The indigenous Algonquin community of Barriere Lake has been fighting
with the provincial government of Quebec and the federal government of
Canada for nearly twenty years over their land. Blockades they have set
up in the late 1980s stopped illegal logging on their land and led them to
sign a Trilateral Agreement with the two governments. Today, the
community claims the agreement and all others that followed have not
been honored, while logging companies plan to resume operations.
In an effort to exert pressure on the government and the logging industry,
the community has set up several blockades in protest. In response, the
communityï¿½s spokespeople and leaders have been arrested. Benjamin
Nottoway, Barriere Lakeï¿½s customary chief has been arrested at the last
blockade and sentenced to two months in jail.
Last resort: Natives stand up
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LIA TARACHANSKY, JOURNALIST (VOICEOVER): Only one month after their last blockade, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake are back at the front lines of their struggle. Located three hours north of Canada’s capital of Ottawa, the indigenous community’s fight with the government has been escalating since last March, when they say the government imposed a coup d’etat on their reserve.
TARACHANSKY (ON CAMERA): This is Lia Tarachansky with The Real News Network, Independent World Television, outside of Barriere Lake, the reserve located by Rapid Lake. We’re here withï¿½.
NORMAN MATCHEWAN, YOUTH SPOKESPERSON, VOLUNTEER TEACHER: Norman Matchewan.
TARACHANSKY: And what’s your role in the community, Norman?
MATCHEWAN: I’m a youth spokesperson here.
TARACHANSKY: And why are you blockading this road?
MATCHEWAN: We are blockading this highway, you know, for the governments to negotiate with our community, ’cause they signed, provincial and federal signed a 1991 trilateral agreement with our community for our community to have a say in the management of our traditional territory. Right now the forestry, the logging is suspended, but again they’re coming in, making logging roads, cutting logging roads so they can start cutting soon. So again they’re not consulting with our community.
TARACHANSKY: The blockade was meant to draw attention to the situation at Barriere Lake and was strategically timed to coincide with the Quebec provincial elections. Set up at 7 a.m. on November 19, the blockade was removed by the provincial police, sï¿½curitï¿½ de Quï¿½bec [Sï¿½retï¿½ du Quï¿½bec]. Several organizations have launched an investigation into this police body’s treatment of indigenous issues. By 2 p.m., riot police were dispatched. Removing the community off the highway, they pushed it down the access road onto the reserve, after having arrested all but one of the community’s leaders and spokespeople.
JOEL KLASSE, CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKER TEAM: The folks that were doing a blockade or the presence on the highway, they were sort of pushed off by the uniformed officers. And then, all of a sudden, there was a pushing a little ways away from me. I couldn’t see it clearly. And they pulled him away, and then they had him on his back and they were pulling him on his back. Four to five police officers were on him and holding him down.
KLASSE: Yeah. And he was yelling. It sounded like they were hurting him. At one point, they were walking along the road, and two or three of them broke ranks, ran ahead, and grabbed Benjamin, and then pulled him back. Then they arrested him.
CAPTION ON SCREEN: Benjamin Nottaway Arrest. Traditionally Selected Chief, Barriere Lake.
TARACHANSKY: Tensions with the government have been escalating. One month before this blockade, the Algonquins attempted to blockade the highway but were met with riot police and tear gas. Nine people were arrested. The Real News spoke to their policy advisor, Russel Diabo, about the roots of the conflict and the legal battle.
RUSSELL DIABO, POLICY ADVISOR, BARRIERE LAKE: When I started working for the community in the mid-1980s, Barriere Lake was having impacts through a large scale as logging roads were opening up the territory. Non-natives were being allowed in to hunt fish and game for sports uses, which led to more competition for fish and game for the community and impacted their ability to put food on the table. And on top of that, this area [inaudible] flooded before by two huge storage reservoirs being built out of their lake. They wanted to have a say in their territory. They’ve been trying to do that for decades. So in 1989 the Algonquins of Barriere Lake blocked six logging roads, and that led to discussions with Quebec about how the territory was being managed and the fact that they weren’t being consulted at all in any of the developments occurring on their territory.
TARACHANSKY: In 1991, the provincial government of Quebec and the federal government of Canada signed a trilateral agreement with the Algonquins. It wasn’t until two years later that the province began acting on the agreement. After completing the first phase of collecting research on the resources available on the traditional land, the government stalled on the proposed recommendations to continue the process.
DIABO: The government of Quebec has been sitting on those recommendations for over two years now, and our understanding is that they have problems with the co-management and the revenue sharing. But in 2001, the federal government walked away from all of the agreementsï¿½the Memorandum of Mutual Intent, the trilateral agreement, the special financial provisions that they had negotiated.
TARACHANSKY: The Real News spoke to Pierre Nepton, associate regional director general of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), about why the government walked away from negotiations.
PIERRE NEPTON, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR GENERAL, INAC: When we ended our funding of this pilot project was after having spent $5 million. And of course, you know, taking into account that there was no end result that we could foresee for the future, we were asking for schedule and deadlines and results, and unfortunately there was no one to give us that kind of, let’s say, commitment.
TARACHANSKY: A rift in the community led to a small group to break off. According to the Algonquins’ customary governance code recognized by the federal government in the 1997 Memorandum of Mutual Intent, leaders are chosen by an elders council. The faction led by Casey Ratt was not. Yet in January the government decided to acknowledge the minority group, leading to a leadership crisis on the reserve. During the blockade, Norman Matchewan spoke on the effect this has had on his community.
MATCHEWAN: No. They ousted our customary chief and council and put in place a minority group which the majority of the community will not support. But they are doing that as a divide-and-conquer tactic.
DIABO: They are going through a lot of hardship because they’re not getting programs and services, many of them. In order to get programs and services from the federal government, they’re being told they have to recognize the leadership of Casey Ratt.
TARACHANSKY: Laurier Riel was appointed as a mediator to understand what actually happened with the leadership crisis, and in his report he stated, “I cannot guarantee therefore that the Elderï¿½s Council was advised or that proper notification for a leadership review was carried out according to the regulations.” You were quoted in an Ottawa Citizen article as saying, “We were satisfied by their leadership process and we recognize the new council.”
NEPTON: [inaudible] the fact that he put the paper saying that doesn’t mean, either, that the process wasn’t followed. He just said that he cannot testify the process was followed.
TARACHANSKY: During this month’s blockade, the police arrested the traditionally selected chief, Benjamin Nottaway. To date, he is still held in custody. Community spokesperson Rose Nottaway, her daughter Mindy Nottaway, and supporter Louisa [inaudible] were also arrested at the blockade. Earlier in the day, police arrested volunteer teacher and youth representative to the tribal council Marylynn Poucachice. Marylynn’s husband. Marylynn’s husband was banned from returning to the reserve by Manawatu police, due to his involvement in a previous blockade. Rose’s husband, Eugene, was arrested the following day.
MATCHEWAN: This is what the Canadian government is trying to do to any leader in our communityï¿½they’re trying to criminalize them. They can do that, but our community, the majority of the community, will keep coming back. You know. They’re going to have to arrest us all and criminalize all of us. But that’s not going to stop us. We’re going to continue.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.