The Algonquins of Barriere Lake
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The Algonquins of Barriere Lake

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July 8, 2008

The Algonquins of Barriere Lake is a 41-minute documentary that illustrates the Algonquin community’s decades-long struggle to have their land and resource rights recognized by Canada and the Province of Quebec. You can find the video below…

On June 26th, Algonquin representatives and supporters from the Barriere Lake Solidarity Collective peacefully occupied the offices of Barriere Lake MP Lawrence Cannon.

The aim of the occupation, at least primarily, was to demand the MP meet the Algonquins to discuss the recent “Coup D’etat” involving Barriere Lake’s Tribal Council.

During their 2006 election, Jean Maurice Matchewan was re-elected Customary Chief, “but a small faction ran a parallel leadership selection, claiming to have adhered to the Customary Governance Code,” writes Martin Lukas of Barriere Lake Solidarity. “Indian Affairs refused to recognize Matchewan, and then put the community under Third Party Management – which mandates that an external consultant unilaterally run the community’s finances and funding – claiming it was justified by Barriere Lake’s large deficit and leadership uncertainty.”

However, the aggressive move was more likely because the government simply doesn’t like Matchewan — a fact that Matchewan himself pointed out in a March 2007 Press Release.

“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,” referring to the near-unprecedented Trilateral Agreement he signed with Canada and Quebec, 17 years ago. The federal and provincial governments rue the day they agreed to that.

More pressing, however, there are a number of problems in the Algonquin community which needed (and still need) to be addressed. For one, Barriere Lake’s “school teachers have been replaced with teachers who do not speak Algonquin, and the curriculum has been changed to eliminate traditional teachings,” points out a detailed report of Barriere Lake’s current situation (pdf). “Other services have deteriorated as well. For example, fires now go unextinguished as TPM routinely neglects to fill the fire truck with fuel.”

As a form of peaceful protest, roughly 80% of the community has stopped accepting services from TPM. This means no school, no medical centre, no maintenance, and no day care for most of the residents. In retaliation, TPM recently ordered the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) to change the locks on all community buildings to the exclusion of local residents. This includes the band office, community centre, fire hall, gymnasium, and more.

Turning back to the June 26 action, Lia Tarachansky of the Dominion Paper followed the events as they unfolded. Rabble TV also conducted a set of interviews leading up to it. See the previous link, or watch it on youtube

As for Lia’s report, she initially statedr that the Solidarity Collective as well as Algonquin representatives “vowed they [would] not leave the office until their demands are met.” She continues,

Algonquin media liaisons inside the office occupation were unreachable, but Django, a spokesperson of the Solidarity Collective answered a few questions. Speaking to the situation on the ground he noted that “on the inside the police have asked some of the people to leave peacefully. There were three people that left [because they] weren’t willing to be arrested. [Those were] a cameraman and two Algonquins.” When asked what he predicts will take place later in the day, he replied “we’re still waiting for the demands to be met. The office normally closes at 4:00 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. so we’re thinking that’s probably the time [the police are] going to try and do the arrests.”

Sure enough, the SQ made their move by the end for the office day — arresting six in total. Fortunately, there were no incidents of violence to report — certainly nothing compared to the police assault on the Algonquin two months earlier, when the SQ “pepper sprayed children, pregnant mothers, and other vulnerable members without regard to their health or safety.”

Instead, the arrestees were brought to the Gatineau Police Department, where they stayed until their release at 9:30 that night, “into the arms of cheering family and friends”, Lia writes in a second report (and as you can see in another video covering the arrests.

While this action was short lived, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake are at the point where they cannot sit idely by — not as long as the two governments push an aggressive policy that impoverishes and divides them. And so, in the months ahead, let’s hope their support-base continues to grow — and moreso that community can find a way to heal the wounds Canada has inflicted on them. If they cannot do so, then there’s really nothing to stop Canada from inflicting a thousand more wounds.


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