The Long-Standing Conflict With the Algonquins of Barriere Lake

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I spoke with Marylynn Poucachice from the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake, which continues to deal with the problems of colonization of their land and people. For a preface to the interview, youth spokesperson Norman Matchewan says it best:

In 1991, Barrière Lake signed a historic trilateral agreement with Canada and Quebec to sustainably develop our traditional territories - a United Nations report called the plan an environmental "trailblazer." Yet in 1996, the federal government tried to hijack the agreement by replacing our legitimate chief and council with a minority faction who let the agreement fall aside.

We have always ruled ourselves according to custom, outside the electoral provisions of the Indian Act: Elders nominate eligible leaders who are then approved, by consensus if possible, in assemblies. Participation is open only to those who live in the community, speak our language, and have knowledge of and connection to the land. But in 1996, the Department of Indian Affairs encouraged this faction, located mainly off-reserve, to collect signatures for a petition; Indian Affairs then imposed this group on us, claiming our leadership customs had evolved into "selection by petition."

We suffered grievously for a year and a half. Although we barred the minority group from our community, they colluded with the government from Maniwaki. On the reserve, we were deprived of federal transfers for employment, education, social assistance, and electricity. We lived in the dark, educated our children as we could, and barely subsisted off bush food.

A resolution was finally achieved in 1997 by Quebec Superior Court Judge Réjean Paul and two federal facilitators, who restored our legitimate chief and council and renewed the trilateral agreement. In 2001, the federal government pulled out of the trilateral agreement and started favouring certain community members opposed to our legitimate leadership. This same minority group conducted another supposed leadership selection in January 2008, and the federal government quickly recognized them. Yet again, the government is throwing democratic principles to the wind by ignoring our customs and the wishes of our people. And they have the audacity to call the overwhelming majority of our community members "dissidents"!

We set up the blockades Monday morning as a last resort, to inspire in the government a changed attitude. Our good faith and patience and reasonable demands have so far been rewarded by broken promises, deceit, and deplorable interventions. Is this all we can expect?

For more info, see:
Barriere Lake Solidarity homepage
A brief visual tour of the community
Photos of the road blockade

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