Wednesday, August 10, 2011

BARRIERE LAKE LEGAL DEFENSE FUND : The Challenge to Section 74

The Algonquins of Barriere Lake are mounting a constitutional challenge against Canada for the imposition of “Section 74” of the Indian Act onto their community. This arcane section of the Indian Act gives the Minister of Indian Affairs the arbitrary authority to abolish the customary government of an Indian band and impose band council elections.

Up until August 2010, when Section 74 was imposed, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake governed themselves by their ancestral constitution, the Mitchikanibikok Anishnabe Onakinakewin – a customary code that connects them to the land, to the animals, to each other, and to everything that grows. They have been using this code of governance since time immemorial.

Indian Affairs claims this drastic measure of imposing the band council election system was taken in attempt to “restore order” to the community, which had been undergoing internal conflicts exacerbated by government interference. But the community was in the process of a serious reconciliation process when the government intervened last August.

There are 3 major consequences to this legal case that we want to bring to the public’s attention:

1. In 1991, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake fought for and won a co-management agreement that would give them a decisive say over 10,000 sq km of their traditional territory. This “Trilateral Agreement” was signed with Canada and Quebec, but both levels of government have failed to honour their agreements. In Canada, the only way for Indigenous peoples to settle land claims is by agreeing to give up 95 percent of their lands and to extinguish their rights and title to these lands. This is called the Comprehensive Land Claims (CLC) process, and it is vigorously contested by First Nations across Canada. Barriere Lake’s Trilateral Agreement offers a viable and path-breaking alternative to surrender and secession that respects the right of Indigenous peoples to manage their lands. The government does not want bands to pursue alternatives to the CLC and they are trying to make an example of Barriere Lake for any other communities contemplating action or agreements outside of the federal policy.

2. There are only a handful of Indian bands left in Canada who have maintained an unbroken line to their customary governance system and who have never been governed under the Indian Act band council provisions. Until August 2010, Barriere Lake was among those communities. If the Minister’s legislative authority to impose band council elections on customary governments is not legally opposed and the decision is not reversed, all customary governments across Canada must be considered to be endangered. The destruction of customary governments is an abrogation of Aboriginal rights as protected in Section 35 of the Constitution and that right must be defended.

3. There are strong links between Barriere Lake’s customary government and the fact that Algonquin is the first language spoken in the community; that the community maintains a strong hunting, fishing, trapping, and harvesting way of life; and that the traditional distribution of families territories and traplines remains intact. Barriere Lake’s jurisdiction over their lands is governed by their Mitchikanibikok Anishnabe Onakinakewin. The government is attempting to sever the Algonquins’ connection to the land by obliterating their traditional governance codes. The amount of traditional ecological knowledge that the Algonquins of Barriere Lake carry in their language, laws, and ways of life are now at risk and therefore pose a risk to all Algonquin and non-Algonquin communities affected by the extensive waterways and land base of their territory. Once this encyclopedic knowledge is lost, it can never be regained.

Please commit whatever you can to keeping this struggle alive. Barriere Lake’s customary government receives no monies from the government and have fought courageously and tenaciously for over 20 years to protect their vision of environmentally sustainable development on their lands.

Legal expenses are expected to rise into the tens of thousands of dollars this year.


Monthly donation options


Checks can be mailed to:
631 King Edward Ave. (3rd floor / 3ieme étage),
Ottawa, ON, K1N 7N8.

Please make checks out to “Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa”  with “Barriere Lake Legal Defense Fund” in the memo line.

Please contact us for information on direct deposit: or

For more information on Section 74 or to find out how you can reach the community directly for support, please contact us.

For a good background video on Section 74 and the Barriere Lake struggle, please see this short 3-minute film: