TURTLE ISLAND

Barry's Bay This Week - December 1, 2004

Algonquin Land Claim progress being made

Four surrounding area Algonquin chiefs stand in endorsement of the land claim negotiations.  From left; Randy Malcolm, Algonquins of Ardoch First Nation, Patrick Glassford, Algonquins of Greater Golden Lake First Nation, Doreen Davis, Algonquins of Sharbot Lake First Nation and Richard Zohr, Bonnechere Algonquin First Nation.

BY KRISTINA CHRYSSANTHIS
STAFF REPORTER

The Algonquin land claim process should pick up momentum by the new year, depending on how successful two public information sessions are. The first was held Nov. 25 at the Whitney Fish and Game Club with approximately 40 people in attendance and the second was held last night (Nov. 30 - although results were too late for press time).

Robert J. Potts, principal negotiator for the Algonquin land claim, called two public information meetings in Bancroft and Whitney areas to inform people of Algonquin ancestry and about the current status of the land claim process and in particular the upcoming elections. of the Algonquin Negotiation Representatives (ANR).

"They (Algonquin people of Whitney) have been able to maintain a certain understanding of who they are but there are numbers of others who haven't," Potts said.  "So, our task, frankly in some respects, is to try and pull these people back together again. I mean we've had so many interesting issues, we've had so many battles within, the time has come where that can't be done any longer.  The common enemy is not yourselves, the common enemy is the governments." Potts understands there are issues within the Algonquin communities but he doesn't want that to hinder the land claim process.

"You know it's a very sad day for the Algonquin people in this community and the other communities when that process for purposes of negotiations is being shoved down their throats," Robert Lavalley, a Whitney area member of The Algonquin Nation Advisory Committee (TANAC), said.  "There's no recourse here, he's (Potts) saying “you either take it or leave it.” And all this has progressed to date without our involvement and that fly-by-night meeting he had here last night was an after the fact meeting."

Kirby Whiteduck, Chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, hopes these two communities will join in the efforts.
At least eight communities in Ontario need to be represented for the Algonquin negotiations committee.

"We're trying to get them involved.  We're trying to arrange meetings to explain the process," Whiteduck said.  "We have an obligation to contact the people of decent."

He said this is just the beginning of the land claim process and they want to provide information to the Algonquin people who otherwise might not be aware of the issues at hand.

"This is just a step to dealing with things at the negotiating table," Whiteduck said.  "I think they'll see it as fair and open." Lavalley does not see it that way.

"There's a whole lot of underlying issues here that Mr. Potts refuses to deal with and one is the fact that the chief and the council at Pikwakanagan has accused our community here, through me personally, of theft of our own negotiating equipment and that issue has been outstanding for a number of years now," Lavalley said.  "I asked Mr. Potts to resolve that before we could start a democratic process of trying to come together to work on this, he said he wasn't interested in all the baggage."

In June 1991, the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan and the provincial government formally began the process of negotiations to work toward the settlement of an age old outstanding land claim.  In December 1992, the federal government joined the negotiation process and in 1994, the three parties signed the Framework for Negotiations.  The process moved slowly since then and was stalled in 2001.  In 2002, Chief and Council of Pikwakanagan and the Algonquin Nation Negotiations Directorate (ANND) asked Dr. Billy Diamond to act as principal negotiator for the Algonquin land claim.

In 2003, the Algonquin people of Ontario contacted Potts, a senior partner with the Toronto-based law firm Blaney McMurtry LLP, to act as the principal negotiator River Valley land claim.

"The best part is that I come to this without any baggage and I don't plan on acquiring any," Potts said.  "I'm simply looking at this as a go-forward project not unlike the numbers that I have settled in the past."

Lavalley said there are parts to the process that are missing and he is skeptical about the motives.

"I've been involved in that process since 1991, I've been involved in Aboriginal rights since 1968, so what’s going on is nothing new to me,." he said.  "There's a democratic process that has been totally avoided-and that has been shoved around for the past six to eight months by a third party by the name of Potts.  Now the only interest that Blaney and McMurtry and Mr. Potts could possibly have in the Algonquin land claim would be to A; bend to Ontario's wishes and solve it and B; walk away financially very handsomely reimbursed at $450 an hour," Lavalley said.

The Algonquin claim Addendum calls for an independent election process for communities that include Sharbot Lake, Mattawa/North Bay, Greater Golden Lake, Ardoch, Antoine, Bonnechere, Bancroft, Whitney and other communities within the region comprised of Algonquins.

"We've identified that there are eight communities that we know of, there may be more if they demonstrate it," Potts said.  "Bancroft and Whitney, we are still awaiting some indication of their interest in participating but we know that there are probably the requisite number of people there and we're very hopeful they'll be part of the process."

An ANRs only role is to take direction from the Algonquin electorate in a community of at least 125 people and to provide direction to the principal negotiator during the upcoming land claim negotiations with the federal and provincial governments.  Each ANR will hold a three-year term.  All Algonquin electors have the right to stand as a candidate for the ANR position.

Potts is unaware of the actual size of the parcel of land in question.

"The issues in relation to land and money and other parts of what might be an appropriate settlement are not the primary issue right now, the primary issue is to get a table populated by people who can be regarded as representative of the communities involved."

Whiteduck said some details of the claim itself are still unclear. "As far as the land claim goes, it's a bit of a grey area at this point," he said.

A genealogist researcher is currently reviewing the criteria of more than 1,300 Algonquin people who have a geographical connection to the land claim.  The review process is expected to be complete within the next two months, Potts said.  He attempted to reassure the skeptics at the Whitney meeting.

"Why have an election?  There are some traditional people who have issues about that.  The first thing I say is that you must remember this is not a political process," he said.  "We've got to depend on these people who are negotiators and that's the sole job that they have to do, just negotiate."

"There has to be a tremendous amount of creditability at the table, I can't work without it," he said.  "We have to demonstrate as a group that we are united in that process. "Potts wants to see this land claim settled within three years."

"I can't stand to see things not move forward," he said.  "The thing that really disturbs me most about this claim is that it's taken so long to get final."

"The greatest strength you people have as a people is also your greatest weakness," Potts said.  "Over many years, for reasons that I can't explain, they couldn't agree on the time of day." He said that regardless of the current issues, Algonquin people should put them aside and move forward for the future of their families.

"I keep saying to the leaders I'm dealing with; 'this is not about you, this is about your grandchildren and their children and so on,"' Potts said. Of the many reasons Potts thinks this should move ahead, one is at the government's request.

"We've been told very clearly, under no uncertain terms, that if we can't pull this together and get this task done this year they don't want to be bothered with this anymore," he said.  "They want to get this one done but if they can't then they will go and deal with others that are in line."

Potts said the elections will take approximately 60 days to hold.  It will take 30 days to get people nominated and another 30 days for people to have an opportunity to present their positions in public meetings.

"The elections will hopefully take place in the spring," Potts said.  "We will post lists of people who are electors, as we understand them, in the various communities."

Although advertised as a public meeting, near the end of the Whitney presentation, members of the media were asked to leave. "We're actually discussing strategy and I hesitate to let the governments have every piece of strategy. I don't think that everything I'm saying here should be on tape," Potts said to the media. Shortly thereafter, Potts requested that reporters stop taking notes and requested that they leave the meeting.

"I'm very discouraged with Mr. Potts to say the least," Lavalley said.  "This claim belongs to the Algonquin people, not to Bob Potts, and we'll decided how we're going to negotiate it."

For more information http://www.blaney.com/algonquin.htm or call toll-free at I-877-287-4570.

Turtle Island

Page created by: muckwa
Changes last made on: December 6, 2004.