| Feb 16, 2006


Feature Article - February 16, 2006

Feature Article

February 16, 2006

AlgonquinLandClaim faces many hurdles

by Jeff Green

Although the Ontario Algonquin Land Claim process was initiated in 1992, it has never gathered momentum, and for the past few years it has been suspended as the Algonquin people have been trying to deal with internal issues.

These issues have centred on some very important questions, such as who is an Algonquin for the purposes of the land claim process, and how these people are to be represented at the talks.

A little over a year ago, the current Algonquin Chief Negotiator, Toronto lawyer Robert Potts, proposed that for the purposes of choosing negotiation representatives, anyone who can prove direct Algonquin descent can be eligible as an elector. Whether or not all of these people will share in the fruits of the negotiations is a question that has been deferred.

Flood

Seven Algonquin communities were identified, and an election process to determine seven representatives was undertaken last year. While the process was controversial, the seven people were chosen. These people have joined with the nine-member council of the Pikwakanagan First Nation, the only Algonquin Reserve on the Ontario side of the border, to form a 16-member negotiating table.

This table has been meeting for six months and has now informed the federal and provincial governments that they are ready to resume negotiations.

As the negotiations start up, it is worth considering what purpose this land claim process is intended to serve.

The land claim serves different purposes for different parties. The federal and provincial governments would like to have clear title to the Ottawa Valley . The Crown has granted much of the land for development by farmers and others, (the land includes the City of Ottawa ), for hundreds of years, without benefit of a treaty. The land claims process may cost millions of dollars, but it will legitimise 300 years of transactions that have been completed in the name of the Government of Canada.

For the people of the Pikwakanagan First Nation, it would open up economic development opportunities, and perhaps lead to an increase in territory.

For Algonquins who live off the reserve, most of whom are not considered native according the Indian Act, the land claim has many possible outcomes. Some would like to use the process to revive a vanished culture. European civilization eliminated the culture of their ancestors over time, and there is among them a genuine desire to find a place in the world that includes their Algonquin heritage. Many of these people have only faint connections to this past, and would like to change that.

Some feel that their community is in such a weakened state that it is premature to enter into a land claims process for fear they will sell off their ancestral rights for limited gains that will disappear within a generation or less. In spite of Robert Potts’ efforts, it’s fair to say that the non-status Algonquins are anything but a unified group, and have many divergent, seemingly irreconcilable, viewpoints about the land claim and their own future as a community.

Municipal governments in the Ottawa Valley have a direct interest in the land claim as well

Some of the townships within the claim territory contain large tracts of Crown land. Among these are North Frontenac and Addington Highlands . From the beginning of the process, all sides agreed that private land would not be part of any settlement, but since 1992, development on Crown land has been stymied by the land claim.

Recent initiatives by the Addington Highlands council have illustrated the problem that this unresolved land claim brings. A resort development initiative and a wind power initiative would become much more attractive if the status of much of the Crown land within the township were clarified.

The community at large also has a stake in the process. Under the surface, there is the potential of resentment among non-native people who trace their own roots in the land claim territory.

Resentment over native hunting and fishing rights is widespread in the region. Groups such as the Conservationists of Frontenac-Addington (COFA) take the position that there should be one set of rules for hunting and fishing for everyone. If hunting, fishing, and mineral rights are included in any settlement, it would lead to anger among non-native sportspeople.

As well, there are some people who question whether the Algonquin people are the historical inhabitants of the Ottawa Valley .

All in all, the Algonquin Land Claim is a complicated stew of interests and issues, and will have to be considered carefully by all involved, which includes virtually anyone who lives or works in the Ottawa Valley .

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