A panel at McGill last Wednesday addressed the fallout between Algonquins living on Barriere Lake Reserve and Canadian government – which has worsened by comments about conditions in the community.
Darlene Lannigan, the personal assistant for Conservative MP candidate Lawrence Cannon in the Pontiac riding, made comments perceived as racist to Barriere Lake teacher Norman Matchewan.
According to the Barriere Lake Solidarity, a collective of both First-Nation and Canadian activists, Lannigan chastized the Algonquin community for its chronic substance abuse.
“[The] problem in the community is too many drugs, alcohol, incest, and violence,” said Lannigan during Cannon’s official campaign launch in Maniwaki, Quebec.
Norman Matchewan – who sat on Wednesday’s panel – convened with other community supporters to represent their demands at the September launch. According to a Barriere Lake Solidarity press release, Lannigan told Matchewan conditions in which he would be welcome at future meetings: “If you behave and you’re sober.”
Michel Thusky, a Barriere Lake spokesperson and the second panel member, explained on Wednesday that Lannigan’s racist comments were unnecessary.
“We don’t deny that alcohol and drug abuse exists in our community, but they also exist in every city or town,” said Thusky. “We have our own ways of addressing it.”
The Barriere Lake Algonquin community is fighting the decision of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs who appointed leaders in conflict with Barriere Lake political custom, replacing the community’s Customary Chief and Council.
The Barriere Lake community is also pushing Canada to honour a Trilateral agreement signed by the provincial and federal government to promote sustainable development in the area.
“We must fight for our rights, what we believe in, what our ancestors taught us,” Thusky said during the panel discussion.
The agreement was signed in 1991 and breached in 2001.
Barriere Lake Solidarity volunteer and former Daily editor, Martin Lukacs, criticized Indian Affairs for disregarding the Algonquin community’s demands.
“There’s no public oversight; there’s no public concern,” Lukacs said.
The community is resisting Cannon’s re-election and will continue campaigning in the following weeks.