On January 30, the Chief and Council for the Algonquins of Barriere Lake filed a claim against the federal government and the community’s past and present third-party financial managers for $30 million in damages. In 1991, the Barriere Lake community signed a Trilateral Agreement with the federal and provincial governments that was meant to include the community in the management of its traditional territories. The Canadian and Quebec governments have not honoured the agreement. Like other violations of Indigenous rights, this has been largely ignored. As settlers on Turtle Island – in our case, on Kanien’kehá:ka land – we must acknowledge that by turning a blind eye to the government, which acts on our behalf, we are complicit in these violations. We must stand in solidarity with Barriere Lake and demand that our government honour its word.
The Trilateral Agreement – internationally recognized as an alternative to Canada’s Comprehensive Land Claims process – was supposed to ensure the protection of the Barriere Lake community’s land rights, Aboriginal title, and way of life. The agreement was meant to ensure that logging activities would take into account Algonquin knowledge and would not harm their ways of life, protecting traplines, areas of moose habitat, and sacred sites. It stipulated that Barriere Lake and the Canadian government would co-manage resource development decisions and that both parties would share in the profits. While the recent lawsuit targets the federal government, the Quebec government has also failed to honour both of these commitments.
For more than 100 years, resource development without consultation with Barriere Lake leadership has devastated the community’s land. Furthermore, for over eight years, the Canadian government and third-party managers have been withholding funds and financial information. This has left basic social services such as roads, water, hydro, and schools largely underfunded relative to non-First Nations communities. As a result, the community suffers from difficult living conditions while the government and the corporations it supports rake in the profits.
By filing a lawsuit, Barriere Lake leaders are asserting their rights to govern their own finances and to manage profits from resources on their land. They are also currently campaigning against the government’s further undermining of self-determination through the imposition of band council elections in 2010, a colonial measure that forbids traditional Indigenous system sof governance. The government’s conscious efforts to delegitimize the Algonquin system of governance are symptomatic of Canada’s broader system of colonialism and racism.
Barriere Lake communities are taking direct action to resist this system. They have written letters, blockaded a highway, and marched in defence of their rights. As settlers, we are also treaty people, and it is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with these actions as well as with claims made by the current lawsuit. It is important to act now by signing Barriere Lake Solidarity’s petition, calling on Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to honour the Trilateral Agreement, and endorsing Barriere Lake’s list of demands. The Algonquins of Barriere Lake are fighting to defend their way of life and the land they live on – they should not have to fight alone.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board