| Jul 13, 2006

Feature Article - July 6, 2006

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Feature Article - July 6, 2006

If a tree falls...

by JeffGreen

With the sound of a chainsaw felling the first tree at an obscure boat launch at Pine Lake near Ardoch last Friday, a new chapter in the ongoing saga of the local Algonquin politics began.

For Harold Perry, it was almost 30 years ago when he heard another sound, the sound of a powerful rice harvesting boat tearing through the wild rice on Mud Lake , rice that his own mother had brought to Ardoch from Rice Lake many years before.

In fighting to stop the commercial rice harvest, Harold Perry received support from the entire community, including Bob Lovelace, then a worker with North Frontenac Community Services, and later an adopted member and co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation (AAFNA).


Last Friday Bob Lovelace stood with Harold Perry and watched the chainsaws and bulldozer clear land for an Algonquin Community Centre and Pow Wow grounds at Pine Lake , but the entire community is not necessarily as supportive as they were back in the late 1970s.

A lot has happened in the interim. Political and cultural organisations have come and gone. Eventually AAFNA was formed and took a role in the development of a non-status negotiating stance in the Ontario Algonquin Land Claims process that was initiated in 1992.

Harold Perry and Bob Lovelace have always taken a relatively hard line in relation to the land claim, and eventually they, as well as co-chief Randy Cota, came to the conclusion that the land claim process is flawed and should be ceased. The family heads council of AAFNA has agreed and AAFNA has removed itself formally from the process.

In the meantime two other Algonquin entities have developed in the local vicinity. The Sharbot Mishigama Algonquin First Nation formed in the late 1990s. It includes former AAFNA members as well as others. A couple of years ago matters became more complicated when the Ardoch Algonquins basically split into two factions, both with the same name. Randy Malcolm heads one Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, and he has been a representative to the land claims process.

An election was held last year to try and remove the land claims process from this kind of internal politics, but AAFNA, under co-chiefs Bob Lovelace and Randy Cota, boycotted that process.

Randy Malcolm was elected the negotiating representative to the land claim for Ardoch, and Doreen Davis for Sharbot Lake .

The land claims process has moved forward without AAFNA. The Algonquins who are involved are developing a framework agreement and an interim hunting agreement, agreements that AAFNA thinks will hinder rather than help the Algonquins of the Ottawa Valley .

This is the context under which AAFNA decided to make their latest move, and take physical control of a little piece of what they call “ Algonquin Land ” - and what the Canadian and Ontario Governments call “ Crown Land ”. Inevitably, AAFNA is putting itself into conflict with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) which administers Crown lands in Ontario . While there have been several high profile confrontations over land in Ontario in recent years, this one is different because it is being carried out by a group of non-status Natives.

While the MNR is taking its time reacting, it will eventually have to do something. The MNR will not be able to stand by as Crown Land is altered in this way without a land use permit from them. Under Canadian law they have legal jurisdiction over the land.

The other major political target here is the land claims process itself. The process is seeking to determine financial compensation, and which lands should be set aside for Algonquin use in exchange for a treaty which will finally give Canada the title to the Ottawa Valley watershed territory, including the City of Ottawa and Parliament Hill.

If AAFNA establishes a community centre on this little patch of land, they hope to shake up the land claims process by demonstrating that the Algonquins have the right to do what they want on “Crown” land. They seek to demonstrate that non-status Algonquins already have authority over land; they don’t need to rush into a land claim which AAFNA feels will inevitably be their downfall.

The fact that they intend to build a meeting place is significant to this. According to Bob Lovelace, Algonquins need to meet and tell each other stories about their culture, they need to find out who they are and how they relate to their surroundings before beginning to negotiate with Canada .

But time may not be on AAFNA’s side. When that first tree was cut down it put them into confrontation with the government of Ontario ; it put them into conflict with their neighbours on Pine Lake ; and it pitted them in a more public way against those local Algonquins who are committed to the land clam process.

Several years ago Harold Perry shot a duck out of season near his home in Ardoch. This led to a court case which eventually established that he had the right, as a non-status Algonquin, as the descendant of the historic occupiers of the land, to shoot that duck.

The right to cut down a tree might turn out to be a more complicated matter. It certainly has more far-reaching political implications.

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