Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) went ahead this week with its draconian drive to impose a new Chief and Council in the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake.
According to Barriere Lake Solidarity, the government received somewhere between six and ten nomination mail-in ballots from a community of more than 450 people.
In effect, less than 2 percent of the community took part in the imposed election; But as far as INAC is concerned, six to ten was more than enough. On Monday, they declared that the new Band Council Chief was Casey Ratt, one of the Algonquins at the center of the community’s long-standing leadership dispute.
However, the acclaimed Chief has refused the position, stating that he does not want to “break ranks with the community’s broad opposition to the Indian Act band elections” says Barierre Lake Solidarity in a recent press release.
“The overwhelming majority of our community remains opposed to the Indian Act band election regime. Almost two hundred people signed a resolution in May rejecting it and supporting our traditional selection process. Does the Minister of Indian Affairs really think that the consent of a handful of people can let them get away with eradicating our system of government?” says Tony Wawatie, a spokesperson for the Algonquin community. “The government has lectured us about democracy. But how can this be democratic if it goes against the will of our entire community? This looks more like tyranny.”
Tyranny indeed. The government used an obscure provision from the Indian act known as Section 74 which let them impose an election regardless of what the community wants and regardless of their supposedly-protected constitutional rights; for instance, their right to self-government, which is defined in section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act.
“The decision to impose section 74 band elections is an attack not only on our traditional system of government, but on our culture, language and way of life, which are all connected to our traditional system of government,” says Marylynn Poucachiche, another community spokesperson. “We will not accept it. Until our basic and legitimate rights are respected, we will escalate our actions, including not allowing any resource extraction within the Trilateral Agreement Territory.”
Publicly, INAC says it was compelled to use Section 74 because of the ageing leadership dispute between Casey Ratt and Norman Matchewan. The department says it simply had ‘no choice’, and that it was in the community’s best interests.
But this claim of goodwill and benevolence is more for ‘hearts and minds’ than anything else. After all, the government has been talking about a change in leadership since at least 2002, years before the dispute began.
The real reason for the government’s intervention, it is believed, is that Canada and Quebec want to get out of a set of binding agreements with the Barriere lake Algonquins, including the 1991 Trilateral Agreement which was “a landmark sustainable development agreement praised by the United Nations and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Canada has been in breach of the Agreement since 2001,” explains Barriere Lake Solidarity.
Norman Matchewan’s father and the formerly-recognized Chief of Barriere Lake, Jean Maurice Matchewan, tirelessly worked to ensure that both governments honoured the agreements.
And now that the election has concluded, thanks to Casey Ratt and almost the entire Algonquin community, INAC will go back to the drawing board. After all, they still have to impose a new Chief and Council in Barriere Lake. Odds are they’ll hold a by-election, but at this point there’s no telling what they’ll do or how far they’ll go… Especially if they’re going to just casually violate the Constitution like it’s just another day.
Tony Wawatie, community spokesperson: 819 – 860-4121
Marylynn Poucachiche, community spokesperson: 819-441-4923
Or email to arrange interviews: email@example.com
For more information and background: www.barrierelakesolidarity.org