About 100 Algonquins from Barriere Lake and many of their supporters took to the streets of Ottawa on December 13 to once again show to Canada that they will not accept Section 74 of the Indian Act being imposed on their community.

Back in the spring, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) assigned Bob Norton to act as an election official to the community to impose nominations and a subsequent election for a chief and council under Section 74 of the Indian Act.

At every attempt that Norton made to enter the small community, he was met with protest, barricades and a flat-out refusal by an almost unanimous community that said it would not concede to an INAC-run election in favour of its own customary system.

According to community representative Tony Wawatie, the Elders have always selected their chief through their own methods, not by vote and this has been done since time immemorial.

On August 12, Norton conducted an election outside of the community, at a nearby airstrip about 45 km away. The community was not aware of this at the time, as Norton had advertised that an election would be held in the afternoon, but he instead began counting votes that had come from outside of the community.

Before noon, Norton had his list for a new band council by acclamation. He then had someone sneak into the community at 6:00 am the following morning and post the acclamation list at the community clinic.

Casey Ratt, who was voted in as the community’s chief, sent a letter of resignation immediately in protest of INAC’s refusal to accept the community’s traditional chief selection system and instead impose Section 74.

The handful of band councillors elected by acclamation however have since been acting in the place of chief and council and, according to Wawatie, working with INAC and their hired third-party managers to carry out INAC’s “dirty work.”

“There is no chief, there is no leadership selection happening, it is just a council recognized by INAC. This means nothing to us because they don’t represent the majority of the community that lives there,” said Wawatie.

According to Wawatie, what has caused a major disturbance in Barriere Lake recently is that Quebec’s Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones has put up $1 million for home renovations within the community. But, many residents see this money as a “carrot on a stick,” for what Wawatie calls the “puppet council.” Residents believe it is geared at undermining previous agreements already signed with the federal and provincial governments, which they now are refusing to honour.

In 1991, the community signed a historic trilateral agreement with both governments that would have seen the residents hooked up to a nearby Hydro grid and would have also guaranteed them hundreds of millions of dollars in resource revenue sharing from the natural resource development on their traditional territory. This agreement has yet to be honoured in any capacity.

While INAC imposed third-party managers, the consulting firm of Lemieux Nolet, are taking care of the administration of this fund along with the council in place,

Wawatie said nearly the entire community is outraged by this move.

“We need to look at the breakdown of how this $1 million is going to be spent because a lot of it is going to go to administration for the third-party managers. INAC is spending about $600,000 for Lemieux Nolet to administer this fund annually. I would imagine that the $600,000 is going to come out of the one million,” said Wawatie.

In lieu of INAC supporting only the council that they have put in place, Wawatie said the community has met with Assembly of First Nation’s Chief Shawn Atleo to see if INAC and the AFN could work together to perform a fact-finding mission to show just how much of the community supports the council. While this request has been conveyed to INAC via Atleo, so far no response has been received.

Upon requesting a meeting with Pierre Corbeil, Quebec’s Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, to discuss the recent funding, Wawatie said his people were told that the department would only deals with INAC’s council.

Despite their Ottawa protest and the support of many organizations and politicians on December 13, the people of Barriere Lake were met with silence from the office of John Duncan, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Community residents however will continue on their fight to see Section 74 repealed and get their treaty honoured.

“If you do the math, offering us $1 million while they extract over roughly $100 million a year from our territory is not fair, it’s unjust and it’s illegal. They have walked away from this agreement that they signed and we will not put up with it,” said Wawatie.