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Feture artcle, February 17, 2005

Feature article February 17, 2005

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Group seeks to halt Algonquin Land Claims Process before it starts up again by Jeff Green

A group calling itself The Algonquin National Advisory Committee (TANAC) has provided notice of their intention to proceed with a class action suit against everyone involved in the Algonquin Land Claims process.

Michael Swinwood, a lawyer from Almonte, has served notice of the pending suit to the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the Council of the Pikwakanagan Reserve (Golden Lake), and two entities which have sprung up to provide representation to non-status Algonquins in Ontario.

This suit is coming about as Algonquin Land Claims Chief Negotiator Robert Potts is in the midst of calling elections for Algonquin National Representatives, individuals who are to be elected by people of demonstrable Algonquin descent and have chosen to affiliate themselves with one of seven communities within the Ottawa Valley in Ontario.


These off reserve, so-called non-status Algonquin Communities are to sit at the negotiating table along with the Chief and Council of the Pikwakanagan reserve, which is located at Golden Lake. Pikwakanagan is the only reserve within the Land Claim territory.

The Algonquin National Advisory Committee held a meeting last weekend in Sharbot Lake. About 50 people attended, from various parts of the Algonquin territory, with a concentration coming from the Sharbot Lake vicinity. The Algonquin Drum from Pikwakanagan was in attendance, and Michael Swinwood addressed the meeting. He explained the perspective from which the class action suit he is propagating for the Algonquin Nation is coming from.

The Algonquin Nation is sovereign, he said, there has never been a treaty signed ceding Algonquin lands to the Crown. The Land Claims should be conducted on a nation-to-nation basis between the Algonquin Nation and the Government of Canada.

Swinwood argued that the Province of Ontario needs to be at the table only because they have had mineral rights granted to them from the government of Canada, but that Ontario cannot be a principal to the negotiations. He also said that cutting Ontario and Quebec Algonquins off from each other was part of the divide and conquer strategy that has been perpetrated on Aboriginal peoples throughout North America.

There are nine Algonquin Reserves on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, and there has been no Land Claims Process initiated for Quebec Algonquins.

Michael Swinwood also noted that, according to a Royal Proclamation in 1763, Aboriginal peoples are not to be disturbed and that their territory is not to be taken from them. Further, he stated that Section 25 of the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 states that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 is a living document in terms of aboriginals.

Bob Lavalley, who comes from the Algonquin Park region, chaired the meeting. He said he didnt want to engage in name calling, but that there are serious problems which make the entire Land Claims Process untenable. For one thing, the way it is set up, the people that have been engaged in the process from the Algonquin side are being paid by the government, from the proceeds of whatever settlement they come up with, to carry on the negotiations. How can you negotiate if you are being paid by the other side? he asked.

Lavalley made reference to two bodies that have been developed among non-reserve Algonquins: the Algonquin National Negotiating Directorate (a not-for- profit corporation) and the political body called the Algonquin National Tribal Council. Under the rubric of these institutions, offices have been set up in communities throughout the region, including two in Sharbot Lake. The election process that Robert Potts has set up is an attempt to move on from some of the internal problems of these two previous bodies and focus directly on the Land Claims Negotiations.

The negotiations, which were initiated in 1991, are officially frozen from the perspective of the Ontario and Canadian governments, pending the development of a negotiating team to represent the Algonquin side. Robert Potts is hoping the Algonquin National Representatives will be in place in time to resume negotiations later this year.

Robert Potts has said that the fact that both the Provincial and Federal Governments are prepared to negotiate makes this an historic opportunity for Algonquins, one that may not come again.

This perspective is countered by some, including Lynn Gehl, who wrote in a recent issue of the Anishnabek News, It is my contention that the Algonquin need not sell their land and need not fear that this is our last chance, as others threaten. What the Algonquin need is to demand the time to repair the present fractured and unorganised Algonquin Nation. It took the coloniser well over 300 years to create this position of weakness and it will take us longer than 10 years to repair the damage.

At their meeting in Sharbot Lake, TANAC formed a committee which is devoted to contacting as many Algonquins as possible, on both sides of the border, to inform them of their perspective, to ask them to withdraw their support from the Land Claims Process and put their names behind Michael Swinwoods class action suit.

Michael Swinwood admits the class action suit aims high. It claims all government land within the Ottawa Valley, which includes the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, and asks for $13 billion in damages.

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