recognize this Council is because they don't want to recognize the agreement that we signed previously,"
says Michel Thusky, a community spokesperson whose daughter was one of those arrested in Cannon's office.
The demonstrators wanted to meet with the Minster to demand a leadership reselection process, with outside observers, and an end to government interference in the internal governance of Barrière Lake.
Thusky asks people in outside communities to help put pressure on Cannon and the Department of Indian Affairs. "I'm a residential school survivor. When Prime Minister Harper made his apology... it really deepened my wound, because here he is, saying one thing, and doing the opposite. He can keep his apology."
Martin Lukacs is a member of Montreal's Barrière Lake solidarity collective who was also arrested on June 25. "We told them we would stop disobeying the law if Cannon did as well. It's a small act of civil disobedience to draw attention to a far greater crime." Cannon was not available for comment at press time.
They were released after being charged with trespassing, causing a disturbance and interfering with the lawful use of property. "It's ironic because the demand we're making is that Cannon's Conservative government should stop interfering with the lawful governance of Barrière Lake," he points out.
Lukacs says that there will be more such actions if that's what it takes. "The community has never taken this government manipulation on their knees."