Spotlight on Aboriginal Rights


Algonquins say land claim not about money

January/February 2000
Below is information from the Algonquin Nations illustrating their concerns about federal government policy. It also shows the solidarity that is growing amongst First Nations across Canada.

Algonquin First Nations Demand Recognition of Aboriginal Title

Demand that Canada Change its Comprehensive Claims Policy
Algonquin Nation Grand Chief
Calls for Protection of Aboriginal Title

[To all Algonquin Chiefs]

Dear fellow Chiefs,

We understand that a meeting has been scheduled for February 18th, in Ottawa, involving the Quebec Algonquin Chiefs and the federal government. In anticipation of this meeting, we want to provide you with some information, and put some issues before you for your consideration.

As you know, a variety of conflicts this past summer led to a series of meetings between us. In June at Lac Simon, eight of the nine Algonquin Chiefs in Quebec signed a declaration, through which we made a collective commitment to stand together in rejecting Canada=s 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy, and in seeking the application of a policy and process consistent with the standards and principles articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Delgamuukw.

Since that time the federal government, and, to a lesser degree, Quebec, have been pressuring the Algonquins of Quebec to sit down at a>round table to discuss our assertions of Aboriginal title. Various federal officials, and Ministers Stewart and Nault, have given the impression that this round table is not bound by existing policies, and that it will provide an authentic opportunity to address our land and resource rights in the context of Algonquin title.

Recent events have demonstrated to us that these assurances are false, and intended to divert our attention from the fundamental issue of recognition and protection of our Aboriginal title and rights.

The reason we say this is because the actions of the federal government have made it clear that the Crown has no intention of recognizing our Aboriginal title, and no intention of amending it=s 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy to conform to the principles and process laid out by the Court in Delgamuukw.

For over a year and a half the Timiskaming First Nation has been involved in negotiations with Parks Canada, Indian Affairs, and the Department of Justice related to Aboriginal title at Obawjeewong (Fort Temiscamingue National Historic Site). These negotiations have provided us with a good indication of the federal Crown=s position on title and Delgamuukw.

Timiskaming offered to submit the evidence required to prove title, but the federal government declined, and has refused outright to apply the principles or process outlined in Delgamuukw in a negotiation setting. Despite historic precedent of Crown recognition of Aboriginal title, such as the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the federal government's position is that it does not have the authority to recognize Aboriginal title through negotiations, and therefore it refuses to discuss title, except to seek its extinguishment. As well, the federal government has refused to consider compensation for past infringements of Aboriginal title and rights, even though the Supreme Court of Canada said in Delgamuukw that this is a normal requirement where Aboriginal title is infringed.

These positions were confirmed by Minister Nault when he met with the Timiskaming Council on January 10th. At that time, he also went further, by making it clear that he had no intention of seeking changes to the 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy in the near future to accommodate the changes in law resulting from Delgamuukw and related cases. He categorically rejected any notion of recognition of Aboriginal title, or of compensation for past infringements.

We understand that Minister Nault made similar statements while at Kitigan Zibi, Winneway, and Eagle Village.

In addition, Minister Nault told the Timiskaming Council in no uncertain terms that Canada's special representative, Michel Hudon, has no mandate to negotiate anything with the Algonquin Chiefs. He described Mr. Hudon's role as simply to listen and report back. If you recall, we had been previously led to believe that Mr. Hudon had a mandate to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the Algonquin First Nations regarding Aboriginal title.

We sent a delegation to Vancouver in late January to participate in an Assembly of First Nations strategy session on implementing Delgamuukw, convened pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 5/99. The primary purpose of the meeting was to develop an action plan for removing the 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy, and it involved those nations who are not negotiating under that policy, including the Interior Alliance of B.C., the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia, and the Algonquin Nation Secretariat. National Chief Phil Fontaine, Chief Arthur Manuel, the Vice Chief for B.C., Satsan, and most of the AFN Executive all participated in the strategy session.

At that meeting, both the National Chief and Satsan agreed that the federal government seemed to have no serious intention of changing the 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy to conform to Delgamuukw. They agreed to work with the First Nations to undertake a national campaign intended to compel the federal government to change the 1986 policy. It was decided that a national strategy would be developed according to a framework that was agreed to at the meeting. This strategy shall have a number of components, including litigation, direct action, public education, and international pressure. It will be presented for approval at the next AFN Confederacy meeting, scheduled for April 2000.

While in Vancouver, we also had a chance to hear from the First Nation Summit, which represents those First Nations in B.C. who are currently negotiating under the 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy within the B.C. Treaty Commission process. Their experience is instructive. At first they were told that Canada and the province of B.C. were prepared to develop a Amade in B.C. approach@ to suit their circumstances. They were told that this approach did not require any research, and instead focussed on a Afast track@ to negotiations. But it turned out that this was simply to draw them in to the 1986 policy.

After a number of years, First Nations negotiating under the B.C. Treaty Commission are over $100 million in debt, according to Grand Chief Ed John. This is because they are forced to take loans from the federal Crown to negotiate Aland claims@ while third parties are permitted to continue making millions of dollars in profits from Aboriginal title lands. Those First Nations have found that the offers coming from the federal and provincial governments are not only Ainsulting@, but they are impossible to sell to their people. These offers have the following prejudicial features:

-they allow First Nations to retain a mere 1% - 5% of their traditional lands (and even then only in fee simple, and not as reserves);

-they require claimants to give up their tax immunity;

-the offers acknowledge provincial jurisdiction over traditional territory;

-there is no provision for compensation for past infringements in the offers;

-the offers do not recognize Aboriginal title;

-the offers require effective extinguishment of Aboriginal title; and

-the offers make no provisions for meaningful interim measures.

The representatives of the First Nation Summit expressed frustration and total disillusionment with the process, and agreed that the main stumbling block is Canada=s 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy. They joined with the Interior Alliance, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and the AFN in publicly condemning the policy.

Given these statements and experiences, we find it impossible to believe that the federal government will come to the >round table= prepared to deal in good faith. There is no evidence that the federal government has any intention of fulfilling the vision laid out in the Lac Simon Declaration. On the contrary, there is ample evidence to show that it has no intention of doing so.

At best, it appears that Indian Affairs is prepared to fund a process of discussion which will lead nowhere, but will buy them time. At worst, their intention is to use the >round table= to draw the Algonquin Chiefs into loan funding and the 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy, leaving us at the mercy of the government of Quebec. Under these circumstances, it is not clear what benefit would come to the Algonquins from joining a >round table= such as the one proposed by Canada and Quebec. Moreover, we would be undermining the efforts of the AFN to undertake a national campaign to get the federal government to change the Comprehensive Claims policy.

We might be prepared to consider involvement in such a >round table=, but only if we received clear written assurances from the Minister of Indian Affairs that the Federal Cabinet is prepared to change the 1986 Comprehensive Claims policy so that it conforms to the principles and process laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada in Delgamuukw, including recognition of Aboriginal title, and compensation for past infringement.

We doubt that the Minister is prepared to give this assurance. At this point it is not even clear that he will attend the meeting on February 18th. We question whether it is worthwhile attending another meeting with officials, since we have already attended a number of these, to no effect.

If this meeting with Canada goes ahead, it will be important to keep focussed and not to let them divert us from our collective position - which, as far as we know, remains the Lac Simon Declaration.

We see no point in rushing to negotiate with other parties that are committed to the extinguishment of our rights, and we have no mandate to do so. We urge you to consider the implications carefully.

Yours in recognition of Aboriginal title,

Grand Chief Carol McBride

c.c. National Chief Phil Fontaine
Regional Chief Satsan (Herb George)
Chief Arthur Manuel, Interior Alliance
Stewart Phillip, President, UBCIC
Chief Lawrence Paul, Co-Chair, Assembly of Nova Scotia Chiefs
Chief Tery Paul, Co-Chair, Assembly of Nova Scotia Chiefs
Joe B Marshall, Executive Director, UNSI
Don Julien, Executive Director, CMM

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