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Barriere Lake Algonquins: Threat to Customary Governance

(reposted–forward widely)


The Canadian government is preparing to forcibly assimilate Barriere Lake’s customary governance system using an archaic and rarely invoked piece of Indian Act legislation – Section 74. This strategy is a draconian, last ditch attempt to sever the community’s connection to the land, which is at the heart of their governance system.  By breaking their connection to the land, the Canadian and Quebec governments hope to get away with violating resource-use agreements and illegally clear-cutting in their traditional territory.

Section 74 hasn’t been forcibly imposed on a community since 1924, when the Canadian government unilaterally deposed the traditional government of Six Nations, padlocking shut the Haudenosaunee Confederacy lodge.

Barriere Lake is one of only two dozen Native communities still operating with a recognized traditional governance system. They attribute the strength of their community, language, knowledge and protection of the land to its endurance. The impacts of losing their customary governance system would have devastating consequences on their way of life.

There is a broad consensus in Barriere Lake in favour of retaining their customs and against a Section 74 order erasing their Customary government.

Take a stand today!  Support the Barriere Lake Algonquins and their inherent right to govern themselves according to their customs:

EVERYWHERE: Write/call/fax Minister of Indian Affairs Chuck Strahl and Indian Affairs Quebec Regional Director Pierre Nepton: http://barrierelakesolidarity.blogspot.com/2007/10/blog-post.html

OTTAWA: JOIN Barriere Lake community members in Ottawa on June 14 and 15 2010

June 14: Feast and Celebration of Customary Governmenthttp://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=125575680806297

6:30PM, Monday, June 14, 2010
Mac Hall, Bronson Centre at 211 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa, ALGONQUIN TERRITORY

June 15: Demonstration: Stop Harper and Strahl’s Elimination of Algonquin Customary Governmenthttp://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=128467113839884

11:30AM, Tuesday, June 15, 2010
In front of Indian Affair’s Minister Chuck Strahl’s office
Bank St and Wellington St, Ottawa, ALGONQUIN TERRITORY

TORONTO: Come MARCH with community members at the Indigenous Day of Action Against the G8/G20 on June 24th in Toronto: http://www.defendersoftheland.org/story/179

June 24: Day of Action for Indigenous Rights!
11:00AM, March start point: Queen’s Park, South Lawn
To arrange a bus ride from Ottawa to Toronto for June 24, please send your request athttp://g20.torontomobilize.org/ottawatranspo

—> For more info, to donate, or to endorse the campaign: please email barrierelakesolidarity@gmail.com


:::: BACKGROUND ::::

The Algonquins of Barriere Lake live on their unceded territory 300 kilometers north of Ottawa, in Quebec. They govern themselves by a customary system, the Mitchikanibikok Anishinabe Onakinakewin. Unlike most First Nations, they have never had band elections imposed on them by the federal government through the Indian Act.

Section 74 of the Indian Act states that the Minister of Indian Affairs can impose an electoral system on First Nations with customary leadership selection processes:

“Whenever he deems it advisable for the good government of a band, the Minister may declare by order that after a day to be named therein the council of the band, consisting of a chief and councillors, shall be selected by elections to be held in accordance with this Act.”

On April 8, 2010, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl signed off an order to invoke section 74, initiating the process to impose Indian Act band elections on Barriere Lake. The federal government has already hired an electoral officer to oversee this process, meaning the federal government aims to hold elections within a matter of months.

Despite its inclusion in the Indian Act, section 74-imposed band elections would be a violation of Barriere Lake’s Indigenous customs, a draconian interference in their internal affairs, a breach of their constitutionally-protected Aboriginal right to a customary system of government, and a violation of the minimum standards included in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is an attempt to politically weaken the community, by destroying the way they have governed themselves since time immemorial.

The affirmation of Aboriginal and Treaty rights in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution in 1982 guarantees Barriere Lake’s right to maintain their customary system of government. There has been absolutely no case-law since 1982 that would indicate that the Minister has the power to infringe on Barriere Lake’s rights.

The Government move also contradicts a recent Federal Court decision concerning Barriere Lake’s leadership. On February 17, 2010, Federal Court Judge Robert Mainville concluded in the case of Ratt v. Matchewan that Barriere Lake can “select their leadership in accordance with their customs unimpeded by any conditions or requirements which the Minister may deem appropriate.”

But the Canadian government, even if they had Canadian law on their side, would have no authority to interfere with Barriere Lake’s inherent jurisdiction over their lands, which precedes Canadian sovereignty claims by thousands of years. Barriere Lake has never ceded their lands by treaty or agreement and continue to exercise their jurisdiction over their lands by responsibly managing the territory.

Barriere Lake’s customary government is tied to their use of the land – their hunting, fishing, trapping, harvesting over their vast traditional territories. Only those band members who live within their territories and have knowledge and connection to the land can participate in their customary system of government. The position of Chief is based on hereditary entitlement, but other factors are equally or more important, including leadership abilities, knowledge of the land, and community support. Elders have a key role in the leadership selection process, ensuring the customs are respected. They oversee a blazing ceremony, nominating potential leadership candidates who are then approved or rejected by community members in public assemblies. Leadership requires the consent of the governed, meaning leaders can be removed at any time. Such a directly democratic form of government accords well with the community’s decentralized organization.

For the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, their governance system is one of the sources of their political strength and assertiveness: eligible community members have a stake in the land, and they will select leaders who ensure its protection and responsible management.

But if the Canadian government can impose section 74 Indian Act band elections, this will change. Elders will lose customary responsibility for cultivating leaders and for shepherding leadership selections. Voting by secret ballot would undermine the consensus-based, directly democratic process. Fixed terms for elections would destroy the hereditary elements of their system. Indian Act elections would open eligibility for selecting leaders to people on the band registry list, not just those who live and use the traditional territory. As in many First Nations across the country, off-reserve band members who have no stake in the land’s protection but a say in elections or referendums concerning agreements or modern treaties will likely vote for cash deals that may extinguish Inherent, Aboriginal, or Treaty rights to the land.

The federal government’s attack on the community’s inherent right to a customary governance system has served the ends of the Quebec government, which has been allowing forestry companies to illegally log in Barriere Lake’s traditional territory, without consulting and in areas that are supposed to be off-bounds under the terms of the 1991 Trilateral agreement. Quebec has just issued cutting permits for a new period of logging.

—->Please take a moment to support a community that has protected their territory from extractive industries for decades at great expense and sacrifice to their lives.


SEND AN EMAIL VIA THE BARRIERE LAKE SOLIDARITY WEBSITE:http://barrierelakesolidarity.blogspot.com/2007/10/blog-post.html

Collectif de Solidarité Lac Barrière

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