A breakthrough has occurred in the 17-week Algonquin blockade of a logging road at Barrière Lake.
Quebec Superior Court Judge Rejean Paul, who spent eight months as the federal mediator in the dispute, has made a series of recommendations that were quickly accepted by the federal government and could allow the blockade to be taken down in coming weeks.
In a two-page letter sent to Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin Jan. 28, Justice Paul effectively takes the side of the Algonquins who set up the blockade last October.
“It’s a relief the judge has come to his senses,” said Michel Thusky, a spokesman for the protesters in Barrière Lake.
But Thusky cautioned that Paul’s letter addresses only some of the Algonquin concerns, particularly a year-long leadership dispute in the community.
He said agreement is still needed on other issues before the blockade comes down: like forestry and reopening the community’s school, which has been closed for the past year.
Paul’s recommendations support what the blockade organizers have been saying for the past year: only people connected to the community and its traditional land base should be allowed to choose Barrière Lake’s chief.
It might seem like a simple point, but for the past year Barrière Lake has been in turmoil because of debate over that issue involving two factions of Algonquins and the federal government.
The community hasn’t had a chief or school for the past year. Health services have been disrupted to the point where one community member, Helen Wawatie, had to have a finger amputated because she is a diabetic and reportedly couldn’t get the proper medical attention.
But there may still be some bumps to iron out before the dispute is finally laid to rest. Judge Paul’s recommendations are not flying with the group of Algonquins who got put in charge of the band when Indian Affairs stepped in and removed chief Jean-Maurice Matchewan a year ago.
Anthony Vincent, a member of that group, said Paul lacked “objectivity” and accused him of helping Indian Affairs cover up corruption that previous chiefs in Barrière Lake had engaged in.
Vincent spoke of an elaborate conspiracy that includes Paul, the Catholic Oblate order and certain Indian Affairs officials bent on covering up corruption and sexual abuse at Barrière Lake.
Vincent promised his group will oppose Paul’s recommendations, but wouldn’t say how.