Coincidentally, a few days ago, I was browsing through titles in national newspapers and networks and my interest became focused on a Toronto Star title that read: ‘Algonquin land claims move forward to 2023 negotiation completion’, along with an area map that included Prescott-Russell! My mind started to spin and I told myself I had to get to the bottom of this story. Since some provincial parks were involved and affected by these negotiations, I was wondering if our own Voyageur Provincial Park or the Chenail islands were on the target list…Thus, this column.
Before getting to the heart of the matter and questioning its purpose, let us do a quick historical background on the situation and its origin. The Algonquin people are Indigenous people of Eastern Canada. Their total population is about 11,000, most of whom live in Quebec, which hosts nine bands, while Ontario hosts one; originally, they lived sparsely in northern Michigan, southern Quebec and eastern Ontario: they had emigrated from the Atlantic coast before settling first in the Hochelaga area (today’s Montreal), then along the Ottawa river which became an important highway for commerce and transportation, before finally reaching as far as Detroit, MI. They partnered with the French and the Dutch in fighting the powerful Iroquois in order to preserve their fur trade.
But despite their longstanding presence in Ontario and Quebec, they have never been officially recognized as ‘Indians’ by the Canadian federal government: as a result, a large number of Algonquin people, whose ancestors have occupied both sides of the Ottawa valley for centuries, are not categorized as Indigenous to Canada and so, disentitled to the benefits of other Indigenous groups. So as to correct this inequity and attain ‘Indian’ status, the tribe, as an entity representing all bands, had to put a formal claim on lands that were considered ‘ancestral’; and so they did in 1972.
In 1991, the Province of Ontario under the government of Bob Rae, recognized the validity of the Algonquin territorial rights and in December 2012, a preliminary agreement was reached by which a transfer of over 200 parcels of ‘settlement’ land (equivalent of 8.9 million acres within the Ottawa and Mattawa river watersheds) to the Algonquin, in addition to a transfer in funds of $300 million. In 2016, an agreement in principle was reached and signed by the three groups: Canada’s federal government, Ontario’s provincial government and the Algonquin tribe. All three groups are now in the final phase in the negotiation of a formal treaty which should be signed once environmental assessments and public consultations are completed.
Here is a summary of this agreement: 43 municipalities will be affected by the land transfer and over 1.4 million people live in and around territories subject to this agreement; land-owners will not lose their land, nor will be denied access to their residence or cottage, nor to water access; no new reservation will be created or built; land transferred to the Algonquin will be subject to municipal legislations; this land transfer will restore historical lands to the Algonquin and allow them to live on sites that are an important part of their history and society; after enduring centuries of foreign occupation, the dream of the Algonquin people to reacquire their lost territory may soon become reality. The object of this negotiation is the fact that ‘such an agreement would conflict with well-established land-use rights by non-indigenous individuals and communities that date back over a century. The settlement under negotiation may ultimately lead to new economic or land development initiatives, revised approaches to fishing and hunting, and other matter impacting waterfront property owners and adjacent lands.’ Negotiation should be completed by 2023, although they are dragging at times because of their complexity; but rushing towards a fast settlement would not result in a fair final treaty in which all are winners!