TURTLE ISLAND

Chief negotiator determined to continue to press land claim issue.
By Debbi Christinck - staff writer - Eganville Leader March 27, 2002.

Pikwakanagan - After giving 20 years of his life to the land claim issue, the chief negotiator for the Algonquins, Greg Sarazin, is not about to quit. "We are going to continue to maintain this office regardless of what happens and continue to try to re-establish discussion and co-operation with the Algonquin people in a unified process, he said. "We are not going anywhere."

Even if the federal and provincial governments leave the table at the end of the month, he says he will continue to work at the land claim, just as he did in the 1980s, before they came on board. They will pull funding unless there is a unified Algonquin voice, but Mr. Sarazin said he will look for other sources of funding and continue to try to open the lines of communication to negotiate a land claim on a vast area over which the Algonquin nation never relinquished either ownership or rights.

For Mr. Sarazin the birthright of the Algonquin nation is at the centre of the issue, but he also has a long personal history of working on .the land claim. He began working on the land claim issue in 1982. He was there in 1991 when Ontario came to the table and began negotiations with the Algonquin people. He was there a year later when Canada joined the talks. He was there in 1994 when the framework was signed, signalling a big leap in negotiations as the process and issues were spelled out. For many in the greater community, his name is synonymous with the negotiations. "It has been the centre of my life for 20 years, all my adult life" he said. And he doesn't want to see it take a step backwards. "I'm always optimistic we will be able to overcome the divisions and difficulties."

Despite the impasse between council and Algonquin Nation Negotiation Directorate (ANND), Mr. Sarazin has continued talks and will be meeting today (Wednesday) in Ottawa with his provincial and federal counterparts. He said the strong message he continues to receive is there must be one voice representing the Algonquin people at the table. "They are interested in negotiating a process with all people of Algonquin aboriginal rights," he said. "You don't necessarily have to have status. That is an aside."

Mr. Sarazin explained this is the provincial and federal standard in negotiations on land claims with all aboriginal groups. They recognize that also non-status people have a part to play in negotiations since they too have aboriginal rights. Mr. Sarazin said part of the process of the negotiations office was to find out who these non-status people were. "A lot of people of Algonquin descent did not have status," he said. "Those people were dispersed throughout the territory."

Since negotiations began the team has been trying to identify Who all the Algonquins are and having them all represented in the Process. At present there are about 2,600 non-status Algonquins who have a direct Algonquin blood-line on the rolls at the negotiations office. Added to this are about 1,800 band members who are considered status Algonquins, he explained. "The determination of who are non-status continues to grow," he said.

The current controversy affects those non-status Algonquins since the chief and council of Pikwakanagan have stated they want to conduct negotiations with the federal and provincial governments on behalf of status band members only. This has created such a rift between the negotiations department and council that even the very status of negotiations are in jeopardy. Mr. Sarazin said the governments of Canada and Ontario remain clear they want a single entity speaking for the Algonquins who is representative of all potential beneficiaries.

Last May council and the chief had transferred all the negotiation process to ANND and gave them the authority to speak on behalf of all Algonquins. "In November they decided to undo all that," he said. "They have been moving to separate themselves from ANND and to negotiate the treaty on behalf of status Algonquins only."

He said efforts have continued since then to solve this issue. "We have been attempting to begin a dialogue to find some way beyond this impasse," he said. "We are fully willing to consider all options to work with whoever we have to work with." He said despite invitations to council and the chief to meet and discuss the issue, they have not received a positive response.

However, the federal and provincial governments have been unequivocal in their stance that all the Algonquin nation - both Status and non-status - must be represented at the table. "They have said they will not recommend continued funding and what follows from that is a discontinuation of the process," he said. Mr. Sarazin lives at Pikwakanagan and he said the community has many questions about the current relationship between the negotiations office and council. "There are a lot of questions in the community and a lot of conflicting answers."

There is much at stake. Mr. Sarazin said a successful conclusion to the negotiations would not only benefit the Algonquin people now, but for generations to come. The nation has been reasserting their ownership of the land and their rights since 1772.

Now it wants the lands back or compensation for the land it cannot get back and the resources from that land. "This would provide for the future prosperity of the Algonquin nation." Despite what is happening at present, the land claims will go on, he promises. "The land claim process is not going to end until there is a successful treaty. It is still a legal fact, and a moral fact. We are not going anywhere, even if the governments of Canada and Ontario are no longer at the table."

 

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