The Algonquins of Ontario are hoping that their 220-year-old land claim, one of the oldest in the country, is about to enter the home stretch.
The province’s estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Algonquins claim a traditional territory of 8.5 million hectares (85,000 square kilometres) that stretches from North Bay to Hawkesbury, 60 kilometres east of Ottawa.
The claim includes the nation’s capital and surroundings.
The journals of the Jesuit missionaries and French explorer Samuel Champlain attest to the Algonquin presence in this area dating back as far as 1603.
In 1761, an English fur trader’s journal noted that the entire Ottawa River valley was Algonquin country.
When the British defeated the French in the Seven Years’ War in 1760, the English king promised that the First Nations allied with the French, including the Algonquins, could remain in their lands if they chose to. Three years later, the king signed the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in which he gave his word that no settlers would occupy the land of the Algonquins and other First Nations without a treaty being signed with that nation.
Those promises weren’t kept. Thousands, then millions of Europeans flooded into the Ottawa River valley, pushing aside the Algonquins. No treaties were signed and, today, Pikwakanagan (or Golden Lake) is the only Algonquin reserve recognized in Ontario.
“There were promises from the French and the English that they wouldn’t come and settle the land without compensation, but of course they kept coming,” said Kirby Whiteduck, a land-claim negotiator in Pikwakanagan.
The Algonquins kept getting moved around and got dispersed through the region. Ten years ago, according to one newspaper report, there were only 500 known Algonquins in the province. Then, in 1991, the Ontario government finally agreed to hear the land claim, followed by Ottawa in
1992. Now, Whiteduck said, it’s estimated there are 5,000 to 6,000 Algonquins in Ontario.
The negotiations haven’t exactly proceeded at lightning speed. Since 1994, Ontario and Canada have changed negotiators five times, each time setting back the talks by a few months.
Any day now, the Algonquins are expecting the government side to come to the table with a mandate. A final agreement-in-principle could be hammered out in a year, though Whiteduck said it’ll probably take longer.
He said the Algonquins have records of 29 petitions, speeches and band council proceedings going back to 1772 in which they asked for recognition of their title to the land.
The earliest records request that all settlers remove themselves from Algonquin land. In the early 1800s, when it was becoming clear outside settlement couldn’t be turned back, they asked for compensation for the land that had been settled and recognition of title to the remaining land.
“But that never happened,” said Whiteduck.
This, despite the fact that the Algonquins had sent warriors to fight alongside the British in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812.