| Jul 16, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - July 16, 2009 A history of the Algonquin Land Claim Part 1/2By Julie Druker

Glenn Tunnock at the Kennebec Hall spoke about the history of the Algonquin Land Claim

On Saturday July 11 at the Kennebec Hall The Kennebec Lake Association and the Kennebec and District Historical Society presented a talk by Glenn Tunnock titled “The Algonquin Land Claim: A Return to Self Determination“.

Tunnock is the planning consultant for North and Central Frontenac townships, and also has a bent for Canadian history, geography and the settlement patterns of the people who live here.

He currently resides in Perth and is pursuing a master’s degree in history from Queen’s University.

His talk focused on the last 200 years of the Algonquin First Nation’s 11,000 year history. He was quick to clarify the Algonquin understanding of land, an idea that has been passed down orally through the ages and he quoted the words of Bob Lovelace to make this point. “It’s an understanding that begins with creation and… does not centre on human beings… (and) is shaped by vision which gives spirit form.”

Tunnock pointed out that the essence of the Algonquins’ “self determination has always been tied to their understanding of the land, Mother Earth - who takes care of them by providing the resources that sustain them as a society and how they in turn take care of the land.”

Tunnock highlighted the last 200 year history of the dispossession of Algonquin land, primarily the lands west of the Ottawa River commonly known as the Ottawa River watershed, the resulting erosion and tentative rebuilding of the Algonquin people’s right to self determination.

Here is a summary of his talk.

Historically the erosion began with Champlain’s arrival to eastern North America in 1646, with the onset of commercial trade, most notably the fur trade, and the establishment of settlements around present day Kingston, Montreal and Quebec City.

According to Tunnock, Champlain’s arrival changed the geo-politics of the region forever after.

One of the seminal documents that affected Aboriginal land rights was the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which mapped out 2 separate blocks of land, one, the Indian Territory that covered the Appalachians and most of the Great Lakes down to the Mississippi River and the second, government or crown land. The document set out to establish a number of things, namely, British common law, good government and peace. It also provided a mechanism for the government to pay for the cost of administrating these lands by promoting commercial trade with the First Nations.

The intent of the document was to allow the government, through colonization, to gradually acquire all of the Indian territory over time by setting out a prescription for the surrendering of aboriginal lands and setting up the treaty process. Paradoxically it also recognized Indian territory and the First Nations’ interests in it.

According to Tunnock, “The Royal Proclamation is said to be a Magna Carta for Aboriginal land rights today in Canada.”

In 1783 the movement of United Empire Loyalists from Upper New York into Ontario and Quebec initiated the first of a series of land treaties concerning the Algonquin, the Crawford Purchase of 1783. Although it was negotiated by the Chippewa and Mississauga groups without the Algonquins’ consent, some Algonquin territory was still signed over to the government.

Tunnock pointed out that the description of lands in these early treaties demonstrates how vague and fraudulent the terms of these treaties often could be. The Crawford Purchase describes the land purchased as “extending from the lake back as far as a man can travel in a day”. No deed of this purchase survives in the public record.

Payments for land in these early treaties were often made to the aboriginal groups with goods only, namely, guns, ammunition, and in the case of the Crawford Purchase “as much coarse red cloth as will make them a dozen coats and many laced hats”.

The Rideau Purchase, 1816-1819, which included lands located on the southern part of the Ottawa River Valley and according to Tunnock “the land that the Kennebec Hall in Arden now sits on” was a similar kind of treaty in that the Algonquin also did not participate in the negotiations. Part of the logistical reasons for this was that in some cases traditional Algonquin lands were used by the Algonquin only during certain times of the year and this fact was not recognized by the government.

From 1820-1870 the Algonquin pursued their land “interests through petitions to the the British and Canadian governments” but Tunnock explained, “there was never any movement to acknowledge any title or claim to these lands by the government.”

The British North America Act of 1867 further complicated matters by splitting responsibility between the federal and provincial governments.

According to Tunnock the only land compensation granted by the government in the 1800s to the Algonquin was the Golden Lake Reserve granted in 1873, a relatively small reserve given in compensation for mining and timber lands which had been taken by the government arbitrarily before then.

In 1897, Algonquin Park, another very large parcel of land, was taken from the Algonquins’ land base and, ironically, named after them.

The 20th Century and beyond: more losses and a fledgling land claim

Tunnock described the Williams Treaty of 1923 as “another slap in the face“. It was negotiated, once again without Algonquin presence, with the Mississauga First Nation.

From 1923 to 1960 very little was done to resolve native land claims. In 1927 the Canadian government passed a law making it illegal for Aboriginal groups to raise funds for court challenges.

The 1960s brought about some positive changes affecting land claims. A government White Paper proposed a system for dealing with land claims. Most of the White Paper’s recommendations were rejected by the First Nations, but the seed of introducing a land claim system in Canada was planted at that time.

A period of successful litigations then began in the 1970s. In 1973 the Calder Decision set a precedent, stating that Aboriginal title stems from native people’s historic occupation of their land. For the first time since 1763 a formal acknowledgement was made that native people had a legitimate interest in acquiring title to the lands that they have traditionally occupied.

The Constitutional Act of 1982 entrenched within the constitution the rights of Aboriginal people. It also established their right to a settlement process, which is the one we have in Canada today.

In 1983 the federal government set up a formal comprehensive land claims policy, or what is commonly referred to as a negotiation model. As a result, in 1983 the Algonquin filed their first land claim.

The Sparrow Case of 1990 established the right of Aboriginal people to resources, particularly hunting and fishing rights.

In 1991 the provincial government agreed to enter into negotiations with the Algonquin, at the same time refusing to assume any liability for past actions.

The Algonquin Land Claim of 1991 covers 8.9 million acres or 20,000 square miles and extends from North Bay to the St. Lawrence River. It includes the lands that make up the Ottawa River watershed west of the Ottawa River.

The signing of the Statement of Shared Objectives between the three negotiators, the federal and provincial governments and the 10 groups of Algonquins was signed in 1994. It contains seven objectives, among them: to establish a land base suitable and exclusive for the Algonquins’ use; to determine and establish their rights; to provide a mechanism for improving their economic situation through access to resources; to make sure that Algonquin Park remains accessible to them; and to provide a consultation process.

A second negotiations document was also signed in 1994 that set out the procedures of the negotiation process.

So why has no agreement been signed yet, 15 years later?

The reasons are many. The area is huge and the negotiations involve 10 different Algonquin groups spread throughout the area. The process is also very complicated and often the skills and resources necessary to carry out negotiations have had to be built up and or brought in.

The issue of financing is also an issue where funding is not adequate enough to allow the Algonquins to hire people to allow the process to properly take place.

Also the fact that agreements are to reached by consensus can take more time. The process also has broken down in the past.

One of the positive affects that has come out of the process is a “culturation process”, wherein the government is taking the time to understand cultural issues of the Algonquin while the Algonquin themselves are rediscovering them too.

According to Tunnock, “The question remains: ‘Have the Algonquin, through the negotiation model and process, achieved self determination?’”. Of course there are many varying opinions here.

Tunnock pointed out one important aspect missing from the negotiation process, namely the issue of self-governance. He stated, “There is nothing in the land claim process that talks about self governance.”

So how close is the 1991 Algonquin Land Claim to being finally settled?

Tunnock explained, “As I understand it a proposed agreement (AIP) in principle has been set out to be completed by March 2010, so they are pretty close but that may be delayed depending on resources available to carry on the process. Although they may have the AIP almost in place, I personally feel that its still deficient in that they have not dealt with the sovereignty issue.” 

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