APTN National News
Three Algonquin First Nations are contemplating court action to stop the Algonquins of Ontario’s modern-day treaty negotiations in its tracks.
Wolf Lake, Eagle Village and Timiskaming Algonquin First Nations, which sit in Quebec, say 855,271 acres in overlap territory in Ontario is at stake.
“(Court action) is what it is looking like,” said Wolf Lake First Nation Chief Harry St. Denis. “In the end we have to protect our interests on what we consider is our Aboriginal title territory.”
The lead negotiator for the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) initialed the agreement-in-principle (AIP) with Ottawa and Queen’s Park last week. The AOO is made up of 10 communities, but only one, Pikwakanagan, is a First Nation with reserve lands.
The AIP proposes to transfer $300 million in capital funding and 117,500 acres of Ontario Crown lands into Algonquin hands.
The $300 million, however, will likely not be distributed in lump sums among the signatories.
The initialing of the AIP is only a small step toward a final agreement which could still be years away from being finalized.
Wolf Lake, Eagle Village and Timiskaming, however, say the proposed deal threatens to extinguish their Aboriginal rights and title over territory in Ontario.
Eagle Village Chief Lance Haymond said many of his community’s members are direct descendants of what used be known as the Mattawa band across the provincial border in Ontario.
He said his First Nation’s claimed territory includes portions of Algonquin Park and swaths up to the Trout Lake area.
“Through this process we have been excluded from having any say in any discussions on the Ontario side,” said Haymond. “One Algonquin nation should not be able to extinguish the rights of other Algonquin nations that have rights to the territory.”
The AOO group includes the Mattawa-North Bay First Nation, which is not a federally-listed First Nation but has been accepted as a legitimate entity for the sake of the negotiations by Queen’s Park and Ottawa.
St. Denis said the AOO is merely a “policy fiction” that lacks the legitimacy of the real Algonquin nation.
“There is no such thing as the Algonquins of Ontario. It is the Algonquin nation and our territory is the Ottawa River watershed,” he said. “They have all these different satellite groups with representatives from different areas that aren’t recognized as Native people…It was something that was just invented to negotiate this claim.”
Robert Potts, the lead negotiator for the AOO, said he’s not losing any sleep over the threat of court action. He said, to his knowledge, Ottawa has consulted with the Algonquin’s across the border in Quebec about the claim. He said the Quebec Algonquin communities refused to meet with the AOO because they don’t recognize its legitimacy.
“These folks won’t meet with us because there is a non-status component and they refuse to deal with non-status people,” said Potts. “We have bent over backwards not to create any rifts. Unfortunately it takes two to involve discussions.”
Potts said he was “saddened” by the opposition from the three Algonquin First Nations in Quebec, but their grievances would likely not get traction in the courts.
“It would be highly prejudicial to slow that process down. I think a court would see it that way. They are not moving as quickly as they could to deal with the governments who have made overtures to have those consultations,” said Potts. “I am not particularly concerned about this initiative. I am saddened by it because it reflects a far too common situation where First Nations find themselves on opposite sides of the fence they work on.”
Wolf Lake and Eagle Village have petitioned Pikwakanagan Chief Kirby Whiteduck and his council directly on the issue to little avail. The two chiefs from those communities sent a letter, dated June 12, to Whiteduck requesting a meeting with the Pikwakanagan council to discuss the issue.
The letter said Pikwakanagan received a formal notice from the two communities on the overlap issue two years ago.
“We are greatly concerned that no steps have been taken to address our concerns,” said the letter. “Therefore, our two Algonquin First Nations object in the strongest possible terms to the so-called ‘Algonquins of Ontario’ AIP being initialed by Mr. Robert Potts without first addressing our Algonquin Aboriginal Rights and Title…Our two Algonquin First Nations will take any and all necessary actions to ensure our rights, title and interests are protected from extinguishment via the so-called ‘Algonquins of Ontario.’”
Whiteduck, however, did inform the chiefs via telephone call of his band’s decision to authorize Potts to initial the AIP.
Whiteduck did not return APTN’s calls requesting comment.
According to the letter, Pikwakanagan proceeded with the initialling of the AIP following meetings with community family groups in Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston. The letter said only 160 people attended the meetings and a little over half of the attendees supported continuing with the initialling.
“Despite this apparent low threshold of support, you indicated that…you are publicly announcing Mr. Robert Potts is authorized to initial the AIP,” said the letter.
St. Denis said the First Nations will decide on their next steps during a meeting in July, but court action seems inevitable.
“Basically that is the only option left is to go to court,” said St. Denis. “It is still an option to consult with us, to have discussions with us…We could sit down with them as Algonquin people and discuss those issues without the federal and provincial governments there and work it out amongst us Algonquins. That is what I was hoping for. I guess it’s not going to happen.”