Algonquins of Ontario claim facing internal tensions, accusations some involved not Indigenous

Cracks are starting to show within the massive Algonquins of Ontario land claim as the chief of the only federally-recognized First Nation involved in the negotiations […]

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Cracks are starting to show within the massive Algonquins of Ontario land claim as the chief of the only federally-recognized First Nation involved in the negotiations is beginning to question the authenticity of some who are claiming Algonquin ancestry to be part of the deal.

Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation Chief Kirby Whiteduck said some in his community are starting to question the legitimacy of a number of people who have signed up claiming to be Algonquin.

“We are getting feedback that some members (of Pikwakanagan) knew some of these people all their lives and never once said they were Algonquins,” said Whiteduck. “Some of them now who said they were never Algonquin are now Algonquin chiefs. So the members don’t really appreciate that.”

Pikwakanagan is one of 10 Algonquin communities recognized by Ottawa and Queen’s Park as part of the Algonquins of Ontario land claim. Pikwakanagan is the only community recognized by the federal Aboriginal Affairs department as a legitimate First Nation band. The First Nation sits about 147 kilometres west of Ottawa.

The claim covers about 9 million acres including the Ottawa region and an area stretching from North Bay to Kingston, Ont.

Pikwakanagan has about 1,800 members of voting-age on their band roll, said Whiteduck.

About 7,000 people are enrolled in the Ontario Algonquin claim, said Robert Potts who is the senior negotiator for the Algonquin claim.

Whiteduck said concern in his community over the influx of new Algonquins could pose a threat to a deal unless the issue is sorted out.

“If members don’t like it, they are most likely to vote no on the (agreement in principle),” said Whiteduck. “They question, all of a sudden, who are these people? Where do they come from?”

Whiteduck has also been on the receiving end of barbed criticism from a chief of one of these new Algonquin communities called the Antoine Algonquin.

Antoine Algonquin Chief Davie Joannise has accused the leadership of Pikwakanagan of being “traitors to their people” for supporting a windfarm project.

“Yes I did say that,” said Joannise. “All of a sudden here they are without telling anyone at the table, partnering up with a  company to come up in our backyard, where we do hunting and fishing…and they’ve partnered up to put windfarms there.”

Joannise said he wasn’t sure if the windfarm issue would upend the overall Algonquin claim, but the land in question for development was selected by his community because it has cultural significance.

“We are in negotiations here, things get heated, it is no different than Parliament where things get heated,” he said. “Pikwakanagan has realized they made a mistake here by doing this. We should be able to rectify this, I am hoping. It will be a hard pill to swallow if we can’t.”

Innergex Renewable Energy has partnered with Pikwakanagan to build a 150 Megawatt windfarm on Crown land in the Mattawan Township.

Eagle Village Chief Madeleine Paul, whose federally-recognized Algonquin First Nation is based out of Quebec, claims the area slated for the windfarm as part of her community’s traditional territory. Paul has opened channels with Pikwakanagan and Quebec firm Innergex to discuss the project.

Paul, however, said the Antoine Algonquins do not have a say on the issue.

“How can they say it’s their traditional land when they are not even First Nations? They don’t have a right to say that,” said Paul.

Paul said the nine non-status Algonquin communities are a “policy fiction” propped up by Queen’s Park and Ottawa to help extinguish Aboriginal title to places like Parliament Hill.

“These people are not First Nation people…they are calling themselves chiefs and they have these rights, but they are not true First Nation people like every one of my members,” said Paul. “They are setting a precedent that we will have to deal with on the Quebec side to redefine what an Algonquin is and that is the threat.”

Wolf Lake First Nation Chief Harry St. Denis also weighed in on the emerging controversy saying he knows Joannise who previously admitted he “didn’t have any Indian blood in him at all.” The Algonquin chief, who is also based on the Quebec side, said he had the conversation with Joannise in 1997.

“Low and behold, 10 years later he is calling himself a chief,” said St. Denis. “For sure most of them are not real Algonquins. They are there for any of the benefits, and you can’t blame them, because now they have nothing, but soon they’ll have fishing rights, maybe they’ll be able to hunt in Algonquin Park, hunt out of season, but they’re not real Algonquin, that’s for sure.”

Joannise, however, insists he is “of Algonquin descent” and that St. Denis and Paul are thinking with “an old mentality.” Joannise said he is recognized by the Constitution and doesn’t need the Indian Act to give him legitimacy.

“My family has been here forever. As far as I can trace back, it’s Algonquin. There’s nothing else,” he said. “I lived an Algonquin lifestyle all my life. We lived off the land, we fished, we lived with other Aboriginals in Mattawa…Everybody here knew who the Algonquins were.”

Senior negotiator Potts said everyone who has been accepted as part of the Algonquin claim underwent a rigorous process to establish their Algonquin ancestry. He said about 1,000 applications had been rejected.

Potts said St. Denis “comes from a status perspective” that fails to include the real history of the region.

“It is a hard transition for people that have that to suddenly recognize that there are other Aboriginal people that are involved,” he said. “Some of the communities that are involved have status people in them.”

Potts said there should have been “five or six” Algonquin reserves in Ontario, but, following the Royal Proclamation of 1763, successive governors ignored petitions from the resident Algonquins and never engaged in treaty talks.

“That is the tragedy of this things,” said Potts. “A number of governors let it slide through the cracks and these people were never properly addressed.”

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