© Dr. Lynn Gehl, Gii-Zhigaate-Mnidoo-Kwe
Just as Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation is in an abusive relationship with the Canadian state, so is the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation: An abusive relationship that will lead to our genocide. While Chief Spence is currently spending her days on a hunger strike asking that Indigenous treaty rights be respected, the Algonquin are asked to contemplate a pitiful settlement. The irony is not lost on me that Chief Spence has chosen to carry out her hunger strike on Victoria Island, currently unceded traditional Algonquin territory.
In the process of building Canada, the British strategically imposed different languages (French and English), religions (Catholic and Protestant), and legal systems (French Civil Law and British Common Law) on the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation, and in this way divided us into two entities.
While today Canada consists of many provinces, in its early stages it consisted of only Upper and Lower Canada, which are now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. During the early stages of European exploration the main mode of transportation into the land mass of New France was of course the Ottawa River. The individual Algonquin bands located on both sides of the river were some of the first Indigenous Nations recorded by Champlain and so you can be sure that the French and British knew full well who we were. Through European struggles for new land the Algonquin Anishinaabeg were allies with the French, and for this we were severely punished when the British eventually took over. The British imposed this punishment through very manipulative ways.
Members of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation were constitutional delegates and runners during the 1764 Treaty of Niagara where Canada’s original constitutional documents were exchanged: the 1763 Royal Proclamation, the British and Great Lakes Covenant Chain Confederacy Wampum Belt, the Twenty-Four Nations Wampum Belt, and the Two Row Wampum Belt. These documents collectively codified and guaranteed all Indigenous Nation’s jurisdiction and our right to land and resources through peace, friendship, respected and the continued need to polish and work on our relationship with one another. Following Creator’s law Indigenous Nations agreed they would share with the European Nations.
Regardless of Algonquin Anishinaabe participation at this event, for centuries afterwards British Canada ignored our endless petitions for land and resources. This went on for centuries as the Algonquin submitted over 28 petitions asking that our right to land and resources be respected as outlined during the 1764 Treaty of Niagara. Regardless of this long time heroic effort, members of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation were relegated to the margins when they were continually denied. Historical records expose that British Canada argued the Algonquin Anishinaabeg use and settlement made adjacent land undesirable for the arriving British settlers. Yes, that is right we were undesirable in the British eyes.
In 1853, through The Public Lands Act, our land was granted free to European settlers. Again in 1868, through The Free Grant and Homestead Act, our land was granted free to European settlers. The Algonquin, though, were not entitled. In the 1880s British Canada began criminalizing our culture, the very entity that made us human beings. Our ceremonies, dances, and methods of prayer were all criminalized. In 1927, Canada made it illegal for us to hire lawyers to carry our grievances for land and resources forward.
In 1864 the Algonquin living in Upper Canada were provided with one reserve where all further requests for land were then denied as we were told to go to the Golden Lake reserve. Of course many Algonquin opted to remain on their land where they existed long before European settlers arrived. Regardless of this effort to hold on, many Algonquin lost their land to European settlers when they followed natural law leaving the land in the winter to hunt, as well as when they could not pay the land taxes imposed on them as they remained within a subsistence versus the wage economy, or because they preferred to allow the animal beings to exist as the Creator intended them to be rather than farm the land as Europeans did. To further punish the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation we were also denied land and resources during the historic treaty process. It was in 1923 when Canada once again ignored our participation in the 1764 Treaty at Niagara when our land and resources were identified under the terms of the Williams Treaty, yet we were not present during the negotiation process.
As an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe I have asked myself many many times what is it about the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation? Why is it that successive generations of the Canadian government have continually denied and ignored our very existence? Yes, I agree all Indigenous Nations are being undermined and denied, but there is something special about the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation, so special in fact that Canada would not even negotiate with our ancestors during the historic treaty period, yet they clearly knew who we were. This practice of ignoring the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation was particularly perplexing for me in that we all know Canada’s parliament buildings reside on Algonquin Anishinaabe land. My experience as a Canadian was particularly disenfranchising. Things made no sense. As I spent time on my grandmother’s home reserve and experienced the atrocity of the conditions, I felt invisible. My Algonquin Anishinaabe reality, and how I felt about this reality, I thought must not be real, nor significant for anyone to care about.
After generations of Algonquin Anishinaabe petitions and only after we were in a particularly pitiful state of poverty and division, eventually Canada reluctantly entered into a land claims and self-government negotiations process with the Algonquin of Golden Lake, now Algonquin of Pikwàkanàgan First Nation. In this process only the Algonquin living in Ontario are involved where through this process all Indian status members, approximate 1800 members, are accepted as beneficiaries. So too are the approximately 6,000 non-status Algonquin accepted as beneficiaries. While currently many of the non-status Algonquin are being challenged, questioned, and denied the right to who they are, and thus the right to vote in the final ratification of the final settlement offer, and I feel the disenfranchisement that they must be experiencing, there is a bigger issue that needs to be realized. We cannot afford to think in a linear way, we must look more broadly at the offer on the table.
Through the two policies – the Comprehensive Land Claims Policy and the Inherent Rights Policy – that the Algonquin are negotiating under, and for that matter all Indigenous Nations in Canada, our jurisdiction, land, and land related rights are not protected but rather further denied and placed within the confines of a small b□x. Through these two policies Canada imposes on us what Canada thinks Indigenous Nations are entitled to: a very small percentage of our traditional territory and a one-time buy-out. Clearly 117,000 acres which merely amounts to 1.3% of our traditional territory and $300 000 000 is a bad deal. It certainly violates the agreement as codified in the three wampum belts exchanged during the 1764 Treaty of Niagara.
This pitiful settlement offer, where we are denied the very land and resources that would provide for our livelihoods as we define them to be, and for future generations of Algonquin as they define them to be, is indeed an act of genocide as defined by both Raphael Lemkin and the United Nations Declaration on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime Genocide. My Algonquin ancestors such as Rodney Gagnon, Viola Gagne, Joseph Gagnon, Annie Jane Meness, Angeline Jocko, Francis Meness, and Alphonse Dufont Jocko would be horrified with such an offer, so horrified in fact that they would paint their faces black, be idle no more, and stand with and behind Chief Theresa Spence.
Be sure I am not alone in making this argument. Many have made this argument before me. Don’t hate me because I am pointing out the error in the ways of so called Algonquin leadership sitting at the table and making a deal with the devil. And yes, I do appreciate their heads are in a vice. Regardless, it is a bad deal that will only lead to our demise. Vote “NO!” It is the only way.
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