Regarding the recent (March 11, 2015) APTN article on the Algonquins of Ontario’s massive land claims process, while I cannot speak to the contentious matter of the windfarm development discussed, I can speak to the very contentious statements about who is and who is not Algonquin, as well as speak to the issue of the Algonquin communities in Ontario.
First, I do not agree with Eagle Village Chief Madeleine Paul and Wolf Lake First Nation Chief Harry St. Denis that non-status Algonquin are not really Algonquin. Not all Indigenous Bands gained First Nation/Indian Act recognition by the federal government and as such it is not true that non-status Algonquin are not Algonquin. They are.
Second, it is well known and long established that one of the main goals of the Indian Act has been, and continues to be, to unmake status Indians as a way to eliminate federal treaty responsibilities. As a result, there are more non-status Algonquin Indians than status Algonquin Indians. Clearly Indian status registration is not, and cannot be, the sole criterion of who is Algonquin. Most know this to be true.
Third, due to the colonial agenda of erasing Indigenous people, as a mechanism of survival many Algonquin grew up not explicitly discussing and claiming who they were as Algonquin people. While many Algonquin did this, as an effort to better assure they were able to gain land and/or employment, this does not mean they, and their descendants, were not and are not Algonquin. They are.
Fourth, the contribution that Indigenous knowledge brings to the arena is valuing that knowledge is not just in one’s mind and consciousness. Indigenous knowledge, and as such being Algonquin, is also located in our hearts and the practices we do. To suggest being Algonquin is only what is conscious and explicitly discussed is in fact a colonial understanding of what is knowledge. We were and are Algonquin and you cannot take that away from us.
Fifth, while the 9 Algonquin communities in Ontario may not have been solidified and structured as the First Nations bands that are recognized by Aboriginal Affairs have become, this in itself does not mean these Algonquin people did not have some semblance of community life, albeit different due to different colonial pressures. The fact is these Algonquin people were there at the community level doing what they did as Algonquin people. While for some Algonquin this may have been a conscious and explicit experience and way of life, for other Algonquin it may not have been a conscious experience and way of life, and still further some Algonquin may have actually existed in a state of conscious denial. Regardless of these varied Algonquin experiences they were all there being Algonquin, and they remain Algonquin whatever their experience was.
Sixth, while I do not agree with Chiefs Paul and St. Denis on these 5 matters, I do agree that the Algonquin of Ontario communities have been formalized and structured through the colonial process known as the Algonquins of Ontario. Sadly, and most unfortunate, the Algonquins of Ontario are operating under colonial policies which terminate Algonquin land rights, and in this way these communities and their so called leaders / Chiefs have been co-opted by the Canadian state. In this way, Chiefs Paul and St. Denis are correct when they call these communities “policy fictions”.
In summary, like Chiefs Paul and St. Denis I am not happy about the non-sense of the Algonquins of Ontario’s land claims process, but I must defend who I am as a non-status Algonquin brought on by the long-time sex discrimination in the Indian Act. I also need to speak to the reality that even though many Algonquin Bands were never federally recognized, regardless, like me, these people are indeed Algonquin.
The real issue here is Canada’s termination process, not who is and who is not Algonquin. Contradictorily, if what Pikwakanagan First Nation Chief Kirby Whiteduck argues is true, that there are many questionable Algonquin, potentially resulting in a no vote because his community members are not happy about this, long live the “Algonquin frauds” is something to consider. Clearly I want a no vote as 1.3 % of my traditional territory and a one-time $300 million buyout does not a treaty make.
Additional podcasts and readings on Indian status and the Algonquins of Ontario land claims process:
Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.