Algonquins of Barriere Lake Press Release
Rapid Lake, Algonquin Territory
March 12, 2007
Dissident Faction Now Blocking Highway 117 — Direct Result of Interference by the Department of Indian Affairs Alleges Barriere Lake Elder
Speaking about the blockade of Highway 117 by community dissidents, Harry Wawatie, Spokesperson for the Elders Council of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, today stated that the community does not support the blockade of Highway 117, and he denounced the federal Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) for meddling in the internal affairs of the community by refusing to recognize the Customary Council led by Chief Jean Maurice Matchewan.
Matchewan’s Council was selected in July/August 2006, in accordance with the First Nation’s ancient customs on governance, known as the “Onakinakewin”. The First Nation’s customs give the Elders a prominent role in the leadership selection process. Since August, the Elders Council has been calling on DIA to recognize the First Nation’s selection, but federal officials from the Quebec Regional Office of DIA have refused – basing their refusal on what they claim is the existence of a rival chief and council put forward by a dissident faction in the First Nation.
Elder Wawatie, who believes DIA’s actions to undermine Matchewan has empowered the dissident faction, said “DIA’s divide-and-conquer tactics have caused this”. He added, “After the leadership crisis in 1996, we codified our Onakinakewin with the guidance and support of Superior Court Justice Rejean Paul. We followed our Code exactly this time! There is no reason DIA should refuse to recognize Chief Matchewan’s Council”. Justice Paul has again been called in to make recommendations to Minister Prentice on the matter.
In the meantime, National Chief Phil Fontaine has recognized Chief Matchewan’s Council: the National Chief wrote to the federal Minister of Indian Affairs, Jim Prentice, on December 22, 2007, informing him that “the Assembly of First Nations recognizes Chief Jean Maurice Matchewan, and his Council, as the leadership of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake.” Matchewan’s leadership has also been recognized by AFN’s Quebec branch, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, as well as the tribal council of which Barriere Lake is a member, the Algonquin Nation Secretariat.
Chief Jean Maurice Matchewan stated today: “It is Indian Affairs that is to blame for this mess! They did the same thing to me in 1996, when I was the Chief at that time. They don’t like me because I refuse to bow down to them. As a result, they are always trying to undermine my leadership. We see the results now with the dissidents operating outside of our First Nation’s authority and blocking Highway 117. We do not support their blockade and we will not accept any responsibility arising out of the dissident groups’ actions. Let Indian Affairs fix it. They started the problem.”
There is a larger conflict between the Algonquins of Barriere Lake and the federal government. Matchewan is accusing the government of breaching agreements it signed with Barriere Lake; one which he signed as Chief in 1991 with Canada and Quebec, called the Trilateral Agreement. This Agreement, Matchewan hopes, will result in economic opportunities for Barriere Lake and lift them out of their deplorable social conditions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Russell Diabo Cell: (613) 296-0331
Algonquins of Barriere Lake
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