Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rally for Algonquin Chief Jailed for Asserting Land Rights: Elizabeth May, NDP, Major Unions, Chiefs Call on Canadian government to Honour Landmark Ag

Ottawa, January 7, 2009/ - A broad network of political parties, unions, human rights and Indigenous groups will rally today to support the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, demanding that the Government of Canada respect a landmark agreement and Barriere Lake's right to decide who serves as their Customary Chief and Council.

The groups will hold a rally on January 7 at noon in front of the Headquarters of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, in support of Customary Chief Benjamin Nottaway, jailed for two months for joining community members while they peacefully asserted land rights to Barriere Lake's traditional territories in Western Quebec. Community spokespeople will then travel to Montreal for a demonstration on Thursday in front of Premier Jean Charest's office.

"The Algonquin of Barriere Lake have shown extraordinary patience in the face of governmental interference and foot-dragging," said Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party. "It is a scandal that Chief Nottaway spent Christmas in jail for peaceful civil disobedience to demand governments live up to their responsibilities, with barely a murmur of notice from the media and with stony silence from our government."

Barriere Lake wants Canada to uphold signed agreements, dating back to the 1991 Trilateral Agreement, a groundbreaking sustainable development and resource co-management agreement praised by the United Nations and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Canada pulled out of the binding agreement in 2001.

"Barriere Lake is one of the most impoverished communities in Canada. Indian Affairs has meddled in this community, undermined land negotiations and walked away on signed agreements," said NDP Parliamentarian Charlie Angus. "It's time the government showed some leadership and helped this community on the path to healing."

The Government of Canada stopped recognizing Acting Customary Chief Benjamin Nottaway on March 10, 2008, and caused great leadership uncertainty by recognizing individuals whom Barriere Lake's Elder's Council says did not follow their Customary Governance Code, which the community uses to select their leadership. Community members have demanded that the federal government appoint an observer to witness and abide by the results of a new leadership selection, but the government of Canada has to date refused. When families from the community peacefully protested on a highway outside their reserve in October and November, the government of Canada remained silent while the Quebec government sent in riot police, which tear-gassed people of all ages and made numerous arrests.

"This is another example of the federal and provincial governments collaborating with each other to criminalize a Chief who has demanded that both orders of government honour signed agreements regarding co-management of land and resource revenue sharing," said Grand Chief Norman Young of the Algonquin Nation Secretariat, Barriere Lake's Tribal Council, which continues to recognize and work with Benjamin Nottaway and his Council.

On Tuesday, the Federal Court of Appeal contradicted the arguments of lawyers for the Department Indian Affairs, ruling in favour of the Barriere Lake's Elder's Council, who will now proceed with their motion to review Indian Affairs' decision to stop recognizing Acting Chief Nottaway. The Court decision casts doubt on the legitimacy of Canada's recognition of the "Ratt Council" and gives weight to the Elder's Council position that Indian Affairs violated their Customary Governance Code.

"The federal government has caused enough suffering in our community. It is time that they respect our leadership customs and negotiate the implementation of agreements that will secure our future," said Marlynn Poucachiche, a community spokesperson and mother of five who was targeted for arrest by the Quebec police after participating in the peaceful blockade.

"We believe the roadblocks erected on highways that pass through First Nations' traditional territories will come down when government roadblocks to self-determination, self-government and land entitlements are eliminated," said National Vice-President Patty Ducharme of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

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Rally at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, GATINEAU
WEDNESDAY, January 7th, 2008, NOON
Corner of Wellington & Montcalm

Rally in front of Jean Charest's office, Montreal THURSDAY, January 8, 2008, NOON corner of McGill College & Sherbrooke

For further information:

For interviews contact: Marylynn Poucachiche, Barriere Lake spokesperson: 613 - 265-6739; Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader:(c) 613-614-4916; Charlie Angus, NDP parliamentarian; Algonquin Nation Secretariat Grand Chief Norman Young, (819) 627-6869; PSAC National Vice-President Patty Ducharme: (613) 329-3706; CUPW National President Denis Lemelin, 613-236-7230 ex 7900;
Contact for Montreal rally: Courtney Kirkby: 514-893-8283; Luc Tailleur, National aboriginal equal opportunities committee representative for PSAC, 514-917-8946