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Artist Paula LaPierre is a principal Sachem of the Kichesipirini Algonquin First Nation, based in Pembroke, Ontario, and serves as the First Nation’s elected representative.
LaPierre has been employed by the governments of Ontario and Canada in the delivery of social services, including employment services and the development of human resources.
LaPierre recently contributed to a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada research project with York University in Toronto, compiling and preserving oral interview information on family and lineage continuity in Aboriginal and Algonquin communities.
She has volunteered for positions on the boards of directors of Renfrew County Children’s Council, Pembroke and Area Association for Community Living and Renfrew County Children’s Mental Health Services.
LaPierre is the mother of three daughters and one son, and grandmother of five, and she is expecting two more grandchildren. In her spare time, LaPierre is writing a book on the history of Kichesipirini Algonquin First Nation and their land-base on Allumette Island.
Stephen Salaff: Paula, what is the current status of your struggle?
Paula LaPierre: Our Kichesipirini Algonquin First Nation seeks to gain full participation rights in negotiations on the Algonquin Land Claim. Representatives of Algonquin communities, Ontario and Canada are now meeting monthly to negotiate Algonquin historical and constitutional-based claims to ownership of the Ottawa River watershed in Ontario and its natural resources.
Our community name Kichesipirini means “People of the Great River.”
We are encouraged by recent statements from semi-official lawyers in Ontario that KAFN can soon anticipate a place in the Land Claim negotiation, short of a KAFN legal challenge.
We plan to act quickly to secure the substantial financial sums owed to us by the two governments for unjust denial of our participation rights until today. We will be investing these resources in community initiatives, establishment of downtown Pembroke offices and developing responsible environmental and sustainable development priorities for the Ottawa River watershed, including Pembroke.
We believe that a comparative cost analysis of the administrative expenses of running a “Reserve” versus an even larger community such as Pembroke will demonstrate that the “Reserve” system has contributed to the poverty and deprivation of registered “Indians.” At the negotiating table, we will seek improved new models of Algonquin and Aboriginal governance.
In your land claim you refer to Kichesipirini historical traditions and entitlement. Can you please describe your approach to documenting this history?
In addition to extensive genealogy and proven historical attachment to well-defined territories, I employ the “totemic” research methodology explained and illustrated by University of Toronto law professor Darlene Johnston in her recruited presentation “Great Lakes Aboriginal History in Cultural Context” to Day One of the Ipperwash Inquiry in April 2004. As an Aboriginal-origin legal scholar, Darlene argues that evidence of identity should not depend upon the language of the record-maker. Algonquin and Aboriginal history is recorded in identifying symbols that our ancestors marked on physical objects like trees, canoes, houses and clothing. When the Europeans arrived with ink and parchment, these marks were used by Algonquin and Aboriginal leaders whenever their “signature” was required. These identifying marks are called “totems,” or “dodems,” and my approach to our written history is totemic in essence.
I have learned through collection of oral histories on the continuity of family and lineage in Algonquin culture, and through written sources, including The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, 1959, that the Kichesipirini Algonquins once flourished on present-day Allumette Island in the Ottawa River and in nearby areas on both sides of the river.
However, the Kichesipirini Algonquins were badly decimated in conflicts brought by the French and British. From my reading and apprehension of our history, I claim that the Kichesipirini Algonquin First Nation was the victim of European-originated genocide.
Our nation is currently regrouping and re-establishing its identity. My personal identity is the symbolic crane dodem.
Our path is hindered by dismissive procedures of governments under the federal Indian Act, who prefer to “recognize” and financially support an inland “Reserve” established before 1850.
Speaking of the Ipperwash Inquiry, Peter Rosenthal, counsel for the cousins of Aboriginal activist Dudley George, who was killed on an Ipperwash community burial ground, told me recently that the Inquiry Report may appear in early 2007 and will “increase public awareness of the situation of First Nations people and will include many recommendations designed to combat racism and to treat land claims with appropriate respect.”
That sounds helpful. I believe that the family and burial ground traditions of Dudley George’s community at Ipperwash are quite similar to ours. In her evidence to the Ipperwash Inquiry, Darlene Johnston recalled French explorer Champlain’s 1613 description of a Kichesipirini Algonquin cemetery on Tesouat’s Island (present-day Morrison’s Island) in the Ottawa River. Darlene also quoted Jesuit Father Baird in Volume One of Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: “[the Algonquin people] are very reluctant to be separated from the tombs of their ancestors; their graves and cemeteries are well-marked and well-tended.”
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.