Stop Canada's cultural genocide at Barriere Lake

| December 13, 2010

Canada and Quebec are waging a war of attrition on a small band of 500 Algonquin Indians a few hours north of Ottawa. Today, this war has reached a critical juncture: its outcome will be a judgment on whether Canada is able to share the land with First Nations while respecting their right to maintain their cultures and determine their own destinies, or whether Canada can only offer resilient Aboriginal cultures a menu of assimilation, dependency, and cultural death.

The community of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake stands out as one of the few road-accessible First Nations in Canada that has largely retained its language, its traditional economy and knowledge, and its customary form of government. Children still speak Algonquin. People still hunt, fish, and gather traditional foods and medicines. Traditional artifacts, even birch bark canoes, continue to be made. The community is one of only 26 First Nations in Canada (out of more than 630) that fully govern themselves by their customs. The Algonquins of Barriere Lake have survived as an Aboriginal culture because of a determination to hold on to their identity, and to preserve their relationship to their traditional lands, which provide them life and sustenance.

This stubbornness has made them very inconvenient for Canada and Quebec, who see the Algonquins of Barriere Lake as obstructing unfettered access to profit-generating resources on Algonquin land. For decades, Canada and Quebec have engaged in a drawn-out political, economic, bureaucratic and legal strategy to force the Algonquins of Barriere Lake into submission. In 1991, after years of blockades and political struggle, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake reached an agreement with the governments of Canada and Quebec that would allow for revenue sharing, sustainable resource co-management, and economic independence for Barriere Lake. But Canada has not honoured this agreement. Because Barriere Lake did not surrender Aboriginal title to its lands in this agreement, Canada sees the agreement as a threat to its Indian policy, which has always been about one thing: getting control of all Indian lands and extinguishing Aboriginal title everywhere. Canada and Quebec do not want to share land or revenues with First Nations.

Canada stopped paying the monies it owes Barriere Lake under this "Trilateral Agreement" in 2001, and has kept the community in a state of impoverishment. Quebec stopped paying implementation monies in 2007, and has never paid the royalties it owes under the agreement. Recently, the Canadian government used the band's deteriorating fiscal position, caused in part by non-payment of monies from Canada and Quebec, as a pretext to impose "third-party management", under which the band is administered by a private firm of white accountants in Quebec City who know nothing of Algonquin culture, who do not spend time in the community, and who are paid handsomely out of the band's meagre budget. (This firm was not selected through a transparent process and there is no public accountability for its actions.)

Canada has worked to undermine the community at every turn, criminalizing community members for defending their rights, subjecting them to police brutality, and keeping the community mired in court processes.

In its most recent gambit, the Department of Indian Affairs has used an archaic section of the Indian Act, last forcibly used in 1924 against the people of Six Nations when they were campaigning internationally to get their sovereignty and rights recognized. Under Section 74 of the Indian Act, Indian Affairs has imposed on the Algonquins of Barriere Lake a system of government more convenient to Canada -- one that gives people living off-territory the power to choose the community leadership, and run for office, even though they have the least stakes in maintenance of the community's land base and culture. By contrast, under Barriere Lake's customary governance code, participation in leadership selections is open only to those band members who live in the traditional territory and have knowledge of and connection to the land.

Canada claims that it must impose the Indian Act government on the Algonquins of Barriere Lake because their traditional system doesn't work and because the community is divided. But what community, Native or not, is not divided? This does not give Indian Affairs the right to meddle in First Nations' government. As community spokesperson Marylynn Poucachiche says, "in fact it's the government's interference in our internal affairs that has destabilized our governance." And, contrary to the ministry's claims, all major factions of the community are united in opposition to the imposition of Ottawa's system. Even Indian Affairs admits that only "between six and ten" community members, out of several hundred, participated in the Indian Affairs band council selection process. Even though most community members boycotted the process, Indian Affairs claims this council is "more democratic" than the traditional government. Casey Ratt, who was acclaimed as chief -- no vote was ever held -- refused the position. The Ottawa-imposed council is still operating without a chief and holding its meetings off-territory, signing logging permits and making other decisions that affect the community, without a mandate.

Canada and the Algonquins of Barriere Lake agree on one thing: the customary government of Barriere Lake is one of the sources of the community's strength in resisting assimilation. As Poucachiche says, "the real reason they are imposing band elections is to sever our connection to the land, which is maintained by our traditional political system. They don't want to deal with a strong leadership and a community that demands the government's honour its signed agreements regarding the exploitation of our lands and resources." That's why the white government has decided the customary Algonquin government must go.

Today, the people of Barriere Lake travelled en masse to Ottawa to protest the Canadian government's attack on their community and lands. Algonquin youth are leading the fight to uphold their traditions. The community has promised it will not allow the Indian Act system to be imposed by the white government. The Algonquins of Barriere Lake have never consented, by treaty or any other agreement, to be subject to the Indian Act. Barriere Lake's inherent right to customary self-government is protected by Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, and is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. A May 2010 report by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples affirmed that First Nations have the right to maintain control over their internal affairs and to be free to pursue their vision of customary government. The Assembly of First Nations has passed a unanimous resolution condemning the government and demanding that the Minister of Indian Affairs rescind the band elections, imposed through section 74 of the Indian Act.

The Harper government has made a great show of verbal apologies to Aboriginal Peoples for the atrocities Canada committed in the past. Many noble sentiments have been expressed about refounding the relationship between Canada and Aboriginal Peoples on a basis of respect. Last month, the Harper government gave a qualified endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Yet at Barriere Lake, Canada and Quebec are doing exactly what they have been doing for more than 150 years: ruthlessly pursuing a policy of assimilation and cultural genocide, in order to secure access to profitable resources without sharing the benefits with the Indigenous people they belong to. Meanwhile, the Algonquins are upholding the lands for all of us, native and non-native.

Barriere Lake is a signpost for the future of Canada-Indigenous relations. It is time for the people of Quebec and Canada to give meaning to all the noble words and promises, and to fulfill the guarantees our Constitution has made to Aboriginal Peoples. It is time for us to tell our governments: stop the cultural genocide of Aboriginal Peoples. Honour your word. And respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, once and for all.

Corvin Russell is a member of Barriere Lake Solidarity.

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Terrific article.  Time that all of us stand up for the courageous people of Barriere Lake.  Thanks for this Corvin

Excellent update Corvin. 

For some more background on the Feds use of "third party management" as a control tool, check out this blog established by Lonefighter Leader Milton Born-With-A-Tooth (Peigan Tribe, Blackfoot Confederacy). 

Trail of Tears 2006: Atlantic to Pacific Oceans

Wish there was more reporting like this from independent media. Very informative - both in terms of news and context. Thanks.

Despite $100 million taken from territory & DIAND's machiavellian machinations & SQ swat tactics
DRUMBEAT: ANGER & RENEWAL IN INDIAN COUNTRY-ISBN# 0-929091-03-5 (pgs 140 & 142) The MITCHIKANIBIKONGINIK (People of the Stone Weir) has a direct memory of the relationship & agreement with the gov'ts of Canada & Quebec recorded in Wampum belts held by William Commanda right now - the Three-Figure Wampum Belt which during the last "First Ministers' Conference in 1987 was laid before the ministers during that final Constitional conference.This remains the basis on which they enter any negotiations with either level of gov't. They have never surrendered title or jurisdiction on self-gov't or self-determination. And, unlike the French, they have never been conquered. When the conquest of the French occurred, the Three-figure Wampum belt was affirmed in 1760 by the Articles of Capitulation, Article 40, & then reaffirmed by the Royal Proclaimation of 1763.


In 1991, they signed a landmark Trilateral Agreement with Canada and Quebec to protect Algonquin land uses, conserve the forest and wildlife, and to receive a share of resource revenue.I remember that I was working at AFN @ we protested on Parliament Hill & when all the media left, the RCMP came around to bust up the camp & of course over the yrs. they have been arrested on the road, in their community, at goverment offices facing the racism & insults from Quebec conservative MPs & DIAND officials.



Top Diplomat's report to Minister laid out strategy for government subversion of Algonquin community "A document recently released under court-order reveals a former prominent diplomat officially advised Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl to undermine the elected leadership of the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake and quash their signed Trilateral agreement - a course of action then pursued by Strahl and the Department of Indian Affairs.

The advice revolves around the threat that the agreement's implementation would pose to a key government policy controlling unsurrendered native lands.


My family has a long history with our brethern community..

When my grandparents were newly married in the early 1900's word came down that the elders in Rapid Lake requested my grandfather to come rescue the Wampum Belts -since the priest, Indian agent & his relative the bootlegger & the RCMP were harassing the people for the belts.

One was taken/sold/bartered by a younger relative for booze & the old man had hidden the rest between the logs behind the moss chinked in there...Frank Meness went to pick them up & passed them to Clinton Rickard to use in educating non-Indigenous legistators & regular folk about the Jay Treaty of 1794  & the Treaty of Ghent of 1812 in relation bordercrossing in support of the Iroquois Confederacy as agued at the then newly formed League of Nations in Switzerland in the 1920's.... When both Rickard & my grandfather died in the early 1970's at an idloa meeting it was decided to give the belts to William Commanda- who still cares for them today:
( Please note that William is 98 yrs. old now)


Indian Defence League of North America: the oldest continuous Native protest movement in northern America.  

As a third generation activist perhaps people would like to know that IDLOA has been upholding the Jay Treaty of 1794 & the 1812 Treaty of Ghent since 1927.

Clinton Rickard -a chief of the Tuscarora Nation, the Martins of the Six Nations Reserve along with my grandparents- Frank & Teresa Meness of Kitigan Zibi Anishnebeg organized the first march in 1927 after a fateful visit from a traditional Cayuga leader Levi General, Deskaheh, chief of the Younger Bear Clan.

Deskaheh was one of the first to assert Iroquois national rights in an international forum, traveling to Geneva, Switzerland, in the early '20s to petition the new League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations.

While staying at Chief Rickard's house on the Tuscarora territory in New York, Deskaheh fell ill and sent for his traditional medicine man from the Six Nations Reserve in Canada. But the medicine man was not allowed across the border. The U.S. had just passed the Immigration Law of 1924, which denied entry to anyone who did not speak English. Although the measure was directed against Asians, it also barred the traditionally raised medicine man, who did not read or write English and only spoke his own language. He could not make it to Deskaheh, who passed away in Chief Rickard's house.

Rickard was so moved that he began the border crossings and devoted his life to defending the right of free passage for Aboriginal people This year marked the 83rd  continous march across the U.S-CAN border.

The celebration is held yearly in Niagara Falls on the third Saturday in July - everyone is welcomed.

In Akwesasne, it evolved into the White Roots of Peace movement. This caravan of tribal elders traveled across the country in the late '60s, carrying a message of traditional revival to Indian communities, on and off reservation. One result was the Bay Area activism that led to the Indian takeover of Alcatraz Island.

See for more info or read Chief Rickard's autobiography, "The Fighting Tuscarora.

Fighting Tuscarora: The autobiography of Chief Clinton Rickard
ISBN#0-8156-0092-5 the "People of the Stone Weir" in it as well.

Regarding Treaty & Aboriginal Rights

My family be involved in "Indian Rights" since 1920when my grandfather was requested to hide the wampum belts for the Algonquin Nation - a time when RCMP & the priests & the bootleggers were mandated to acquire - including using lethal force - all things aboriginal for museums & - lets be honest -personal wealth.

It was no joke to be caught with sacred items- you were shot for holding onto family & community items. You were thrown in jail for "talking" about Treaty & Aboriginal Rights & or stripped of your right to lead your people by a stroke of the pen held by the Indian Agent - which happened to my mother's grandfather when he supported my grandfather on my father's side by refusing to shut up about T&A rights at the band meeting.

When my grandfather died in 1971 I was 7 yrs old & I remember the RCMP busting down my grandmother's door & questioning her about the location of the belts. They came back a number of times ....


Lastly: ( two of our girls missing 27 months now..I know both families)


My direct connection: a neice from Barrierre Lake..Alice Jerome

In Strength & Unity
Donna Meness
Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Community
Algonquin Nation
born member:
3rd generation Indian civil rights activist

former AFN worker ( Education, switchboard, Treaty & Aboriginal Rights Library)
former NCC worker (Aboriginal Childcare Commission & Aboriginal Justice Consulate)

Lastly RCAP again..detailed discussion in Chapter 4, on lands and resources.

"The exclusive land bases held by Aboriginal peoples are, in most cases, only a small fraction of the much larger areas that constituted their original homelands. These traditional lands are now shared with other groups, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. While Aboriginal people generally do not dispute the need to share these territories with others, they emphasize that they have strong ties to their original homelands that involve special rights and responsibilities. Aboriginal jurisdiction over traditional territories is inherent and exists independently of any recognition by the governments of Canada and the provinces. From this perspective, agreements regarding shared lands and resources should be based on the principle of co-jurisdiction. The co-jurisdiction model differs from certain co-management approaches currently proposed by provincial governments. The latter enable Aboriginal people to participate in the management of resources, but under legislative and policy regimes developed without the participation of Aboriginal people. In the eyes of many Aboriginal people, such arrangements are unsatisfactory because they do not acknowledge the autonomous authority of Aboriginal governments regarding their traditional lands and resources. By contrast, the type of regime favoured by many Aboriginal people would involve Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal governments exercising jurisdiction in a co-operative manner as equal parties."

"One thing should be made clear at this point: we are not advocating the takeover of all fish and wildlife management, or exclusive use, in our territory. But we are asserting the right and the responsibility to regulate our own use and management of these resources in the areas where we have traditionally harvested, based on our needs. We are also prepared to challenge other governments when it appears to us that they are not managing their share of these resources responsibly. On our part there has always been a willingness to share the abundance of resources that reside in our territory, but at this stage we are not getting an equitable share, and we are not satisfied that the resources themselves are being managed properly ... .Eventually we can see that there will be some areas in which we have exclusive use and management responsibilities, and others where these responsibilities are shared with the Crown.

Again- since I am Algonquin (there are 10 communities in all) & worked in Indian Gov't for many yrs. in Ottawa -20 yrs. ago - I would encourage CANADIANS to read some books on contemporary Indian issues.

Should you wish to read with your own eyes the words of the MITCHIKANIBIKONGINI- "PEOPLE OF THE STONE WEIR" formerly known as RAPID LAKE" & now "Barriere Lake" find a copy of "DRUMBEAT: anger & renewal in Indian Country, ISBN# 0-929092-03-5 : the forward is as follows:

" In September 1989, after a year of fruitlessly trying to persude federal & Que. gov't s to listen to their complaints, the Algonquins of Barrierre Lake, who live in LA VENENDRYE WILDLIFE RESERVE, QUEBEC, ABOUT 320KM (200 MILES north of Ottawa, blockaded many newly built logging roads, & brought logging operations to a halt in their traditional hunting territory.

A year before, in an effort to force federal officials to meet with them, the BL people had pitched their tents on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, which they regard as unsurrendered Algonquin land. AT THAT TIME MANY WERE ARRESTED & CHARGED WITH COMMITTING A NUISANCE IN A PUBLIC PLACE.

Now, once again, the full force of the law was imposed in an effort to end their blockade of the loggers. CANADIAN PACIFIC, one of the largest corp. in the country, sought & obtained an injunction to prevent the blockades, & when the Algonquins defied the injunction, they were served with papers for contempt of court.

The BL demands were unusual: their sole hope is that they can persuade governments to WORK WITH THEM TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY within their traditional lands. The hunting & trapping life on which they depend has been undermined by clear-cut logging & outside sports hunting. They have NEVER BEEN CONSULTED ABOUT ACTIVITIES ALLOWED IN THEIR LANDS."

Their proposal was consistant with the recommendations in the report of the 'WORLD COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENT & DEVELOPMENT IN 1987- ALSO CALLED "THE BRUNDTLAND

Read more:
DruJay wrote:Posted 2008/06/27
at 2:04 AM ET
This isn't an internal dispute, as the report makes it sound. The Federal and Provincial governments had signed an agreement that would have given the community a share of the resources that are extracted from its traditional territory.

They didn't want to uphold the agreement, so they violently imposed a minority faction on the community, using the Surete du Quebec as the goon squad.

From the flyer handed out by the demonstrators (of which he was one):

""For 20 years, the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake has been struggling to hold the government to its word. In 1991, they signed a landmark Trilateral Agreement with Canada and Quebec to protect Algonquin land uses, conserve the forest and wildlife, and to receive a share of resource revenue. To avoid its obligations, the Department of Indian Affairs has been playing divide and rule in Barriere Lake, ousting the Customary Chief and Council and illegally appointing a minority faction as the leadership.

• Despite several Quebec Hydro dams on their territory, the community is forced to use aging diesel generators to provide power.

• The housing crisis in the community has reached tragic proportions, with most living in moldy, often condemned houses. As many as 18 people live in one house.

• The Surete du Quebec has been used to forcibly impose and maintain the authority of the government-backed minority faction.

• Children have been prevented from speaking Algonquin in school by teachers hired by outsiders—a grim throwback to residential schools.

Barriere Lake has suffered enough.
No coups d’etat in Algonquin territory.
Respect the law and the Customary Governance Code.""

This just in by

Dru Oja Jay


More than 200 people, including 100 from Barriere Lake, demonstrated in Ottawa against the federal and provincial government's refusal to implement a UN-praised sustainable development agreement between Quebec, Canada and the Algonquin First Nation. Demonstrators said the Harper government is trying to derail the agreement by imposing an Indian Act band council system on Barriere Lake. Fewer than a dozen community members cast ballots in the Indian Act electoral process, while nearly 200 people signed a resolution rejecting it, wishing to preserve the traditional governance system they have used for countless generations.

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