Pikwakanagan grandmothers launch court bid against $350 million Algonquin modern treaty

Federal Court action seeks order prohibiting band council from continuing negotiations

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A group of grandmothers from the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation have gone to Federal Court in a bid to force their band council into withdrawing from a modern day treaty covering a large swath of eastern Ontario, including Ottawa.

The grandmothers filed the court action with the Federal Court on Wednesday seeking an injunction to stop Pikwakanagan’s band council from continuing participation in the ongoing Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) modern treaty negotiations. The court action also seeks an order from the Federal Court prohibiting the chief and council of the Algonquin community from participating in any negotiations until obtaining a “proper mandate” from the community.

Barbara Sarazin, spokesperson for the group of eight grandmothers known as Kokomisag Tiji Pikwakanagan, said the proposed AOO treaty threatens the Aboriginal rights of the community.

“We have asked our chief and council numerous times to step back, but they have never taken that step,” said Sarazin, in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We never wanted our First Nation to ever look at being a mere municipality, to me that is just a no, no, and we have told our chief and council that numerous times over the years.”

Once finalized, the AOO modern treaty could lead Pikwakanagan to move out from the Indian Act meaning it would no longer be classified as a reserve and would have fee simple property ownership.

Pikwakanagan Chief Kirby Whiteduck could not be reached for comment.

AOO chief negotiator Robert Potts could not be reached for comment.

CLICK here for more APTN coverage on the Algonquins modern treaty

The AOO claim covers about 3.6 million hectares stretching from Algonquin Park east to Hawkesbury, Ont., including Ottawa, and down into territory near Kingston, Ont.  If finalized, the deal would see $300 million in capital funding and 47,550 hectares of Ontario Crown land transferred to the AOO.

There are a total of 10 communities that make up part of the AOO claim, but only Pikwakanagan is a recognized band under the Indian Act.

The Federal Court action launched by the grandmothers comes on the heels of a Pikwakanagan vote rejecting the AOO modern day treaty agreement-in-principle last month. The community voted 327 to 256 against the agreement.

The other nine communities voted 3,182 in favour of the modern treaty, while 141 voted against it.

Whiteduck’s council initially said they would be stepping back form negotiations, then clarified that Pikwakanagan would continue to be part of the negotiation process.

Serious concerns have also arisen over the criteria used to accept individuals to be part of the modern treaty because the AOO uses genealogy to assess whether an individual qualifies as an Algonquin. Recent reports have shown many who were eligible to vote only had one Algonquin ancestor in their family tree going back over 300 years.

“We think that will set a precedence of having non-registered members voting on the status of Native people across Canada and we can’t have that, and we cannot have that, it has to stop,” said Sarazin.

Algonquin communities in Quebec, along with Iroquois communities, have expressed concern at AOO’s proposed modern treaty on those same grounds.

The Pikwakanagan grandmothers’ court action is not without its own controversy. The lawyer chosen by the grandmothers, Michael Swinwood, has faced pointed criticism from Algonquin chiefs in Quebec who argue some of his legal tactics sound good but don’t work in the courtroom.

“We know who Mr. Swinwood is because through his organization, ‘Elders Without Borders,’ Mr. Swinwood has a history of trying to undermine the authority of the duly elected Algonquin chiefs by systematically working with Algonquin individuals and factions to advance extreme legal arguments regarding Indigenous sovereignty and genocide, which may have political merit, but have little chance of success before the courts,” stated the chiefs of Barriere Lake, Timiskaming First Nation, Eagle Village First Nation and Wolf Lake First Nation in a September 2015 letter which circulated on social media this week.

Sarazin said the grandmothers found Swinwood through a relative who was defended successfully by the lawyer on a case involving hunting rights.

“We have some confidence in him, we just started with him. We like the way he speaks about different legislation,” said Sarazin.

Sarazin said the grandmothers are not a mere “faction” in the community and launched their court case to protect the rights of their grandchildren.

“It has always been known that the women are the backbone of our community and, as a grandmother myself, I didn’t want to see any type of status taken away from my own grandchildren,” she said. “It’s important we keep our native status now as opposed to giving it away because of the land claim deal.”

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