| Jun 22, 2006


Feature Article - June 22, 2006

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Feature Article - June 22, 2006

LandClaim proceeding apace by JeffGreen

Robert Potts, the chief negotiator for the Algonquin Land Claim, has the “aggressive objective” that an agreement in principle can be reached within the next two years.

Since being hired by the Algonquins a couple of years ago, Robert Potts has spent a considerable amount of time putting together what he calls a “negotiation table”. Elections were held last year to establish negotiation representatives for so-called non-status Algonquins that have been organized around nine identified communities, including Sharbot Lake and Ardoch.

These nine representatives and the entire seven-member Council of the Pikwakanagan First Nation (the only Algonquin reserve in Ontario ) form the Algonquin negotiation table that Potts was seeking.

Early this spring, the Algonquins resumed meeting with federal and provincial government representatives, breathing life into the land claim process that had been dormant for several years.

Heart_and_soul

The Algonquins are currently preparing a framework for negotiations. Issues that will be on the table include hunting and fishing on publicly held land within the land claim territory (which stretches from Bancroft to the Quebec border, including Algonquin Park and the City of Ottawa), as well as the development of an economic plan.

“We are looking to develop economic plans with each of the regions, as well as an overarching plan,” Potts said in an interview with the News last week, “We are proceeding with a paced process that will lead to a package, which we hopefully will be honoured to accept. But if the people don’t accept it, it won’t work.”

As the land claim process gets underway again, municipal officials and representatives from interested groups, such as the Conservationists of Frontenac Addington, (COFA) met last month to receive an update.

North Frontenac Mayor Ron Maguire attended the meeting as representative of the County of Frontenac . He reported back to the county that, “There was a positive atmosphere around talks as far as I can tell, but many substantive issues will have to be addressed.”

Crown land covers 70% of North Frontenac, and all development on Crown land has been frozen within the land claim territory, so the township has a real interest in seeing the land claim resolved so that economic development on Crown land can be initiated.

Ed Giffin, who represented COFA at the municipal meeting, had a similar impression of the meeting.

Giffin told the News he found that “there was no friction or animosity at the meeting, and a good atmosphere of cooperation as well. I note that Brain Crane, the chief negotiator for Ontario , seemed to think that Mr. Potts’ goal of having an agreement in place within two years might be overly optimistic.”

Ed Giffin also talked with Chief Doreen Davis, the representative of the Sharbot Lake Algonquins. “She was very open, easy to talk to, and that’s exactly what we need,” Giffin said.

There are several major roadblocks to an agreement, however. The question of eligibility is outstanding. Algonquins from Pikwakanagan, who are status Indians under the Indian Act (which requires a minimum percentage of Algonquin blood or blood quantum) do not share the view taken by non-status Algonquins that anyone who is the direct descendant of an Algonquin should be a beneficiary to the claim.

For the purposes of electing negotiation representatives, the looser criteria of direct descent has been accepted, but eligibility to vote does not imply eligibility to receive benefits.

“There was no point worrying about who is eligible to receive benefits when we don’t know what the benefits are,” said Robert Potts, “but we are working on the eligibility issue.

There are Algonquins who are not satisfied with the land claim process at all and with the way representatives to the process were chosen.

One such person is Randy Cota, a co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, who has been a harsh critic of the way the land claim process has proceeded.

Randy Cota says, “Hunting and fishing are inherent rights; they should not be part of the land claim process. The land claim should also focus on royalties for natural resources on Algonquin lands, such as minerals and logging, and negotiations should be conducted on a nation-to-nation basis between the Algonquin Nation and the Government of Canada.”

He also challenges the way the Algonquin negotiation representatives were chosen. Cota and his Ardoch Algonquins rejected the election process, arguing that representatives should be chosen according to Algonquin tradition, by a council of family heads."

“The election process for representatives was a fair one,” counters Robert Potts, “and the federal and provincial governments have formally indicated they have found that we have a legitimate table to negotiate.”

(Randy Cota and Bob Lovelace are co-chiefs and Harold Perry is the Honorary Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. There is another band called the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, under Chief Randy Malcolm, and there is a simmering dispute between the two bands. Randy Malcolm was elected Algonquin negotiation representative for the community of Ardoch. For background on the twists and turns of local Algonquin politics, there are a number of articles posted at http://www.newsweb.ca/2005/Algonquin_index.html)

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