Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin had no business removing Jean-Maurice Matchewan as the chief of Barrière Lake, says an MP from Irwin’s own party.
“These are the First Peoples. They’ve been here thousands of years and we’re telling them they can’t run their own affairs?” said Liberal Member of Parliament Clifford Lincoln. Lincoln is a former Quebec Environment Minister who represented the Algonquins of Barrière Lake during their campaign against clearcutting between 1990 and 1992.
Lincoln said he is “quite certain” that “a great majority” of the community’s residents supported Matchewan.
Irwin removed Matchewan as chief on Jan. 23 and appointed a new band council that is more favourable to the forestry industry. The move came just as a historic agreement is being implemented to reduce logging on Algonquin land.
Lincoln said logging companies probably won’t be sad to see Matchewan go. “The very fact that they were reaching the most crucial time of the agreement’s evolution, you certainly cut off the very people who have been working on it for many years. Where it’s going from this point on, I don’t know,” he said.
“Obviously, the forestry companies would have preferred not to have the agreement. The trilateral agreement was a trailblazer, a wonderful model. All sorts of precedents were being set there that were extremely novel.”
On March 18, Matchewan resigned as chief and community members held a traditional ceremony to select a new chief—Elder Harry Wawatie. Lincoln called on his government to recognize Wawatie, who is now struggling to run a community with no electricity, school, bank, mail, firefighters or Indian Affairs funding. “We’re having a very difficult time now,” Wawatie told The Nation.
Lincoln also wondered how Matchewan’s opponents can afford all their high-powered advisors, like Domtar lawyer Radha Curpen. “All these top-notch outfits don’t come cheaply. Who supplies all these funds? You’ve got to question that.”