Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Coup in Context

*Reprinted from the Dominion

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Where is Barriere Lake?

The Algonquins of Barriere Lake live just under 5 hours from Montreal, traveling north west. Once you leave the city limits you follow a two lane highway, the 115, that eventually narrows to one, past vacation spots like Mount Tremblant and a number of road-side stands selling poutines and cheeseburgers.

The distance between towns widens, and logging roads start trailing off the highway. Large trucks, perhaps belonging to the American multinational Domtar, stacked high with freshly shaved trees, drive towards one of the local paper mills. In the heart of one of their prime cutting zones sits the Barriere Lake reserve; created in 1961 without consultation with the small Algonquin community's customary chief and council.

Housing conditions

The nomadic community, only a few hundred people strong, was squeezed onto 59 acres in 1961, despite having a traditional territory roughly 17,000 square kilometers large. Some houses on the reservation hold up to 18 people. The land-base is too small to accommodate new houses, and the diesel generators that currently power the community have hit maximum capacity.

Hydroelectric dams

The community is still waiting to be hooked up to the grid-another unfulfilled promised. Ironic-considering the millions of revenue dollars extracted from the area from the numerous hydroelectric dams.

Resource extraction

Hydroelectricity is not the only resource extracted from the traditional territory. When logging and tourism are added to the equation, it is estimated annual revenues add up to roughly $100 million. The Algonquins of Barriere Lake do not see a cent of it. Over time a number of private companies and Crown corporations have increased the extraction of resources from the territory.

A history of protest and government repression

Over twenty years ago the unrestrained clear cut logging practices and sport hunting became too much for the community to quietly bear witness to. Protests, and later the blockading of logging roads, finally led to negotiations with the Canadian and Quebec governments.

A landmark agreement

The outcome of those negotiations was the Trilateral Agreement; an agreement based on the United Nations Brundtland Commission, with conservation and sustainable development as the main pillars. The landmark agreement promised co-management of resources and revenue sharing in the traditional territory in order to protect the Algonquin way of life while co-existing with non-native land users.

Indian Affairs attempts to scrap Trilateral Agreement

The government had other plans.

Just before the Trilateral's implementation in 2001 Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault pulled out, leaving the community with a large bill to pay for remaining research on traditional land use.

Cutting funds hasn't been the only method employed by the federal government in attempts to scrap the trilateral agreement. Since 1996, there have been three interventions in the community's leadership selection.

Round one: leadership interference

Indian Affairs imposed Third Party Management on the community, the third and most severe level of financial intervention in an Aboriginal community. Third Party Managers gain complete control of community finances.

During the 15 month period that Indian Affairs refused to recognize the Customary Chief and Council, both the minority faction Council and Third Party Management were unable to establish themselves on the Rapid Lake reserve, and instead ruled from exile in Maniwaki (150km south). Two million dollars in funding never reached Rapid Lake, programs and services were suspended, and the only school was closed.

Third Party mis-Management

For a second time Indian Affairs appointed Third Party Management. Once again, the school was shut down after parents discovered the teachers hired by Third Party Management refused to allow children to speak their Algonquin language -- a grim throw back to residential schools.

”[Cannon’s] inaction confirms that his Conservative Government's residential school apology was meaningless, because they continue violating our customs." - Michel Thusky, community spokesperson.

Ousted Acting Chief Benjamin Nottaway

This past March, Indian Affairs Minister, Chuck Strahl, ousted Acting Chief Benjamin Nottaway and empowered a minority faction as the new leadership. This brings the count up to three: three times now Indian Affairs has meddled in the internal governance of Barriere Lake.

The Algonquin Nation Secretariat and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs called the move a coup d'etat.

The Tribal Council representing three Algonquin communities including Barriere Lake, continues to recognize and work with deposed Acting Chief Nottaway and his Council.

Cannon speaks with a forked tongue

Lawrence Cannon speaking about First Nations and the Canadian government (August, Maniwaki):

“The Government of Canada is committed to honoring its lawful obligations to First Nations, recognizing that their legal rights must be respected and upheld.”

"We are demonstrating the advantages of co-operative negotiations that enable us to resolve longstanding grievances without resorting to the courts. We strongly believe in negotiated agreements that settle contentious issues in a way that is mutually acceptable and benefits all parties.”

Occupying Cannon's office

Thursday, June 26th Algonquins of Barriere Lake and some of their supporters from the Montreal-based Barriere Lake Solidarity Collective, peacefully occupied Lawrence Cannon's office.

Lawrence Cannon, is a cabinet minister, Harper's Quebec lieutenant and MP in Barriere Lake's riding of Pontiac. Protesters were calling on Cannon to use his power to ensure Indian Affairs upholds the law and oversees a leadership re-selection.

Algonquins of Barriere Lake demands

“It has been about 20 years now [since the signing of the Trilateral Agreement] -- I was eight years old when we first signed the agreement. I’m 26 years old now. I’ve been waiting; we’ve been waiting a pretty long time now for the government to honour its agreement to the Barriere Lake people.” – Jessica Thusky, one of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake arrested in the action.

See, hear, speak...

Arrested while waiting for Cannon to obey the law

Two Algonquins, one of which was a minor, and four supporters spent the evening in jail and now face three charges: obstruction of a police officer, trespassing, mischief.

"We told them we would stop disobeying the law if Cannon did so as well. It's a small act of civil disobedience to draw attention to a far greater crime." – Martin Lukacs, member of Barriere Lake Solidarity Collective.

Keeping up the pressure

"The community will pursue Cannon wherever he is publicly, and we will only stop when Cannon honours his word, and ensures his Conservative government oversees a leadership re-selection, then stops meddling in our affairs for good." – Michel Thusky.

As the community works to get Indian Affairs and the Canadian government to uphold the law and recognize the Algonquins of Barriere Lake's customary governance code, more and more of the land continues to be irreparably damaged by logging and hydroelectric companies, and unemployment rates that run around 80-90 per cent persist.