March 4, 2015

Wind farm dispute exposes First Nations treaty tensions

By Steve Pitt | North Bay Nipissing News | 4 March 2015 |

NIPISSING – At first, it was a confrontation between the Status Algonquin Indians of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation against the Non-Status Algonquins of Mattawa. Now, a Quebec-based Status Algonquin Nation has entered the debate by claiming that they are the ones who actually have the final say on whether a wind farm proposed for Crown land in Mattawan should be allowed or not.

On Feb. 23, Quebec-based Innergex Renewable Energy unveiled their plan to build a 150 Megawatt wind farm on Mattawan Township Crown land at a community consultation in Mattawa. Innergex has partnered with The Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation whose reserve is located on Golden Lake near Pembroke.

The Innergex/Pikwàkanagàn pitch hit a solid wall of rejection by more than 200 residents who attended the Mattawa meeting. Among the wind farm opponents were Mattawa area Antoine First Nation (AFN) and the Mattawa/North Bay Algonquin First Nation (MNBAFN). But the Eagle Village Chief does not recognise the AFN and MNBAFN as legitimate Algonquins.

On February 24, Algonquin Chief Madeleine Paul of the Eagle Village near Temiscaming, Quebec issued a press release stating “the Eagle Village First Nation asserts Aboriginal Rights and Titles to the Mattawa region.”

When asked about the claims made by the AFN and ANBAFN to the Mattawan Crown land, Chief Paul replied “These two groups are non-status groups. They are not recognized as ‘Indians’ within the meaning of the Indian Act,” says Chief Paul. “Our research confirms our band is a successor band to the historic Mattawa band, which is why we have Eagle Village First Nation community members living in Mattawa and have lived there all of their lives.”

Dave Joanisse, Chief of the Antoine First Nations, disagrees. “If we are not Indians, then why have the Ontario and Federal governments been negotiating with us?” he says. “I’m one of the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) negotiating representatives. This is our community, not Eagle Lake’s.”

According to Chief Paul, “There was never any such thing as the “Algonquins of Ontario.” She says the Ottawa River was not a border for the Algonquin Nation and was a main travel route with the Ontario/Quebec boundary imposed on top of the pre-existing Algonquin Nation territory.

“The ‘Algonquins of Ontario’ land claim was submitted to the Ontario and federal governments in the mid-1980 without any agreement with the rest of the Algonquin bands headquartered in Quebec,” said Paul.

This tangled dispute over the Mattawan Crown land has been 250 years in the making. “The Algonquins have been asking for a treaty from the Crown since 1772,” says Robert Potts, Principal Negotiator and Senior Legal Counsel for the AOO. He adds the Federal government further complicated matters by passing the Indian Act of 1874 dividing First Nations people into Status and Non-Status Indians. Broadly defined, a Non-Status Indian is any Indian who is not part of a First Nation that has signed a treaty with the Federal government.

“Since 2005, the Ontario and Federal government have been negotiating with both Status and Non-Status Algonquins,” Potts says. With the lack of treaties in Ontario, the vast majority of Ontario Algonquins are considered Non-Status. Of the ten Nations represented by the AOO, nine are Non-Status. In Quebec, there are nine recognised Status Algonquin Nations. In Ontario, there is only one; the Pikwakanagans of Golden Lake.

Like the AFN and MNBAFN, the Eagle Lake Algonquins did not hear about the wind farm proposal until very recently.

“We found out about this in the paper,” Chief Paul says.

Surprised or not, Chief Paul insists Eagle Lake must be included in future wind farm discussions because it affects their title area.

“There can be no legal development of lands and resources in the Mattawa region without the consent of Eagle Village First Nation because it is our Aboriginal Title territory,” said Paul.

The Antoine First Nation and Mattawa/North Bay Algonquin First Nation will be holding their own public meeting about the wind farm proposal at the Mike Rodden Arena in Mattawa on Friday, March 6, at 7 p.m.

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