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Minister's Memo Exposes Motives for Removing Algonquin Chief

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Issue: 60 Section: Original Peoples Geography: Quebec Barriere Lake Topics: Algonquin, Barriere Lake

March 27, 2009

Minister's Memo Exposes Motives for Removing Algonquin Chief

INAC expected collaboration with new Chief but feared legal repercussions and perception of government sponsorship

by Martin Lukacs

A secret memo reveals the motivations behind Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl's decision to remove the chief and council from power in the small Algonquin community of Barriere Lake.

MONTREAL–A secret document obtained by The Dominion reveals Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) decided to replace the leadership of Barriere Lake First Nation, which officials considered "dogmatized," with a chief and council offering “improved collaboration."

The memo sent to Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl recommends recognizing leadership claimant Casey Ratt in place of Chief Benjamin Nottaway, but predicts such a move will lead to community violence, erection of barricades, legal challenges and "media pressure" based on the "perception of a council sponsored by INAC.”

Strahl signed off on the memo on March 3, 2008. In an April letter to the Ottawa Citizen he maintains that INAC was following the wishes of the community and was not "backing one group over another."

Ratt's ascent to power in the northern Quebec Algonquin community of 450 has been fiercely contested by Nottaway's supporters, who allege INAC ousted an assertive leadership and empowered a group that violated customary leadership protocols.

The Barriere Lake Algonquins select their leadership not by ballot, but by a strict Customary Governance Code that involves the nomination of candidates by elders and their approval in community assemblies. As Strahl states in his public letter, INAC's "role is to simply acknowledge the outcome and register the results."

But the Elder's Council in Barriere Lake quickly launched a judicial review of Strahl's move, arguing INAC went beyond their legal bounds in deciding who should be in power. In April, INAC motioned to dismiss the Elder's case, maintaining INAC did not make a “decision” reviewable by the courts.

A minor is arrested in early March 2008, for refusing to allow INAC-recognized Chief Casey Ratt into the reserve. Photo: Marylynn Poucachiche

The February 18 memo demonstrates that decisions were in fact made. Instead of carefully assessing whether a leadership selection conducted by Ratt's supporters in late January 2008 accorded with the Customary Governance Code, it focuses on the benefits and drawbacks of three possible INAC responses: recognizing Ratt, maintaining relations with Nottaway, or withdrawing recognition for Nottaway and mediating or imposing an electoral system on the community.

According to the memo, keeping ties with Nottaway would entail "continuity of tensed [sic] relations between INAC and the Band Council, considering its claims." For nearly two decades, Nottaway's supporters have been locked in a battle with INAC and Quebec over the implementation of a landmark Trilateral agreement that would give the First Nation say over resource use on 10,000 square kilometres of their traditional territory.

Despite Nottaway's council's "claim to its legitimacy," the memo expresses preference for a band council headed by Casey Ratt, detailing "positive impacts" that include “improved collaboration of the new council with INAC,” a “new council less dogmatized," and a "new environment more favourable to the development of the community" and a "healing process."

A 2006 attempt by Ratt’s supporters to select a chief and council was dismissed after mediation in 2007 by Quebec Superior Court Judge Réjean Paul, who called the group a “small minority” whose selection process “did not follow the Customary Governance Code." Over that year INAC withdrew recognition from Nottaway's customary predecessor, Chief Jean-Maurice Matchewan, until Judge Paul issued the report affirming his legitimacy.

The secret memo acknowledges Judge Paul’s "approach" and admits INAC "does not have all the information" regarding Ratt's recent selection, but states an independent observer "partly related the process' compliance with custom requirements."

When INAC cited this local court worker's report in a March 10 letter notifying Nottaway he was no longer Chief, officials refused to release it to the community. The Elder Council's lawyers obtained it through court months later and discovered that the observer had in fact stated he "couldn’t guarantee” Ratt had followed the Customary Governance Code.

The memo also dismisses taking advantage of the "shaky situation" in the community to impose an Indian Act election system, because its "major impacts" would require further analysis. Inside observers say such a move, which would unilaterally discard the community's customary selection by a Minister's order, could risk being deemed unconstitutional.

Strahl has come under fire recently after documents leaked to the Globe & Mail revealed that INAC secretly plans to revive the Liberals' First Nations Governance Act, which includes challenging "flawed" or "outdated" customary selections of First Nation leaders.

The memo mentions the possibility of “barricades” and suggests informing the Quebec police to "ensure the supervision of the community in the days following the announcement of the new Council." Community members tried to bar Ratt from returning to the reserve in March, dragging trees along the reserve's access road. Ratt required escort by police, who arrested a dozen people and maintained a heavy presence in the community for two weeks, preventing Nottaway's council from accessing any administrative buildings.

While these earlier incidents received little attention, Barriere Lake acquired a higher profile after Nottaway's supporters blockaded a major Quebec highway in October and November 2008, rallying to the demand that INAC implement the Trilateral Agreement and appoint an observer to witness and respect the outcome of a new leadership selection. Nottaway was arrested and jailed for two months in the winter for his participation, arousing condemnation of the Conservative government from Green Party leader Elizabeth May, the NDP, and major unions.

Ratt issued a press release after the blockades stating the former council "focused too much of their attention on the trilateral agreement" and that it was time the "First Nation moves forward." INAC pulled out of the agreement in 2001.

The secret memo was released by the Ministry of Justice on March 13, almost a year after a request filed by lawyers for the Elder's Council was initially denied because INAC maintained they had not made a “decision” about leadership.

Withholding the document, INAC won a dismissal of the Elder's Council judicial review in August but then lost an appeal before a federal court in January. The Judge concluded that a reviewable "decision" had been made and emphasized that the legal status of the Ratt Council remained uncertain, despite recognition from Strahl. After another request for documents, a privacy commissioner green-lighted the memo's release. The court case over leadership will proceed this summer.

Martin Lukacs is a writer and activist, and a member of the Barriere Lake solidarity collective in Montreal.

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Unceded Aboriginal Territory and Jurisdiction is of Internationa

Chi migwetch Michikanibikok Inik !!!! The Algonquin situation exposes the grave legal inconsistencies found throughout all Canadian domestic policy.

When an administering state is found to be breaching its own Constitution, and interferes in unceded jurisdiction the matters must be recognized as being of international character.

All Canadians have been denied free, prior and informed consent regarding the matters of Aboriginal peoples, the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, and how the protection of such jurisdiction is of positive benefit to all Canadian citizens.

Demand the immediate implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the only appropriate vehicle for justice and legitimacy.

Aboriginal rights belong equally to all persons of Aboriginal descent based on contextual and specific laws and traditions held by the traditional nations that have historically made up the Canadian federation prior to illegal interference by an administering state.

The Algonquin Nation is unceded. We have never relinquished territory or jurisdiction. As an Indigenous Peoples,existing as a nation prior to the sovereignty assertions of a foregein Crown, and meeting the legal requirements established as legitimate and common amongst those nations united together in peace,to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and, to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom;

Our rights and responsibilities, as a nation, as a peoples, are still held according to international and Constitutional law to be fully in place.

And whereas the Purposes of the United Nations are:

1.To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

2.To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

3.To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

4.To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

We request that the Kichesipirini assertions and requests, on behalf of Indigenous Peoples, be recognized and affirmed.

The Kichesipirini, traditional political centre of the traditional Algonquin Nation, Kichi Sibi Anishnabe, Canada, do hereby assert our right to demand international intervention, in accordance to international law, and do hereby request the immediate implementation in our territory of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Paula LaPierre
Principal Sachem
Kichesipirini Algonquin First Nation
Kichi Sibi Anishnabe
Still Sovereign

Lawyers and Indians

unless and until sovereignty and jurisdiction is won the process of colonization and installation of collaborationist regimes "friendly" to Canada and subservient to corporate colonialism, will continue inexorably.

Colloborationist Regimes

Absolutely correct. And what most Canadians do not realize is that such collorations must be understood in the context of international law and corrupted economic systems that rob all citizens of a nation. These issues are directly associated with the many issues affecting the international fiscal crisis as the world institutions attempt to re-structure themselves away from all forms of colonization and attempt to move towards codifying actual recognition of nations according to international law.

Canada currently exists as an administering state for a foreign Crown who is able to plunder the natural resources away from the nation because the Indigenous Peoples have been blocked from their inherent jurisdiction which holds the profits for the citizens......ALL citizens.....not the racial regimes created by the illegal colonizing Crown.

These corrupt systems directly affect all Canadians. There must be appropriate international intervention. All Canadians must insist on the full disclosure of all of the laws that affect them and must insist that there be the implementation of the actual international law integrated within the Constitution regarding the Aboriginal peoples who have the potential to protect our actual sovereignty from further erosion and exploitation.

We must all demand assistance in sorting through the many Straw Man distractions and the horrendous misappropriation of public monies wasted through the courts and domestic policy fallacies and duplications.

What must be understood is that Canada in itself is not in conflict with the Aboriginal peoples, as Kichesipirini documented record proves that the original Canada was Aboriginal, or Indigenous, and was wrongfully displaced through violence and duress by the asserting British Crown.

Canada was originally administered by a specialized Aboriginal polity, known as the Canadians, that completely respected the title and juriisdiction of the Indigenous nations.....The historical record must be examined through appropriate judication and removed from the biased systems of domestic law.

Chi migwetch!

It’s all a matter of

It’s all a matter of domination/colonization, which is clearly related to power. To actually see Canada/ Canadians actually relinquish any of that power, nestled in advantages, will be hard to come by. Since there is only about 40 yrs left in the resources, it seems imperative that natives get their fair share. Native people are rising, but note that is when there is more opposition; clearly the example of the blacks in the south makes this very clear. The constitution 15(2) recognizes the disadvantages that are in Canadian society; clearly the highest law of the land needs to be recognized. Self government is indirectly an inherent right, based on the freedom we are all born with; no man can give up his sovereignty. Since we have so much going for us, why are we so unable to develop into a stronger nation? Hopefully everything is being pursued and there will be brighter days.

"What must be understood is

"What must be understood is that Canada in itself is not in conflict with the Aboriginal peoples, as Kichesipirini documented record proves that the original Canada was Aboriginal, or Indigenous, and was wrongfully displaced through violence and duress by the asserting British Crown."

Very well put. The main problem is that we often forget to look for the "man behind the curtain" pulling the levers. The Canadian Government is nothing more than the British Crowns' Administration. They are charged with the responsibility to represent the crown in its' relationship with the Indigenous people, especially where there exists treaties or agreements.

Unfortunately, this British administration all too often takes liberties designed to minimize or eliminate their legal obligations acquired through treaty in order to justify the "presumed" sovereignty and jurisdiction of the crown, over Indigenous lands, territories and people.

Our saving grace (excuse the pun) is that many of the original Nations of this land have not ceded nor given up Title to our original territories. This prevents the british claim of sovereignty from ever being complete while we maintain our Title. This results in Canadian sovereignty being heavily burdened by Indigenous Title, a concept you do not hear very much about anymore.

It is also why canada does not "return" lands as part of negotiations. NO land, only money. The more Land they legally acquire, the more complete their sovereignty becomes, and ours is diminished...eventually to disappear......forever.

In fact, the Land does not belong to us, it belongs to future generations. We are only here to use it and care for it for when they arrive.

If we enter an agreement where we gave up all of our [their] land, how would we explain it to our children and grandchildren?? That we did it to protect them?? We, in fact, fail them...

"The constitution 15(2) recognizes the disadvantages that are in Canadian society; clearly the highest law of the land needs to be recognized."

I agree that the highest LAW of the land needs to be recognized..but its not the canadian constitution. The highest Law of the land is the Indigenous Constitutions.......then comes the treaties and agreements that govern the relationship between the Indigenous Nations and the British. WE ALLOWED them to be here legitimately.
As a friend of mine puts it "Indigenous pre-emptive Right".

The canadian constitution only applies to the Crowns' administration, known as the federal and provincial governments. That constitution does not apply to us, as Indigenous Nations unless you enter into an agreement accepting that it does. Then you are placed in section 35, the constitutional Indian reserve.

Original Jurisdiction

It is what is legally the first order. Indigenous rights are a body of very strong law which can only be derogated under certain circumstances. Because we hold Original Jurisdiction everything is actually in our favour. Unfortunately the money changers have the purse and are dictating the policies, which in turn have attempted to move us into those conditions that would unwittingly have robbed us of our title and jurisdiction.

The assertions that Kichesipirini makes as Indigenous Peoples are not solely for Kichesipirini but actually for a sovereign Canada which can never exist without dealing with the Kichesipirini situation....which is then related to all other Indigenous Peoples of Canada, or even under British Crown assertions of sovereignty.

We are no threat to private property.

We are no threat to equal rights....or any other aspect of contemporary society......we are a threat to the corruptions that have been robbing us all and using our legal system as a very expensive hampster's wheel.....while our "government" fails to ensure that policy is actually a reflection of law.

What we are calling for is an independent, third party examination of the issues....and have taken steps to ensure such examination will happen....and the sooner the better as Canada throws more innocent tax payer's money out the window to maintain a lie whose days are numbered.

I disagree that the Canadian constitution only applies to the administration....and it captures law beyond our relationship with the British....because, although it is not specific, it includes those existing Aboriginal rights....those never compromised or surrendered....like the Kichesipirini.

And what does the Kichesipirini historical record teach us? It proves that the original First Nations, as properly qualified, founded Canada.

And Kichesipirini says that the Indigenous Peoples of Canada have not yet legally surrendered their lands and titles.....

And that is good for a Canadian Nation.

Paula LaPierre

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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