| Apr 28, 2005


Feature article,April 28, 2005

Feature articleApril 28, 2005

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Elections intended to rejuvinate land claim process

by Jeff Green

The Algonquin land claim, which has been on hold for years now, might start moving forward again, and Algonquin Chief Negotiator Robert Potts is hoping to set up a preliminary meeting with Canadian and Ontario Officials in May, to set up a full resumption of negotiations this September.

Early this month, four of nine Algonquin communities have acclaimed what are being called Algonquin Negoritation Representatives (ANR) and five others will be holding elections in the next two weeks. An election was held for the Sharbot Lake representative this Monday.

The nine Algonquin Negotiation Representatives will then join with members of the newly elected Council of the Pikwakanagan First Nation of Golden Lake, representing Algonquins of status under the Canadian Indian Act, in forming a negotiating group in order to resume Land Claims negotiations with the Federal and Provincial governments. Negotiations have been on hold for several years now, awaiting negotiators from the Algonquin side.

The process has not been without controversy, however, with critics charging that the timing of all- candidates meetings and mail-in ballots were set up in an unfair manner.

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The process was organized and administered out of the Toronto office of Algonquin Chief Negotiator Robert Potts, and critics charge that the time frames and practices established did not allow for enough information to flow to electors, ultimately providing an unfair advantage to candidates who were already well known in their communities.

One such critic is Melinda Turcotte, a candidate for the ANR role in the community of Sharbot Lake.

In Melinda Turcottes case, her opponent Doreen Davis is well known by the Sharbot Lake electors since she is the Chief of the Sharbot Lake Algonquin First Nation under the Algonquin National Tribal Council.

The all-candidates meetings were scheduled two months prior to the date they were to take place, Turcotte told the News, but I was only notified ten days prior to the date they were set for. This to me is unfair. In my case I had a prior commitment on the date of the candidate meeting that could not be changed.

Turcotte sent her husband to the meeting, which took place on April 14 at St. James Church in Sharbot Lake. The election ballots were also sent out before I had a chance to send out my biographical information, and before the candidates meetings, Turcote said. This is a serious problem because the ballots included an encouragement to fill them in and send them back as soon as possible. How was I supposed to get my message out to people who had already voted?

And finally, Turcotte adds, if I decide to appeal the result, the appeal process gives me 24 hours after the results are announced to file an appeal and pay $200 to do so. Why only 24 hours, and why $200?

For her part, Chief Doreen Davis said she found the election had been professionally organized, and she had no problems with the way it was run. I will say that I also had a conflict with the date of the all-candidates meeting, but I rescheduled in order to be available for it.

Doreen Davis also made it very clear that the Algonquin Negotiation Representative election process was run completely independently of the Algonquin National Tribal Council.

We signed a protocol last July with the Pikwakanagan First Nation establishing the independent process, and have been hands off ever since. I received the same notification as my opponent did, Davis said.

As recently as last spring, Chief Negotiator Robert Potts was saying that the Algonquin National Tribal Council elections, which were to take place in the fall of 2004, would result in democratically elected chiefs that could then represent their communities to the land claims process. After several divisive meetings, Mr. Potts had a change of heart and decided an independent process was necessary.

When contacted this week, Robert Potts said the process that was set up has been successfully carried out. Our first objective was to establish a list of electors that was not suspect in any way. To do that we engaged Joan Holmes, who has impeccable credentials as a genealogical researcher, and she has done a thorough and complete job.

Our second objective was to have an election that wouldnt preclude anyone from voting, or running in it. We have done that as well, with the hard work of Robert Johnson, who has acted as the electoral officer, Potts said.

While he acknowledged some of the timelines were tight, Potts said the process was fair.

We did have a problem with the time it takes for mail to be delivered, which is why we sent everything out from Ottawa instead of Toronto, and it is true the ballots arrived before the candidates biographical material. But very few ballots came back before the biographical material went out, we had a very good all-candidates meeting in Sharbot Lake, and a good turnout on April 25 at the polling station that was set up. I think we made an honest effort to ensure that the ballots reached the right people in time, he said.

As to the short time for an appeal, and charging a $200 fee, which pales against the high cost of the process as a whole, Robert Potts said, We want to get on with negotiations, and I think anyone who is seriously thinking about an appeal will be considering that long before the ballots are counted on May 7. The $200 fee is an attempt to recover some of the costs of the appeal.

Ardoch Algonquins

One of the reasons the Algonquin Negotiation Representative process was undertaken was to deal with the competing claims to the name of Ardoch Algonquin by two groups. This precipitated a dispute over membership lists. By setting up a new enrolment process, Robert Potts attempted to bypass the whole problem. People could affiliate themselves with Ardoch and vote for whomever they pleased without regard to who they considered to be the chief of the Ardoch Alghonquins.

In the end, the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation (AAFNA), under honorary Chief Harold Perry, the original Algonquin first Nation in Frontenac County and one of three off reserve groups that were involved in the land claims process when it started back in 1992, decided to opt out of the Algonquin Negotiation Representative process.

Their decision was explained in an ad that ran in this newspaper last week on page 6. In that ad they charge that the The group known as the Algonquin National Tribal Council is the only non-status group to have political access to the Algonquin Negotiation Representation Process. Through their lawyer they have constructed a process that ensures their leaders will be the elected representatives.

As well, AAFNA argues that they have been excluded by the Algonquin National Tribal Council, the Pikwakanagan reserve, and Ontario because AAFNA maintains a traditional governance structure.

The preference AAFNA chooses is to hold off on negotiating a treaty until the Algonquin people are in a stronger position. Their ad concluded, Although there are serious problems among Algonquin people, at no time in the past hundred years have so many people taken pride in their heritage and recognised their sacred responsibility to the Algonquin homeland. Algonquins are on a healing path. Just think what kind of treaty will be made when we are whole again.

The boycott of the Algonquin Negotiation Representative process by the Harold Perry group left Randy Malcolm, the Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin first Nation that is recognised by the Algonquin National Tribal Council, as the sole candidate for Negotiation Representative from Ardoch, and he was acclaimed to the position.

The position taken by Harold Perry and AAFNA is echoed throughout the Algonquin Nation, but others have decided to stay in the process rather than stand aside.

Heather Majaury, who is affiliated with the Sharbot Lake Algonquins, and was involved in the establishment of the Algonquin National Tribal Council but has become a sharp critic of the organization, said I publicly do not endorse the [Algonquin Negotiation Representative Process] and feel the way it was carried out was really problematic, but still I voted. I didnt walk away.

Lynn Gehl, a doctoral candidate in the Native Studies Department of Trent University, and an affiliate of the Greater Golden Lake Algonquins is a contestant in the election that is being held in her home community, greater Golden Lake against two other candidates, one of whom is her own brother.

She has similar concerns about how he election has ben run as Melinda Turcotte of Sharbot Lake does., The election process has undermined the efforts of new people coming in, she said, but she still feels her chances of being elected are excellent, even though her brother, Patrick Glassford, is the Algonuin National Tribal Council chief in greater Golden Lake.

If we have good, qualified leaders, were probably going to get a better deal, she said.

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