(Kigitan Zibi Elder Josie Whiteduck delivers opening prayer at beginning of Assembly of First Nations winter chiefs gathering. APTN/Photo)
APTN National News
The Assembly of First Nations’ annual winter gathering opened with a rebuke of the ongoing Algonquins of Ontario modern-day treaty negotiations.
The AFN’s gathering is being held at the Hilton Lac Leamy in Gatineau, Que., across the Ottawa River from Canada’s capital, which is in the territory of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation.
Kitigan Zibi Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck, who is hosting the gathering, criticized the federal government in his opening address to the gathering.
Whiteduck, whose community has reserve lands about 130 km north of Ottawa, said millions of acres of Algonquin territory was being surrendered for “peanuts” by the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO), a group of 10 Algonquin entities that includes only one recognized First Nation.
“One community is making a claim for our territory…to surrender a large part of our lands without our approval,” said Whiteduck, while Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett looked on from the stage behind him. “It goes back to the old days when were given trinkets. That is not acceptable. Our title is not for sale.”
Watch the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly here: AFNSCA
In October, the AOO signed an agreement-in-principle with Ottawa and Queen’s Park on the modern-day treaty. The three sides are now negotiating a final agreement of the $300 million land claim settlement which would see about 47,500 hectares of Ontario Crown land transferred to AOO control. The land claim covers about 3.6 million hectares of land in eastern Ontario.
Whiteduck said the majority of Algonquins live across the border in Quebec and they will not stand by and watch this deal reach completion.
“We want to resolve the issue,” he said.
As the chiefs gather in Gatineau this week, the issue of land, rights and title continues to simmer following the Justin Trudeau Liberal government’s announcement last week it had approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to carry over 800,000 barrels of bitumen per day from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., on the doorstep of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation which is opposing the project.
However, the project has the support of several British Columbia First Nations in the interior, including the Tk’emlups Indian Band, the home community of AFN B.C. regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson who negotiated a deal with Kinder Morgan on the project.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde addressed this division facing the chiefs organization.
“As AFN, we are not the rights and title holders,” said Bellegarde. “And the most important right we will support is the right to self-determination and that means the right to say ‘yes’ and the right to say ‘no.’”
Bellegarde also set up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s planned speech for the assembly later in the day. He told chiefs the Liberal government was making progress on its commitments to First Nations. He particularly noted the $8.4 billion promised by the federal government.
“When was the last time there was $.8.4 billion allocated for Indigenous people? Never. It is even more than Kelowna,” said Bellegarde, referring to a $5 billion deal signed by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin and the AFN which was scrapped once Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took power. “We are not doing cartwheels and flips right now because we have to get the resources out.”