Jeff Green | Apr 10, 2019
Harold Perry, who died last week, was born at Ardoch. He left for Toronto as a teenager but returned to Ardoch as an adult, and lived the rest of his life on Canoe Path Lane, on a section of the Mississippi River that is called Mud Lake.
He experienced discrimination because of his Algonquin heritage when he was young, in Ardoch and in Toronto.
Nonetheless, he embraced the teachings and connection to the land that he learned as a child. He also developed a very strong and unwavering set of political understandings that have influenced indigenous activists locally and across the province in profound ways. He also was a master canoe builder and country music guitarist. He was proudly inducted into the Land O’Lakes Traditional Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
Harold also helped to manage a patch of wild rice, that was transported to Mud Lake by his mother from Rice Lake near Peterborough. And that patch of rice was responsible for a chain of events that changed Harold’s life and many others, and helped spark the re-birth of Indigenous culture in Frontenac and Lanark Counties and beyond.
In the late 1970’s, the province of Ontario granted a license to a rice harvesting company to collect the rice from Mud Lake. Harold was a well-established builder, woodworker, martial arts instructor, and musician at the time, headed towards retirement age, when he saw that the rice patch that he had been stewarding for most of his life was about to be harvested.
He approached North Frontenac Community Services, which had a community legal worker on staff at the time (a position that eventually led to the formation of its own agency – Rural Legal Services.)
That worker was Bob Lovelace, who spent most of his time representing clients of the Oso Township welfare office, who were having trouble accessing funds from the township.
When Harold and Bob met, both of their lives changed.
“I knew from when I was a kid that I was part Indian,” Lovelace said when contacted this week at his home on Canoe Lake.
“I was mainly focussed, at that that time, on the local welfare system. Harold came to see me one day about what he could do about the rice.
Harold and Bob and a host of other community members worked on what were dubbed locally as the ‘rice wars’ for a couple of seasons and eventually the company was forced to withdraw.
The entire episode sparked a bit of a renaissance in Aboriginal culture in the region.
“Local people kept their culture to themselves before that. They kept it within their extended families, but at that time they started to feel they no longer wanted to be ashamed of their identity, they wanted to come together in public.”
A number of cultural and political groups developed throughout the 1980’s in the Ardoch and Sharbot Lake areas, and Harold and Bob formed a friendship and political alliance.
Lovelace, who is a university lecturer at Queen’s, a community educator and political activist, said “I like to tell my students that Harold Perry taught me everything I know about aboriginal culture and politics.”
In the 1980’s, Harold became a central figure in another legal battle, over hunting rights for non-status people of Aboriginal heritage.
“He thought it was important to establish hunting rights, and he said he thought it would take longer than his lifetime to do it, but we had to make a start. It was a shorter fight than he thought.”
It turned out that it was Harold himself who supplied the test case, when he was arrested for shooting a duck without first obtaining a hunting license.
Harold fought the case on his inherent right to hunt as an aboriginal person, and won. The case was later overturned in an appeal court, based on some of the comments that the judge made during the trial, but the government of Ontario has never re-visited the issue, being content to establish harvesting agreements with First Nations to this day rather than challenging Aboriginal hunting rights.
In the late 1980’s the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and Allies (AAFNA - later renamed the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation) had been formed, and Harold was elected as Chief through a vote of the family heads council.
AAFNA was approached by Kirby Whiteduck from Golden Lake (now know as Pikwakanagan First Nation) to join in the Algonquin land claim process, and they agreed to participate.
“After about a year Harold realised that the non-status communities were only going to be used and he encouraged the family heads council to have AAFNA step back from the process, and they agreed.”
AAFNA, and Harold, became harsh critics of the land claim process, never yielding in his opinion that it would lead only to the diminution of Aboriginal rights. This led to more than a little bitterness within the local community that is still echoed to this day.
The Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, based now on White Lake, and the Snimikobi Algonquin First Nation (based in Eganville) remained within the process, and AAFNA has remained opposed.
In 2007, a uranium exploration company began doing testing on Crotch Lake, using an old mine at Robertsville as an access point from Hwy. 509. Crotch Lake and the region surrounding it are the traditional territory for both AAFNA and the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations.
In spite of the schism between the two groups, who share territory and family connections, the two First Nations worked together and occupied the site, saying they would not permit drilling on their ancestral territory. It was an uneasy alliance that frayed pretty quickly, but the occupation held for several months.
“Harold, Doreen Davis (Chief of the Shabot Obaadjiwan) the Badour and St. Pierre families deserve credit for putting that coalition together,” said Lovelace, “even if it was tough.”
After the occupation ended, a court case, launched by the exploration company, culminated in a Superior Court Judge in Kingston demanding that the community representatives who ended up facing charges of trespassing, commit to staying away from the site.
In the end there were three who resisted making that declaration, which was a matter of principle more than practicality since by that time the site was back in the hands of the company and access was blocked.
The three were Harold Perry, Bob Lovelace, and Paula Sherman, all Chiefs or former Chiefs of AAFNA.
“Harold was 78 at the time, and I knew from working in the prisons that he was not in good enough health to go to prison, so we talked him into making the declaration,” Lovelace recalls. Lovelace was the only one who ended up in jail, until he was released on appeal several months later.
The company ended up leaving and the land is no longer eligible for staking, and is part of the lands earmarked in the land claim, for transfer to the Algonquins.
Harold Perry lived on at his home in Ardoch with his wife Elsie until last week.
He was an unassuming, even a shy man, but a ferocious political fighter for the rights of non-status Indigenous people, and whether they agreed or disagreed with him, no one can deny the impact he has had on Indigenous politics in this region, and beyond.