Once again the Barriere Lake community members are up in arms. They say Minister of Indian Affairs Chuck Strahl is trying to abolish Barriere Lake’s customary governance system. They say Strahl and Indian Affairs are once again trying to do this unilaterally without consulting the band members.
Barriere Lake is one of the few First Nations in the country who have never been under the Indian Act’s electoral system. Past leaders have said the band wishes to continue to operate under a Customary Governance Code.
Indian Affairs though said it will try to organize Indian Act band elections in the community on August 19.
“The Minister’s attempt to forcibly assimilate our customs using section 74 of the Indian Act is a violation of our Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights, which are protected by the Canadian constitution, and is a violation of numerous articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Prime Minister Harper claims the Canadian government will endorse,” says Norman Matchewan, a Barriere Lake community spokesperson.
Doing this without a lot of consultations goes against a recent Federal Court decision. On February 17, Federal Court Judge Robert Mainville determined in the case of Ratt v. Matchewan that Barriere Lake can “select their leadership in accordance with their customs unimpeded by any conditions or requirements which the Minister may deem appropriate.”
The community members of Barriere Lake are currently creating an internal working group to reconcile differences, and to review their Customary Governance Code, which was part of the Judge Mainville’s recommendations.
Why then are Indian Affairs and the Minister going ahead with this type of action? First Nations have been termed terrorists even when they try peaceful unarmed blockades. But when First Nations turn to the courts it seems that the rule of law is conveniently ignored by the federal government leaving many wondering what the government really wants? Is it that the current volatile situation suits Indian Affairs?
One would think or hope not, but actions speak louder than words. Why not a full band meeting where the leadership issues could be discussed by all parties involved including Indian Affairs. If they are there then they cannot deny what the majority of the community members want for the future. Clear indications would do much to defuse the situation in terms of alleged interference by the Minister and Indian Affairs.
Instead there’s rhetoric and no one really knows what’s going on as two leaders battle it out in the press.
Is it true that “the Canadian government is trying to forcibly assimilate our customs so they can sever our connection to the land, which is at the heart of our governance system,” according to Tony Wawatie, a Barriere Lake community spokesperson, who added, “Quebec is taking advantage of the leadership situation to break signed agreements and illegally allow forestry companies to log on our territory. But community members and youth plan to defend our rights for the sake of our generation and the generations to come.”
It’s time to everyone together and find out what everyone really wants. This community has been abused too long. Solutions are needed that reflect the desires of the people in the community instead of imposed conditions that further political and economic agendas not in keeping with the needs of the Barriere Lake community.