Bancroft This Week - November 26, 2004

Algonquin Land Claim Process hinges on participation


Robert J. Potts, principal negotiator
for the Algonquin Land Claim.

The Algonquin land claim process should pick up momentum by the end of this month, depending on how successful two public information sessions go in the Bancroft and Whitney areas.

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

Katherine Cannon, land claim regional representative for the Bancroft area, said the community wants to hear what the lawyers have to say before the people make any decisions.

"It depends on what happens at that meeting and what the community gets out of that meeting," she said. Cannon said the Bancroft community is 10 months behind in the consultation process, and have a lot of information to catch up on.”

"Talks started in December last year between the Algonquin Native Tribal Council and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan," she said.  "We weren't approached until September or October when the lawyers got in touch with us.”

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 on 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."

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 has moved slowly since then and was stalled in 2001.

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 in their Ottawa 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."

Potts is well versed in the legal, political and economic issues surrounding native land claims.  He has successfully negotiated seven land claim settlements in Alberta and Ontario on behalf of First Nation people and is currently engaged in the Big Stone land claim in Alberta.

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."

Whiteduck said most of the Algonquin communities are interested in joining the negotiation process. "We've had community meetings and I think the majority of people are aware of what's going on," he said.

First and foremost, Potts has to get all the communities on board. "My primary task has been to try to get these people at a table with a group that could be recognized by all concerned as being fully representative through an independent process," Potts said. The primary focal point is to inform all Algonquin communities.

"We're going to focus on making sure that we have a group at the table that everyone feels that they can have some confidence in and there won't be any political issues about," Potts said.

The Pikwakanagan council will support the negotiation process but will not be directly involved in the elections.

"The expectation is that the chief and council will be at the table, but we won't be Algonquin Negotiation Representatives," Whiteduck said.

Back in 2003, Potts didn't realized that he needed negotiators before he could start the land claim settlement negotiations. "When I first became involved, the first problem that I thought had to be addressed was who was going to be a beneficiary, assuming that we can get this claim settled," he said.  "It soon became apparent to me that isn't the principal question; the question is who is going to be at the table so we can proceed in a way that people will not be second guessing and questioning." 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.

An ANR's only role is to take direction from the Algonquin electorate in a community of at least I25 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. "We'll have an electoral list of people who's background will not be challengeable in the sense that they will have lineage to the Algonquin people who were attempting to resolve these claims many, many years ago," Potts said.

A genealogist researcher is currently reviewing the criteria of more than I,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.

"Our objective is to try and call an election near the end of this year," he said.  "We will post lists of people who are electors, as we understand them, in the various communities."

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.

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


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Changes last made on: December 5, 2004.