| Feb 22, 2007


Feature Article - February 22, 2007

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Feature Article - February 22, 2007

Maguire and AAFNA

by Jeff Green

North Frontenac Mayor Ron Maguire has been walking a fine line in trying to facilitate a memorandum of understanding between the Ardoch Algonquins (AAFNA), the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and the township.

Council passed a resolution in July giving Maguire the authority to communicate on the township’s behalf with all parties. During the election campaign last fall, Maguire advocated the “recognition and appreciation by the broader community of the unique culture, interests and claims of the Algonquin First Nations and Allies.” With this forming part of his platform, he was re-elected against two other candidates.

After the election, the idea of a “working agreement” among the three parties was developed, and this was later changed to a “memorandum of understanding”.

There have been pitfalls along the way, and Maguire has found himself in the middle of some heated exchanges between AAFNA and the MNR.

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One group has been left out of this process, however: the property owners on Pine Lake . They have repeatedly expressed concerns about what is going on. Unlike Mayor Maguire, the Pine Lake Cottagers’ Association does not trust either AAFNA or the MNR.

It is this group, as well as other North Frontenac residents who don’t like the way this matter is progressing, who were in effect being represented by Councillor Wayne Cole when he addressed council last week.

Cole’s main point was that Pine Lake should not be a township matter. He thinks the senior levels of government are avoiding this issue and should be addressing it directly, and he proposed a motion whereby a meeting be sought with senior levels of government on the Pine Lake matter. This motion was passed, and in fact the meeting he was requesting is now being planned for early March.

The heated debate that took place two weeks ago between Maguire and Cole stemmed from the fact that Mayor Maguire saw Cole’s motion as contrary to his approach to Pine Lake . But as cooler heads prevail in the aftermath of the debate, it becomes clear that the motion did not go so far as to preclude the process that is underway between Maguire, AAFNA and the MNR. It casts some doubt as to whether council would agree to a memorandum of understanding should one be presented to them, but that is all. The initial resolution from July still stands; Maguire is still operating with the authority of council.

What has happened, however, is that a bit more of the bitterness that pervades this issue from all sides has come out in public.

AAFNA members claim that they have the right to do what they are doing, and feel they have been and will continue to be good stewards of the land. They bristle at any suggestion that they would act otherwise, pointing out, for example, how much sediment flows into Pine Lake and other lakes as the result of the way the MNR boat launches have been constructed

The Pine Lake residents, and others living on the surrounding land, have said repeatedly what Wayne Cole said in council. It’s a refrain I’ve also often heard since last July: “What would the MNR do if I started building something on Crown land? What would the township do if I started building on municipal land? What would the township do if I started building on my own land without taking out a building permit?”

The difference between Algonquin descendents and the rest of the people who live in the region stems from the fact that Algonquins have a recognised aboriginal claim to the land. The governments of Canada and Ontario have acknowledged that the Algonquin lands were never signed over and they agreed to begin negotiating a land claim agreement for that very reason.

Given the legal legitimacy of the Algonquin claim, the question that is left is whether AAFNA, as a First Nations entity, are legitimate holders of that claim. This has been an internal issue among Algonquin descendents in the region for several years. But, as far as the Township of North Frontenac is concerned, AAFNA has been recognised as the Algonquin representatives in the township for more than a decade. So, if AAFNA does not carry Algonquin rights at Pine Lake , who does? And what becomes of the Land Claims process if the government formally acknowledges AAFNA’s aboriginal rights at Pine Lake ?

These are the issues that only the MNR can address.

It is easy to see why the MNR is taking its time deciding how to handle this, because there are a great many issues at hand, including the Algonquin Land Claim, which AAFNA has rejected.

Central to what AAFNA is doing is an attempt to win the hearts and minds of all people of Algonquin descent in the region. AAFNA is trying to demonstrate to them that there is no need to wait for a land claim to assert their aboriginal rights and begin to rebuild their culture - that the value they retain by not signing a treaty outweighs what would be gained by pursuing a land claim at this time.

Most local Algonquins will be concerned if Pine Lake turns into a battle in the courts, or worse, another physical confrontation between native and non-native people.

This gives AAFNA every reason to seek an accommodation with the province and the township. However, in order for this matter to be resolved, the gulf between AAFNA and their neighbours must be bridged. This is something AAFNA must work on with their neighbours, and in doing so they can repay Ron Maguire for putting himself on the line on their behalf.

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