(Algonquins of Ontario claim map)
APTN National News
The chief of the Algonquin band at the centre of a massive Ontario land claim says he’d like to see the eligibility criteria for membership tightened as another report surfaced this week questioning the Indigenous heritage of over a third of individuals on the list for an upcoming vote on the modern day treaty covering a large swath of the province, including the city of Ottawa.
Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation Chief Kirby Whiteduck said many in his community have expressed concerns about the current eligibility criteria to become part of the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) modern day treaty process. Kirby said he has expressed these misgivings internally and with the negotiators for Ontario and the federal government.
“If we do continue this discussion, I think Pikwakanagan is going to be drawing attention to the criteria because Pikwakanagan members are expressing concerns and questions about it,” said Whiteduck, in an interview Friday.
A tighter AOO eligibility criteria could mean some on the list to vote next week to approve an interim step along the modern day treaty process, also known as a comprehensive claim, may not qualify to become beneficiaries by the time a final agreement is signed.
A report released Thursday by an Algonquin organization based in Quebec claimed to show that over one-third of the individuals on the AOO voters list haven’t had an Indigenous ancestor in their family tree for up to 300 years.
The report, released Thursday, was produced by the Algonquin Nation Secretariat (ANS) which represents three Algonquin First Nation in Quebec. Two of the member Algonquin bands have overlapping claims with the AOO claim.
The ANS report surfaced as opposition to the AOO has grown within Pikwakanagan ahead of a vote to approve or reject the proposed treaty’s agreement-in-principle (AIP). Voting is scheduled to begin Feb. 29 and run to March 7.
Opponents from Pikwakanagan First Nation—the only Algonquin First Nation band involved in the vote—plan to hold a protest Sunday.
The AOO claim covers about 3.6 million hectares stretching from Algonquin Park east to Hawkesbury, Ont., including Ottawa, and down into territory near Kingston, Ont. If finalized, the deal would see $300 million in capital funding and 47,550 hectares of Ontario Crown land transferred to the AOO.
There are a total of 10 communities that make up part of the AOO claim, but only Pikwakanagan is a recognized band under the Indian Act. The other nine are recognized as Algonquin communities only within the framework of the AOO treaty talks.
The ANS report analyzed the ancestry of the 7,714 individuals on the AOO voters list. Of the total, only 663 on the list are from Pikwakanagan itself, the report said. The rest, 7,051, qualified to be on the list as a result of having a “root ancestor” connected to the signatories of petition letters sent by area Algonquins in the 1770s to the Crown seeking reserve lands in what is now known as Ontario.
“It…appears that the ‘Algonquins’ who are relying on these root ancestors have had no intermarriage with anyone of Algonquin or Nipissing ancestry for at least 200 and, in some cases, more than 300 years,” said the report, written by Peter Di Gangi and Alison McBride for the ANS.
The report concluded that 3,016 individuals on the AOO list, about 39 per cent, fall within this category.
“This is our assessment based on the information we had available,” said Di Gangi, director of policy and research for the ANS. “If anyone has information that sheds further light on this that clarifies this, I would love to see it.”
The analysis looked at 10 of the root ancestors used by those on the AOO voters list to qualify as potential beneficiaries of the eventual treaty. These root ancestors had origins dating to the 1600s or 1700s, the report said. In the majority of the cases the descendants of these ancestors were French-Canadian over the subsequent 10 to 15 generations which represents as time span of about 300 years, according to the report.
The AOO is disputing the ANS report, calling it flawed.
“It is unfortunate that this report was released without any effort having been made to seek input from the AOO who compiled the data that was accessed just to see whether the conclusions and the facts upon which those conclusions are based are accurate,” said Robert Potts, the chief negotiator for the AOO. “Clearly the intent of this rush to judgment is to disrupt, if not undermine, the transparent and democratic process that is underway to vote on an (AIP) that will have no legal nor binding impact and is intended to provide a framework for negotiating a treaty.”
Potts said the AOO’s own genealogist analyzed the ANS report and found that it had under-counted the number of Pikwakanagan members on the list. Potts said the actual number is 840. He said 179 Pikwakanagan members decided to be represented through one of the nine other Algonquin groupings that are part of the claim.
Potts said five of the 10 root ancestors analyzed by the ANS report already faced and passed eligibility challenges through the AOO’s independent adjudication process handled by an elders committee and a retired judge. The five root ancestors met the AOO’s criteria for root ancestors, said Potts. The other five root ancestors have not faced any challenges, he said.
“Presumably because there was a lack of credible evidence on which to base such a challenge,” said Potts.
The ANS analysis follows a report by Kebaowek First Nation—an Algonquin community based in Quebec—released to APTN earlier this month which studied at a small sample of 200 individuals from the AOO voters list. The Kebaowek report found that 72 of the 200 had only one Algonquin ancestor stretching back six generations.
Greg Sarazin, a former Pikwakanagan chief and treaty negotiator, acts as the spokesperson for growing opposition to the modern treaty within the community. He said the current proposed agreement would lead to the extinguishment of Pikwakanagan and its tax-free status under the Indian Act.
“The rights of the future of Pikwakanagan, who are the status people, is being decided largely by people who are not status from Pikwakanagan,” said Sarazin, who was chief from 1987 to 1989. “We don’t want this AIP because it will be the end of Pikwakanagan.”
The Whiteduck band council recently circulated a question and answer document in an attempt to alleviate concerns. The document says ratification of the modern treaty would not extinguish Pikwakanagan’s reserve status or its tax exemption. The document said those issues would be part of an eventual self-government aspect of the treaty to be dealt with further down the line.
Sarazin said the band council is splitting hairs because the current proposed treaty deal puts Pikwakanagan on the path to extinguishment.
“We are saying right now, we don’t want to do this,” he said.
Sarazin said many Pikwakanagan members were surprised to learn they were not automatically put on the AOO voters list for next week’s vote. He said the band council will be holding a side vote to include all registered band members, but it remains unclear how those results will mesh with the AOO results.
“People are fighting for their very existence,” he said.
Whiteduck said Pikwakanagan members need to get the full story. He said the AIP is not binding and the final agreement will be improved through more negotiations.
“If they say no for legitimate, good reasons then that’s fine, I accept it. But we think we can still change things in the AIP,” said Whiteduck. “If not, we lose the opportunity to improve things and change the things they (the opposition) are looking to have changed…Everything is not going to be exactly what we want in the agreement, but some things will be better…Overall, it is an improvement compared to staying with the status quo and where that takes us.”
And the status quo could lead to Pikwakanagan disappearing, said Whiteduck.
An internal analysis produced by the band council projected there may be no one left in Pikwakanagan with Indian status within 60 to 70 years as a result of the restrictive status criteria under the Indian Act, said Whiteduck.
“Under the current Indian Act regime the membership is going to dwindle and at some point there might be no members, no one with status, everyone will be subject to taxes and the reserve won’t belong to anybody,” said Whiteduck.