Algonquin speakers from the Barrière Lake community criticized the federal and provincial governments for meddling in their traditional governance, dishonouring land-use agreements, and exploiting divisions within their community at a panel discussion Tuesday night.
Held at the Native Friendship Center of Montreal, the event hosted representatives from Barrière Lake, a community of about 500 people 350 kilometres northwest of Montreal, who explained that the government had yet to follow through on a resource-sharing agreement signed in 1991.
The Trilateral Agreement, signed between the Barrière Lake Algonquins and the federal and provincial government, was initially established to balance traditional Algonquin land use with logging practices. However, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), a branch of the federal government, stopped funding most of the arrangements by summer 2001.
Event organizer and former Daily editor Martin Lukacs explained that the Trilateral Agreement would set a precedent for native communities by awarding the Barrière Lake Algonquins control of over 10,000 square kilometres of Crown land without compromising other rights.
“The agreement would give them decisive say in the management of their land and a share in the resource revenue, which amounts to $100-million in hydro and logging, from which the Algonquin have derived not a single cent,” Lukacs said after the event.
“From the government’s perspective, Barrière Lake is a bad apple that might rot their entire barrel.”
The panel focused on the preservation of the Algonquin culture, explaining that the preservation of its traditions was more important to them than securing more governmental services in compensation for the use of their land, in contrast with the goals of the INAC-recognized government.
“They’re just fighting over the services, not the real issues,” Marylynn Poucachiche, the public spokesperson for the Barrière Lake Algonquins, said of the interim council.
Panel members explained that INAC and Quebec’s provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), are currently propping up a minority faction that many Algonquins do not consider the legitimate rulers of the community. On March 10 the INAC shifted its recognition from Chief Benjamin Nottaway – who held the support of the panel and the Barrière Lake community – to Chief Casey Ratt.
“The federal and provincial governments orchestrated what amounts to a coup d’état – illegally deposing the customary chief and council which have been struggling to implement the agreement and are supported by the majority of the community,” Lukacs said.
Poucachiche and others called for educational reform, calling for more Algonquin teachers and the incorporation of their language and culture into the curriculum, which they said the community implemented until the SQ closed the school on Tuesday.
Rose Matchewan, a community member, claimed the SQ sent a locksmith to Barrière Lake in order to keep them out of the school, and said that the SQ threatened to arrest any member of the community attempting to enter the building.
They also accused the SQ of brutality, claiming the provincial police force resorted to beating and pepper-spraying protesters.
“My daughter was pregnant, she was pushed. My son was 14 years old, he was pepper-sprayed,” she said.
Madeline, an audience member at the forum, compared the government’s tactics in dealing with the Barrière Lake Algonquins to those of Apartheid-era South Africa.
Others asked what they could do to help. Rose suggested writing letters to Parliament.
“Our main issue is just to keep the Trilateral Agreement alive,” Matchewan said.
Midnight Kitchen, a vegan food collective at McGill, provided a free dinner to each attendee.
– with files from Max Halparin
This article originally misquoted Luckas as saying that “The federal and provincial governments orchestrated what amounts to a coup d’état – illegally deposing to the customary chief and council which has been struggling to implement the agreement and is supported by the entire community.” In fact he said “The federal and provincial governments orchestrated what amounts to a coup d’état – illegally deposing the customary chief and council which have been struggling to implement the agreement and are supported by the majority of the community.” The Daily regrets the error.