Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Community Response to Cannon's Le Droit Letter

Barriere Lake's Response to Federal Conservative MP, Lawrence Cannon's Message in Le Droit


Norman Matchewan
Youth Spokesperson, Barriere Lake

Lawrence Cannon's comments about Barriere Lake are another attempt to discredit us. First his aide insinuates we're alcoholics; now he vilifies our community's majority as "dissidents." How much more racist contempt can we expect from his office?

Our relationship with the federal government has been defined by broken promises and interference in our internal affairs. In 1991, Barriere Lake signed a historic Trilateral agreement with Canada and Quebec to sustainably develop our traditional territories – the United Nations called the plan an environmental "trailblazer."

Yet in 1996, the federal government tried to hijack the agreement by replacing our legitimate Chief and Council with a minority faction who let the agreement fall aside. Former Liberal provincial cabinet minister Michel Gratton condemned the act: "This unilateral and sudden decision to dismiss and replace the existing chief and council," he wrote, "goes against the grain of every democratic principle."

A resolution was achieved in 1997 by Quebec Superior Court Judge Réjean Paul, who restored our legitimate Chief and Council and renewed the Trilateral agreement. To prevent future interference, he helped codify our leadership customs into a Customary Governance Code which the government promised to respect.

Old habits die hard. In 2001, the government pulled out of the Trilateral agreement and started favouring certain community members opposed to our legitimate leadership. Judge Réjean Paul mediated again in 2007, concluding that the opposition to our Chief and Council was "a small minority" whose leadership challenge "did not respect the Customary Governance Code."

But when this same minority group conducted another alleged leadership selection in January 2008, the federal government quickly recognized them. In court, we forced the government to release an observer's report they relied on to recognize the January 2008 leadership selection: not surprisingly, the report stated there was no "guarantee" that the Customary Governance Code was respected. Yet again, the government is throwing democratic principles to the wind by ignoring our customs and the wishes of our people. And Lawrence Cannon has the audacity to call the overwhelming majority of our community members "dissidents"!